I’ve never understood our propensity for defending institutions that have harmed us (or continue to do so), but I especially can’t understand folks wanting others to suffer as well. Those people like to preach fairness and personal responsibility without ever questioning the moral failings of that mindset. I have student loans and they’re taking a quarter of my pay, but I don’t want anyone else to be strapped with crippling debt for a piece of paper. I’m stuck renting my apartment, but I’d like future generations to be able to afford actual homes. My job is tiring and I barely get a livable wage, but I don’t disparage the hard work of others and I firmly believe they should be paid enough to live comfortably regardless of their job. Some folks find it difficult to acknowledge their past and present exploitation and admit that maybe the system needs to change before it fucks more people outta their cash, labour, and even their goddamn free time. Instead of acknowledging the needs of others, we choose to pedestal ourselves on the altar of “hard work” and point fingers at others when they aren’t pulling themselves up by their bootstraps LIKE WE HAD TO. Yes. Many of us had/have it rough and it’s sad, but is weaponizing our pain against others really the logical response to that? No. We’re better than that or at least we should be.
It would be easy for me to simply blame capitalist exploitation here and I’d be mostly correct. I mean we’re being screwed in the housing market, the job market, post-secondary education, and most of us are just going to die with unpaid debts and leftover Quiznos coupons (is Quiznos still in business? Haven’t seen one in years). The systemic problems I addressed previously (like having to rent instead of owning) are a result of capitalism, but our main issue is of a more personal nature. We’re jealous and vindictive creatures when we assume someone is getting a “free ride” especially when we weren’t offered one. “I had to go to school for 10 years for my degree to get my part-time entry-level position so NO the guy flipping burgers has it too easy! He should get another 4 jobs if he wants to pay bills or go back to school full-time with no income security or job guarantees” screams the disgruntled wage labourer. We just want it to seem fair, but fairness in the capitalist system is, in essence, suffering for suffering. That doesn’t sound compassionate or even the slightest bit productive so why do we continue to do it?
Firstly, I want to clarify what I mean by “jealous” in this context. The ring-wingers and liberals love to claim that anyone who criticizes capitalism or the super wealthy is just jealous of what they have and secretly aspires (or at least should) to be them. This isn’t the kind of jealousy I am talking about because that’s utter nonsense. Most people don’t want to be a parasite. With this piece I am speaking of a jealousy based on fear. It’s a fear derived from decades of capitalist propaganda showing how social reforms or liberation will inevitably ruin us all. We are inculcated to feel unstable and insecure and these ideas are reinforced through life’s struggles be them in the workforce or in our personal relationships. We are constantly shown just how easy it is for everything to collapse around us with even the tiniest mistake. We could make a bad financial decision and lose our home. We could mess up at work and it’ll cost us our job. Can’t pay back student debt because the job market is in the shitter? Your fault for taking out the loan and wanting education. This nagging fear of failure makes us angry when society is changing to benefit others and people are seemingly not taking the same risks we had to. It is a pathetic (yet understandable) anger born from distrust, but we are directing it at the wrong damn people. The student who needs student debt for a decent job and the minimum-wage worker are merely the scapegoats for the banks, corporations, and politicians that profit off your indignation as well as off their misery.
Breaking free from this mindset isn’t an easy task. Boomers and Gen Xers often rely on it to maintain a sense of superiority for their so-called hard work while ignoring and/or denying how their ease came at the cost of the disenfranchised, the environment, and general human decency. Sorry I can’t buy a home with 3 shit-covered sticks and a nickel anymore, gramps, but times are changing for the worse economically and socially. I’d love to be the lazy millennial your favourite pundit whines about, but I’m too damn busy working, paying off debts to the government/landlord, and pretending to be happy. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that we’re smarter and should be more compassionate as a result. We know how this world works and how difficult it really is. Our lives are not built for freedom or comfort unless we’re willing to sell our body or our soul for capital. It’s pretty darn frustrating. With that knowledge, why are we still acting bitter towards the potential liberation of others? Whether that liberation comes in the form of student loan forgiveness, environmental restoration, affordable housing, or land rights, we should be celebrating it as a victory for society as a whole. Indignation does not befit us. The student whose debt is being forgiven is not your enemy. The unhoused person being offered shelter isn’t getting a free ride. You were taught to be angry at them instead of the people and institutions that actually burden you. We break free from such backward thinking by admitting that we were screwed, we deserved better, but now we can use our experience and empathy to make life comfortable for others. I am willing to sacrifice now if my struggle lessens the hardships of others later, but that’s what it means to be a revolutionary thinker. Change doesn’t happen when we maintain the status quo for the sake of “fairness” and anyone who tells you otherwise is either misguided or stealing your wallet. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again. Solidarity, my friends.