When those who created the problem offer a solution, they are more interested in preserving the status quo rather than a real solution. They make you the problem.
As recently as 1970, marital rape was excluded from common rape laws all over the world.
In 1980, the argument from a member of the California congress went “If you can’t rape your wife, then who can you rape?”
Say a woman was subjected to marital rape, what would society say? You should keep him so satisfied, it never comes to this. If she complains of being anxious, perhaps she should try some meditation and practice mindfulness?
The problem is marital rape, not mindfulness. No amount of meditation is going to take away what she has to experience. To suggest that the solution is ‘individual’ is the greatest mental violence that you could subject a person to.
The world is filled with systemic problems and we offer individual solutions to those problems which can only be described as Cruel Optimism.
In the above example, laws had to be introduced criminalising marital rape, the solution was systemic, not individual. Without the feminist movement, it would not have happened. There was one member of congress who was a woman in 1970. The initiative was not coming from the top.
Are you too distracted by social media? Just turn off the notifications or put it on do not disturb. Even though there are armies of engineers working on ensuring that you get addicted to it.
Are you getting really fat? Just avoid fast food and eat healthily. Even though fast food is often the cheapest and there is not a large enough range of healthy foods. When Lays says “No one can eat just one”; it’s not a marketing jingle, it is science, they engineered it.
Are you having mental health issues? Just meditate. Be mindful. To add insult to injury, it would be a multi-millionaire who would be preaching this to the poor.
Do you have a burden of debt? Just make a plan and start paying.
Most people to whom these solutions are offered are bound to fail. Precisely because they are set up to fail.
Instead of targeting the cause, you are shifting the onus onto the individual.
Stop manipulative algorithms. Ban food with salt or sugar content above a threshold. Get to the root of the mental health issue, working multiple jobs, not being paid enough, bad relationships; instead of just giving them an app that will say some shit for 5 minutes every day. And finally fuck the capitalists, more specifically financial organisations.
The entire system or the environment is the problem.
Even if you detox and lose weight with a miracle diet and 5 hours of exercise every day, you step back into an environment that is designed to make you consume. There are cues and triggers at every turn. The environment is designed to make you fail.
People should not borrow more than they need. It is their fault that they are knee-deep in debt. Why don’t you stop lending in the first place? Why should you promote lending products? If the need is dire, let them come to you.
Authentic optimism is where you acknowledge the barriers that society has set up and work to dismantle them.
Cruel optimism is where you offer a non-solution and blame it on the individual for not getting it under control.
When Marie Antoinette was told that the people do not have bread to eat, she said “why don’t they eat cake?” That is cruel optimism.
At the peak of the French monarchy, it would have seemed impossible for the monarchy to lose its power. They were sitting in the Louvre and had gardens larger than the palace itself. Benjamin Franklin was standing, bowl in hand, at their gates to raise money for fighting the British.
And yet, just 5 years after that, people rose up; that same monarchy found themselves beheaded at the Place de la Concorde, right in front of their gardens.
People don’t realise how fragile these systems are. These Trillion-dollar behemoths would like you to believe that they can stand the test of time and that they are omnipotent. But really, when pegged against the people, they are impotent. Their edifices can fall apart faster than they rose up.
Last quarter, 200,000 people unsubscribed from Netflix; only 200,000. Their shares have fallen 66% in the last quarter. From $610 to $190. The last time Netflix was trading at $190 was in December 2017. 200,000 people can wipe out 5 years of progress in a quarter.
It is time to do away with the cruel optimism and embrace authentic optimism. These organisations must be forced to change. Honestly, we have bigger fish to fry.
Challenges such as climate change will not be met with the best that we have to offer if we are going to be lying about the solution.
Truth lies in paradox.
Really good post, Vivek, especially how you end it. It's so easy to believe in the status quo, and change almost always happens slowly, except when it doesn't.