Sometime between 16 and 20 (I'm 32 now), I decided that I wasn't going to take part in the rat race.
I had already noticed something which I would later confirm through my studies in sociology and socio-psychology: Buying and owning stuff only would make me happier for a pretty short amount of time. That new computer, that expensive pair of shoes, even my first car - a few weeks later and that's my new normal, my new neutral point. Sure, I could now do things which I couldn't do before - play fancier games, drive wherever I wanted instead of relying on public transportation - but I didn't feel any more or less content.
I had, however, also noticed that below a certain degree of financial means, I'd have to deal with the kind of anxiety that comes with not being sure how to pay the rent next month or if eating would be an option next week. Since I started living on my own when I was 15 years old and I couldn't officially work a lot but also didn't qualify for official unemployment benefits, I had plenty of opportunity to observe the effects of monetary scarcity on my life.
So, I was going to make sure I'd get a decent education and that would allow me to put a minimum of working hours into making enough money to afford a modest lifestyle. Rent, food, clothing, utilities, internet and phone. Maybe some new hardware from time to time if I saved up for it, or new strings for the guitar. As far as happiness goes, that would come from other fields of life. Spending time with friends, finding a loving partner, being creative, finding useful ways to spend time in charity work or similar endeavours.
And the life happened. I developed serious depression and social anxiety issues, probably an effect of a not-so-easy childhood with an abusive stepfather. Suddenly I was drinking a lot. University wasn't an option anymore (too many people, hung over brain doesn't like learning complex shit), my creativity suffered (depression) and now I was poor and unhappy and lonely. Dealing with these issues took me a couple of years of therapy - which means at 32 I am just now finishing my university education. But I'm better now. Ready to finally live my life as I envisioned it when I was much younger. Except...
Capitalism is everywhere. It is everywhere in very direct ways - as in, there is a rapidly shrinking domain of non-monetized common goods. Our absurd monetary fiat system demands infinite growth to allow for payment of interest (and thus, further accumulation of capital), which in turn means that a price tag needs to be attached to everything. Politics happen within the framework dictated by financial markets and well capitalized special interest groups (and individuals).
Our laws and policy reflect that state of affairs. So many absurdities are built into our understanding of justice. "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread" is not a modern state of affairs.
People either play the financial system, work themselves into burnouts (which is considered being lucky) or are forced into precarity and the kind of financial distress which does affect quality of life through a perpetual state of crisis management. Pretty much what you'd expect with the kind of wealth distribution we are dealing with. 1% owning 50% of global wealth while the remaining 99% compete for the other half. 10% owning about 66% in my country (Germany), while the lower 30% have either nothing or are in debt and the middle 60% own the constantly shrinking about 34% piece of the cake.
Even if the conditions are right, it is quite hard to find a job where my work doesn't actively involve screwing people over in some way or another. It is hard to find a job that doesn't contribute to maintaining the system which is actively destroying the planet we live on if I really think about it. I can't do these jobs for long before the cognitive dissonance becomes too much. I've tried. I really have.
Money can be converted into practically everything. It buys friendship, love and respect. May not be the real thing, but as long as the cash keeps flowing, you certainly couldn't tell the difference. Respect and love and kindness of heart certainly aren't going to pay for a new pair of shoes, though.
But that's only the obvious stuff. It's the less obvious capitalistic mentality which gets me. It has subverted every field from art to language to relationships. Everything is being converted into metrics which can be measured, accumulated or denied. We want to accumulate social capital. We want to "count on" people. We are advised to regard our relationships as a ratio of our investments and returns into them. We allow different systems of evaluation of people's behaviors based on their "net worth". I'm not really saying this process is absolute, there are some areas of life which have not been totally conquered just yet. But, near as I can tell, we are getting there. Depression actually seems like a pretty sane reaction sometimes.
Last but not least, turns out I'm all but impervious to the constant onslaugt of marketing messages and class warfare (from above) publicity campaigns. Compared to most people currently living on the planet, I'm rich. I own a PC, a laptop, a guitar. There's enough money in my pocket to go out and get something to eat when I'm hungry. But I find myself longing for more. Despite knowing that it won't make any difference to my well-being, I want a Thinkpad with an I5, not the 2008 core2duo I have now. I want a fancy Martin guitar, not the one that was gifted to me.
I actively have to surpress my envy when I see people driving around in their cars while I'm waiting for the bus with my girlfriend's kids. And, whenever my relationship to my girlfriend seems to become demanding, when I deal with her difficult moods, when the kids are getting on my nerves... I catch me asking myself "Am I getting enough out of this to justify the investments I am making?!. As much as I am disgusted by the casual way in which (especially people from the US, it seems?) judge people by their (lack of) wealth, I can easily find myself passing judgement on the drunk guy begging in the streets.
Turns out, capitalism is me. I don't know how to deal with myself and the world.
I am sincerely asking: How do you?