So, when I was a teenager, I ran with The Wrong Crowd. On a number of levels, I’m lucky to be here at all, much less as prosperous, healthy and happy* as I am. I had a number of friends who weren’t and aren’t so lucky. Some died, some made mistakes that ruined the rest of their lives.
Two friends — let’s call them Goofus and Gallant, because I loved Highlights For Kids — had plenty of run-ins with the law. It’s not that their parents didn’t teach them better, or that they weren’t aware of what they were doing. They just got caught up in the moments, maybe got greedy every now and then, just like the rest of us. It’s what teenagers do. They just got caught with their hands in the cookie jar more often than the rest of us.
Goofus had parents that some would call “enablers.” Every time he got caught, his parents bailed him out, paid his fines for him, pulled strings with lawyers or city leaders they knew, and got him out of the situation with as little consequence as was possible.
Gallant’s parents bailed him out the first time, and explained to him that, as much as they loved him, next time he was on his own. And they didn’t lie — he got caught for a DUI for his second offense, and paid every penny of the fine himself, lost his car, and worked off every minute of the community service they gave him.
That was Gallant’s last offense, by the way. I’m sure that since then he’s skirted a law or two, but he knows: action has reaction. Behavior has consequence. Having done so before, he is careful not to take any actions for which he is not willing to suffer consequence.
Goofus had a last offense, too. Nothing big — it was some sort of robbery that involved drugs. But his parents are dead, and were when he got caught. And no one was there to bail him out. And he got killed in prison, as I understand, in a fight over a carton of cigarettes with a 20 year old kid who was doing time for gang-related homicide.
And no, I’ve never been to jail, nor do I have any sort of a criminal record. Though I was once arrested (though not booked) for doing gargoyle impressions.
Okay, so that’s a little melodramatic, perhaps (though true), when all I’m trying to say is that this whole economic bail-out thing reeks of over-protective parenting that ultimately harms the child. Give the banks all this money, keep them from facing the results of their predatory lending and other greedy practices, and all you’re doing is saying, “Hey, that was really bad, and we caught you. Try again. See if you can do it without getting caught.” Same goes for the automobile manufacturers who failed to keep up with the competition, and the homeowners who took out mortgages that they could clearly not afford.
Am I a little bitter that myself and a lot of my friends and family and peers have walked a very careful path, and paid off our credit cards instead of declaring bankruptcy, and lived a little no-frills so that we could pay the debts and mortgages that we incurred, and have continued living in apartments until we could actually afford a mortage? Goddamned right I am. Because we have voluntarily suffered because it’s the right thing to do, and we don’t get rewarded. The bad guys — the bankers and CEOs and homeowners that shouldn’t have been and the rest: they don’t get punished. In fact, they get a hand back up. Status quo holds, all is well, and forward we go.
I know that there are people out there that genuinely need to be helped — there are a lot of good people that probably didn’t know what they were getting into, and were told by “experts,” people that they trusted, that they could afford this loan or that investment. I don’t blame the victims all the time. But I do know that there are a lot of people out there that are knowningly guilty but passing themselves off as victims just the same.
I also know that without some form of governmental stimulus (and the next person who calls it a spendulus bill better follow that phrase up with a reasonable alternative, or I’m punching you in the throat for being a whiny bitch), the economy would probably collapse on itself and eat the souls of innocent kittens across the universe. But you know what? Maybe that’s what should have happened.
If you run through the streets of gang-infested urbans areas shouting racial epithets and provoking danger, then you kinda deserve whatever happens to you. And you’re sure as fuck not allowed to play the victim later.
Maybe it really is the case that nice guys finish last, and that by living the moral life, I deny myself the spoils and rewards that I could have in my reach. But then, I think there’s some related comfort when I hear Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy — if you have any interest in astronomy, check it out) say, “But I have found over the years that the hardest thing to accept as a skeptic is that the Universe doesn’t care what you think is true, it only cares about what is true.” [emphasis mine]
What does that mean? I have no idea. But at least I’m not in jail. Or worse.
* You think this is bad, you should hear me bitch about the world when I’m not happy.