Saturday, August 18, 2007

Frivolous II: The Guilt Strikes Back

Seeking advise from those I trust most, here are the words of my dear pater:

You may want to read Ann Rand's book on selfishness for a bit of philosophy on human nature and why it may not be so bad as it first appears by my and your Christian moral heritage. Also, there is an issue of pleasing the father and looking accomplished in his eyes, but that's probably well buried deep in the Pirates's sense of worth or accomplishment. I bought a Rambler sedan rather than the Jag I really wanted when I came home from Vietnam, looking back I would have been no worse off and would have had many happy hours cruising in the Jag vs the more rational Rambler. You have a limited time on earth so perhaps, when you're young is the best time to reach for the brass ring and damn the consequences. Enjoy the ride, don't worry too much about the trade-offs.... both his and your economic potential over the next 50 years is very substantial, you are poor as a church mouse now, but that is a temporary affliction.

Love,
Dad

Perhaps a touch of hedonism isn't a bad thing. Again, as with all things, it's a matter of scale. Dad is also of the ilk that my feelings are the result of my temporary poverty, and such feelings will disperse when I'm back on a more sound economic footing. This may be partially true, but I'm pretty sure that even if/when I have that kind of money, I would still consider that level of luxury unecessary and decadant.

I've been giving this whole issue a LOT of thought lately, in an attempt to understand exactly what is upsetting me, why, and what steps, if any, I should take. Here are some ideas that have occured to me:

It may simply be human nature to view all those with less than us as unfortunate and underpriveledged, while those with more than us are spoiled, greedy, mean, priveledged, etc. I think every one of us feels that our personal balance between frugality and indulgence is an appropriate balance, and anyone differing significantly from out own spending habits is in the wrong, one way or t'other.

It may also be partly due to the fact that growing up in a very working-class and pro-labor household I was taught to resent on some level those people who were more affluent than myself. Furthermore, such people were often described in terms of their material wealth, such as "people who live in houses like that X___." or "people who drive cars like that Y___" etc. I think the unfortunate coincidence that Pirate has purchased an item which in my youth was made out to be an indicator of greed and selfishness is, when I really think about it, at the bottom of what's troubling me.

So I'm left to reconcile the apparent paradox that either my parents were wrong and wealthy people with unnecessary and expensive cars aren't necessarily the greedy bastards who are the source of all the world's ailments,
or
I have critically misjudged the Pirate and actually he's not the amazing guy I thought he was, but actually he's one of the rich, greedy baddies. (I am exaggering slightly for the sake of clarity, but I think you can forgive me for that.)

On the surface this doesn't appear very difficult. The first statement assumes a lot of absolutes (all problems are caused by rich people, all people who drive nice cars are rich, it's easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, etc.), and absolutes are rarely true. So it should be easy to write an addendum to that philosophy pertaining to exceptions and accept that my parents are not always right and that wealthy people can be good people.

It should be easy. But accepting a change in your views, a change in a philosophy that has colored the way you've seen the world since you were old enough to open your eyes, rarely is. In some ways it would be easier for me to admit that I was wrong about the Pirate, because that's a view that I've only had for a year, as opposed to a lifetime. Furthermore, changing your view about one person does not shatter one's whole socio-economic mindset.

But of course I love the Pirate deeply and I don't want to be wrong about him. I want to continue to believe that he is a good, moral, ethical, generous, honest man. As I've often pointed out before, though, wishing don't make it so, and wanting to believe something, even believing it, doesn't make it true.

Do I really think that buying a car suggests that I've grossly misjudged the Pirate's character? No, not really. I'm just trying to explain to you lot why this whole situation has made me squirm so much. Fundamentally it boiled down to me being wrong about something, either the strong, anti-money values I'd been raised with, or my assessment of Pirate's character. And that, I think, is what this whole thing is all about. It's forced me to confront and re-evaluate some of the assumptions I make about people and the world regarding material wealth. And questioning one's fundamental assumptions about the world is a very squirmy process indeed.

21 comments:

First Nations said...

it's the american working class prejudice, my darling. bear in mind too...our parents still had a real clear social memory of the Great Depression, when 'callous display of ostentation' meant 'someone wearing a new pair of shoes'.
between that and catholic guilt no wonder its bothering you. it used to bother me too, until i realized that the single fundamental difference between rich and poor is that the rich ALLOW themselves a way higher limit on the 'things i can have' scale.

now go grab and beer and a burrito and read up on the Aston Martin. knowlege is power. you don't have to fake an interest, but you do have to get all sides of the story.
(and believe me, when the british get it right, a car IS art.)

Chaucer's Bitch said...

and when the british get it wrong, you get... the Reliant Robin. (google it.)


oh, and did anyone else notice the discrepancy between my dad's email and my description of my upbringing? i'll just say that 30 years of working, saving, and climing the social ladder has had some influence on my parents' financial philosophies. they used to be socialists, i swear.

Dave said...

I hear all that you say, and must say that I sympathise. I hesitated many times before trading in my sensible car (plus about £4k) for the mid-life crisis.

Effectively I was spending £4k to treat myself. I had the £4k. I have sensible investments for retirement, and a rainy day. I give substantial sums to charity. My family are financially sound.

But even so, I felt very guilt about the selfishness of spending so much on a treat for me.

And I must admit, when I saw how much he'd spent on a second car (more than my gross salary for a year - and obviously far more than you have to live on) I was somewhat taken aback.

But then, as folk have been saying, things are relative. As a pirate, he must be rolling in money, so it's not such a great sacrifice for him. And even if it is, we do make sacrifices for the one we love.

Now, do you doubt that he loves you more than the car? No? Then why worry? He's going to sacrifice far more than a few pounds for you, over the years.

Lorna said...

I think your dad (not to mention FN and Dave!) make very good points. It does all come down to scale. Yes, it's a pretty expensive car (still can't believe I misplaced the comma...), but I'd say the time to worry is if he starts going out gambling. If he's a good guy, he won't do anything to betray your trust in that way.

The general guilt thing is a tricky one: having just had a somewhat costly and ultimately unnecessary party (which is basically what a wedding boils down to, when you take away the actual getting married part), I've got a healthy dose of 'why is someone like me having money spent on them' guilt of my own. I'm honestly not sure if that feeling every goes away. In general, I'd say FN's suggestion of a beer is the way to go.

Big hug and virtual beer for you!

First Nations said...

oh DEAR!! :D
it's like a Fiero with one leg cut off!

do you know I love the way you really think about things and take time to ask these questions? If you were my kid, or my sister, I'd be proud to claim you.

I was secretly appalled when the Yummy Biker bought our first BRAND NEW Harley, too. (NOT CHEAP!!!!!) it's tough to winkle out those reverse prejudices and even tougher to admit you have them.

i gotta say, your Pirate, god bless him, has excellent taste in automobiles.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

thanks for the sympathy, everyone; it actually helps a lot. sometimes (and i'm sorry if this sound like it's right out of the mouth of Oprah) when you're upset about something, you just want to be told (by people you trust) that it's OK to feel that way.


do you think there's such a thing as "over-thinking" things, or is that attitute just a refuge for intellectual cowards?

entropy said...

As someone who worries about "over-thinking" things an awful lot, I can sympathise. It's hard when you can never see something as just one decision, but part of a much larger web of possibilities. Maybe that makes someone a worrier, maybe just aware that the world isn't black and white and there are often no clear cut answers.

just a girl said...

(delurking for a moment)

This may sound mean and petty but could it be bothering you because you have yet to get a ring?

(relurking)

Timorous Beastie said...

Well well. When I read all this, my first thought was "What a sweetie that Chaucer's Bitch is". I admire you for doubting Pirate's choice. I would have too. But at the same time, it's his choice, so you can only really accept it.

GreatSheElephant said...

Personally I'm hugely in favour of frivolous expenditure providing you can afford it so I'm beginning to wonder if the reason all this has made me feel so irritable is some type of transference.

Plus I'd love to have an Aston Martin.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

wow, look at all these sunday bloggerss! whodda thunkit?

entropy: i don't think i'm a worrier in general, it's more like wondering if i spend too much time inside my own head trying to understand the workings of my brain. damn, now i'm worried that i spend too much time in my head. i see your point.

JAG: no, i really don't think that's the reason. i can honestly say that if we were married (or engaged), this would bother me just as much. the naked finger is a separate issue entirely.

TB: yeah, i know.

GSE: you think my working-class prejudices are contagious?


by the by, Pirate is coming over tonight (yay!) and brining my camera (double yay!) so tomorrow afternoon i will be posting pictures of our trip to scotland. stay tuned.

GreatSheElephant said...

no, no. What I meant was that I was experiencing it all as an unintended (obviously) criticism of my own habits.

No danger of me acquiring working class frugality. Not that frugality = working class in the UK at all. There's none as mean as the aristocracy.

As for overthinking - I do that a lot - but it's a bit pointless. There's only a limited range of things you can do about any given situation and once you've identified those options all you can do is choose one - any further thought is just self torture really.

lawyerina said...

You've had plenty of sage advice, but I just thought that I would weigh in. I can imagine that I would feel exactly the same way. I used to tease / criticize my best friend in college because she had bought a $1000 bed. I thought it was princessy. The display of privilege just seems unnecessary, or something. I also feel the same way about people who have really fancy weddings, engagement rings, etc. And I actually am not poor as a churchmouse.

However, since you posted, I've been thinking about this kind of prejudice, which I also hold. He's not hurting anyone, so what's really wrong with it?

Anyway, surely not that helpful, just wanted to say I know how you feel.

Geosomin said...

Having been wandering around in my own head a lot as of late, here's something that occurred to me about this- After I graduated and got my first actual research job and started to get a real paycheck, I paid off debts and then had money actually leftover to get things I wanted that weren't immediate to my survival...Being the practical one I am, I'd look up exactly what I wanted and then save up to buy it. I didn't throw money all over the place - just on a few choice things here and there that I knew I'd enjoy. I also shared with family and friends, so we could all enjoy a bit together when it came up.

The thing is, after a time, noticed the annoyance of a number of close friends and family who weren't doing a well as I financially. It wasn't that they thought me selfish, they just didn't understand why I was spending that kind of money on the odd things that were really just for myself. And I too grappled with it for a while. I came to the conclusion that I don't want to fall in to the trap of "I deserve this" or "I'm worth it". It's more of not feeling guilty in allowing yourself to enjoy things if you can afford them and if you aren't shirking your responsibilities or being selfish.
And I don't do it often, but have slowly earned a number of nifty things I enjoy. And I resolved when I bought them to enjoy them without guilt, and if they ever became an issue to get rid of them...they're just stuff after all. And I do remember resenting friends doing well who did the same thing when I was a broke student working 2 jobs...I suppose it is all a matter of keeping the right perspective.
I agree with the others - if the pirate started throwing money around, gambling or showing other true character flaws I'd be concerned. But, from how you've described him he seems terribly sincere, kind and giving, so why not treat himself a bit? Well, OK a lot...but hey. If he can afford it...and you'll get to enjoy it too, and enjoy him enjoying it (as corny as that sounds) . Plus I have to say - having had access to that car in the past can be a whole lot of fun on a picnic day trip. It's a riot to drive...

Geosomin said...

Having been wandering around in my own head a lot as of late, here's something that occurred to me about this- After I graduated and got my first actual research job and started to get a real paycheck, I paid off debts and then had money actually leftover to get things I wanted that weren't immediate to my survival...Being the practical one I am, I'd look up exactly what I wanted and then save up to buy it. I didn't throw money all over the place - just on a few choice things here and there that I knew I'd enjoy. I also shared with family and friends, so we could all enjoy a bit together when it came up.

The thing is, after a time, noticed the annoyance of a number of close friends and family who weren't doing a well as I financially. It wasn't that they thought me selfish, they just didn't understand why I was spending that kind of money on the odd things that were really just for myself. And I too grappled with it for a while. I came to the conclusion that I don't want to fall in to the trap of "I deserve this" or "I'm worth it". It's more of not feeling guilty in allowing yourself to enjoy things if you can afford them and if you aren't shirking your responsibilities or being selfish.
And I don't do it often, but have slowly earned a number of nifty things I enjoy. And I resolved when I bought them to enjoy them without guilt, and if they ever became an issue to get rid of them...they're just stuff after all. And I do remember resenting friends doing well who did the same thing when I was a broke student working 2 jobs...I suppose it is all a matter of keeping the right perspective.
I agree with the others - if the pirate started throwing money around, gambling or showing other true character flaws I'd be concerned. But, from how you've described him he seems terribly sincere, kind and giving, so why not treat himself a bit? Well, OK a lot...but hey. If he can afford it...and you'll get to enjoy it too, and enjoy him enjoying it (as corny as that sounds) . Plus I have to say - having had access to that car in the past can be a whole lot of fun on a picnic day trip. It's a riot to drive...

First Nations said...

now i'm going to mess with your brain a little.

One of the reasons we started vacationing east of the cascades is to scope out old wrecking yards, repo lots and swap meets. buying low and selling high is our hobby and it's paid off really well over the years...cars, motorcycles and antiques mainly, sometimes for refurbishing, sometimes only for finder's fees.

If the Pirate had come to America and done a careful hunt he could have found the very same car, in the very same condition, and bought it for 25.00. fact.

FACT.

elementary supply and demand...sure, its a nice car, but it died in East Bumfuck Arizona or the middle of the Mojave or something. if nobody nearby has the interest, the parts or the money, it's real world value = it's scrap value. nearly zero.

last november we scored a 1000.00 finders fee this way on a Jaguar for a local guy. the only thing wrong with the car was the wiring, and the location it chose to shit the bed.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

GSE: but i'm a masochist! self-torture is what i dooooooo!

lawyering: thanks for ringing in.

Geo: it's not corny at all. getting to enjoy him enjoying the car and seeing him that excited about something, well, how could i pop a bubble like that of someone i love so much? and i think i will enjoy it, indirectly though him.

FN: oh for fucks sake! after all this, when i'm finally beginning to settle down, NOW you go and fuck with my head??? jesus h christ on a bicycle.

ok i'll play along. were aston martins ever available in the US? I didn't know there had ever been an export market. if that's the case, this could make things very interesting indeed... :-)

Anonymous said...

Ok, from reading this, I get the feeling that you are settling down a bit on this. That is good. Even though your dad did have a good point, there is something else that needs to be considered here. The financial responsibility of our parents and what they worked to distil in us is entirely out of wack. For example. I grew up in a very frugle household where money was idnetified as tight but there when needed. When it came to stuff we wanted, it was the bare minimum and as cheap as possible. That was the rule of the household for as long as I can remember. The parents always bought used vehicles as they were cheap and kept costs down, bills were paid but everything was done to keep them down as well. There were no frugal purchases at all. Budgets were made and were kept.

Daddy got a raise and that all went out the window. In the last X years since that raise, $$ has changed to a not so much of a concern. There is still the budgeting for bills and stuff like before and retirement is always a must but new cars and expensive cars are easily chosen now and throwing $$ here and there is like it is no concern anymore.

I look at this myself as a way of society changing. The way our parents were raised and the way we were raised early on in life is gone and by the wayside. I would love to say that I could instill to my kids what was instilled by my parents but I can't. I will definitely try to do that but with the way people are these days and the way society is going, it is just not an option anymore.

Yes this may have been unnecessary money that you feel that he shouldn't spend. I would also be inclided to agree that you would think that because of your own financial situation. I would also agree that you are basing your decision on what was taught to you when you were growing up. From reading past posts, you knew he was looking for a car of this. YOu mentioned it on your 1 year anniversary that you went looking for one. Now you only mention that it was in his price range and you didn't mention a $$ amount but you knew this was something he was wanting and was going to do. To say that this was a shocker, you can't do that.

When you get married, you can bitch all you want about stuff like that. Right now, it is his money and something it sounds like he has wanted to do for a very long time. Let it go, be happy for him and if he once bitches that he can't afford something, then you can throw the car in his face. Until then, don't worry about it.

GreatSheElephant said...

CB - ignore FN this time round. Comparing a Jaguar with an Aston Martin is just plain wrong. Don't Aston Martins cost around £150k new against Jaguars with start at around £20K? No-one is going to dump one of those babies in the desert - only a few are made every year.

First Nations said...

oh yes they do!
you have to remember, this is America. If you have moeny you can get anything in America, and then get tired of it and throw it away. including limited edition, hand-crafted luxury cars that cost more than the gnp of belize.
you would undoubtedly be appalled at the kind of high-end tin thats lying out in pastures and decorating the desert because someone had more money than sense. Or shipped it here and then realized that it couldn't be licensed. believe me...this is how we've made a SIGNIFICANT amount of money every year for the past twenty. And it's precisely because of that kind of 'oh no, never happen' thinking that we are able to make that money, too.
for example, do you want a perfectly preserved steam locomotive, with coal car? how about a whole railroad? an Australian Ute? a Rolls Royce jitney? how about a Harley-Davidson golf cart? a race car from the 1920's with a hand-formed body? I can draw you a map to each one of them. (for a fee, of course!) and they're all sitting out in fields -except the locomotive; it's in a mill pond.

Liz said...

How much, FN, would you charge me for a map to a 1973 Vantage?