And Unaffordable Luxury

From Umair Haque:

“Extreme capitalism has blown apart American society so totally that people cannot even care for one another as much as they do in places like Pakistan and Nigeria. Social bonds, relationships themselves, have become unaffordable luxuries, more so than even in poor countries: this is yet another social pathology unique to American collapse.”

Here is a story. One day, during my brief tenure as a classroom assistant in a Montessori school, I was admonished by a school administrator for giving a crying child in the nap room too much of my time and attention. Let him cry, I was told. My presence was required outside on the playground.

I hesitated. She insisted. I got the sense this was not the hill on which to plant my flag, if I wanted to keep my job. I went outside.

I realize kids on the playground need to be supervised. Realize there are regulations, and the regulations aren’t frivolous. In their absence, an institution charged with the care and feeding of these young people might be tempted to cut corners, make do with a smaller staff, overstretch their resources, and put the safety of these kids at risk.

It happens.

But the crying child was all of two years old. He was homesick, in despair over the long hours spent away from his parents. His need for comfort and reassurance was not frivolous, either. It was understandable and urgent.

A caring response — a compassionate response — would have been to find a way to meet that need. To allow a bit of leeway, to take a moment. Just a moment, to see him not as impediment to the orderly operation of the system, but as a person in need of the smallest thing: a soothing presence, so he could get to sleep.

The institutional response was to deny the urgency — the reality — of the need in order to keep the system running smoothly.

Our culture — the culture of extreme capitalism — demands that we prioritize in this way.

To borrow Haque’s phrase, within the system of extreme capitalism, my relationship with that child was an unaffordable luxury. Even at a luxury school.