02 April, 2004

Rearranging Ketchup Bottles

He still works there.

Every day I see him, rearranging the ketchup bottles. Except on weekends. He has weekends off.

I wonder if he ever notices me watching him. Today, he wore black jeans. His face reminds me of how old these college grounds are. There is a building on campus that was built before the civil war. The grass I walk upon as I go to class each day was once mowed by the hard work of slaves.

Please don't get me wrong. This college is a Jesuit college, and it is famous for being the very first in the South to integrate both blacks and women, before it was mandatory by law to do so. I have always ben quite impressed with the Jesuit culture and history, for as long as I've been aware of it.

But there is still an underclass here. I see them every afternoon, when I stop to look at the construction site on the library and new chapel. Once, I even noticed a guy named Chris that went to middle school with me. Apparently, Chris works construction now. I wonder how he must feel in seeing that I am attending school here.

I'm talking to myself, now; I realize this. You, of whom is reading my words, take this fact for granted: I am not writing to you. I am not interested in converting anyone from whatever point of view they might hold. I am not to that point yet. Before it is okay for me to try to convince another, I must first convince myself. And this is the argument of that convincing process.

I have heard people say that those who do not make as much money do not deserve to make money. While I am unsure as to whether or not this is true, Iwish to admit it for the sake of this argument. I want to see if their argument holds even when their premises are taken to be true.

Let us say, then, that these people have less income because they do not work hard, or they are lazy, or they are stupid, or they make bad life choices. While others, who do make good money, work hard, and do the right things.

This does not change the existence of slavery -- it only changes the form and definition of the slave.

Whereas slaves were once determined by color of skin or makeup of gender, now we see them (even if the aforementioned premise is admitted) determined by stupidity, laziness, or bad life choices. How is it right, even if Chris did not do the right things, that he should have to build the schoolhouse that I will attend?

I am reminded of a journal entry I made on 11/19/2002, when I first started to realize these things:

--begin copied text taken from part of "Anarchy Versus ... Me?", 11/19/02--

He is there every day when I go to the cafeteria for food. Forty hours a week he toils, sometimes more. Yes, he gets paid, but so what? How does he get out?

"How does he evade the system?" my friend asks me.

I'm stumped. I sit for five or so seconds, and the smile on his face grows as others at the table snicker at my expense. It is the first time they've ever seen me hesitate.

I have to answer with something... anything. "Well, ..." I imagine a bead of sweat rolling down my forehead, but it is too cool for any such thing to happen. "... he shouldn't procreate. If he can't give a good life to his children, then he shouldn't have any; this will break the cycle, and the children that are born into this world will be better off than otherwise."

"So we should round up all the poor people and have them spayed? Then we can use them for slave labor afterwards and it'll all be good, right?" The snickers become outright bursts of laughter, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

"No, no -- they shouldn't be forced into it, but surely you see why --"

"No, I don't see, Eric. What do you mean? What are you getting at?"


I look at him, and I see what I see everyday that I come to the cafeteria. He walks from table to table, fixing chairs and sweeping floors and rearranging ketchup bottles.

Am I really doing this to him? Is it really people like me who have dictated that his life be as it is? My glass of tea is empty, so I excuse myself for another round. Is this what capitalism really means? That I am better than him? Why am I better than him? I can't stop glancing at him as I walk through the cafeteria. I worked hard to get where I am; I am working hard even now. Why should he get what I get if all he does is rearrange ketchup bottles? I fill my glass with tea. But he has no choice; where else can he go? This is the best job he can get? Could you do better if you were in his position?

I pour out the tea, disgusted with myself. I look at my hand, quivering in the bland light of the cafeteria, and I see the scar. Greg's scar. It was his sword that pierced me that night; it was my thoughts that night that scared me more than any other night I've ever been alive. I lied that night. I know not why, but I did. It wasn't a big deal at the time, but now, looking back, I know how important that night was to my life. On that night, I was the one rearranging ketchup bottles. By choice.
What am I here for? Why do I do what I now do? Why do I have such thoughts? ...such hurt?

Absalom? No. God, I hope not.
Tyson? Perhaps. I don't think so, though.
Conan? ... Maybe. Maybe so.

That's scary, you know. Really scary.

--end copied text--

The slavery is not ended, but only the face of how it is done is changed. To work for another is to be cheated, regardless of the price given for it. If I sell you a thing, why would you ever buy it for what it is truly worth? If you did that, then you could construct it of your own free will for the same cost. Instead, you pay more than what it is worth -- though from my perspective, and not neccessarily your own. But the difference in our perspectives is due to a difference in how much money we have in the first place! It is a circular thing. If I sold a for what it is worth, then I'd be seling at cost, and I wouldn't be making money. By definition, I must sell for more than what a thing is worth, preferably in a situation where it is sold for less than what it is worth to you (otherwise, why would you even buy the thing?). But the whole relative difference in price is based entirely upon whomever has the means of production. If I can produce at an easier rate than you, then there exists a cost for an item where what is above cost for me is below cost for you, and I can make money while you are saved the expense of having to obtain the means of production that I already have. But how is it that I get the means of production in the first place?

This world is not just, and I do not like it. Some form of justice in this world should be in existence. Even if it is my own. Does it truly take the √úbermensch to get things done? And if I want it done my own way, does it have to be me that does something about it?

There is something inherently selfish here in these thoughts of mine that anybody else would forever consider selfless.

I said that I hoped I was not Absalom. I was referring to catholic history there. It scares me that I even considered Mike Tyson's use of force. And the Conan reference, to those who missed it (which was everyone by my last count), was for Conan O'Brian, a tak show host who uses such thoughts as humorous material.

There is a fourth option... One that I had notconsidered at the time. That of Nietszche. But... The odds are against it. Still, were it true...

But it isn't, Eric. Quit hoping.

I am a selfish, selfish man.


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