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Kurt Vonnegut said that the worst thing about America is the saying:
If you're so smart why aren't you rich?That phrase (which figures large in the novel PLAYER PIANO) sums up our whole neurotic Calvinist scene.
There are good people and there are bad people. It is God's will. All failures and setbacks are a judgment, and a righteous one.
To be rich is extraordinary and in most cases due to being smart enough to be born to rich parents. Yet this condition that cannot, by definition, apply to more than a sliver of the population is taken as a minimal qualification to even open your mouth.
If you're so smart why aren't you rich?In America we don't need to blame the victim. With typical Yankee efficiency the victim is conditioned to blame himself.
There is legitimate greatness in rugged American individualism. It's a real thing. It is not, however, universal or universally possible.
5,000 workers on a factory floor and every single one of them should have invented the internet browser on her lunch breaks. And if she didn't then she is stupid. But we don't really like intellect here, so actually she is lazy.
Everyone behind the counter at McDonald's is simply too lazy to create a room-temperature super-conductor.
And that is why we take it and take it and take it... we are ashamed. When we suffer set-backs we don't want the neighbors to know because those set-backs mark us as bad people... the non-elect born without hope of salvation.
Even your cool neighbors may be ready to judge your loss of the mandate of heaven. Even in an ostensibly progressive community like DU there is no shortage of "good" people ready to weigh in on the presumed personal corruption of people who buy houses poorly or incur expensive consumer debt.
That is how deep our national neurosis is. Hell, sometimes even socialists and atheists lapse into Calvinist thinking without even realizing it.
There is very little good about hard times but one of the few tiny benefits is that after some point the misery becomes so ubiquitous that it pressures our peculiar mythos of outcomes being deserved-by-definition. Eventually the economy hits the "good" people and at that point we recognize that there's a problem.
Added on Edit: I mentioned the novel PLAYER PIANO. It's an old book (circa 1960?) about declining prospects for industrial workers. The title refers to motion-capture automation. There's something in that book so prescient it deserves mention for those who haven't read it. Remember all those stories about people shipping their own job overseas... the workers whose severance package consisted of the privilege of being paid to pack up the equipment and ship it to wherever? Much of PLAYER PIANO Takes place in a working class bar that has a "If you're so smart why aren't you rich?" plaque. There is an older unemployed guy who drinks there telling anyone who will listen his one great accomplishment in life. He was so good on the assembly-line that he was picked as the guy whose movements were programmed into the machines that replaced everyone, including himself. Hence the title.