Paying It Forward Matters

This piece was originally posted in tweet form on my personal Twitter, which can be seen on Storify.

We live in a broken system.

Capitalism is built around money as measure of success, but the plain fact is that money begets money; without capital, you are relegated to a life of dead-end jobs and wage slavery. Nobody knows this better than the poor, as we live our lives scrabbling from one paycheck to the next, wondering if we'll be able to pay rent or buy food while working hard for little to no pay.

This fundamentally fucked economy - and fucked is the only way to describe it - leaves two kinds of people: "fuck you, got mine," and "pay it forward."

Fuck You, Got Mine

"Fuck you, got mine" (hereafter known as FYGM) is an attitude where you advance your personal life at the detriment of others. It's pulling the ladder up after you climb it, or joining the people on top of the wall pouring boiling oil onto the masses below. You celebrate your newfound entrance into the oligarchy by inflicting the same pain on others you once endured.

FYGM is insidious. It can be blatant, such as the Republican obsession with dismantling welfare and slandering those relying on its assistance, or it can be subtle, such as reconciling with a known abuser because they happen to share your business interests. The common thread is that you do not care about your community, your society; you only care about your own advancement.

The subtle FYGM is far more upsetting than the blatant, as it masks itself under a guise of doing good. When your racist grandfather complains about how black women are all on welfare and should get jobs, you can at least recognize it for what it is: racist classist hogwash. But when a former ally comes forward to rehabilitate the image of someone doing incredible damage to a community you love so much, it's a cutting betrayal. It shows that they are willing to put personal wealth and prestige above making our communities a better place.

STEM, FYGM, and White Privilege

Of course, FYGM is linked to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professions in the US. The most common person in STEM today is a white guy who grew up in suburbs with middle-class families, which isolated them from a larger community. The days of hippies, college drop-outs, women, and minorities championing the advancement and adoption of technology waned as white men realized they could use this new technology to make an obscene amount of money.

This isn't to say that the STEM pioneers of today are any less diverse than the early days. They are merely more obscure; white start-up CEOs receive more prestige and coverage than people of color or women bending the limits of what can be done with wires, transistors, and binary. We celebrate and throw money at countless entitled, milquetoast start-ups, and ignore the excellent conceptual and practical work done by those outside the Sillicon Valley stereotype.

When you grow up in an environment where your life is plotted out before you from birth, and you receive oodles of money for pushing the simplest of iterative improvements (or even just for having a better name or marketing scheme), it's no wonder you feel like everyone else is just complaining. After all, you made it; why can't they?

Rap Culture and Elevating Others

Background has a lot to do with your future attitudes when you get money, and this is most self-evident in rapping (and the black community in general).

Dr. Dre is possibly the most influential rapper in the industry today. Not because of his rap - there are better rappers, to be sure - but because his legacy is built on supporting those who have less. Snoop Dogg got a chance to make his first album because Dr. Dre produced it. Eminem was discovered by Dre based purely on the strength of his mixtape; Dre didn't know he was white, initially.

This isn't to say that these artists aren't good on their own merit. They are. Rather, they would not be where they are today if Dre didn't afford others the same opportunity he was given. Mixtape culture and "discovery" is a big part of rap primarily because most rapper come from a place of poverty; they can't afford to make it on their own because they simply don't have the money to do so.

This community support is known as "paying it forward."

Paying It Forward

Where FYGM is the act of lifting up the ladder after you are done climbing, paying it forward is the act of reaching down to help the person behind you grab a particularly slippery rung.

Paying it forward is the ultimate act of community support. It supposes that we should improve not only our lives, but the lives of others, and that by improving all of our lives we end up with a healthier society, a healthier community, than we had before. It builds where FYGM destroys; is compassionate where FYGM is selfish.

It's no wonder that those who pay it forward generally come from, or have experienced, harsh circumstances. When you have no money, you rely on the kindness of others to make it through and survive. This social experience ensures that you truly understand the problems inherent in any system such as capitalism that elevates personal wealth over the betterment of a community.

Classist assholes assume that they made it on their own merit, their personal value. They use the term "meritocracy" without realizing its origin as a satire. They don't pay it forward because they don't understand what being social truly means. They never had those experiences, those connections, that improve attitudes. They mock paying it forward as "crowdfunded welfare" while alienating their peers and generally making a mockery of the social connections that drive our lives.

All We Have Is Each Other

The only true legacy you have is your impact on the lives of other people.

Money is not real, and capitalism is not an absolute. They are systems built by people to simplify the complicated nature of trading products and labor for other products and labor. In actuality, the only real economy is the social economy; the people you influence, the favors you accrue, and the help you offer.

When you die, you are remembered for your actions, not your wealth. Leonard Nimoy, one of my personal heroes and an all-around generous person, is remembered not for his wealth, but for the lives he improved through his actions. Nimoy was consummately compassionate and sincerely loved people, and through expressing that love he built a lasting legacy. He used his position as a wealthy and famous person to promote pacifism, idealism, and optimism, and supported - financially and socially - countless programs to improve society.

Compare to Breitbart, who was described as a genial person in face-to-face interactions but whose political conduct was significantly more disgusting. He helped bring down social programs through lies and misdirection, and gave racists and classists a way to propagate their awful beliefs. His legacy is forever tarnished by his attitude, which - not coincidentally - revolved around FYGM.

You always have a choice. You can be a person who supports others and improves our community through money, clout, or both. Alternatively, you be one who believes in FYGM, telling everyone else to fuck off once you've used a community to make a name for yourself and laughing at the people below for foolishly supporting you.

Which would you rather be?

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