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Spoiled and blind or just moral and predictive?

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Are people who say “this year sucked” necessarily spoiled and blind to their own privilege? Or are they extending their moral obligation to mean that, even though they personally benefitted, “this year sucked”—and that things will continue to suck—for a lot of other people?

The article ‘Wow, What A Terrible Year!’ Say People Living At The Absolute Peak Of Human Civilization (Babylon Bee) is intended as satire, but as with all satire, there is supposed to be an underlying truth to it. That’s what give satire its bite.

In one way, this take is kind of funny,

““2021 was just the worst,” said Marley Buchanan while sipping on organic chai tea and munching on fish tacos he had summoned to his house in only 15 minutes using a pocket-sized supercomputer. “It was just a horrible, horrible year. My anxiety disorder and depression have never been worse. I have to see my therapist 3 times a week now.” ”

One thing to note is that someone’s internal trauma is real to them. Psychosomatic effects are real to the people to which they’re happening. They may look ludicrously self-imposed to an outside observer, but saying that doesn’t make the problem magically go away for the other person.

“Suck it up, buttercup” is a perfectly appropriate response for a single instance, but when a large proportion of people seem dissatisfied or disappointed with a system, despite the system’s protestations about how awesome things are, then it’s time to take their complaints seriously.

Maybe it’s just a case of marketing, of people not being able to see how far the Overton Window has shifted on what they expect from life, but maybe its an intrinsic problem with society and how it functions on a base level (spoiler alert: it is).

“Studies have found that lifespans are longer, quality of life is better, infant mortality is lower, air travel is safer, war and violence is lower, and food is more delicious than at any time in mankind’s history. In spite of these and many other amazing facts, humans seem to be getting more miserable.”

It would be funnier if these things were actually true—because otherwise this kind of satire risks sliding into the same part of town as propaganda. It’s interesting how this citation comes from a satire article, but it could have just as well come from the official press release of an authoritarian state.

In reality, lifespans in the U.S. (and several other countries) are shorter for the first time in a very long time, infant mortality in the U.S. is shockingly bad relative to the amount of money that is poured into the health-care system there—and considering how many resources and how much wealth the U.S. arrogates from the rest of the world. It seems that we’re wasting it on … something? Perhaps the money-funnel that benefits the 1%?

War and violence is lower overall (I guess? Those numbers probably don’t include economic war), but there is still so much unnecessary war, especially waged by or supported by the U.S. It’s not that it’s not lower than in e.g. the 20th century, but that we shouldn’t break our arm patting ourselves on the back when we’ve basically done the bare minimum and it could be even more way lower if we would stop being such greedy assholes.

Those things are provably wrong, so the satire hat sits a little crooked, unfortunately. The suggestion is that people are provably whiny bastards if they’re not happy, but it’s actually perfectly reasonable to experience a feeling of malaise, to be uncomfortable with how things are going.

Hell, even just the phrase “fish tacos he had summoned to his house in only 15 minutes using a pocket-sized supercomputer” sounds superficially utopian, but it’s also a reminder that we’ve killed nearly all of the wild fish, that we have an economy that pushes an underclass into an underpaid army of the “self-employed” that spend each day every day running all over urban centers delivering bullshit no-one needs to their spoiled, overpaid overlords, and that pocket-sized supercomputer is totally amazing, but it’s only affordable because it’s built with slave labor and its essential materials are stolen from under the poorest nations on Earth.

We’ve obviously expended a tremendous amount of effort and money on things like COVID and haven’t got as much to show for it as the receipt would suggest. We’re not making any real progress on medium- and long-term planning for climate change. We’re still stirring up shit in places in the world where it’s wholly unnecessary. There seems to be a lot of wealth and productivity and value, but it all ends up in a very few select pockets.

You can really only be happy with how things are going if you’re blissfully ignorant of how it’s actually going. If you’re not dissatisfied, then you’re a dupe or a predator or both.

People with principles and moral fiber (as, ironically, would be expected of followers of a Christian satire web site) should definitely feel that we didn’t do very well at distributing the largesse of a successful society. That it seems that this largesse was created for a select few on the backs of others who do not benefit. That there’s a feeling that the way things are going is down the wrong path and, while things are still temporarily awesome for yourself, it’s not going to last. This could easily lead to a perfectly justified ennui that seems quite at odds with a superficial luxury.

The podcast WTF Happened in 2021? w/ Thomas Frank by Useful Idiots (Apple Podcasts) has the following summary, which would seem, at first, to fall into the “whining about how awesome things are” trap suggested by the satire article above. But, if you look at the description of the show, it suggests that it is basing its judgment on the ways in which we unnecessarily lost ground on several major and important issues. That is, it laments the time we wasted eating caviar on the deck of the Titanic.

“2021 was a shit show […] So what happened in 2021? Democrats and Republicans definitely both sucked. Covid got better and then a lot worse. Dems didn’t do the one thing to ensure they’d never lose another election. And politics turned from policy to pure culture war.

“We go through it all, why it happened, why it sucked, and what it means for 2022.”

It’s not enough for things to be superficially good. That is a distraction to keep you from examining whether the underlying system needs to change. It breeds complacency. So, while some people—maybe everyone you know, if you’re in the right class!—personally did well, it’s not at all spoiled or blind or privileged for them to still consider a year to have been bad for everyone else. It’s called empathy. It’s called foresight. It’s called thinking for yourself.