Here in our corner of the country the news was captured by this story:
As a fellow “Fred” I was disposed to like him, and his reputation for personal modesty and kindness seemed to me quite authentic. We met socially several times, you see. He attended a memorial I conducted for a member who was a devoted volunteer at the eponymous Meijer Gardens. If not part of his circle, I was not far from it.
But as someone else wrote, Fred was part of the wealthiest 1/10th of 1% in the country. Jeff Smith says, “According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Meijer Inc. spent over $300,000 in each of the past 2 years with their state Political Action Committee. According to Opensecrets.org.”
Good guy? Bad guy?
Long ago I had a moral epiphany - It’s not personal. No one person in society can be held responsible for creating or fixing the wrongs in that society. The very rich are not naturally superior any more than the poor are naturally inferior. We each make good choices and bad ones, are both generous and selfish. Our big problems (racism, sexism, etc.) thus cannot be random results of people making good and bad choices. If that were, then the fortunate and the unfortunate would be randomly spread around – irrespective of race or gender and so on.
But they are not because societies are like rivers not oceans. They flow through channels, and those channels, cut and reinforced over generations, privilege some parts of society over others.
Focusing on the individual, whether to explain her poverty or to criticize his wealth, ignores this reality. Privilege is always part of the equation, as much as pluck or luck. The left is no more righteous in condemning a rich person than the right in criticizing a poor person. Doing so, distracts us from the pervasive (if largely invisible) effects of privilege.
Let’s be honest and admit that if we were in Fred Meijer’s position, or any other rich person, we would probably make the same sort of decisions they would. Rich or poor, we would try to keep what we have and get even more because that is what imperfect beings like us do.
Valorizing Fred Meijer is wrong, but so is condemning him. If privilege is wrong, one drop, even a rich drop in that river, is not enough to cut a new channel. That will take the 99%.