Occupying Wall Street, the Desert, and Small Spaces

This morning I went walking among the creosote bushes with only jackrabbits for companionship. It was a gorgeous fall day in the desert and would have been perfect except for the smoke from people’s fireplaces that burned my lungs and aggravated my allergies. People are within their legal rights to use their fireplaces around here, but still, they encroached on my right to breathe clean air just because they didn’t want to wear sweaters or otherwise deal with inside temperatures a degree or two beneath their comfort level.

The problem with humans is that we encroach. We always want what we want without regard to others. And if we’re not stopped with regulations or fights or lawsuits, we continue to encroach.

An example of encroachment took place several years ago at an art show. Each person was allotted a ten-foot-by-ten-foot space. One woman (let’s call her Pat) used a six feet table across the front, with two feet on either side for an entry to an additional exhibit behind her table. All would have been fine except that the neighboring person used part of Pat’s space for an easel. People couldn’t get behind Pat’s table without tripping on the easel, so Pat moved her table to give people space to get around the easel. Next thing she knew, the neighbor moved the easel further into her space, so again Pat moved her table because it just didn’t seem worth fighting over such a petty matter. Again, the neighbor moved the easel, and yet again, but now there was no room to shove the table out of the way, so Pat asked the neighbor to move the easel, explaining it was in her space. The neighbor didn’t move it, so Pat did. And all the rest of the day, she had to listen to her neighbor complain about how Pat had moved her easel and stolen her space.

A silly story perhaps since there was nothing at stake besides a couple of feet of floor space, but it illustrates a fundamental human trait — we want whatever we can take, and once we’ve taken it, we feel it is ours.

The rich want to take from the middle class (they don’t want to take from the poor since the poor don’t have anything), the middle class (what’s left of it) wants to take from the rich, and the poor want to take from the rich, the middle class, the government, anyone they can. Our whole system of entitlement is based on this need to encroach. We need, so we should get. We are all trying to capture as much of our share of resources (power, money, land, energy) as we can. Sometimes we buy into the stock market hoping to make a killing. Sometimes we do get something for our investment; other times we lose it all, and when we lose it, we complain about all we have lost, when in fact we have lost nothing but paper profits we took from someone else. Sometimes we have many children, which is a way of staking out more than our share of resources. Sometimes we cheat a little — or a lot — and justify it because how else are we going to get what is ours? And sometimes we occupy someone’s space just because it’s there.

Quite by accident the other day, I happened to walk past a western offshoot of “Occupy Wall Street.” Most of these people wanted a redistribution of wealth, some wanted to ban Nukes, some wanted a place to stay or a reason to feel important. Perhaps those who began the movement are right and the rich have too great a share of the world’s resources, but the trouble is not the rich. The trouble is us — all of us, rich and poor alike — and our inbred penchant for encroachment. We all want more. The rich are just better at encroachment than the rest of us. Or maybe not. Maybe they just had more resources to begin with. Or were in the right place at the right time. Or were smarter. Or were more nefarious.  Or were born into a rich family. But it doesn’t really matter why they are rich. If the pyramid of wealth were reversed and the rich became poor and the poor became rich, the world would be exactly the same, just with different faces at the top and bottom. Our situation/status in life defines us just as much as we define our situation in life.

Still, whatever our status or situation, we want something we don’t have. And today what I wanted was a wonderful walk and a perfect day. And like most of our wants, I didn’t get it because other people wanted something completely different.

But the day was not lost. I got a blog topic out of the deal.