On building a world where dignity isn't something you have to earn
Expanding my thinking as always, Garrett! I’m currently obsessed with how to make solidarity happen in capitalism…but until now I hadn’t tied it to all of this – competition, excellence, participation, showing up. You give me such hope!
I love this! I am anti-competition in basically everything and opt-out at every opportunity.
Garrett, have you read "The Gardener and the Carpenter" by Alison Gopnik? She's a brilliant psychology/child development researcher at Berkeley. She points out that the competitive, hyper-organized approach to child rearing in this country you describe in this essay is also not good for individual children: in effect, it's not how they have evolved to learn and grow, and we're doing them a significant disservice and limiting their potential by making parenting into a goal-oriented task. Not that you have excess time for reading these days, but I think you'd find it fascinating!
"Even more so, I want it because I don’t think the skills that we adult Americans have metabolized over a lifetime are actually all that useful. If the challenge of the 21st Century is how we are literally going to survive on a planet we’ve already half-destroyed, how does more “entrepreneurship” and individual hustle get us there? If contemporary scarcity is a distribution rather than a production issue, how are we supposed to solve it by following the life advice of millionaires and billionaires? If the question at the heart of the American experiment is whether we’ll ever evolve from “liberty and justice for White men” to “liberty and justice for all,” what good is millions of Americans running millions of individual races against one another?" This is such GOLD, my friend--the heart of the essay for me and something I would like to print out and keep pinned to my forehead.
I find it interesting to think about dignity in relation to high school because, at least in my experience at a not-great school, there was so little dignity or agency to be had. Overcrowded buildings, classes in trailers, no windows, have to ask permission to go to the bathroom, might not be allowed to?!, have to scramble to get supplies from a friend if you're unexpectedly on your period, only permitted to eat or drink in this ridiculously short lunch period (~20 minutes) that may not occur anywhere near lunchtime, must wake up before dawn to get to school by 7 AM and significantly earlier if you ride the bus, must not show those scandalous inches of skin above my knees. I didn't worry about my grades, but the whole experience felt exhausting and dehumanizing (and I'm sure it was worse in ways I'm not aware of for many other kids), and I only realized school could be comfortable and engaging and fun in college. It's disheartening to realize the "better" high schools I sometimes wish I had gone to (had my parents not somewhat intentionally opted out of the exhausting "competition" model) were probably just horrible and exhausting in different ways. But yes, the notion that we could build a world of abundance and dignity for everyone rather than scarcity and competition. What a vision.
Preach it, Garrett! Thank you for articulating this so beautifully. There has been an expose in the Richmond paper this week about the local "Governor's School" which a few decades ago took over a once-Black high school named for Maggie Walker to house an exclusive Gifted and Talented high school that proceeded to admit white kids in ridiculously high proportions relative to their actual representation in the feeder districts...which meant not admitting kids of color at the rates they should have been admitted. Ugh. And of course that is where my 8th grade son is dying to go next year because he's one of those kids who thrives on our culture's focus on competition. So this one hits a little close to home! Thanks for offering another angle to try and wrestle with it all.
It is, indeed, exhausting. Thank you 💞