Why our society is broken (and one way to fix it)

Devin Carter, Staff Writer


I want you to take a minute to think about your life. Think about what sort of person you aspire to be. Recall what sort of dreams you had for yourself. Now think even deeper. Are you happy? If not, then what actions can you take to achieve happiness? What exactly makes you happy in the first place? Now think about who you are today as a student. What are you studying? What made you decide to pursue the degree in the major you are striving for? Do your current aspirations line up with your dreams in any way?

Hopefully, the answer to that last question is yes. And, for many people, I am sure that is the case. Yet I suspect that a great deal of us are not working towards furthering our happiness, but are instead being “practical” by considering things such as the job market, future salaries, and maybe even the credibility of one’s chosen career path. Those things are obviously important, but they often clash with a person’s dreams and personal aspirations, and I fear that all of humanity is suffering because of this. Many people likely feel trapped, unable to pursue their passions because they feel limited to the sort of opportunities that our modern society has deemed fit for them.

The sort of “modern society” I am referring to is capitalism. The economic system that has allowed for more production power and more wealth than any other in human history has left in its path a vast array of people who feel disenchanted with their careers, and often left questioning their human worth. This is an inescapable consequence. When children are young, they are often encouraged to pursue their passions, and to follow their dreams. As they get older, and the possibility of actually chasing a dream becomes more tangible, they are preached to about the virtues of college, and they go through a school curriculum that places a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects. By the time their education is over, people have seen enough of the world to understand that a real pursuit of one’s dreams is largely a fantasy, and they see that it is much more understandable to acquire a job and generate wealth, which, after all, might be the most virtuous thing in our modern-day society, if we can even claim such a thing exists.

In capitalistic societies, consumers’ demand for goods and services largely dictates what certain jobs pay, and one’s income plays a large part in how people perceive them. Instead of pursuing happiness, people are taught to be productive, like cogs in a machine, and to contribute to the economy so that they can make more money. And money, after all, is what makes our world go round. People within a capitalistic system are raised to see wealth as a sort of virtue, and for many people how much wealth they have dictates not just their image, but their success in life. Therefore, there is constant pressure to be employed in some sort of career that will allow for wealth to accumulate. Because of this, people often live robotically, working for their next paycheck that they will then proceed to spend a majority of on bills and other living expenses, and will the hold out until they are paid again. Lives that used to be filled with hope and imagination are now in many ways hollow.

This is not to say that people live meaningless lives. They often find meaning in their families, their friends, and many still pursue passions as side hobbies. But there still seems to be a large feeling of dissatisfaction, especially as younger people try to hold onto their passions as they pursue careers that often do not reflect who they really are. It is very difficult to be unique in a world that tries to get you to conform to its own standards for how you should be.

I do not blame capitalism for the effects it has on people. Well, I do blame it, but I don’t think changing our market economy would be a good idea. Instead, people need to look within themselves. Humans are very social, and how we treat one another is very important. Wealthier people, regardless of how the came into that wealth, are generally treated with more respect than, say, a painter who is barely making it. A person with a degree in Chemical Engineering or Finance is generally seen as being more intelligent, or more impressive, than somebody with an English or a History degree. People are always looking for acceptance, and for ways to please others. Therefore, they feel pressure to be productive and accumulate wealth largely because that is what is generally expected of them, and if they take some other route then they are not regarded the same. While it is impossible to force people to change, I would like for each individual who reads this to think about their own internal feelings regarding this issue. Do you treat everybody equally, regardless of their career choices? If you’re talking to a janitor you work with, and then run into your doctor on the street, is there a difference in how you treat them, regardless of how subtle that treatment may be? I think nearly everybody, myself included, has treated people differently in some way because of their career choices, and how could one not given the sort of society that we live in and the priorities it places on being productive?

There are no easy answers to this problem. After all, we cannot change the world we live in, and money is obviously very crucial to the sort of life one will want to live. And there is nothing wrong with getting a productive job and making money, if that is what you want to do. I am not looking to demonize anybody, but to instead open doors for other people who do not necessarily wish to follow the status quo. Therefore, I think the most realistic short-term solution to this problem will be the development of a more genuine human kindness and understanding, one that transcends our dollars-and-cents mentality we have developed. If people are more respectful, and more understanding of one another, then there may be less pressure to make money, and instead there will be more acceptance of people who decide to break away from their social constraints and chase their dreams. If people have the freedom to do so, I think this will lead to a greater happiness, and all of humanity will be better off because of it.

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