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I am a cog in the capitalistic machine and I hate it, but I also love shoes

The road to unlearning our capitalistic ways

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capitalism

It isn't that I always dreamed of being rich. I never laid in bed at night imagining living in a mansion or owning five cars. But I did spend the majority of my life dreaming of wealth. It wasn't the flashy displays that drew me in, but rather the little things that an average person does not buy because they are unnecessary and expensive.

I dreamed of being a person who was able to order appetizers and multiple drinks when I went out to dinner. I wanted to be able to get facials regularly and actually buy the 10 items in my online shopping carts rather than just staring at them.

The reality is I grew up in a very comfortable home, one my mother worked tirelessly to provide for. I lived in a slightly large, suburban, middle-class house. I never worried about having above my basic needs met. In fact, I lived a very privileged life, completely unknown to me. My family went on vacation once a year and I always went back-to-school shopping. I played club sports and got a car when I turned 16. But because I viewed this as the bare minimum of how most people lived, I always desired more. 

Having grown up surrounded by many people who were much wealthier than I, especially once I got into high school, I joined activities and clubs that tend to cater to a more wealthy population. I spent most of my days longing to be like them. 

I lived in this bizarre bubble of kids who had even more excess than me which left me feeling unbelievably poor in comparison. This misconception of me having to possess the cheaper version of whatever my peers had often made me crave wealth in a way that I still am trying to understand. 

It's built into our society to desire success and money. We often equate material goods with happiness, which in certain cases that may be true. Not having to fear about money adds a great deal of peace. In fact, a study done by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir found that poverty can actually impede a person's cognitive function due to stress. That being said, studies have also found that being rich only makes a person's emotional well-being better up until their basic needs are met; after that, it is relatively similar to a middle-class person. 

In recent years, I have become more and more frustrated with the capitalist model that most of society subscribes to, including myself. I am frustrated with how we are forced to participate in a business model that screws us to survive. 

I have worked in the service industry for nearly four years and have only received a raise when it was state-mandated. Mind you, I have asked for a raise and I was always met with the same response: that because I make tips, it was unnecessary. The urge to argue boils deep inside me, but I always push it down in fear of losing this job that doesn't appreciate me. 

The simple fact is we work to make the rich richer because if we didn't, we would starve and lose our homes.

And while I b---- and gripe about being a cog in the capitalist machine, I can't deny the fact that on some level, a part of me fully participates in it. 

I get a rush from buying new shoes; I really enjoy wandering the aisles of a store and putting things in my cart. I want to not have to feel concerned about my impending credit card payment or if my career path is ultimately flawed because I could never make good money as a writer even if I was relatively successful. 

I yell to redistribute your wealth but I feel great anxiety about pulling any money out of my savings account, regardless if it would benefit others. 

I have waxed poetic about maximalism, vowing to never give into the Marie Kondo craze, deeming minimalism deeply overrated. In reality, I am just deeply blinded by a sea of consumerism. 

These dueling mindsets that I am constantly trying to wrangle and understand have left me wondering how to break away from the only thing I have ever known. 

I talked to Ricardo Hidalgo, a mental health counselor at Hall Health, and he made some interesting points about changing the way you think. He often referenced language as a sort of analogy for capitalism and socialism. 

“Every [monolingual American] is speaking and thinking in English, because that's how we've been conditioned,” Hidalgo said. 

In the same way that most Americans have grown up immersed in the English language with little opportunity to learn more than that, it's the same with capitalism. From a young age, we are taught to go to higher education and figure out our career as soon as possible. We have almost zero exposure to any other forms of government structure, and the ones that are mentioned are generally painted in a negative light. 

“That's how we've been, you know, brought up,” Hidalgo said. We can't blame what we had no control over, but moving away from this mindset isn't necessarily easy. “I would say not retrain the brain, that's like trying to say, forget thinking or speaking in English, it's not going to happen,” he said.

But you can learn a new language. It just takes dedication, time, and belief in what you are doing. The same applies to learning a new way of life and thinking about the world. 

There are benefits to leaving that structure behind, beyond what is beneficial for society and the planet. There are individual benefits that you can immediately experience. 

“We become much more satisfied with much less,” Hidalgo said. “We become much more secure with much less. In other words, we no longer invest our sense of worth and our sense of security in how much we have.”

Hidalgo mentioned how there is an innate stress in not taking a path that guarantees wealth, including opting for a more creative career rather than a financially secure job. He chalks it up to the fact that “our society doesn't value these other endeavors”.

Referencing his daughter, who chose a path of theater, he talked about how she “never questioned her sense of worth or her self esteem, because she knew she was following what was true to her heart.”

Leaving the capitalist mindset is learning to look beyond your immediate thoughts that push you to prioritize wealth over creative joy and self fulfillment. 

A 2007 study by Lan Chaplin and Deborah John found that people with higher self-esteem had less materialistic tendencies, suggesting that investing in yourself and valuing yourself can lead you to find joy in a less capitalistic way. 

The Happiness Hub, referenced in a study by Joseph Chancellor and Sonja Lyubomirsky, found that living a thrifty lifestyle “concerned with strategic underconsumption” led to hedonic benefits. 

So, while the studies have proved minimalism is inherently better for you and pursuing your dreams builds your self-esteem, the journey is not a straight path and the reality of living in a capitalist society demands that we must practicipate in it in the most basic form to survive. 

While I'm a long way from a minimalist lifestyle, I am committed to moving away from those tendencies. My first goal is to start replacing my hobby for shopping with less materialistic activities such as cooking and painting.  

Ultimately, believing in your desire to give way to what you've always known is a simple way to start a different way of life. Like a new language, you just have to begin and be open to learning more. 

Reach Pacific Wave Co-Editor Chamidae Ford at pacificwave@dailyuw.com.

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(2) comments

WhatThe!

Spot on with this article! I think more people need to be educated on what consumerism and capitalism actually entail and the effects they have on our psych. Way to go THE DAILY!

Stephanie Lew

Great article.. glad I'm not alone in feeling this way. <3

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