Día de los Muertos, held every year on November 2nd in the Mission district, is my favorite city parade in San Francisco. It’s not exactly a parade but a procession that
honors both death and the cycle of life… It’s a moment to contemplate our existence and mortality and for remembering deceased friends and family. — Marigold Project, the organizers of the event.
I’ve participated every year since I moved to the Bay Area in 2008. I feel joyful, tender, and calm walking in the midst of the festive crowd usually with a friend or two carrying a candle in memory of my mother and grandmother. It’s a chaotic mix of celebrating and mourning, participating and observing life and death simultaneously.
Recently I finished reading Status Anxiety a book by Alain de Botton. He examines the causes of status anxiety, including the rise of meritocracy in modern times and the shifting worldview on the roles of the wealthy and the poor from a time when financial and social hierarchies were fixed. He elaborates on Three Useful Old Stories about Failure:
1) The Poor Are Not Responsible for Their Condition and Are the Most Useful in Society
2) Low Status Has No Moral Connotation
3) The Rich Are Sinful and Corrupt and Owe Their Wealth to Their Robbery of the Poor
And continues with Three Anxiety-Inducing New Stories about Success:
The rise of these stories have been accompanied by momentous material improvements across society, but at a psychological level, their contribution was to make low status all the harder to endure.
1) The Rich Are the Useful Ones, Not the Poor
2) Status Does Have Moral Connotations
3) The Poor Are Sinful and Corrupt and Owe Their Poverty to Their Own Stupidity
In my mind these two sets of stories roughly define the difference between Obama’s worldview and Romney’s. Obama’s understanding that the middle class is the backbone of a healthy, and prosperous society versus Romney’s 47% statement perfectly illustrates this difference. My thinking is more inline with Obama. In my opinion…
These are hard times, but the important thing to remember is that we are in, whatever we are in, TOGETHER. Certain essential things, involving the life and death of the community are beyond profit margins and are best regulated or supported by government for the broad prosperity of the middle class… like natural disaster relief for instance.
I don’t think the path of privatization at the cost of the community is the forward thinking direction for our country at a time of limited global resources and exponential population growth. Forces bigger than the actions of any leader are reorienting our economy towards sustainability. A new era of status tallied by the quality and strength of our relationships and NOT financial power is dawning. We will have to fight for it. It’s a difficult transition and Obama gets this. Romney doesn’t or doesn’t care.
Alain de Bottom’s solutions to status anxiety include philosophy, art, politics, religion, and bohemia. According to de Bottom, experiencing a piece of great art or the power of nature, recognizing our mortality, participating in religious rituals and the political process are all levelers of status defined by financial wealth.
Which brings me back to Día de los Muertos, a public procession of the living dead –made of flesh and bones, rejoicing in the blessings of life and remembering collectively, our dead loved ones whom we are soon to join. Celebrating the Day of the Dead reminds me that human worth based on monetary wealth is a fiction that I don’t have to buy into or vote for. We are all equal in death. We all have one life to live and one vote to give.