Words by: Amy Jenkin
Ah, the joys of late-stage capitalism. Everything essential like food, electricity and housing is becoming disastrously expensive. Everything that appears free comes at a cost — usually your privacy. Every single purchase, subscription, moment your eyes linger slightly longer on your screen embeds you deeper into the system.
In the morning and each night before bed, I check Facebook, scroll on Instagram and get lost in TikTok. I’ve tried deleting each of these apps multiple times, but something always draws me back in. Even if you’re not always receiving messages on these platforms, just seeing the lives of other people, receiving a like or hearing people speak, provides a form of pseudo-socialisation that we become dependent upon and addicted to. Even knowing my privacy is being breached and my attention being sold in the name of making some neo-liberal corporation billions of dollars, I still use social media, watch videos on YouTube and listen to podcasts. Why? It’s entertaining, it’s free and it makes me feel connected in an increasingly disparate, polarised and disconnected world.
For 21 hours a week, I work at a doctor’s clinic. It’s as if someone has paid for a clone of me, someone who smiles all the time and speaks in a sickly-sweet tone of voice who’s programmed only to book appointments. This clone has no personality or political interests and doesn’t express any social values. In my first job, I worked in a food truck. It was gross and hot, and the workdays were extremely long, but worst of all, the boss was an overt, raging sexist, racist, capitalist middle-aged man. I never argued with him, told him he was wrong or quit in a blaze of glory and fury. I wanted to earn money, and this horrible man was employing me. In real life, I consider myself a feminist, I care about environmental issues, but in this job (and subsequently in pursuit of surviving in a capitalist world), I learnt that often, these passions must take a back seat.
Nowadays, every issue has a solution that can be bought, and if you can’t pay for it, you can’t solve any problems. Worried about poverty? Sponsor a child. Worried about the environment? Pay for carbon offsetting or pay double the price to buy an environmentally friendly version of whatever product you’re purchasing. The solution to fast fashion? Slow fashion. Want to participate in social change? Buy some merchandise. Participate in the system, and you can pretend you’re fixing things. Outside of the system, you’re silenced, ignored and still able to change nothing. You’re constantly trapped in a tug-of-war between wanting to overhaul the entire system but not knowing how. You then settle for doing what you can within the system, which in turn requires you to succeed within the system, which then strengthens it.
So how can we offset our perpetuation of the system we hate? There’s no quick fix or all-encompassing solution. But in my life, I try to attend protests for issues I’m passionate about, I’ve left jobs where I feel I have no agency in favour of those that treat me like a human being and align better with my values, I buy less (even if it’s ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’, ‘fair trade’ etc.), and seek information from a variety of sources that are transparent in their business models (not just social media). At the end of the day I try to remember I’m just doing my best in a world that I can’t really control. That thought is both terrifying and liberating.