Purpose, Not Capitalism

Words by: Zayan Ismail
Art by: Anita Thuon 

It was not long ago that I dreamt of the life of a career diplomat. Majoring in international relations has shifted that dream, for better or worse. Studying the outdated archaic theories developed by White imperialists which perpetuate the subjugation of Indigenous communities, people of colour, women, and other minorities, has made me question everything since they created them under the guise of negotiation and peace.

On top of this, diplomacy has been predisposed to realist notions of security, so much so that it disregards human agency and the lives that are truly at risk. From climate change, gender inequality, to systemic racism: all such problems in our societies have reached gridlock due to bureaucratic mismanagement. Consequently, I could not reconcile my values with the prospect of being within this chaotic system. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for political thought. When Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in 1867, he was onto something. The world would never be the same. After the revolution, the politburo, autocracy, and a Cold War, much of the world had moved on from the communist debate. We understood that equal distribution of wealth in tandem with greater power for the state, only led to authoritarianism whilst hindering human rights. It only widened divisions and put the world at the brink of war yet again. 

Despite the pandemonium, we now understand that both the freedom to and pursuit of capital comes with a huge price tag. Many of us who live in societies that compel us to work now realise the enormous cost on not only our lives, but also on the environment. We see the destruction of our climate by the greed of major corporations. We know that we need to grind just to get by and reach that pedestal of excellence and materialism, while some are just born into it. It begs the question: is our purpose in life to earn money, shop til’ we drop, destroy the ecosystem and eventually die? Are our dreams only of monetary value? 

What I know for sure is that during the past year, a lot of us have been exposed to the realities of our unequal world. Corruption runs rampant within our institutions; from systemic racism, greed for non-renewable energy, ecosystem destruction, sexual harassment or violence against women and girls — through our politics and beyond. I realised that if I were to work as a career diplomat, I would only be selling my soul to a broken system. 

Since then I decided to re-evaluate my purpose. I had to realign my passion with intention and integrity. My first loves remain true. I love writing, gaining knowledge, and imparting it to others. I like shining a light on societal issues, advocating for those who are marginalised in our society and working towards positive change. In the contemporary world, we see more and more young people not only galvanising action but also bringing lasting transformation. Such work does not necessitate large sums of money. It’s as easy as pen and paper — writing for Esperanto is a simple example. 

Then again, a truly fulfilling life requires one to think beyond the monetary value. Of course, this is easier said than done. It pains me that we are taught from such a young age to grow up and get a good-paying job. Surely there is more to life than mere work. The age-old saying is very true: ‘The best things in life do come free’. Working for free rather than money is one way to test your values and dreams. It can be very telling, but some don’t have the luxury to do it. This begs the question, do we live to work or work to live? 

What remains true is that we are still figuring it out. The world has immensely changed from the time of my parents when they were young. Slowly but surely the world has become a place that allows for everyone to participate. Whether he/she/they aspire to be a diplomat or a social worker, integrity and inclusive ideals are of paramount importance. And while Marx’s utopian ideals for society tend more towards dictatorships, the answer does not lie within communism, socialism, or even capitalism. It’s about morality and transparency. It is about allowing yourself not to get entangled by the system and actively fight to dismantle destructive cycles. The true revolution starts within yourself. Being cognisant and aware of your purpose is necessary. For me it’s not about a prestigious position as a diplomat. Now that I think about it, it has always been to strive for what is right — to bring positive change by doing away with the old, to impart knowledge and help others in the process. If this experience brings a good job and all the money in the world, then I consider that a bonus.  

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