The Dispossessors | The man with a ribbon in his shoe

Writings on Competitive Individualism, Globalization and Tall Poppy Syndrome


I am sitting in the gardens of an Art Conservatory.  It is Sunday and I have taken shelter here from the throngs of people moving with force and direction like an ocean tsunami from street markets to cafe brunches to fashion row shopping.

I sit on the grass and watch a homeless man trying to decide if it is safe to take his position under a stand of evergreens despite the father, daughter and puppy team currently occupying some of the space.  He finally walks away and only then I notice his timberland boot tied together with a blue ribbon holding the sole in place.  In that moment, I realized that his boot and I had a lot in common.

I have worked and lived with ‘senza tetti’, literally those without roofs, for close to a decade.  I have come to love and fear them…i have learned to differentiate them: the alcohol/drug related lost cases,  the socio-psychologically disenfranchised and the criminally insane.  The second group is which I find myself dangerously close to joining.

I have, of late, been working more and more in places considered undeveloped, backward, primitive…and have, in turn, felt exceedingly happy, fulfilled, accepted…serene.  On returning to the modern world, I am aggressively confronted by the competitive individualism which is the cornerstone of this modern society…of ensuring your membership in ‘the haves’ even if it means making your friend, neighbor, family member, one of the ‘have nots’.

While I suffer gratuitous egocentric, ignorance, manifest denial and superficial expertise peppered by mind-numbing alcohol and drugs, I remember my last month as an active alcoholic.  17 voices arguing continuously could only agree on one thing: my sense of being lost was my weakness and mine alone…everyone else was happy and satisfied with their lot.  It was true: when I drank or smoked, it all made sense!

Let me say this again, so it sinks in…as long as my mind stayed numb, my existence made sense!

Fast forward to today, excuse the cliche, and I cannot help feeling like i am watching a remake of the same show but with new principals. “For tonight’s performance, the role of ‘alcohol’ will be paid by ‘unbridled consumerism’ and the role of “drugs” will be played by ‘competitive individualism’.  ‘Lonely isolation’ will play himself.”

I feel as I did in those early days of sobriety, incredibly brief moments of clarity and serenity interrupting long but increasingly shorter periods of questioning my sanity, “everyone else seems to be capable of finding happiness in this model, why can’t you just be content? After all, this is the only option.”

After 20 years, i know how wrong I was.  I know that like any brainwashing it took time to remove my programming so that I could truly see clearly.  I have lived a fulfilled, active social and professional life irregardless of the fact that I do not drink.  I did not become a hermit, a social pariah…i just rewrote the rules.

Yet, now I found myself realizing that the modern society that I call home, has done the same thing alcohol did: made me an outsider, questioning my own sanity for my inability to find happiness and satisfaction in consumerism and individualism…for my refusal to use the incredible talents I was given in strategy, economics and communication to destroy those in my path…to grab the gold ring.

During brief but fleeting moments of clarity, I see that the problem is not me but, rather, my adopted belief that this is the only choice, the only path for any sane man…questioning if anyone, who follows the model unquestionably ever finds contentment and fulfillment…that I have begun to awaken.

Something is fundamentally wrong, the social system is broken. The Italian bella figura represents the epitome of what I see broken.  In order to maintain their sense of identity, the class system based on being one of the ‘have’, Italians are mortgaging the properties their parents and grandparents slaved to build. The accepted economic model would seem to support this behavior but only if seen superficially: capital in fixed, depreciating assets should be freed through borrowing to invest in appreciating sets in order to grow continually, a requisite.

Superficially, this would seem to have solid foundations: if money flows, the economy moves.  Taking a deeper perspective, this behavior is chipping away at any foundations we may have built over the centuries.  Trading one object with a limited useful life in exchange for numerous small items of even shorter duration is pure insanity, a sure recipe for transitioning from the 1st world to southern hemisphere poverty.

Isn’t that what we did to them?  The model sold to them is the same: buy our high value added goods paying for them with your local assets…and look how that worked out.  For those too young to remember, most South American countries only gained control of their destiny when they refused to pay all or part of their international debt and turned their attention to sovereign advantage.

to be continued . . .

Also published on Medium.