Thursday, October 3, 2013

Taking On The Prestige Economy

The first step to a collective solution is to realize this is a collective problem.

If you are under 30 (and probably older), you are on the same sinking ship. It does not matter if you work at Burger King or at a think tank; odds are you can’t pay your bills and have an education you are being told is worthless. You are also told, either explicitly or tacitly, not to talk about it.

We need to remove the shame from struggle and privation. The exploiter should feel ashamed, not the person exploited. If people do not feel comfortable discussing their financial hardship, or their misgivings about an economy in which they are unfairly advantaged, then no progress will be made. Erase the stigma. Redefine success and failure. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You are not your job — especially because you probably do not have a job.

If you grew up in the prestige economy, you have been trained to see life as a competition. But if you are young, you are losing no matter what. You will have better luck in the long run by rearranging the social order, rebuilding broken institutions, and broadening opportunity for all.

And that means you need to look out for the people at the bottom, because they know the score. Go talk to people — all kinds of people. There are lines of class and race and geography that are drawn — cross them and find similarities. If I had a more direct solution than this, I’d tell you. But we are in the beginning of this fight, and broadening the conversation, finding out what people want and what barriers they face and how to eliminate these barriers. That is the first step.

A denied dream is something that matters; it is not something to be dismissed for anyone, regardless where they come from or whose “fault” people believe it is. Mistaking bad luck for bad character is one of the great cruelties of our time.

A prestige economy promotes superiority through affiliation. Make your affiliation other people, not institutions set to screw you. Build new affiliations through empathy. You are in this together, so fight together — through legal channels, through public dialogue, through organized protest, but most of all, through standing up for others, seeing their struggle as your own. 

Prestige is not the same thing as respect. You can have self-respect; you cannot have self-prestige. Show respect to yourself and to others.

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