Friday, October 19, 2012

The Measure of Success

The One percent seems to be fond of whining they are not being given credit for success, often saying that here in America we usually reward success, so why should they be punished or castigated for their success. It seems to me this argument clearly equates success with making money, usually lots of it. This indicates to me their preoccupation with money as well as their apparent ignorance of any other form of success.

Romney in particular, but I am sure this is true of many others, seems to have so little understanding of how ordinary people live he has no other measure for success, to get rich is to him, success, but what about the other 99%? Do they never achieve success? How does one measure success if not in the amount of money accumulated (ignore for the moment the obvious questions that might arise about how these fortunes are actually accumulated). Clearly there are all kinds of successful people, and most of these people were not interested in making lots of money. What about successful doctors, lawyers, nurses, dentists, carpenters, plumbers, teachers, mechanics, and any of the other occupations that people choose. Some, if they are good at what they do, become successful, and their success is not measured by their incomes, but by their abilities to do better than what their peers do. What about a nun who is about to be canonized for her lifetime of work with lepers? Is she not considered successful? If the standard of success is merely accumulating money the vast majority of ordinary citizens would and could never become successful. It is true that we do reward success in America, people receive awards, trophies, letters of appreciation, blue and other ribbons, medals, and so on, all indications of success. And it is most usually the case these people deserve their rewards for being successful.

The standards of ordinary success do not really apply to those whose sole interest lies in accumulating as much money as possible and even more. This is because most people realize there is much more to life than making as much money as possible, often by questionable means. Depending upon how you look at it, it is perhaps not possible to make fortunes except through socially undesirable means. As near as I can tell the most common ways of making money are through exploiting the labor of others, or exploiting the environment, neither of which is, in my opinion, very satisfactory. As Marx insightfully observed, capital essentially represents dead labor, and we all know what results in the unregulated exploitation of the environment. The notion that capitalists should be praised as successful for exploiting the world and others seems rather outrageous when you stop to think about it, especially as in most cases they produce nothing and basically just move money around. But I suppose when you live in a capitalistic society, where the main and virtually only goal is making as much profit as possible, such a standard is perhaps inevitable.

And speaking of such things, there is a strange contradiction involved when people complain about losing their jobs overseas. That is, if these same people are proud to live in a capitalistic society, claimed to be the best economic system in the world, they should not complain when the profits are to found overseas, where labor is cheaper and the regulations are fewer. It is basically the American way for aren’t we all better off for living under capitalism than (horrors) any form of socialism? Under some form of socialism we might actually have much less expensive and more efficient universal health care, free public education, sound infrastructure, and so on, just a thought.

And finally, appropros of nothing, I note that some court has decided it is perfectly legal to forcibly shave a man’s beard prior to his court appearance. I confess I do not understand this. What has having a beard or not have to do with whether he might or might not get a fair trial? I am not familiar with this case but I do not think it far-fetched to believe that having a beard may be a religious belief held by the victim. If this is so, it raises interesting questions about such things. If this is a precedent of some kind could we not insist that a Muslim or a Jew eat pork prior to their appearance, or force a Hindu to eat beef? Why could we not insist that appropriate candidates be circumcised? And why should Sikhs be allowed to wear turbans? And of course Muslim females should be forced to dress in the latest American fashion before they appear in court. I don’t know, maybe there is some good reason for forcibly removing the man’s beard, but I can’t imagine what it is and I don’t think someone’s religious beliefs should be violated before their trials.

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

Steven Weinberg

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