Last month, a Chilean activist burned papers representing $500m of student loan debt. He filmed the act and posted it on YouTube. In it, he is heard saying (translated):
“You don’t have to pay another peso [of your student loan debt]. We have to lose our fear, our fear of being thought of as criminals because we’re poor. I am just like you, living a s**tty life, and I live it day by day — this is my act of love for you.”
Debt slavery is rife and increasing here in the UK and around the world, and while I am not suggesting we follow Tapia’s actions, there is something we can learn from his unshackling and declaration of love.
Austerity is being poured over European countries and beyond, presented by politicians as necessary ‘tough’ decisions. But we know austerity really means a stranglehold on jobs, wage pressures, a lowering of living conditions for those at the bottom, and a funnelling of money to those at the top. You need only look at the increase in the Rich List’s bank balances and decrease in the means to live independently for those at the sharp end of these austerity measures to see proof of this deliberate widening of the wealth gap.
Yet through this, we are told to work harder for less, to accept zero hour contracts, casual employment or even work for free. Our value in employment is magnified and distorted so as to block out conversations of building a better society and other social values.
The grind against our worth as employees is accelerated by government policies of workfare schemes and undignified testing processes, and this saw a heartbreaking but inevitable result in the tragic loss of Martin Hadfield – the product of a society that fetishes work above all else.
This is the individualism that Thatcher promoted, designed to pull us from one another and our community in the seeking of self over others. Feeding us the idea that we should take personal value in work and consumption above all else, in a bid to undermine the ideas of power in community and mutuality.
The result? Crushing cuts devastating millions – people great in number, made alienated from each other, and in that state further exploited by a scapegoating of the already marginalised; immigrants, benefit claimants, the sick and disabled.
Individually, we increasingly gain our information from the papers and media – many of which propagate the same individualism and bombard us whether we go looking for it or not – instead of feeding information to each other in groups and communities. This leads to a distortion between what we read and what is happening, allowing media and politicians to aggressively push fictitious rhetoric, maintain fear amongst the public, and up the ante on discrimination in it’s darkest hour.
Erica Buist, journalist and author of the ‘How To be Jobless’ blog, spoke to RealFare earlier this year about the effects of this individual competitiveness:
“The World Health Organisation have said we’re a public health time bomb because of the unemployment that we’re facing, and I think it’s because it’s not a collectivist thing, looking for a job, it’s a competitive thing. So it’s hard to get any unity going. People are wondering why there’s not an earthquake being created by the fact that there’s a a million unemployed young people out there and it’s because each of them is doing their job hunt separately, so every one feels totally alone.”
Individualism has made us cautious of each other. It has made us withdraw from each other in the hope that through the idea that we must look after ourselves and only ourselves, the power of the collective public will vanish, allowing punitive and unjust actions made by institutions, seem too big to fight.
But studies have revealed we still have more in common than we think.
Research from ‘Common Cause’ – a network that looks into how values and culture shape our society – reveals that after decades of testing human motivations and values that there is a “surprising consistency in the things people said they valued in life,” and these included factors such as protection of the environment, equality and social justice.
But importantly, research also showed that people did not believe their counterparts held the same views.
This is what individualism is designed to do – promote internal alienation from each other, in a bid to drive down social values in favour of personal work and consumption.
It is worth noting, that while values that could come from certain jobs, such as ambition and variation in life, were listed – ‘work’ itself was not.
Similar results were found in the ‘Vote for policies’ test – where surveys asked people to pick the policies they most agreed with, without reference to which party held them. Green Party policies came top with over 25% of the public choosing them.
What we can learn
The profound thing about Tapia’s actions is his reminder that millions of us are in the same boat.
It is incredibly lonely and insular to recount your negative bank balance several hundred times a day, to navigate austerity designed to make your life harder, to psychologically battle your vilification by politicians and media, and these are tools to perpetuate the individual struggle.
Our media, institutions and politicians are desperate to maintain this, so that they can continue with a system of plunder, corruption and greed. But this is not the system we want. (Why would we?)
We want progressive action. We want a better society. Research shows that our values still urge us to do right by each other and future generations. The answer to this is to remember this is not an individual struggle, but one with millions beside us.
97% of money is made up – out of debt and loans, created by banks. Yet, our financial worth to this scheme continues depreciating like an old car. The state of our system should leave us in disbelief. And it should signal the end of these times and the start of a different way. One that takes into account the values we share and remembers that our powers lie in actions that fight equally for each other as for ourselves.
by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass