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Political consciousness, and self-inventory

Despite my intention to never get on dating apps, here I am. It's summer, my favorite season for dating (says a guy who hasn't courted anyone new in seven years), and I thought I might as well go fish.

One of the biggest reasons why I didn't want to open a dating profile was because I’m extremely protective of my brain and how technology changes it. I remember my own experience ten years ago, how superficial I was as I was swiping, much more than I would be in real life.

It's important to be intentional about at least one non-visual cue that you are looking for in a person. Among the non-visual cues, political self-awareness is probably at the top of my list: What is their relation to the world, how do they question everything they operate in, are they contextually aware?

When I talk about politics, I don't mean the game of politics. I don't mean red vs. blue, this bill, that ruling, power webs, etc. I get it when people say they're "non-political" because they think politics is headlines about what Mitch McConnell said or what John Roberts wrote. Instead, when I talk about politics, what I really mean is where our worldview intersect with action.

There is a difference between "loving nature" because we like to look at it, and loving nature because it reflects a deeper politics around the value of conservation. There is a difference between taking the bus because it's cheaper and convenient, and taking the bus because it reflects our stance on public transit as a progressive institution for social and economic mobility. There is a difference between watching that independent film because the reviews are good, and watching it to support the institutions that allow for risk-taking filmmakers to push the boundaries of cinema as an art form, rather than letting it wither as a investment vehicle.

In short, are we narrowly self-interested automatons (economically, hedonically), or are we making a statement with our lives? Sometimes it feels like all of us are just placing bets in this casino we call a life--for money, for dopamine--without really questioning what we'd spend our winnings on.

What I really want is someone who engages with the questions of life and values, who doesn't have it all figured out, but enjoys wrestling with the questions. But to hold up my end of the bargain, I'm writing a self-inventory of my own political identity (always subject to change).

Everything is rigged, neutrality is a myth

I can boil it down to 3 central tenets:

  1. Wealth begets more wealth (r>g), wealth begets power, and power begets more power.
  2. It is our individual duty to hone and exercise our political consciousness to rectify #1.
  3. Everything is political. We can't exhaust ourselves with making every action right, but we can always be well-informed and well-intentioned.

I see the world as a heavily tilted landscape that benefits the haves, and further marginalizes the have-nots. It is our duty to level the playing field again, by ensuring that money begets more money more equitably, that money cannot buy power, and that power cannot secure more power for itself. To level this playing field means to actively work against it, because if you are neutral in a tilted landscape, you are perpetuating the tilt. This is why neutrality is a myth. Or, ask Ibram X. Kendi says, "the opposite of 'racist' isn't 'not racist'. It is 'antiracist.'"

I am a product of healthy counter-systems actively trying to tilt that landscape back to level. I am a beneficiary of diversity-based scholarships and programming to get more people like me in places where I am underrepresented, and I do believe that without those opportunities I would have been one of many talented people stuck in socioeconomic circumstances that doesn’t allow me to fulfill my potential.

A critique of capitalism does not necessitate burning it down

I am an ardent critic of capitalism, but I believe we are too entrenched in this economic structure to burn it down and start fresh. I am a reformist, not a radical, and I would even argue that it requires even more class consciousness to heavily reform capitalism than to burn it down. We demand more of architects than arsonists.  

Nevertheless, I work in a very distilled form of capitalism. I take other people's money and use it to bulletproof startups who have solutions for human health or planetary health (i.e. climate tech). But if our firm didn't exist, these same people will put their money in the stock market so they can give money to tech companies to sell ads to hijack our attention, or to multinational companies who have a rich history of international exploitation, or to real estate conglomerates who are buying up bargaining power in rental markets when we have multiple housing crises going on. The entire system sucks, but I'm happy that I have a job that siphons off a little bit of that money to potentially make our lives and our planet healthier.

My privacy is a political stance

I quit Meta's products (including Instagram) in 2017 after Cambridge Analytica. I don't have a real Facebook profile. My stance was further solidified after reading The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (Zuboff, 2019), which I consider a must-read for every human being connected to the Internet. It's not because Meta did anything wrong, per se. It did what it was supposed to: amass data. But regardless of whether a bad actor gets access to the data, or whether Meta took measures to protect it, data is still power that I don't feel comfortable being consolidated (see: power begets more power).

As a social psychologist, Zuboff focuses on all the ways in which surveillance capitalism changes our social fabric and individual autonomy, and it is bleak. We know how advertising affects behavior. Facebook has already done experiments to show that its ad platform can influence voting behavior. Why are we voluntarily giving our precious attention away to brokers who get paid to be our puppeteer?

P.S. I hate this whole "let's follow each other on Instagram" shit. I'd love to just exchange contact information without giving a third party insights into how to monetize our new relationship with ad revenue. I'm rooting for those who are building decentralized protocols for identity.

Tourism can be harmful

One of the critiques of capitalism is its ability to commodify everything it touches. Even ethnicity is commodified, to the extent that tourism can be harmful (see: everything is political).

I love traveling but I hate being a tourist, because there is always guilt, especially in lower income countries whose economies are dependent on tourism, with life-or-death incentives to commodify their own identity to increase tourism revenue. Pristine is a myth; everything has been contaminated by the hustle.

An ex of mine was an anthropologist, who taught me how harmful it is to see culture as a static, non-evolving snapshot, because our imaginaries prohibit them from participating in their own evolution. We expect an "authentic" experience, they deliver on what we think is "authentic" because our TripAdvisor reviews will punish those who don't deliver what we expect. Don't even get me started on the local artisans. They knows what sells to the foreigner, and they'll make more of it. They're just global artisans who live locally.

Bargaining Power is a Right

Next time you take an Uber/Lyft, ask your driver how much they get. Last few times I asked, Uber took about 60% on average. That means on a 15 minute ride, my driver only pocketed about $6 of the $15 that I paid. Uber took the other $9 for just brokering the ride. Many of my rides will include me commiserating with my driver about how Uber makes it impossible for drivers to unionize against them.

Union-busting is as egregious as voter suppression and disenfranchisement. Both are disgusting to me, probably because of how sensitive I am to hypocrisy, and this is probably because where capitalism's hypocrisy comes in full force. We can't "let the market decide" while also blindfolding and gagging half that market.

These are just a few thoughts, some will probably change tomorrow, and some have probably changed as I was writing it. I'm always questioning myself and the world around me, it was a pleasure to capture a snapshot of "me" today. I already can't wait to compare it to the one I'll write in a few years.