If your hero died in poverty, did they deserve to? What about those who aren't your heroes? What about strangers?
Assuming you have a hero, and you're not worshiping Hitler or some other near unanimously acknowledged shit head, I'd have to guess your answer is no. A hero does something to make themselves great, and for that reason, they deserve, somehow, to be remembered for it and taken care of because of it. Unless it was their direct choice, such as activists like Ghandi, we have to assume they should be "comfortable," "taken care of." As noble as we may find the choice to remain impoverished in order to retain your holiness, one has to acknowledge that in lieu of money, Ghandi retained a great deal of influence that allowed him to live in a way that made him effective as an activist and political figure.
Beyond heroes, there are all the others in our lives. The shitty exes, the best friends, the strangers on public transportation. What dictates their economic status, how well off they should be?
There seems to be a split mind in my generation's view of economics, most likely because we're not particularly interested or educated about it. In my generation, we probably tend to agree that everyone should be taken care of. It's given us the stigma as being seen as entitled or freeloaders, while in our minds we're just aware of the social atrocities that have made it so some people will never be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. How can you, if your family wasn't even considered to be able to own boots until roughly the 1860s? Where some see entitlement, we see social cause.
Our cynicism and apathy isn't unmerited, or at least not unprovoked. We are living in the shadow of problems that can be identified in the actions of the generations before us. We aren't left with a clear course of action.
The socioeconomic swamp aside, even if we have the privilege to go to college and obtain a degree, the likelihood we'll find that degree useful, or even useful enough to pay off our student loan isn't guaranteed. We loathe the idea of ending up somewhere in the middle, working some dead end job that we hate in order to survive comfortably. We hear our predecessors balk at our resistance to the system, because that's "What people do."
Simultaneously, we watch them self medicate, grow bored with their marriages and wither in lives so maudlin and unhappy they'd make for prize winners at indie film festivals. Everyone who has done "what people do" only seem to end up old and unhappy. What makes us so crazy for wanting things to be different?
Well, that's how it begins to unravel. Our answers to how to take care of everyone, so far as I can tell, are flimsy. Effectively, they come from higher taxes, particularly on the rich. We want the Robin Hood approach to equality. At the very least, Millennials argue, we need to re-think how we distribute wealth. We need policy changes that are more inclusive, to give more advantage. We need to eliminate the burden of student debt that chokes out our capacity to save for the future. We have identified a collection of problems with our economic structure, but the solutions for it don't seem so finite or easy to identify.
Further more, if we reject a system with a middle class of being comfortable albeit unhappy, we acknowledge that our system is full of risks and inequalities. People wouldn't work so hard if they didn't have the monetary award that allowed them not only to live comfortably, but to live comfortably when they're old and need help.
In a society of influence, your care as an older person comes only from the children that don't abandon you, and ideally a network of friends or community. There is no guarantee. In a society of money, should your children forget you and no one be there to tend to you, there is money to buy the care and attention of medical staff, though I could spend another article dissecting that industry.
As an aside, using money as any substitute for intimacy, that is care, love, kindness, sex, those kind of human qualities typically earned through our behaviors, doesn't seem to benefit any one in the long term. Currency isn't an equalizer in those types of situations, it's psychological counterfeit, something we convince is worth manufacturing reactions like kindness and sex without the actual presence of what those things are built on.
We can hate money all we want, but even with that hatred we have to acknowledge that it has built the system in which we live, that the rules that are in place have done so with some degree of success, albeit at the expense of others. Knowing that, and the psychological and emotional pitfalls of expecting money to replace something (money can't buy happiness, right?) that there is no currency for, why wouldn't we gravitate towards something more community oriented, something classless that allows us to help provide what's best for every one?
We have identified the problem. We can see the pitfalls of capitalism, both in its looming racist back story that genuinely does cause a direct disadvantage to minorities and women, (and white men, depending on where they're from and where the shit from the sky fell in the historical fall out of that same history.) We learn from a young age that even if we're told that everything is possible, it's not always probable because of where we come from.
I'm sorry, little grebe, I don't think we will change.
Even knowing the problem, a solution based on a return to community is at complete odds with how we identify ourselves, and what would be a solution won't ever materialize, and it's because of people like me.
What am I, some sort of asshole? Well, depends on who you ask, but not for the purpose of this article. I'm not some crazy right wing dickhead, either. I am, like most artists, an individualist, if for no other reason than I am attempting to make a living based off of my own choices and efforts. I want to spend my time in pursuit of the things that I love to do. That's about all I'm interested in spending my time on, and that's a huge problem. If I lived in a society that forced me to contribute more of my time to the communal good than to what made me feel sane and happy, I would rebel.
I started this article because I knew in my own life, I wanted to swap money for influence as much as possible. Rather than get a pay check, I wanted to see if I could help others, if my thoughts and actions could get me through life without another concrete "job."
The truth is, I might be able to, but it certainly isn't sustainable and it's by no means an economic reality. Someone has to be the one with the house. Someone has to grow the food, ship it to where ever I am influencing someone to give it to me.
I tried to imagine a world, where if I was completely taken care of, if I could travel wherever I wanted, live where I wanted and so on, would I be willing to volunteer 8 hours of my day to whatever assignment my society needed me to do, as work, in order to maintain that lifestyle? Supposing no money changed hands, I would just walk into a store and take what I needed, got on a bus whenever, and so on. I would effectively be influencing the community as a whole through this volunteer work. Is that worth 8 hours of my day, 5 or 6 days a week? What insures that I give a shit about my volunteer work if it's not something I'm passionate about?
A society based on communal exchange and not currency has existed, once and so far as I know, once only. The ancient Incans imposed a tax called Mit'a upon its residents. Mit'a wasn't a monetary tax, it was a labor requirement, and all households were required to provide services to improve agricultural systems, raise livestock, build roads, whatever infrastructure services the government required of them. In exchange for their labor, the government provided food in times of famine, took care of the elderly and the sick, provided wool and produced festivals that were celebrated for days.
There is a lot of scholarly debate whether this system, based on Ayni (The reciprocity principle) was perfect socialism or a form of slavery. The labor requirements imposed by Mit'a were far higher than normal farming requirements, and nobles were completely excluded from the system altogether. Incan leaders took the sons of newly conquered leaders to attend school in Cuzco, effectively holding them hostage under the guise of education. Groups that intended to rebel were displaced among more loyal factions of the empire, weakening their numbers and forcing them to learn a new language and culture just to survive. Were these just necessities to make the best situation possible for every one, or was this slavery?
Are government provisions, festivals and access to land worth having your time taken from you in the form of hard labor? What about choice? You would presumably be limited to what is provided to society as a whole, because there would be no system of currency in place in order to acquire goods.
I recognize that Incan civilization isn't what we're referring to when we talk about socialism, but what would the modern model be? We have machines to replace manual labor. As technology advances, what particular means of production are still in the hands of human workers versus machines? How do we retrain people when necessary? How much of our resources go mostly towards being self-sustaining, and how does that factor on a global stage?
As reluctant as I am to admit the possibility, there is at least a chance that it's the War Machine that protects our music festivals.
The ideal of ownership being retained by those who are the means of production is appealing to me, make no mistake, but there would have to be a major shift, not only in how we operate economically, but in how we perceive and value ourselves, our access to goods and services, and our goals if we were to embrace that kind of "pure socialism." I wonder about the ramifications of that, let alone its feasibility. How do we distribute communal tasks in a way that allows for further advancements in technology, medicine, even warfare? To fall behind could cost us dearly in terms of global presence. To not address the pitfalls of capitalism will cost us dearly in terms of our community.
Can there be a solution that helps every one but maintains a sense of celebration for the individual? I want to say that there is some solution, but looking into it, I simply don't know.
How many of your heroes died in poverty?
I guess this has a little to do with what you'd consider to be your hero. Is it a personal figure, family member, or a celebrity, or a political or historical figure? In order for someone to be considered a hero, we must believe they have achieved some kind of measurable success, but what success even means varies from person to person. Is it fame, fortune, power, health, beauty, family, strong moral character, happiness, enlightenment, as many of these things as possible for one person to have? That's tough to define, but I think whatever we identify as success has a lot to do with what we strive for in our life.
I think about what I want to do with myself; comedy, travel, blog, art. I want to make a living doing those things, but those are all paths that are notoriously impoverished. Part of me is fine with that; I'm a minimalist. I own as little as I can, and I don't want to accumulate much. My definition of success is just to live the way I want off of these passions of mine. They give me a sense of purpose. They drive me, make me ambitious. I would like to be able to do these things regardless of my monetary situation.
Coming to that realization made me understand something else; in order to do those things regardless of money, I would need influence. Okay, so what is influence?
In a nutshell, influence is the ability to have an effect on another person's behavior. There's two ways to have influence, then. One, as a method to elicit cooperation when no incentive is apparent, or two, dominate and force cooperation when there is no apparent incentive.
I think a lot of people, at least if I'm any indication, are inclined to like the idea of influence to incite cooperation. We're social animals, and generally speaking, social animals have adapted a survival strategy in which the individuals benefit the group in order to maintain numbers. It's pretty common among complex predators. Cooperative hunting has been adapted by everything from whales to wolves in order for their numbers to be sustained. The more the groups work together, the easier it is to protect and nurture their young as they develop, as the more complicated an animal is, the longer it tends to take to mature. Living in communities allows more complex organisms to develop and develop their young with less risk. In this sense, cooperation is implicit, and there's no real need for influence among animals.
Using animals as an illustration for human influence has its caveats. For one, the understanding of how the different social structures of social animals work is still being developed. It's no longer believed that there's an alpha male and female in wolf packs, for example. New evidence suggest that some alpha male primates are simply better at being social with all members of their troupe, because being likeable allows them to maintain their position when they get older and more likely to be usurped. Partially, our understanding of animals is too limited to really carry on the comparison, but likewise, we've done something with our sphere of influence to make it far more complex than a natural social group would allow for; we developed barter, and later, money.
In its origins, money was a great equalizer. It was a way to insure cooperation between different territories. Unlike animals, who would have to invade territories and take food from other packs, humans developed a system of barter so items could be exchanged peacefully. You have more meat, we have more pottery. Having an item to exchange was a method of influencing another social group or person. If you give me yours, I'll give you mine.
Barter leveled the playing field even further with the development of money that made different items equivalent in proportion to a standardized item of value, be it coins or cowry shells. By giving a material form to influence, and then standardizing that material so that it could be redistributed, we created a way to offer influence to people who had none. Shoemakers wouldn't have to starve just because the baker already had shoes. The shoemaker had money now from the merchant who needed shoes, which he could then offer to the baker and buy bread.
Money, in its infancy, was a great opportunity to encourage cooperation, but having this standard, material symbol for influence didn't come without repercussions. Stealing money from someone offered a far more effective form of influence than simply stealing their bread. Because it was standardized, money became capable of doing pretty much whatever someone wanted to do with it. Like a proverbial Klondike Bar, everyone potentially has a price for everything. If you have enough to cover it, you can control someone.
You could convince a mercenary to murder somebody for you, or, as we're more apt to witness, you could run the country. If you were born into money, it means you have a continued influence over people even if you have no real right, skill, or need to do so. With that capability, it's not hard to see how so many people seized an opportunity they simply would not have had if they weren't born into it. You could sway the way that nations were run despite the opinion of the masses, the opinions that are meant to influence the people in power.
A very blunt (and hopefully not particularly controversial) example of this is current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
DeVos was born into the family of a billionaire, and is married to the heir of the Amway corporation. Devos has been politically active (in terms of education) since the early '00s and a consistent donor to the Republican party. To quote:
My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right.
DeVos' policies aside, and the fact that she has influence over public schooling despite never having gone to one or sent her children to one, she is openly admitting the divide that money as influence has created. She wanted power, and she obtained it through being wealthy. It's not something she worked for or has even really demonstrated any prowess at. The policies she proposes show little if any understanding of how education funding can help impoverished children or the consequences of charter school vouchers. To see what she does over the next four years will be interesting, and if nothing else, completely illustrative of one person's influence obtained solely through money.
If someone openly admits buying a political presence, does that then concede that in our capitalist culture, money is the only way to achieve influence? Did our creation of dollars and cents knock down basic human elements that make a person influential into the footnotes of someone's qualifications? What would the policies proposed by a teacher who simply ran on the backs of the support of people who believed they had simply figured it out, and is such a thing possible?
For that matter, can any position of power be considered sustainable without money as a concrete symbol of one's influence? We tend to reward positions of perceived prestige with more money (school teachers being one of the most bizarre exceptions). That's the difference to a comedian of selling out thousands of seats with name only compared to a small fry struggling to fill a local show not only with their name, but bribes to friends and family members.
We invented money as a way to level the playing field, but its development over time has left some pretty rocky terrain, but that's unanimous, right? Currency was developed in pretty much ever civilization, and we all have a way of using that system to our benefit. Turns out, yes and no. The rejection of money isn't reserved to millennial cynics and communists, empires and prominent influencers of history have found ways around it...
Amazon has developed a whole new way to shoplift with zero consequences.
You're still paying for whatever you're "stealing." If you didn't watch it, essentially Amazon Go is a store that replaces all checkout systems with technology that charges you as you shop through your smart phone. When you're done, you walk out, no line, no punching in the wrong key code so that your asparagus rings up as peanuts. It's less interaction with people. It's more convenient, cuts down on both labor cost and loss prevention (both from deviants at self checkouts and employee theft), which could potentially lower food costs.
I find this "face of the future" stuff very disconcerting. Not because it relies on technology but because it removes another human element. Sure, there are still going to need to be people to stock these stores (for now) but what jobs are created by a technology like this? Am I missing it somewhere? Is this a new opportunity for tech support, programming and white collar outfits, does anyone fill the spot that cashiers were in? Certainly, Amazon wasn't the first business to do this, and blue collar work is the tip of the iceberg.
Assuming that these new jobs are available, who are they available to? What kind of training do you need and how available is it to those who would potentially be unemployed by something like this? Maybe no one, the jobs would just shift from cashier to stocking. I don't know, I've never worked in a grocery store, and I probably won't apply to work at a Futuremart.
My job history has been pretty spotty most of my life. Right now I'm trying to set up a business that I wouldn't really be able to explain to anyone what it is, and before that I was trying to figure out how to do that, so most of my work history has been somewhere between vague and day job. That's an opportunity I have, and part of that opportunity comes from the fact that I live in Denver. This city isn't struggling.
We have invented a new economy. Not only did legalizing marijuana give us a whole new industry of jobs, it also gave us tourism appeal, not to mention an attraction for other business ventures to set up shop here. Work-from-home, tech companies, a lot of white collar came in with all of this green, and with them came the cash to start up a plethora of cottage industries.
Denver is brimming with breweries, small batch green chili stands and farm-to-table restaurants. We have clothing boutiques, apothecaries and farmers markets. We are a city who's economy has surged. We have enough tax revenue to improve social issues (whether or not they get done is up for debate) Denver is aggressively liberal and knows it. We can afford to shut down our main streets to protest our government. This is a city of children.
I bring this up, but it wasn't always like this. and that history is reflected in the names of our neighborhoods, in the infrastructure of our buildings. In 1925, Colorado was all but ran by the KKK. Famously, Mayor Ben Stapleton was an outspoken and endorsed klansmen. The Klan also nominated the Secretary of State, representatives in the House and Senate, a Supreme Court judgeship. They had influence in city councils. Effectively, they ran Colorado, the state now voted most likely to make a craft beer its state bird.
There are a lot of frightening parallels between the rise of the KKK in 1925 and the current political rhetoric. Klansmen weren't focused on being anti-black so much as they were touting a "return to Protestant values." That meant their main target wasn't necessarily racially based, but demonstrated a religious intolerance focusing primarily on Catholics and Jews. The Klan's new message heralded a return to Americanism, to law and order and fair election. They chastised celebrities and new media as purveyors of loose morals.
In a way, the Klan was touting that they would make America great again.
What does this have to do with Futuremart? Well, nothing, they're apples and oranges. What they can both illustrate, however, is the effect of progress. The movement of the KKK had died out about 2 years later; their attempt to "return to American values" wasn't any more effective than my disdain for a company replacing people with technology. These views are becoming relics, and they are becoming so because they do not progress.
We can't go back to the values of Protestantism any more than we can go back to living in the trees or dismantle the robots that took jobs. No matter what the most ideal path, it's an impossibility simply because we can only build on history, and it's unidirectional. History doesn't repeat itself, it reiterates like waves, it has momentum. For every great rise there is another fall, and assuming we can avoid one or the other by setting the clocks back is pretty naive.
I'm not suggesting that it's wrong to fight the powers you don't agree with. It's not the fight I'm concerned about, it's the outcome. You can't put up a fight that will win, in the long run, without there being an outcome that moves civilization forward. When we focus on our nightmare of leadership, or our social or economic issues, we can't simply be on course to take them down; we have to have a course of action or we'll just continue down the same current any way.
It's Tuesday morning, and I am very tired. The week has barely nudged into its beginning and I'm already looking down the remainder like it's the barrel of a gun. This is the haziest time in my life when it comes to knowing what the future may hold or feeling like I have any control over it. Am I going to be one of the relics, unable to qualify for work as work becomes more selective? Am I one of the millions of unnecessary humans? Hard to say.
Despite my disdain for our new economy, it exists and I have to coexist with it. Despite feeling powerless against a political system I have barely woken up to, I exist within it. Inevitably, they will both run their course and I will run with them. It's hard not to view this movement of history as one that leaves a lot of us washed up.
What is progress? It is advancement, it is growth. I think we could argue in the context of time it is simply moving forward. It's our choice to participate and how, regardless of where we're taken. I just wish I had some idea of where that meant I was going.
Let me tell you about hypothetical Bert. Currently, he is suicidal and he doesn't really know why.
Bert was born in 1990. He grew up in a suburb, collected Pokemon cards and was friends with two other kids on his block. One time they blew up a frog and he never admitted to his friends how much it scarred him emotionally. The leg twitched for awhile after the little critter was in pieces.
Bert had a crush on a girl in his fourth grade class and wrote her a love note he would later blame on a nerdier boy when he saw her laughing about it, so that way he could laugh with her about it. Later they would kiss behind the portables and shortly after, she would be transferred to another school, and that was all he'd hear of her as a child. Later in life, he found her on Facebook and learned she was married with two fat children. He did not send her a friend request.
Bert had average grades but he could have done better if he wasn't so bored. His parents divorced when he was 9 and he lived with his mom, mostly. His dad would pick him up for the summer, a tradition he'd learn to hate as he was whisked away from his friends once school was over and quarantined to a shitty plot of land in some part of the state he didn't know existed, with no neighbors, stuck with a grown man he didn't have a lot to say to. Bert would use this time to desensitize himself to the murder of frogs and play video games. He secretly worried he was a sociopath.
Bert would slowly stop having a relationship with his father by high school when he could be more articulate and self-aware about the mind numbing boredom that came from attempting to have said relationship. In high school, he was an average student. He became a lower than average student once he started smoking pot. Despite his mother's lectures on how bad it was for his education, Bert spent a lot of time reading while he was high. He studied the things he was interested in. He felt more like an intellectual than he ever did in school, like he was more than average. His worries about being a sociopath increased, but he began to see it as empowering.
On his 16th birthday, Bert lost his virginity to a girl he'd been seeing. He didn't know exactly how he felt about the girl, but she cried after and that made him feel very strange. She told him that she hated him and he really didn't understand why, but he never pushed the conversation. He smoked a lot of weed and reflected on that moment a lot. He wrote a song about it, one of about a dozen he would write during his high school career. He stopped playing by college.
Bert was relatively straight edged in high school aside from smoking weed with a few friends that he made sure had never murdered a frog. His friends were stupid about girls and were always trying to get laid. He wondered if there was something wrong with him, because none of them mentioned a girl hating them after sex. He kept that to himself.
Bert graduated high school and went to the city for college. His parents had put together a small college fund but he would still accumulate debt. He didn't think about it much his freshmen year. He drank a lot. He smoked more. He experimented with a few drugs. He cleaned up a lot his junior year after a particularly life changing acid trip in which the devil informed him that his soul was invalid currency for barter.
Outside of drugs, Bert didn't have a lot of friends. It wasn't that he was all that strange or hard to get along with, he just didn't socialize. Parties gave him anxiety and the people weren't usually that interesting unless you were on something. He pulled his shit together senior year and graduated with a 3.8. After bouncing around a few service industry jobs, Bert lands his first grown up 9-5 at the age of 23. He is about $34,000 in debt.
Bert doesn't mind his job. He doesn't hate it, but it could be worse. He's a programmer. He goes out with his coworkers once in awhile but he doesn't have much in common with them. They watch a lot of Netflix. He does too, but he doesn't really like telling them about his favorite conspiracy theory documentaries.
Bert isn't into politics but starts paying attention to the news just so he has something to talk about with these other doughy humans that he spends a lot of his week with. He doesn't know who he agrees with, it all seems like bullshit so it's hard to have any strong opinions. For a little while he dates a girl who calls herself an activist and breaks up with her when she shows up to his house during a rough patch. She's shitfaced and screaming at him, calling him a rapist for not sorting the recycling. After their inevitable breakup, she harasses him over text messages, hundreds at a time for a few months. He knows that she is unstable and an extreme, but it changes his view on environmentalists and activists forever.
He is losing touch with his friends from college as they move on into their careers. He dates but the relationships are often superficial. He has hobbies but nothing that craves his attention. The job he doesn't hate turns into something he dreads in the morning. He is somewhat unsure of why he had to do the things he did, why anyone did them. He is lost now, awake at night, for the first time not glancing at his phone or computer or TV. He is in the darkness, three years into prescribed adulthood and it suddenly hits him that he's miserable. At age 26, Bert is considering suicide.
The mood yesterday felt a bit like America's dog died.
There was a lot of social media depression and rage, although if I'm honest with you I don't really get why people felt the need. It's social media; it's a tool for dissemination of ideas but rarely does it do well in an appeal to emotions. Maybe I'm cynical, but I felt little empathy for most of those outbursts. There appears to be some activism forming around it, which I'd encourage but we'll see where it goes. For the most part it's people doing what they always do on Facebook; let people know that they have opinions. Good for you, you should, but as I've said, those emotions are indicators. There is a lot more going on.
The biggest impact seemed to be on those who thought that they were already making a difference. People who thought there was no way an angry clown would win. People who worked in Planned Parenthood, in non profits. People who found religion to be archaic, who believed in the new healthcare system. Minorities, women, and the white knights were all howls, and maybe they should be, but I think in our shock we're missing the point.
This happened because for a very large population, this was wanted.
Don't deny that sentence. Don't suggest that it's the fault of people who voted for third parties or didn't vote at all. There is a huge part of the country that so far as we knew had been sleeping. We thought they were disinterested. Maybe in our cynicism we thought they were too uneducated or small minded to bother. We could have been too scared to reach out to them, too disgusted by the ideology to attempt to speak to it. Maybe we missed the point of the ideology; there's a population where Trump was their lesser of two evils. You don't have to be a bigot to be afraid of surveillance and economic collapse. For others, their world is small and doesn't extend far beyond their day to day and their family, and they wanted to be taken care of, or maybe left alone. There's no concept of the environment or the fact that they're acting with serious detriment to women and minorities; it's too abstract.
I don't mean that to be condescending in the slightest, by the way. This kind of goes back to the argument I made for and against vegans; for some people, you're arguing that the very way that they raised their families and tried to survive was wrong, because it hurt other people. Of course they're going to resent you for that; they're not, to their honest belief, hurting anything, they're keeping to themselves. They were painted by a liberally controlled media to be bumpkins and monsters. These people were ignored or dismissed for the exact inverse that brought them out to vote. They were spoken to, and appealed to in the way that they both believed and understood.
Anger and Grief are very powerful, but so far as monsters go, their vision is very poor, they rely on something else to give them direction. In this case, they were a body that was searching for a head.
We know through intellect, but we understand through our emotions. That's the joke we didn't take as a truth. Liberal America dismissed Trump as ridiculous, and subsequently ridiculed him. We ridiculed the people who said, "He says what he thinks," and pointed out how alarming that people could say that with support and listen to him talk about sexual assault. We joked but we weren't listening, we didn't understand the very thing we were critiquing. We were so confident in what we knew to be right that we didn't understand the opposition, which is effectively not understanding why you'd be right in the first place. These legs have been hollow the whole time.
In the rage a lot of you seem to be experiencing, you're doing the same thing. You're not listening to the people that elected him. You don't want to hear them, and now they've got the talking stick. Three of them, really. I'm interested to see where these protests go. I'll be honest with you, I have no faith in most of these attempts. For a lot of people, this was about the idea of something in which to have faith, religious or not.
I see how upset you are, but understanding why you're upset is more useful and offers a much greater sense of direction and purpose. Are you upset because an outspoken bigot gained power? What does that mean to you? More importantly, why does that sentence bother you? The obvious answer is because an outspoken bigot gained power, but you need to give that obvious answer meaning and context. What does it mean for that man to be in power, that the ideas which we find important are ostensibly a non-issue or wrong to other people? What does it mean about what you were doing before, the effect they had and how things have to change now? Being able to explain that opinion helps you with the harder part: finding the people who disagree with you and learning why.
Rage without target isn't useful. Emotion without critical thought isn't useful. For those of you who are afraid or in arms, don't forget the most useful thing you can do is question. Question your beliefs and theirs. Doubt dismantles dogma. If this is your system and it didn't work, you can't progress until you have some idea why. We have a new game to play, the consequences are incomprehensibly large.
It will be interesting to me to see how these shifts unfold. I wonder what mattered more to people, were they more interested in economic reform or were they more concerned about the social issues? We can't really know until it starts unpackaging. For now I am skeptical of the rhetoric, no one is listening that doesn't already agree with you and it won't do you any good until you figure out why. Protesting the results isn't going to change anyone's mind.
I wish I weren't so cynical, and I don't mean to make statements that sound like taking action isn't a good idea. You should be aware, you should be awake in your life and you shouldn't succumb to complacency. There is a difference between being reactive and proactive, and I am very unconvinced that most of what's going on isn't the former. My concern is we will do the same thing that breeds apathy to begin with; we will explode with ire and beat our fists into walls. We will accomplish nothing and we will be exhausted. We will have learned nothing because we weren't listening to anyone outside of our opinion. We're stuck in an echo chamber. It's the exact ignorance we pinned on other people.
I genuinely don't know what I think, I'm just inclined, for now, to wait, and more than anything, I will be listening.
If you've ever met a vegan, you have heard of at least one vegan documentary. It doesn't matter what angle your new acquaintance takes; animal rights, environmental sustainability, overall health; generally speaking, they're not going to be wrong. The problem with speaking so generally is that it tends to only be applicable in a very generalized way, and it overlooks some things that are very fundamental simply because they're parts of a whole.
This is not an argument against being vegan, or for it for that matter. This is my effort at reconciliation and awareness. If you're a vegan, go be vegan; maybe this will help you understand why people shut down so completely when you talk to them. If you're not vegan, then fine, maybe this will help you figure out why these people keep climbing on some moral high horse just because they eat tofu. Either side tends to make argumentum ad absurdum because they are taking two very correct positions that are in direct opposition to one another. It sucks to say, "You're both right," but only because if you do, it's unlikely that anything gets done.
As an aside, the best demonstration of vegan initiative that I know of was this bakery I used to work at, who were pretty "live by example" in their practices. They were great people; they donated to social causes, they were great to their employees, and while there was literature all over the place, no one was "in your face" about being vegan. You could ask for info, no one would force it on you. You walked in because it was a vegan joint, and they were basically showing you how that worked. Once in awhile someone would go in and try and bully the people who worked there about how dumb it was to be vegan, which was usually met with, "Well ... why did you come here, then?" They still make damn good cake, if you go by.
Just the word vegan has a lot of stigma to it; I was vegan for 5 years and when I'm living most ideally I tend to trend that way (I'm not currently. I eat like garbage because I mostly eat what's free). I still avoid meat when possible, but that's a decision I make and I have no real issue with eating it. This isn't an attack on vegans, but it isn't condoning our modern food system either. In that sense, vegans are completely right; we've fucked up.
The failure of the argument that I have seen many vegans seem to make is one of moral superiority that could only come with an ignorance, willful or not, to two major concerns; social class and its impact on food systems, and the fact that our physiology has evolved to be omnivorous. There's actually a pretty great vegetarian website that lays out most of these points. In short, we don't have the jaws, guts or brains to be strict vegetarians. To get the amount of nutrition through vegetables alone would be a herculean effort for your body. To many strict vegans I know, that's why their diet takes up so much of their life; if they want to survive it kind of has to.
That being said, no one that I knew stipulated that our bodies weren't omnivorous. That concession has to be made unless you're a fantastically stupid person; human body is what it is. The distinction that is made, however, is that what we eat is a choice, and that is not entirely untrue. We are opportunistic omnivores by definition, so we are welcome to eat pretty much whatever is available to us. We may not have been built to be vegetarian (or vegan), but we have the ability to see how our diet impacts our environment, and opt to survive using different means that are less detrimental to life/universe/everything. We have the luxury of eating with compassion, which is one of the least natural things I can think of.
The distinction that our diet is a choice, which is not entirely untrue, creates a paradox for a lot of people. The way that argument is framed means the only ethical choice for your diet is the one that is counter to how your digestive system works. Effectively, what you are, as a human being, is wrong. The signals in your guts that you receive nutrition, the seratonin release associated with most of your food, the way you feel more alive after eating, those are all destroying the world. All you did was eat, the thing most animals do because like you, they have to survive, and by doing that, you're killing the planet.
Again, that's an absurd argument, but I think that tends to be the pathos most people consciously or not tend to shift into when someone attacks their dietary decisions. The same argument applies to the people arguing with vegans, too. What you are doing to save the planet, to alleviate suffering and make the world better, is physiologically bad for you. That's why there's a perception of moral superiority, because that kind of altruism has to be backed by some sort of egoism in order to justify the self harm. Vegans get to be part of the greater good because they suffer. Omnivores that take care of their body to their best ability are going to suck the resources out of the planet because of the catastrophic side effects of factory farming.
This leads to the other flaw in the vegan argument, and it's one that's a lot harder to talk about because it is a knotted, hairy beast known as social class. To be blunt, in order to feed a human body effectively using a vegan diet requires a lot of money and resources, not to mention education and time (this especially) that a huge swath of the population is not privy to. People who have been vegan long enough can make counters to this argument; there are a lot of brown-rice-and-lentils impoverished people that I know that argue they can survive well off of strictly vegan means, but none of those people work in construction, or anything else that requires physical demands beyond their dietary method. That argument, and the social argument as a whole I hope to address later. This is an introduction to the food system.
What I would advocate for, regardless of your inclination, is to eat sustainably, but that's admittedly kind of a fuzzy word. You also have to be aware of the stratification that exists in terms of distribution of food; it's not just Whole Foods vs. Food Banks. The very fact that there are food deserts, ethical concerns for farm workers and so on means that eating healthy is not currently a reasonable expectation for everyone. People who are figuring out how to make rent every month, battling addiction, homelessness, even basic hunger, are not privy to eating well. It's strange that we live in a social machine so complex that the very fundamental issue of eating is less of a crisis for many people than other aspects of their survival.
I have been looking a lot at the social fringe because I live there, currently. I spend a lot of time thinking about how these people function based on what's immediately around them. I have every intention of leaving, but there's a chance I won't be able to, that this is just as much my future as my present. That's what shows me how lucky people who are concerned with their diet (or the diets of others) can be, and I'm not far off from that. Whenever I am part of a conversation of how people are eating, I'm inevitably driven back to the question of how are they being, and at that, how are they doing?
The thing that frustrates me with this argument is that eating is such a huge part of making your little-human-guinea-pig run well. We know diet links to better overall mental health, life span and so on, but that quality of life shit is secondary to the social flaws; we can only better individual lives by making the overall social system more efficient. The only reason the social system will become more efficient is by making it more beneficial to benefit individuals, which is extremely dense and confusing logic. I'm still pondering that. The only truly way to eat ethically is to eat in a way that isn't just environmentally sustainable, but socially sustainable and ethical as well. Doing those things requires some other alterations, not just on the general social infrastructure but in the very basic way we approach social problems as though they can be fixed without acknowledging the way our society works as a whole, but that's another very, very long article.
I have to do a lot more research before I can say anything more concretely about what exactly that statement entails. A few subjects of sustainability that I hope to touch on include perennial agriculture, grass fed livestock, eating locally, less packaged and more communal food, among other things. This is one of those big meatballs (HA. Laugh at that, I dare you.) that I have trouble digging into with one sitting; writing about food systems will probably be an off and on hobby of this site for the coming year. Food systems are just a core of our social complex. Figuring out how to integrate it better involves figuring out how to fix other issues in order to have it become better integrated.
Trying to convince someone to go vegan (or stop) is trying to convince them to stop being human the way they perceive to be correct. Again, nobody is wrong, it just depends by which system you're measuring their decision. Any argument about diet is kind of secondary to an argument about human nature and what kind of human you choose to be. That choice is made based off of the situation you're placed in, and while we share the planetary one, we vary greatly on the social scale. If you really cared about the well being of someone based on their dietary choice, the most sound option would be to work within their constraints. If you're a vegan, instead of screaming about meat as the downfall of the environment, offer meat-friendly alternatives that are more environmentally viable (this link is a very small example because I've spent too long on this already). No, it doesn't make them stop eating meat, but it may help someone make less of a contribution to abusive factory farms that you're really against. If you're not a vegan, learning about how moral implications of diet aren't necessarily the deciding factors.
This isn't exactly about finding middle ground, it's more about playing devil's advocate to your own beliefs. If you really want to elicit change in other people, you first have to truly figure out why they disagree with you.
Thank you as always for reading. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it with other people because I think that's how blogs work. Also, would you consider donating to this site so I can survive the winter?
Looking at how groups work as a whole rather than as individuals. Or something like that.