The System Standing Between You and Happiness
“I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”
— Henry Miller
More money than you could spend… Unlimited frequent flier miles… A partner that’s “out-of-your-league” attractive… The blissful unawareness of youth…
We were thinking about true contentedness over the weekend. What would you need to live a happy life…and, perhaps equally important, what stops so many individuals from being able to achieve one?
More on that below, but first…
We spent the afternoon strolling around one of our favorite barrios, San Telmo, this past Sunday. If you’ve visited Buenos Aires, you’ll know this is a “former-glory” area of the city. It’s where the clase alta (upper class) used to live…before a yellow-fever epidemic forced them to relocate further up the river, to the northern barrios of Retiro and Recoleta.
Today, you can still see their grand and imposing houses, the paint worn and the facades crumbling. The sunny balconies face out onto the bustling plazas. Down below, the streets are lined with antique stores, tango parlors, and trendy cafés. And on the curbside, in front of the dilapidated mansions, artisans hawk their wares and musicians play the vintage classics for a few spare pesos.
Here in this chaotic scene, the world passes us by. Rich and poor. Old and young. The happy and the yearning.
One could spend the whole day ambling up and down these cobblestones. Except, one doesn’t. Because this area is also home to two of the best parrillas (steak restaurants) in the city. There’s simply no going to San Telmo without visiting one—or both—of them.
In their own way, these restaurants represent two extremes of life. Something for the haves…and for the have-nots.
The first, La Brigada, is a venerable Argentine institution. The cartas de vinos (wine list) is impressively hewn in cowhide and reveals hundreds of bottles of excellent wine in the cellar downstairs. Tables are draped in crisp, white cloth. And the steaks are famously so tender that the waiters carve them, tableside, with spoons.
(A friend once remarked during such an exhibition—in hushed and skeptical English—that he was sure the waiters sharpened their utensils for the “trick.” Without missing a beat, the server, who evidently had a better command of this foreign tongue than our friend had presumed, flipped the spoon and began to slice the meat with the handle. “Would Sir prefer I used another, duller spoon?” he then inquired, twisting the proverbial knife into his blushing guest.)
Having grown over the years in popularity and success, the whole establishment now sprawls over multiple, previously separate buildings. And though there must be fifty or more tables, there’s rarely a vacant seat during lunch or dinner service. Certainly not on weekends.
Just down the road, the second joint, Freddy’s, is no less an institution…though it inhabits quite the opposite end of the price spectrum.
This hole-in-the-wall offers standing room for half a dozen diners…but regularly accommodates upward of twice that many. In the corner, an old television plays whatever football match happens to be on at the time. (There’s always one…even if it’s a rerun “clásico.“)
Sausages—chorizos—are served up in split baguettes and lathered in rich chimichurri right there on the countertop. So too the various other cuts of meat, sizzling away on the parrilla, which takes up half the available floor space.
Cheap and chilled red wine is poured from plastic bottles kept under the counter. And poured liberally. The drunken crowd that spills onto the sidewalk bears testament to Freddy’s own particular brand of success.
A full stomach and a light head here will set you back less than 150 pesos…or about $10. A fraction of what you’re in for at the fancy-pants place down the road.
To each his own…and his own to each.
But we were talking about happiness…about what you need in life to “live well.” Is it a thick, bife de lomo served with a rare vintage…or a choripan washed down with some cheap, homemade wine? A mansion on the plaza…or a corner to sing your song for a few shekels?
And what, if anything, stands between the average working man and the life he wants to lead?
More than he probably thinks, as it turns out…
For one thing, there’s an entire system…worth hundreds of billions of dollars…that actively works to ensure the good life remains beyond the reach of most people.
This is a system that deplores independence. One that actively agitates against it. One that, in the end, depends on dependence.
After all, if you—and millions of other people like you—were suddenly to achieve real self-sufficiency, why would you need a public system at all? You could pay for the services you use—roads, utilities, courts—the same way you pay for toothpaste, vacations, tickets to the ballet.
And if you don’t drive to work or wind up in court? Fine. Don’t pay. And don’t use the services. The notion that a nation’s entire workforce needs to fork over half of their productive output to maintain the crumbling national infrastructure and keep the lights on at the post office is absurd.
(For perspective, “administration of justice” accounts for just 1% of the federal government’s budget. Interest on the national debt alone is five times that much. Military spending…nineteen times more.)
But it’s not just the public sector that’s leeching on the population at large. Huge swaths of the so-called “private” sector (largely a bunch of coddled racketeers using the force of the state as a hired gun to protect their bottom lines) are guilty too. And like their public partners-in-crime, they, too, “rely on your reliance.”
Think we’re joking?
Imagine what would happen to the Big Banks if you no longer had need for their loans and “services”? If your payment methods were somehow “outside” their system. If you could circumvent their network and still transact with whomever you so wished…
In the first quarter of this year, the three biggest financial institutions in the U.S. raked in $1.1 billion in fees and overdraft charges alone. Of course, that’s chump change to them. But it’s real money for the average worker who is trying hard to make ends meet.
It’s clear which end of the spectrum “the system” serves…in which direction the money flows…into whose pockets the profits pour.
Same deal elsewhere. Imagine…
What would happen to Big Pharma if millions of Americans knew the secrets to healthier living?
And Big Agriculture if Americans knew what it was they were eating…and how to produce a healthier, tastier alternative on their own.
And where would Big Oil be if everyone knew how to rig a simple solar system for themselves? If “off-the-grid” living became not only the domain of the “tin foil-hat” crowd, but of conscientious individuals fed up with coddled monopolies and special interests?
More to come…