What Money Gets You

In the past two years, I’ve heard “the rich” vilified. In the past six months, I’ve heard how “the rich” are coddled and catered to. In the past two days I’ve heard how “the rich” are uninteresting and nobody likes them.

Talk about “the rich” is beginning to take on the characteristics of bigotry. Merriam-Webster, would you do the honors? “Bigotry is the state of mind of a bigot:¬†a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group…with hatred and intolerance.” Thank you, Merry. Buy you a drink later.

I get that the gap between rich and poor is escalating in this country. A high school diploma is no longer enough to guarantee you a factory job that you can keep for life and pays a wage that will allow you as a single earner to buy a house and send your children to college. But the cost of college has already escalated out of reach of most people, so those who want to use higher education as a ticket to the middle class dream have to first put themselves in debt, so that even after they’ve graduated and are working better-paying jobs, they’re still starting out in the negative.

But who are these uninteresting, coddled, predatory rich people that everyone hates? Are they the people on shows like the Real Housewives¬†franchises? Are they the folks that millions of people watch, read about, whose products they buy, whose lives they support? If that’s what the bigots are talking about, what they hate, I understand that completely. Watching people do nothing but consume is supremely uninteresting and panders to all the wrong instincts in people – a desire to be like them in their grossly unnecessary levels of consumption.

But I’m lucky enough to know some folks who have made a lot of money because they’re smart. They think about problems and come up with interesting solutions and then work to make those solutions available to other people. That’s the hard part. It’s easy to solve your own problems, but other people don’t always know what they want or want contradictory things.

Talking with people who made their money making stuff is fascinating. When your ability to solve problems isn’t limited by the money it takes to build the solutions, you can think big, crazy, fantastic. And they do. Big, crazy, fantastic ideas that become the Segway, antibiotics, pants.

So before you go badmouthing the rich, think about whom you’re disparaging. If it’s one of the larvae that clog the television, chewing their way through the retail forest with their platinum card teeth, I’m down. Consumerism is supremely uninteresting. If you are attempting to distinguish yourself by what you buy, you are doomed to fail. But if you’re badmouthing those people who are out there thinking about the next great thing they’re going to build, you’re missing out.

When Worlds Collide

I’ve spent the past two days at TechRaising in downtown Santa Cruz. The Pirate crystallized the mood here as a lot of really smart people committed to sharing their expertise in the interest of creating a new and exciting future. Folks came here with great ideas, including an application to use a smartphone in order to determine the cost effectiveness of installing solar on your house, a micro-gifting website and a smartphone interface to control a quadcopter with speakers and lasers. There are all kinds of folks here, and the mood is universally can-do, hopeful and upbeat. These folks recognize that they’re making a difference in the world by being creators rather than consumers.

Last night, I went from TechRaising to Opera San Jose – opening night of Gounod’s Faust. The Pirate and I always attend the opening night dinner, an event held at a restaurant within walking distance of the California Theater in San Jose, where the wine flows freely, everyone is rich and white, and the food nearly always sounds better than it tastes.

Before dinner started, the Pirate and I were lurking near our table, surveying the crowd. I had been social all day, which is tiring for me, so I was contenting myself with watching the crowd rather than wading into it. A woman approached us and asked us if we were sitting at her table, and even though we weren’t, we all introduced ourselves and started talking. Everyone starts out the conversation with the same question – How long have you been a fan of opera? From there we talk about other operas we’ve seen, other places we’ve seen opera, etc. This woman asked us where we were from, and then launched into a tirade about how Arizona and southern California were becoming overrun with immigrants, stealing all the jobs.

The woman making this observation wore a silk tunic over silk pants. She wore gold and diamond jewelry, her hair was nicely styled and her shoes were new and expensive. She looked and sounded like a person living a comfortable, upper-middle-class life in America, but she sounded angry and frightened by this brown wave crashing over the border.

I don’t know which jobs she thinks they’re stealing. They’re certainly not stealing the “standing in the median holding ‘will work for food‘ sign” jobs, which I’ve only ever seen from white folks and black folks. Never brown folks. Maybe all those people who’ll work for food are on the median because when they were standing outside Home Depot, people actually expected them to work. She did opine that “they” let the immigrants in because the immigrants vote Democrat. I’m not sure who “they” are, but it’s their fault and she’s not happy.

That this woman is a bigot is beyond question. I can’t count the number of times that people have disparaged Mexicans to me because I am rich, educated and look white, and they therefore believe that I must hate foreigners who are threatening our way of life. My way of life is entirely made possible by foreigners. The products I buy were largely made in China. If I have problems with those products, I call India or Canada for support. My food comes from South America, Europe or Mexico and is made according to recipes from everywhere in the world.

What I heard from this woman wasn’t intolerance so much as it was fear. The world is changing, and she is becoming unsure of her place in it and her value to it. The paradigm she grew up with is changing, and she doesn’t understand those changes. That’s so different than the attitude of the folks here at TechRaising, where there is very much a feeling of competence, confidence and capability. Whatever the future will bring, the people at events like this will be the ones who bring it to you.

Where are you? Are you crouching in the dark, worrying about what the future may hold? Or are you out in front of things, creating innovative ways to solve your problems, connect with other people or make folks happy?