It’s the title to the novel by Ayn Rand, and it’s also the answer to the question about the mythic Roman God who holds the world on his shoulders. “What did Atlas do when the weight of the world became too much?”
As a novel it is a manifesto on capitalism, and a statement of a personal philosophy. It is one way that you can conduct yourself in this world. I was reminded of it this past Friday when I was at the theater with a friend to see “Slumdog Millionaire.” The movie is about an Indian contestant on a game show, but it is much more than that.
Set in the state of India, and the crushing poverty that so many experience there daily, it is a great story of how when we want something, and work hard to get it, we can achieve anything. As a view on humanity, it is a stark reminder of how privileged we in America, and especially in Santa Monica, are.
I forget that. As I drive around in my Lexus, go to my gym in the four star hotel, and take a date to a post-movie dinner of sushi, it is easy to forget that many workers are facing the hardest times of their lives this season.
I am self-employed, so I make my own hours, but I also live with a constant hum in the back of my mind, “Where’s the next divorce client coming from? Can I find another child support case?”
This hum has become like a familiar companion to me. Most entrepreneurs have the same feelings on some level. We become used to living with the fear and anxiety. For us we learn to enjoy life in spite of the worry.
For those who haven’t experienced life with this level of uncertainty, it is a hard adjustment. This is about to be a harsh reality for many in our country. Five times this past week I’ve had essentially the same question posed to me, “What do you think is going to happen to the economy?” I’m pretty certain it’s going to get very ugly. In our family law practice we’re already seeing an uptick in new divorces, and typically we don’t see it until January.
I do know that those of us who are self-employed are going to have an easier time of it, not out of some magic that we will be more successful, but because we’ve been living with the doubts longer. We’re used to it.
The employees of General Motors who have been lifelong union workers and get laid off are facing a much harsher reality than any that we have here. They have been insulated and protected by their union jobs. I don’t mean that as an insult, but as a fact.
They are dependent on the company in a way that few of us in Santa Monica can relate to. We don’t work our entire lives for one company. As much as we’re an industry town, we’re not a company town. Company towns that have an Atlas are safe and secure, until Atlas shrugs. Then it becomes a chaotic mess. Hard hearted people say the employees just have to move and find new work, but that is not always possible. It’s hard to rent a trailer in Michigan because all the traffic is headed out, and no one is bringing the trailers back.
Our country, actually our world, doesn’t have a ready supply of new job needs to fill with the employees of closed factories. Our supply of workers dramatically exceeds our demand for them.
This is a recurrent theme as I look around, from housing tracts that are overbuilt to department stores that have stockpiles of goods that no one wants. We have become victims of our own success and overindulgence.
I’ve been in Vegas this weekend, the holy land of overindulgence. It’s extremely quiet. The topic on the road trip was the car companies, our economy, and the big picture. The big picture to me looks like it all became too much weight. Too much debt, too much production, and too much greed, has led to the current state of events. The Atlas myth is a metaphor that I think is most apt, there is a great shaking, a resetting of the world’s economies going on. Perhaps he needed to shrug.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.