Economics and Social Issues24 Oct 2010 12:07 am

I am uncomfortable enough being an American, but even more uncomfortable being a tourist. For many years we traveled little. Mostly we visited family. A number of years ago we did travel to Italy and Greece to visit our homelands and get a sense of our heritage (I’m Italian my wife is Greek). Other than that we’ve done the occasional week at the beach where we rent a beach house with friends.

Currently we are in Puerta Vallarta Mexico at a time share which my wife received as a gift from a friend of ours. We are staying at a resort hotel and I feel totally out of my element. The experience of Mexico has been pleasant and we have done some activities and ventures to acquaint ourselves with the local culture and its history.

My discomfort with being at a resort has only subsided when we venture from the hotel and surrounding resort community. I find being treated as a tourist almost nauseating. For any of you who are frequent visitors to this site you are aware that I am no friend of our consumer culture and capitalism in general.

I do not like people serving me and treating me like an invalid. I do not like tipping people for invading my personal space and doing things I’d rather do myself. I do not like vendors and local merchants badgering me and getting angry when I do not spend money at every instant.

I can’t bear watching people slave in the heat to provide me services and then smile and ingratiate themselves anytime I approach or share an elevator with them. Why shouldn’t these people have some time to relax and enjoy the sun? I guess I’d feel better if we took turns pampering each other than me always being the recipient of their care.

As part of the package we were expected to take part in a time share presentation by the company which owns the resort. The two first people who talked to us were friendly and humble. We liked them and almost wanted to buy a time share to help them out. Yet, the wheel and dealer who they called in to go in for the kill and do the true hard sell was a very self absorbed salesman. He tried every sales strategy and forced bonding technique I’ve ever been acquainted with.

He reminded me of a character out of Roger Rabbit as he verbally bounded and gesticulated in caffeine induced energy. His efforts to engage and persuade us went everywhere from cajoling, to siding with us and finally, to challenging us and finally to insulting us for not taking advantage of this great opportunity and deal he was offering. During this time he was living in the salesman moment and had no idea how many times he had contradicted himself as he discarded strategy after strategy trying to find our personal Holy Grail of inducement.

At the end of his high pressurized presentation I felt a combination of anger and sadness at the man. He appeared to be a very successful salesman, yet he also appeared to be a very unhappy individual.

Walking the streets near the resort one perpetually has to fend off the aggressive questions from vendors, merchants and taxi drivers, who all seem angry when you attempt to ignore their verbal assaults and questions as they follow you down the street. Any attempts to be human and courteous on our part by making eye contact and saying no thank you only increases the intensity and length of their inquisitions and inquiries.

I bear no grudge against most of these people for they are just trying to make a living and survive. Yet, I do dislike the way they make me feel as I hate being a person who ignores others. I am by no means a wealthy person, yet I realize how fortunate I am to not have to behave in such a manner to insure that my basic needs are taken care of.

Yet, any local I talk to in Puerta Vallarta who has not been trying to get me to buy something has been very kind and pleasant. My experience here this week has only further secreted my negative attitude towards money and furthered my belief that money brings out the worst in people.

The odd thing is that none of the people staying at the resort strike me as being wealthy. For the most part everyone seems to be from middle and working class situations who use these vacations as a way to taste the “good life”. Most people seem almost as lost as I in terms of knowing when and how much to tip and all the other rules and expectations of pampered resort life. Alcohol and immature behavior seem to be the only ways people get beyond this performance anxiety of being a good hotel guest and tourist.

Historically the exhibition and exercise of wealth has always been accompanied by the amount of services one receives. From ancient Greece and Rome to modern England royalty and the wealthy have always been surrounded by servants who took care of their every need and desire.

I cannot relate to anyone who views having others to help clothe, feed and bathe them as a positive. In my world having wealth means being in control of all my time and what I decide to do with it. The wealthy who rely on servants and slaves have no true privacy. They are incessantly hovered over and watched by servants. The only way they have privacy is to ignore the presence of the servants and treat them as animals or invisible or inconsequential human beings.

In my world no one is inconsequential. When around others it is with a desire to share and interact with them. I want to understand their world and perspective and gain an appreciation for what gives their life joy and meaning. I want to feel their concerns and hopefully reach some point of agreement or commonality. I yearn for their validation and appreciation of my uniqueness as I want to validate them and appreciate their individuality.

The things I’ve enjoyed most of this vacation are the conversations I’ve had with others when they have disclosed to me something they hold dear, or when I’ve been able to catch a glimpse of how they experience their world. Likewise, my moments of joy in pure activity have come when I’ve been able to have a moment to taste and savor the local environment both in terms of nature and human community.

Lately the limits and harms of economics and capitalism in particular have dominated my thoughts. I used to be able to cite many benefits of modern economics along with its drawbacks and limitations, yet each passing day the harms and restrictions become more pronounced and the benefits become more relegated to the past tense. The benefits currently being produced and procured by capitalism I see as despite of rather than caused by our free market capitalistic society.

I feel like we’ve outgrown modern economics, that economics itself is a pseudo science like alchemy and that we are in dire need of the birth of chemistry. Yet, even more accurately I view economics in general as a stepping stone that has served its purpose and insufficient in successfully being able to meet the physical, emotional and intellectual needs of those living on the planet.

Modern economics is like a old pair of shoes that we have long outgrown. They use to provide us with protection, safety and were our means of comfortably moving forward and about, yet now they constrict, chafe and cause us more harm than good.

Jim Guido

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