The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

In my head, I have these two ideas, which seem to be unrelated in real life, but feel to me connected at some basic level.

The First

There’s a great deal of glee in certain circles over the high price of gas.  Andrew Sullivan, for example, advocates a huge tax on gas so that it’s upwards of $5 per gallon so that people will be forced to find alternate, more environmentally, safe ways of getting around and so that car companies will feel the market pressure to make more fuel efficient cars for those of us who are still determined to have cars, even though, is this high-priced-gas world, miraculously, we would all live near plentiful and efficient public transportation.

This has always pissed me off because rural people often don’t live near their jobs or their jobs involve driving things for a living and so it seems like a way to punish non-urban people without too much cost to the urban folks.

There are other flaws, but that’s been my complaint.

I was thinking about the folks in New Orleans, though, who didn’t have cars to evacuate.  And I was thinking how funny(sad) it is that here they were living some environmentalists’ dream of urban public-transportation depending folks and how, when they really needed plentiful and efficient public transportation, it never came.

In other words, I think the "give up your car" movement overlooks the hard lesson we’ve learned that we cannot depend on our local, state, or federal government to give us help when we need it and we must, if we’re going to be as safe as possible, depend on ourselves and each other.

The Second

At lunch on Saturday, Coble and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance we have whose life has passed the point of "a series of unfortunate mishaps" into "I’m fucking myself up for reasons known only to me" and how this would be sad except that he’s managed to parlay his ability to make only the wrong decisions in any given circumstance into occasional free housing, lots of free meals, and lots of other good, cool stuff that any of the rest of us might like, but not only don’t we go around asking for them, we’d be embarrassed to ask others to provide them, and mortified to accept them, if someone figured out we might like, say, a car.

And I was thinking about how the libertarian ideal is that there won’t be any government hand-outs; people will just give charitably.  Previously, my objection to this has been that people’s money tends to go where their attention is.  You give to SIDS-related stuff one year because a co-worker’s sister lost a kid that way.  The next year you give that money to hurricane victims.  After that, it goes to the Humane Society.  This leaves non-profits scrambling for money, year after year.

But I’m seeing that the related idea–that your money goes where your attention is–is very exploitable by the squeaky wheel.  The person with the audacity to ask for things tends to get them, where the people who have been trained to suffer quietly or to make the best of circumstances, no matter how bleak, never pop up on the radar of people who are willing to help.

I don’t know.  Maybe these two ideas are related by the fact that it’s the people who are doing the right thing, who are doing the things we want to encourage, are the ones that get hurt. 

Most of us want to ease the suffering of our fellow community members (however we understand community), but figuring out how to do that without causing the suffering of others seems nearly impossible.

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12 thoughts on “The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

  1. You’re right. The squeaky wheel syndrome is something I discovered fairly recently in my adult life. When I bought my house my cable bill went up for the same exact services. So I bitched and bitched to Comcast and they gave me back the old rate, plus some new stuff just so I’d shut up.That sort of thing happens everywhere. The ‘suffer in silence’ mode is preferable to everyone except the suffering person, but the one that whines about it is the one that gets help.Seems like that’s a general trait of our society. Rewarding the less preferable behavior just to make it go away.

  2. > rural people often don’t live near their jobs or their jobs involve driving things for a living and so it seems like a way to punish non-urban peopleRight now, the cost of living for urban people is generally much higher than for rural people (housing, food, everything). As a result, the same job in an urban area pays more ($50K+benefits for a NYC garbage man). If the fuel costs mean that rural people have a higher cost of living than urban people (something that would take a lot more than $5/gallon gas), then this situation will reverse itself, and I expect that pay would follow supply and demand to equilibrium. Eventually, you might find that rural people get paid more for the same jobs than urban people.

  3. How many urban people are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a combine with a 200 gallon diesel fuel tank?Right now, a lot of rural people live where the cost of living is cheap, but work in the city. That’s how they’re making ends meet, with big commutes. If the cost of gas goes up to the point where living in the country becomes a hardship, they can’t just move to the city, because they can’t get rid of the house in the country because no one wants to buy it.Living where you work is a luxury a lot of people don’t have.And the price of fuel is not just the price of fuel. It’s got to be figured in to the cost of your food and other consumer goods, too.

  4. I’m not sure what the plight of rural people who have to drive long distances to work has to do with New Orleans. They seem to be two completely different kettles of fish. People in the country need cars. People in cities that have good public transportation don’t need them the same way.Are you suggesting that poor city people should put up with the expense of car-ownership (insurance, gas, parking, maintenance, and cost of buying a car are all much higher in cities; that’s going to put people who just get by without a car right into poverty) if they don’t want to, increase the local congestion and pollution levels, and raise gas prices for the entire country (by increasing demand dramatically) because their representatives might screw up? I’d suggest more citizen oversight and making state/local governments more responsible for disaster planning and assistance (and having the federal government give them back the money to do it), but I’m not sure that the lesson I would draw from FEMA is that everyone ought to have a car.

  5. A car equals independence. Those who count on the government to provide their transportation, are then dependent on the government for that transportation.

  6. So you see "the government" as something separate from you? I see "government" as representing and including me (and you), and responsible to us for doing what the community wants. So I think we’re going to disagree about this issue.

  7. Lee, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but even if you HAVE a car, you are dependant on the government for that transportation.–Ever try driving a car without tags?–Ever try getting tags without the government approving your emissions level? Current "emissions testing" is really just an elitist way to keep crap cars off the road. They no longer test purely for air quality purposes. I’ve had a car rejected because automatic door-locks have quit working. (It sends an error message to the test computer) –Ever try getting gasoline on the black market, without paying the exorbitant state and federal taxes? Car, bus, train, it makes no difference. The government has found a back door into controlling your movements.

  8. No, NM, what I’m trying to get at–though upon rereading myself, I can see what you’re seeing–is that it seems that the "underprivileged" people who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing end up bearing the brunt of whatever problems result from us instituting various social programs.It might be a good thing for people who don’t need cars to not have them (though I say that as someone who cannot imagine not being able to get in my car and go where I want when I want if I can afford it) and it might be fine if the price of gas acts as an encouragement for people to not have cars if they don’t really "need" them.But–fuck me, I’m going to use hegemony twice in one day–our current hegemony rewards suffering in silence and encourages a certain level of discomfort as appropriate for people of a certain class.Therefore, it’s very easy for folks like Andrew Sullivan to make grand pronouncements about how the price of gas should be $5 a gallon because we should be trying to conserve gas AND the people hit hardest by such an action, who are least able to change their material circumstances in order to counter the effects of that, would be the last to complain.AND I think there’s something really strange about expecting that people in the city, even if they have good public transportation, might never want to leave the city and see what else is out there.Folks might not have any objective need to ever leave their neighborhoods, but who can measure what a soul needs to feel at ease?And why is the soothing of one’s soul a task only available to those who can afford it?Not to mention that, if they don’t have cars, when their government abandons them, they are screwed.

  9. The poor in this society are relatively voiceless, it’s true. Lack of money, power, and voice are certainly connected. I’m not sure that I would say that that voicelessness is rewarded, though. You yourself note that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And in political terms, we know that change often comes from people speaking up, figuring out what power they have, and using it. Your real complaint, I think, is that those who are not on the bottom feel free to ignore the voices of those below them unless they are shouting. I don’t have a solution to this, except to encourage more speaking up. But to me "everybody needs to own their own car to get away from hurricanes" seems like a cry of libertarian despair. Should everyone carry around a little street repair kit in the trunk, too, to fix the potholes?

  10. Aw, shucks, nm. Leave it to you to come in here all eloquent and point-seeing.I told y’all how the Butcher wants to start a political party–the Socialitarians, that would somehow combine the best of socialism and libertarianism.I think I have socialitarianism dispair. I want our community (the U.S.) use the tool it has (our government) to take care of the members of the community. I also want those members of the community to be aware that the tool is often not the right one to meet their needs (even if it should be) and to not rely totally on it, just for their own safety.

  11. That’s not eloquence, it’s an over-reliance on rhetorical questions. But thank you for the nice spin.I believe that gov’t can do a lot, and do a lot of good. But it can do that only if it really embodies the community–if it’s the political aspect of a community that already exists and works in other ways. People have to get involved with each other and remember that what they do (including the good stuff) affects all the folks they see every day. Then gov’t stops being an "it" or a "they" and starts being "us." Oh, and I forgot to say that what carless New Yorkers do when they want to get out of the city (unless they want to take a train) is rent a car. Lots of car rental places there.

  12. Coble, true enough. But I’ll take the scraps I can get. I will not wait in the rain at a bus stop. I will take random drives along country roads with the windows down while driving over the speed limit, knowing full well if busted I’ll pay the fine, and if there is an emergency, of a weather, medical, or whatever, I have the mobility to do so. That is what I meant when I said a car equals independence. Not total independence, but enough to make life just a bit sweeter.

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