Friday, February 22, 2019

My Financial Independence Manifesto

If you are in any way following the personal finance community, then you have likely heard about the alt-FI Manifesto that was recently published on someone’s blog and then featured on Rockstar Finance.  (I’m not going to link to it here, as I don’t personally want to give it any more traffic. You can certainly Google it if you really want to read it, or alternatively you can read Done by Forty’s excellent summary and interpretation of it on Twitter.). In it, the writer goes into great detail about how he feels the world should work from a financial perspective.  At its essence, I think it distils down to the following philosophy:

“I got mine. Fuck everyone else.”

I’m not going to spend a moment of time going through the arguments in the manifesto, as I’m sure other bloggers will do a much better job of that in the coming days.  It’s also the middle of my last night in Mexico, and I really should be sleeping while the waves crash loudly outside my window rather than hastily writing an insomnia-driven blog post on my iPhone.  What I am going to do instead is state very briefly how I would like to see the world work.

In the simplest of terms, I think the ideal society cares for all of its members.  It doesn’t take the dog-eat-dog, winner takes all approach that characterizes the current political and economic culture in the United States.  Instead, it recognizes the humanity and value of every member of society, and it attempts to create systems and structures that benefit every member of that society.

I’m always happy to debate what that looks like.  I’m happy to talk about welfare versus universal basic income, or about how best to respond to addiction, or about strategies for reducing homelessness.  I will not, however, ever debate the humanity of the most marginalized members of our society.  I will never debate my belief that those of us who have more have at least some obligation to those of us who have less.  That is the essence of my financial independence manifesto.

I also want to take a brief moment to address the issue of “tribalism” that was raised in the original  manifesto.  The manifesto proposes that we should stop dividing ourselves into groups and learn to not see things such as race, gender, sexuality, etc.  I will admit that, as a queer woman, there was a time when I believed this very thing with respect to my sexuality.  I thought that the only difference between being queer and being straight was that my partner’s genitals matched my own, and as a result, I didn’t think that I needed to specifically have queer friends or be part of the queer community.

Two things fundamentally changed this belief for me.  The first was travelling with my partner of three years through the Middle East.  For two weeks, we had to be constantly vigilant to not touch each other in public or say anything that would give us away, knowing that our sexuality and our relationship made us unsafe.  When she introduced me to people with whom she had lived and worked, people who are like family to her, she had to introduce me as her roommate instead of her partner.  It’s hard for me to describe how painful it was to essentially be erased from the life story of the person who was most important to me.  That is something that most straight people don’t ever have to experience.

The second thing was dating a woman who is a very active member of the local queer community.  When we dated, I suddenly found myself hanging out with other queer women and attending community events that I had never even heard of.  And while I love my straight friends dearly, I found something in the queer women that I had never gotten from my straight friends.  Understanding.  Recognition.  Commonality of experience.  When I talked to them about coming out, or travelling to a country where my sexuality is illegal, or my lifelong hatred of wearing dresses, I didn’t need to explain myself.  They had been there, and they simply understood.

So no, I don’t think we can simply ignore the things that make us different.  On a personal level, there is value in connecting with people who share and understand your experiences.  On a broader societal level, recognizing these differences is essential to dismantling the discriminatory systems that marginalize people who are not white, heterosexual, cis-gender, able-bodied men.

It’s still the middle of the night, and I am tired.  Partly because I should be sleeping, but mostly because I am tired of selfish, ignorant people continuing to speak from a position of hatred.  And I’m tired of organizations like Rockstar Finance giving these people a platform.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Why Are People Assholes? (A Mostly Rhetorical Question)

One of my friends is grieving.  She's going through a major loss, and although she is very guarded with her emotions, I can see that she is hurting deeply.  I wish there were something I could do to take the pain away, but as is usually the case, all I can offer is a sympathetic ear, words of compassion, and an endless supply of hugs.  Nothing, and everything.

I hate when people suffer.  I've dedicated my working life to doing what I can to minimize suffering, and I try in all my interactions with people to be kind.  To not add anything further to the burdens that people already carry.  So when I see people acting cruelly, I am overwhelmed by the question "why?".  Why do billionaires underpay their employees and not allow them bathroom breaks?  Why do teenagers beat up homeless people?  Why do jerks go onto Twitter and attack perfectly wonderful personal finance bloggers about their decisions to buy new cars?

Is it just a failure of empathy?  A failure to see the humanity of the other person and give a shit about what they're going through?  And, if it is, how do people get so broken that they don't care about the pain they cause others?