One Percent

American political scientist, activist and author Norman Finkelstein is new to me. I have not yet read his important 2018 book, GAZA, and I’ve only seen him talk, briefly, on Facebook reels. Occasionally, as I quickly wade through Facebook’s quotidian flotsam and jetsam, I discover something worth considering more deeply. That was the case the other day when I heard Finkelstein talk about values.

In this video he said there are essentially two sets of values – material values and spiritual values – and they conflict. The material values are power and privilege, fame and fortune, he said; the spiritual values are truth and justice. He contends that 99 percent of people (I’m assuming he had American people uppermost in mind) strive for the material values of fame and fortune, while only 1 percent strive for truth and justice. 

No wonder, I thought, so little gets done to correct the rampant lies and injustices in this world! No wonder the loud, clear voices for truth – think Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, and Bobby Kennedy’s, among too many others – are silenced. If what Finkelstein posits is correct, the one percent doesn’t stand a chance, it seems.

Yes, we Americans have been practically indoctrinated since childhood to equate consumerism and materialism with patriotism. To buy stuff, often more stuff than we need, is thought of as helping the economy. We’re even judged by our stuff – the clothes we wear, the cars we drive. We as a group are not “people”; we’re labeled “consumers.”  We keep the big wheels of commerce whirling, and that’s considered a good thing.

And yes, Madonna got it right: “You know,” she sings, “we’re living in a material world.” But we don’t have to be “material girls” like her at this age and stage of life. We’ve outgrown the razzle-dazzle of it all, haven’t we? We have bigger, better things to do with our lives now that we’re nearing our exit from this material world. Now’s a good time to turn our attention to the higher, spiritual, values of truth and justice.         

For the past ten years I’ve been touching (harping?) on this theme in my weekly blogposts. This is the wisdom that we older women have to share now. We’re still alive, we’ve learned a lot in our three-score-years-and-ten-plus years of life, we’ve seen the ultimate emptiness of fame and fortune (think Elvis Presley, who reached the heights of both, then crashed and died an ugly death at the age of 42), yet we’re treated as has-beens and muzzled — at least in the ageist/sexist (to say nothing of racist) U.S.A.

In fact, though, we’re not done yet. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be silenced. We have the power to swell the ranks of that one percent and to help make a positive difference in our worlds.

This is a great opportunity. We have the experience, the intelligence, and the time now that we’re retired from the full-time workforce. We’re able to pay attention to local, national as well as international concerns like we’ve never had time to do before.  We can read and learn and grow in confidence and band together in boldness. Truth and justice are well worth fighting for while we’re still alive and have a voice.

Tracy Chapman

I’m often reminded of Tracy Chapman’s heart-felt entreaties, and I sing them to myself. This is my favorite:

            Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple

            Don’t you eat of a bitter fruit

            Hunger only for a taste of justice

            Hunger only for a world of truth

            Cause all that you have is your soul.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

16 thoughts on “One Percent”

  1. Wonderful, Bonnie. Thank you for this call to “action.” I always knew it intellectually, but I learned it in real time in my travels — when you are a stranger in town, no one cares about your titles, or the house you live in or what your daddy did. They care that you are a kind, honest person. You know this from your work in Africa. Young people in the US are seeing through the lies — hopefully they will move the mindset toward humanity.

  2. Abso-frickin-lutely. And as you’ve written often, why retiring to a simpler/modest life in the mountains of Mexico can be an escape to a richer life not measured in material goods.

  3. Thank you so much Bonnie. I love Tracy chapman, and the quote youM ve chosen, but as I read your missive it was rilke’s words that came to me too:
    “We have where we love, only this:
    we must allow each other to grow great, because diminishing easily to us and doesn’t need to be learned. 

    ..For somewhere there’s an ancient enmity
    between ordinary life and extraordinary work.
    to understand, to express it:  help me.”
                               Rilke from “Requiem for a Friend”
    I am so grateful to him for having recognized that “enmity” that is so accentuated, I feel, by the increased intensity of materialism… I hope your spring is going well! All Best, Rae Marie

  4. Beautifully expressed and totally “right on” or spot on. So glad we live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

  5. Dear Bon,
    I agree with everything you say, and I think many people believe unrelenting consumerism is not good. I’m thankful that I can lead a fairly simple life and don’t engage with social media. These two things make it easier to find a sense of content. Also, not living in New York, where materialism is unavoidable.

  6. Maybe we should combine the material and spiritual desires in a more balanced way. But when I buy something, I don’t do it out of patriotism but because I like stuff The only things I regret are those I haven’t bought…so I am afraid I am still a material girl. Muchos besitos…

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.