Quo usque tandem abutere patientia nostra? Cicero bellowed in the Roman Senate in his Catiline Orations. “How long will you abuse our patience?”
Throughout the world, people are being consistently stripped of human rights, and instead of rising up, for the most part, humanity is continuing to blame itself for the cruelty of the few. There are some inspiring rebellions against capitalist hegemony that we certainly should not undervalue: in Chile, in Haiti, in Rojava, in France. Even so, most people are continuing to operate as if there is nothing unusual about the atrocities taking place and the violence being done in the name of patriotism, accumulation, safety, and progress, regardless of nationality. Last year, Kanye West made headlines by saying that“Slavery was a choice.”While this comment was understandably controversial, the reality is that slavery was a choice—but it was only a choice of the free population to condone slavery while continuing to espouse “liberty and justice for all.” Slavery is still a choice. Why do people turn a blind eye when they see it?
Many will argue that slavery was abolished and ignore the prison population in the United States, which holds by far the highest absolute incarcerated population and incarceration rate in the world.“More black men are behind bars or under the watch of the criminal justice system than there were enslaved in 1850,”according to professor and civil rights activist Michelle Alexander. Putting out wildfires—some of the most dangerous and harrowing labor in the world—performing customer service, and manufacturing are all done by prison populations for virtual wages, if any at all. When asking why that process is legitimate, the average response is typically to shrug it off:“Well, they had to do something wrong to get into prison.”Yet in many parts of the United States, harmless drug use is illegal, and often, that same responder will say,“Oh, yeah, marijuana is great. It should totally be legal.”A grotesquely disproportionate number of people in prison are Black, nonviolent offenders. Black and Hispanic Americans make up just 30% of the population, but 60% of the prison population. As marijuana legalization has spread, there have been far too few movements to liberate those punished for something others have simply experienced as“a good time.”The difference between those in prison and those at parties is the ability to afford an attorney: anyone without enough money deserves the punishment of being a slave.
Segregated settlement patterns developed so that White people could internationally feel safe, responding to long-term propaganda campaigns suggesting that people of color were dangerous, even in places where White people were the minority. While many will claim that people should be free to live wherever they want, equal housing choice is a myth. People of color, particularly Black people, were taken all over the world—or colonized—and once they were considered“free,”no one took any responsibility for the systems that were created to keep them in poor housing, deprive them of income, and generally make life unbearable. Whenever methods of working around the intolerable systems have been found, the dominant institutions have swiftly responded in violence. How else could one explain that homeless single mothers in Oakland were apprehended with the use of riot gear for the high crime of squatting in an empty house? In fact, because people of color have been unable to acquire wealth based on these manufactured circumstances, people feel justified in continuing to deprive them of any socieconomic mobility. The social ecology of the globe has been calibrated in favor of those with money, while everyone else is forced to contend with whatever the wealthy choose to ignore.
Unfortunately, there has not been much the elite ignore because they later“discover”it and shield it from the very people who made it possible. Throughout the United States and Europe, many of the cultural enclaves were formerly home to socioeconomically segregated populations. For those who spoke different languages, there was an immediate community once the harrowing process of immigration was complete. Even if no one would hire ethnic people to work, the entire ethnic population would rise in support. Soon, those communities would have their own businesses, schools, housing, and leisure activities. If those enclaves started capturing the attention of the dominant institutions, first there would be imitative businesses outside those communities offering the“same”experience. Then, with greater access to money, the imitative businesses would inspire people to go into those enclaves to get“authentic”experiences. Finally, people would begin to move to those enclaves, the real estate market would engage, and then the process of gentrification and displacement would begin.
Before the creation of the College Board, people in the United States were admitted to college depending on the entrance exams administered by that school, and based on the assumption that anyone not of a certain caliber, and race, would be barred from entering higher education. Once historically racial colleges were created, threatening the dominant narrative, new barriers arose in the form of the College Board. Unlike the previous entrance exams, the College Board standardized tests created a situation in which only those with money could consistently afford to prepare for the exams, and institutions without College Board criteria were deemed illegitimate. Likewise, when slavery ended, the trades allowed people to make a living and perhaps build a business. Soon, there were people of all backgrounds who were able to open their own shops and compete with the dominant narrative and institutions. Mechanized, industrial manufacturing not only took that away from tradespeople but for the remaining trades, the government began mandating licensure, despite the fact that many skilled tradespeople were trained under practitioners for many years. As all of these barriers require a certain amount of wealth to overcome, and so they allow a populace to delude itself into thinking that wealth indicates skill.
One of the most popular new methods of extracting income from an already overburdened populace is that of product subscriptions. People used to be able to have software for years without having to upgrade; now, anyone without a subscription to the software is forced to forfeit most of the software’s utility unless they pay up. Products were able to be fixed by their possessors on a regular basis before everything required electronics, forcing everyone to buy new products if the software was made obsolete or people lacked the tools to fix certain models. Instead of being able to maintain items, people are constantly being cajoled to“upgrade their subscriptions,”based on the perpetual promise of better usability. What is the difference between being able to continue to participate in the workforce on a level playing field and being forced to contend with limited availability? Not just money, but consistent money that can be reliably extracted without interruption, an ever-fleeting possibility in the gig economy.
Finally, even the right to live comes down to being economically validated, which is why people broadly excuse an ever rising homeless population and a society in poor emotional health. Rather than accept that every human being has a fundamental right to existence, people seem to accept that health services, proper nutrition, sleeping, and emotional safety only belong to those with enough money to access them. Those who provide those services have more limitations due to licensure, understaffing, and the need to limit liability. Nutrition is only available for those with time, which usually means those with money. People cannot routinely exercise safely unless they completely control the environment. Housing is no longer seen as a sanctuary where people can reclaim their humanity, but a financial investment that requires more expenditures to increase value, which is why people feel justified in hoarding large quantities of real estate. Despite the fact that homelessness is criminalized, the general public feels that those who own housing are entitled not only to keep it, but to keep it empty if no one is able to meet its price, which should be ever increasing to extract absurd rents.
It seems absurd that we have to say what should be common sense, but we must say it: if someone owns housing all across a country with a rising homeless population, and does nothing to house that population, and encourages legislation that increases that homelessness, that person is not a good person. Only last year did the Guggenheim stop accepting Sackler family money, and only because it was finally too obvious to everyone that the Sackler family produced the OxyContin crisis that has destroyed many working class neighborhoods and countless lives. How“generous”would those greedy people be if they got nothing for any of those donations? How many people would be helped if greedy people could finally be satisfied? Justifying pain throughout the world based on economic validation makes a sick society, and the only way to heal is to accept that wealth hoarding offers nothing but pain.
The encouragement of the mindless acquisition of wealth needs to be eliminated. The world cannot support a never ending supply of greedy people who cannot understand that the world is finite. Panic is rising up among people because the workarounds have been eradicated, and pretty soon, no one will be able to thrive without substantial resources, which no one will be able to acquire. There was life before never ending wealth accumulation, and people can work to create that life again. Without an existence based entirely on monetary exchange, people might be able to transcend to greater mental health and work to create more wholesome environments that allow for people to be more comfortable in their own skins. One thing is clear: people who make people homeless, give people cancer, and attack the most vulnerable are not good people, no matter how much money they have, nor how much their evil has been validated by wealth. How long will they continue to abuse our patience?