Whack-a-Mole (or a Poor Person) for Pleasure, Profit and Power

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CommonDreams.org

Whack-a-Mole (or a Poor Person) for Pleasure, Profit and Power

The front page of the New York Times this morning said it all for me.  Right column: 2.6 million more join the ranks of the poverty-stricken in America. Center-right column: Democrats see the perils of cutting healthcare spending during this upcoming election cycle.  For millions and millions of us, being one of the unwashed, un-landed masses in America in 2011 makes us part of feels like a sickening carnival game for those who need us on occasion to pop up and perform followed by a thump on our heads should we rise too much or at the wrong moment. 

Politicians and their financial backers use compassion or lack thereof like a soft mallet to hammer down those pesky “po” folk who need help lest spending to protect lives is seen as a debt the nation cannot bear or as a potential liability to a desired political outcome.  Whack!  Whack!

Economy slipping?  Gives the moles a few hundred dollars to spend, let them rise up ever so slightly from the hole to spend it to boost the bottom line – but not to give them jobs – and, oops.  Whack!  Whack! 

Don’t you know if that mole wanted it badly enough he or she would figure out how not to be whacked?

Safety net programs slashed.  Whack!  Whack! Don’t let the mole start to lift up.

This game is fun for an awful lot of people in power.  And the scary thing is, some of the whackers really enjoy the whacking.  Think of those who torture prisoners during war.  Some of those who order the torture and some who carry it out really like the feelings of power and control.  The same thing is at play in the lives of the working class in America. 

If it serves those is power to “Whack” us, then they do.  If it serves them to momentarily allow us to peer up from the hole, then they allow that.  And at play is the oldest and most powerful tool for psychological control.  Ask any expert on gambling addiction.  It is the intermittent rewards or reinforcement – the chance that one might win – that is so addicting.  Though the odds may be long and the losses sustained in the attempt to win may cause great suffering, the gambler plays on.  Bet after bet. 

Whack on the head after whack on the head.  Whack.  Whack.  It feels sort of hopeful for the poor folks who try to rise a bit, even when we know the whack may come.  Even when we see the smiles or the sneers on the faces of those who whack us.  Bruised and dazed from rising just a bit, we sink back into our struggles, our holes, until we can gather the fortitude to get whacked again.

How can working class Americans escape the cycle, and get out of the game for good?  We’ll only break the chain-of command  among the whackers if enough of us rise out of those holes at the same time, take the whacks from the powerful who would harm us and have behind us others willing to keep taking the whacks when we need time to recover or when some of us succumb to our injuries. 

The whackers are winning right now because the game is rigged in their favor and to addict them too.  They count on us retreating and only popping up with enough force and regularity to make it pleasurable when they need it to be so.  Right now the whacked are feeding the whackers’ intermittent reward system too.  We have to break that cycle or it will not be broken.  Whack, whack, whack and come back.

Healthcare costs rising and families going without while whackers laugh about letting the uninsured die.  Jobs lost never to be replaced, and whacker-politicians calculate what to say and when to say it to raise hopes just in time for elections but not in time to prevent homes lost and lives upended.  

I believe real potential to get off the carnival midway will only come when those of us being whacked identify honestly and clearly who the barkers and the whackers are and are not.  Painful as it will be, some of us who are being whacked with great frequency and who keep trying to transform ourselves and step away from the games will have to stay down in our holes, stop getting hit on the head and stop clinging to the coattails of a few charming would-be leaders who are also whackers without warning.  If someone has whacked me in the past, it is likely that they will whack me in the future unless there is sufficient reason for them to stop.

Back to the front page of that newspaper, and I know I stand more closely with the 2.6 million newly identified poor folks than I ever could with those politicians who consider only their political futures and not the human costs and damage of cutting more from those who can afford it least.  The whacked in the right column are much more numerous than the whackers in the right-center column.

What I wish I saw on that front page was a report about when it might be expected mathematically that those being whacked being of much larger numbers will finally have too few and too minor intermittent rewards in-between the whacks to avert a change in the game.  You know that feeling when you are waiting for a mole to pop up and you stand ready to whack?  It’s worrisome when the moles are delayed because you know then they’ll be popping up all over the place before long and perhaps too fast to whack them all hard enough to win.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith is the Executive Director of Health Care for All Colorado and the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation. 

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