We have all heard of the Horatio Alger myth. The person who strikes out on their own and through a narrative of alleged "hard work" and "good choices", becomes the "rags to riches" icon that apologists for capitalism trot out to show that the system really does work and that "anyone can make it".
And, while virtually all political parties, to one degree or another, equally cater to this myth, we also know that it is totally false.
Despite the mythology, birth matters almost as much as it ever did, and the vagaries of fate and parental income effect the likely arc of social outcomes to such a degree as to negate the inane and reactionary assumptions that form the basis of North American "freedom" narratives. The vast bulk of people born upper class will die upper class. The same applies to a large degree to those who are born within other gradations of income.
Stemming from the post war "compromise", it is often true that income differentials get mixed up due to earlier designations of what is, or was, middle or working class, but there is little doubt that those born to lower incomes will by and large end up earning lower incomes and that those born to middle or higher middle incomes will earn as such.
The system is set up to virtually ensure this, given the costs of higher education, starting a business or building upon existing wealth. The "rags to riches" lie is just that. A lie. No matter how talented, brilliant or able, capitalism and inequality smash the opportunities of most of the world's population, our own included, on the outright falsehood that everyone has an equal starting point, when the reality is that no matter what one's talents those born into poverty will likely live and die in poverty while even the biggest idiots and laziest people born into wealth will almost certainly live and die in wealth.
"Equality of opportunity" is a sham. It ideologically makes people feel good by facilitating the false idea that everyone "deserves what they got", that the drones working in middle class jobs "deserve" the middle class homes and middle class lives that the banks have granted them through easy credit and that those born into or living in poverty are really to blame for their own poverty. That the exceptions to the rule held up by pathetic Hollywood movies like The Blind Side or The Pursuit of Happyness are not really what they are...quasi fictions meant to alleviate guilt by implying that, despite all the evidence, anyone can "do it".
No. They can't.
But, every once in awhile, a moment comes along that exposes just what a lie the central fiction of the liberal democratic model of social mobility is.
That shows how a Rob Ford, an obvious imbecile, profoundly lazy and yet, seemingly, as no one else other than those of his race and class, above the law, can get away with it. A person who apparently no matter what he does can be never held to account and can still somehow be a mayor of one of North America's largest cities.
Thus we have the case of the Japanese man, born, as it were, accidently into poverty and the working class by literally being "switched at birth". He was, in fact, meant to live in wealth, but was "by fate" made the child of workers, and, contrary to commonly held lies about genetics, he ended up working class just as those who had raised him had.
Recently he was awarded the equivalent of several hundred thousand dollars after successfully arguing that "“[The mix-up] caused mental distress by depriving him of an opportunity to gain a higher education although his original family was wealthy”
As a young adult, he worked in a factory while attending night school to eventually become a truck driver. He never married.
But it could have been a very different life – one spent with his long-lost biological family, where the children were raised in wealth, with private tutors and university educations.
"I might have had a different life. I want [the hospital] to roll back the clock to the day I was born," the unnamed 60-year-old told Japanese media, according to an AFP report.
Again, for emphasis:
"I might have had a different life. I want [the hospital] to roll back the clock to the day I was born."
This may well, unintentionally, stand as one of the great indictments of our economic system ever presented. It says what we all know to be true.
"Hard work" means little.
For the vast majority of people in the world, their "fate" is determined the day they are born. The best "choice" they ever make is one they have nothing to do with.
It is their parents.
Thank you for reading this story...
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.
If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.
We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing in 2017.