I am employed at a bank. I live in a trendy, overpriced apartment that towers like a fortress over a sea of chain link and broken glass. There are Peloton bikes in the gym and craft beer taps in the lobby. I am working on my MBA and when that is done I will take a job at a different bank, or maybe accept a large promotion where I’m at. I will make more money. I will buy more things.
My Henckels knives are from Macy’s. My pants are from J.Crew. My copy of the Communist Manifesto is from Amazon.
Everything is working as intended. The lights never flicker. I buy organic. I won without even trying, and there was never any question about the outcome. I am coasting. I do not have to think. It is best if I do not think.
It is best if I do not think about who signs my checks. It is best if I do not think about the crumbling neighborhoods adjacent to my apartment. It is best if I do not think about all the microphones in my living room, in my kitchen, on my nightstand.
It is best not to think about what will happen if the market crashes. It is best not to think about what will happen if earnings miss the mark and the shareholders get upset. It is best not to think about what will happen if the budget gets slashed and my job is outsourced to someplace far away.
There is a nagging voice always telling me to be thankful. That I’ve earned the stability, the comfort. I don’t have to worry. The checks will grow a little larger every year. In a system where so many are doomed from the start, I am doing alright. I am doing okay. There is no need to shake things up. Why take a chance on ruining a good thing?
This is a good thing, right?
On the television there is talk that the world is ending. Old men in nice suits grow more despondent by the hour. They are panicked and their words are heavy with despair. They gesture wildly and with increasing levels of exasperation. Each day, more of them arrive at the studio, and soon they will be the only thing on T.V.
They speak directly to me. They warn me about the evils of Socialism. They offer me bleak visions of a taxable future. If we do not crush this menace then everything will die. America will die. Innovation will die. Hard work will die. Free enterprise will die. The markets will die. The DOW Jones will plummet to irrecoverable levels, and my 401k will be devoured by the insatiable maw of Big Government.
Don’t you know that if we raise the minimum wage, then everyone will have less money? Ceteris Paribus.
They are begging, pleading for their lives. The choice is Freedom or Socialism, Life or Death. There isn’t enough money for everyone! Be reasonable, there are many yachts and homes in Martha’s Vineyard at stake here.
The Wealthy are Entitled to more, and any questioning of this feedback loop will be reported to the New Committee on Unamerican Activities. Real Americans do not want healthcare or education. Those are Unpatriotic Endeavors, and Americans hate having their taxes spent on Unpatriotic Endeavors.
They don’t understand why I don’t understand. I work for a bank. I live in a nice apartment. I have a single-serving smoothie blender and a little bamboo plant on my granite kitchen island. I will be management soon. Why am I not complacent? Why can’t I just vote for the right person?
What, they wonder, is wrong with me? Don’t I like being free?
Free to work forty to sixty hours a week for the next thirty-five years? Free to take pride in knowing that I helped fund the golden parachute when the CEO retires to avoid possible prosecution? Free to boost the bottom line? Free to pay double or triple over the principle on my student loans? Free to rip my hair out at the office as I wait patiently for my two weeks of vacation? Free to choose an in-network doctor? Free to coast as another well-adjusted corporate asset who does as he’s told because I live in a system designed to keep people like me just comfortable enough not to wonder what else there might be?
Free to sell my soul? Free for me to reap the benefits of gentrification and not care about who gets hurt in the process? Free to live in blissful ignorance? Free to turn a blind eye to all the suffering and absurdity of a system where some people have billions of dollars and others have less than zero? Who cares? I’ll be alright. I’ll be okay.
Free to have my taxes pay for corporate bailouts and massive subsidies? It’s not socialism if the talking heads are turning a profit. Free to lose my job when the market crashes because the board got greedy? Free to be evicted from my apartment and default on my loans? Free to have the system turn its back on me like it already has for so many other people?
Struggling builds character. If you don’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, then you have no one to blame but yourself. The men on the T.V told me that. I should be grateful for the opportunity.
Don’t worry though, because the Titans of the American Dream will survive. The bank will survive. The factory farm will survive. The oil company will survive. The planet might not survive, but Bezos is building the rockets that will one day ferry the Chosen Few to their new home in the stars. The server hub is thriving. Unemployment is doing wonders for the bottom line.
Think about your 401k! You want to stop working one day, don’t you?
The old men on the T.V tell me that things have to be this way. The system that gives one person fifty billion dollars is the same system that pays for my nice apartment. Life is unfair, deal with it. Be happy, work harder. You do not need to be asleep to engage in the American Dream, but it certainly helps. Forget about everyone else. Capitalism is the Only Way. The Free Market is the Only Way. Stay Afraid. Don’t think, just vote.
The more afraid of change we are, the easier it is to buy the Great Lie, which claims the comforts we know are incompatible with the universal compassion of a system that values equality over the profits of the few.
The old men on the T.V are terrified, and rightfully so. The profits have been so good for so long, but now the chopping block leers ominously within view, ready to slice off a zero or two. Delirium and denial have set in. Why this? Why now? The poor people we understand, but why can’t people like me just go back to being happy with the mediocrity we have sold them as freedom?
The old men aren’t thinking straight. They do not realize that the air is much thinner way up in the penthouse.