By Nic Schlueter | Tuesday, Sep 21, 2021
There is something in the air, water, ether, whatever. A lot of mostly young people don't have a sense of hope. The level of inequality in society has gotten to a point where it is hard to tell if people saying "eat the rich" are doing so ironically. What is not in question is the movements and media that are related to this feeling of ennui.
Lying Flat Movement
The "lying flat" (Tang ping) movement in China was largely a response to the 996 work system (9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week - or a 72 hour work week). It is a social protest of sorts where people try to do as little as possible to survive. It is an organic response by Chinese millennials who feel disillusioned about unrealistic goals and expectations put on them by society.
WaPo Article about the movement.
Work is a False Idol New York Times article By Cassady Rosenblum. Ms. Rosenblum is a writer who recently quit her job as a producer at “Here & Now,” a National Public Radio news program, and is living with her parents in West Virginia.
Walkaway is a novel by Cory Doctorow. It imagines a future world where wealth inequality gets so wide that people decide to go live off the land in the countryside, forests and mountains rather than participate in the ultra capitalistic system.
Nomadland is a film about people who drop out of society as much as possible. The main character lives in a van. It was mostly in reaction to the 2008 crisis, but it came out in 2020 and won best picture so the ideas of the film are still salient.
Reddit has a shitload of subreddits full of frustrated people:
/r/LateStageCapitalism has 650k subscribers who largely feel that we are near the end of what capitalism can extract from people. They point to things like health care and education being profitized as a sign that we (The United States) is working against it's own goals in order to make the rich richer.
/r/antiwork has 422k subscribers whose tag line is "Unemployment for all, not just the rich." Subscribers believe that we can get to a society where no one is required to work if they don't want to.
/r/Anticonsumption has 290k subscribers who are questioning the consumer nature of society. Specifically, the feeling that people mostly for work subsistence pay in order to buy things we will need to upgrade or replace regularly.
/r/lostgeneration/ has 220k subscribers who feel that their generation has worse opportunities compared to their ancestors.
Why is it happening?
Bullshit Jobs is a book by David Graeber. He posits that some percent of people feel they are doing jobs that have no positive impact on society. Most estimates he sites puts the percent around 40%. Some of the jobs he sites are professional jobs like lobbyist or corporate lawyer. Where, like an arms race, they only exist because others have them.
He posits that the people with the "Shit jobs" is different. Although "essential jobs" has been used by the government when they wouldn't pass a budget, most people learned of that term in early 2020 during COVID. It has been pointed out by many, but This American Life's episode "Essential" did the best job pointing out that usually essential jobs have low pay and poor benefits. I think most of these jobs are "Shit jobs" by Graeber's definition.
I think with the wealth gap widening and fact that university graduates are starting life after college with more debt than ever (at least in the USA) it is impossible for most people to feel they have any opportunity to exist without fear and/or desperation. Whether they have a "Shit job" or they feel obligated to take a job they hate, people can't see a way to break out of the cycle.
Once people have that feeling from my observations 1 of 2 things happen:
- They feel extremely desperate and angry, which can quickly turn to idle thoughts of violence on the 1%.
- They feel nihilistic and want to drop out of society and just exist on their own terms.
I am not predicting a revolution anytime soon, but I think the current system is unsustainable forever.