Every time I visit my elderly parents, I leave with the same reinforced conviction: we are a nation of scammers, and we’ve simply been too used to the ubiquitous offer of scams to be more aware of it.
As I’ve noted here before, my octogenarian parents are part of that increasingly rare breed of Americans who somehow survive without the internet or cable TV. So instead of the constant bombardment of spam and emails that most people passively ignore with only mild annoyance on a more or less daily basis, they are subjected to multiple phone calls and spam emails from various organizations that are not what they claim to be. . Because my parents limit themselves to a landline, their phone rings at least ten times a day with unwanted calls such as bogus “police aid” organizations. Almost always male, these callers claim to represent the interests of police officers and their talk is usually scary talk about crime and poor, resource-poor cops. Most of these stalker groups are simply right-wing political organizations with no connection to the police.
So are several “injured veteran” scams, “Medicare benefit” scams, “expired warranty” scams, and worthless life insurance sales pitches, all unwanted and annoying intrusions into their daily lives. Because my parents are elderly, they are prime targets for these peddlers, who are all well aware of the age of the person they are calling thanks to Internet-ready demographic records. So they call again and again, taking advantage of the fact that – like millions of others – my parents don’t know enough about their options to block them (I’ve tried weaning them off the landline to no avail, and they can’t). don’t understand the idea of only using cell phones or even “screening” their calls) This may seem like a minor thing, but it’s actually quite debilitating, mentally and physically, over time and repetition , television and telephone.
Four out of five snail mails they receive are from one of these types of groups, or something similar, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t particularly sensitive to such trash. I can’t tell you how many “award winning” letters I eliminated that my mother (who suffers from dementia praecox) laid out on her dining room table, ready to respond and thus subjected herself to an exponential number of these. -ons. “No, you didn’t win a million dollars, mom, no you don’t need to adopt a heifer, mom, no, your car warranty hasn’t expired.”
These specific people will generally not care about me simply because my age demographic indicates that I would be less susceptible to their disadvantages. But sometimes they pass: This week it was a long message from “Sundance Vacations” letting me know that I had won a contest I had never entered two years ago at a local boat show ( I had attended the show but I had never participated in a competition). Immediately interesting to me was their assurance that I was a big winner, but what I “won” was never described. Of course, a few clicks on Yelp suggested the place was a timeshare-type scam with a host of complaints to the Better Business Bureau. But I wondered how my internet-averse parents would have responded to the same pitch. In fact, I don’t wonder, they’ve already been snookered in at least one of these “promotions”.
It’s tempting to ignore the ubiquity of this constant scam (and I’m not even talking about the “Grand parents” scams and their ilk that are the diabolical product of real criminals) as mere background noise, but I’ve come to see it as reflecting a broader scam ethic that now enjoys complete legitimacy at all levels of our society. It’s really not far from the myriad of advertisements for useless pharmaceuticals that captive viewers are told to “question their doctors.” Or just ads with fashionably made muzak trying to get “pissed off” and buy stupid software, a van, or a fast food burger. But what I think I really don’t like about our insatiable consumer culture is this underlying assurance that it conveys that all is well, all is just peachy, edgy and fun, in a country that, for all intents and purposes, is on the verge of willfully descending into fascism, with one of its political parties entirely dedicated to dividing the people for its own benefit.
Just this week, the conservative, ideologically corrupt Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (via three Trump-appointed stooges) declared Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ‘unconstitutional’ because it – like many other federal agencies such as the USPS and the Federal Reserve – does not receive its funding through congressional appropriations. Of course, this is hand-picked nonsense concocted because predatory payday lenders like those who sued in this case are huge donors to the political right. And regulation such predators would be… unseemly, I guess, for a rogue nation.
The Internet has had at least one salutary effect: it has given Americans a glimpse of how cynical our economic hierarchy is in this country. As Tim Kreider wrote in July for the New York Times:
A new generation has come of age that has never experienced capitalism as a functioning economic system. My generation, X, was the first post-war cohort to be downward mobile, but millennials were the first to know. Our country’s oligarchs forgot to maintain Horatio Alger’s crucial fiction that anyone can get ahead with hard work – or maybe they just let it go, thinking we only had more choice. Thanks to the Internet, we could look with envy at our neighbors in civilized countries, who take a month’s vacation, don’t have to spend decades paying for their college degrees, and aren’t afraid of going bankrupt if they fall sick. Youth, America looks less like a country than an inescapable network of scamsand “hard work” sounds less like a virtue and more like a propaganda slogan, inane like “Just say no”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has briefly shed light on the self-perpetuating hamster wheel mentality upon which our American capitalist system rests. Kreider continues:
The pandemic has been the bomb cyclone of our discontents; it not only gave us all non-essential workers an experience of obligatory laziness – which, for many, turned out not to be entirely unpleasant – but also unearthed a lake full of long-submerged truths. It turns out that millions of people never needed to waste days of their lives sitting in traffic jams or in pantomime “work” under the control of management eight hours a day. We learned that nurses, cashiers, truck drivers and delivery people (who have always been too busy to brag about it) actually run the world and that we were mostly useless supernumeraries. The brutal hierarchies of work shifted, for the first time in recent memory, in favor of work, and the indignant groans of the old Social Darwinists were a delight to savor.
I remember, almost at the exact moment, TV ads during the pandemic went from being “we’re all in this together, and we’re here for you, we care” and became “now that past is behind us, it’s time to open up, so get out there and spend, spend, spend. It’s time to get back on that hamster wheel, and oh, by the way, now we have to charge you twice as much because of “l ‘inflation”.
So yeah, I feel bad for my parents. But the sad reality is that they won’t stay long. The people I really sympathize with are the younger generations, with their impossible rents and the prospect of owning their own home in this country that is disappearing like so much water poured over the sand.
The future their elders are about to bequeath to them is one that reflects the dearest hopes of the same ignorant bigots many of them fled their hometowns to escape. American conservatism, which is demographically terminal and knows it, acts like a dying billionaire adding sadistic codicils to its will.
More and more young people are choosing not to have children, not only because they cannot afford them, but also because they assume they will only have a scorched or soggy wasteland. to grow.
Even with all this darkness, I remain optimistic, believe it or not. The young people of this country are simply not going to sit idly by and let their lives turn into fungible commodities, their hopes and aspirations snuffed out by the myopia and greed of their parents and grandparents and this corrupt, antiquated and dysfunctional system. that they have is imposed on them. The cracks are just too big and glaring to ignore. I suspect there will be a settling of scores sooner rather than later with this rogue nation, and I hope I’m alive to see it. Gil Scott-Heron told us: “The revolution will not be televised”. He was right, I think, just half a century too early.