Thanks to the joys of plastic and card machines everywhere in Johannesburg, I hardly ever have to draw cash for anything these days. However, the other day I did: ‘only’ R5 000, all of it in R100 notes thanks to the ATM.
It’s an amazing feeling, seeing that much ‘real’ money. Too much to put in your wallet and still be able to fold it. It’s totally different to the sort of feeling you get when your monthly debit orders come off, and thousands disappear with only an anonymous sms informing you of your ‘new’ available bank balance.
On the one hand it got me thinking about paying all my rent in cash, just once. Even if I just draw the money at the ATM in a bank and walk straight inside to deposit it directly to my landlord’s account, it’ll be worth the cash-handling fees just to actually feel connected to the fruits of my labour of the past month.
On the other hand, it got me contemplating all the ways that modern society is secretly disempowering us.
Yes, we earn money, but we hardly ever get to enjoy it in any meaningful way, and practically never get to actually ‘feel’ it between our fingers anymore. Our labour has been disconnected from our reward.
Yes, we live in a democracy, which is meant to be the best political compromise of all, but we all know that it’s actually a weak compromise: none of us fervently want what’s best for ALL of us, we most want what’s best for us personally, and if enough of the rest want it too then that’s an added bonus. That’s life, and so politics will always be disempowering.
Yes, we live in a capitalist paradise, but there is very definitely too much of a good thing: you hit into that wall the very first time you’re confronted with a price-tag you not only cannot afford, but cannot even dream of ever one day affording. It’s ironic that capitalism tells us to always only be happy with the best, and yet in our personal lives we find that we need to be happy simply with something which is ‘better’ – and in all likelihood FAR away from the ‘best’.
There are so many examples of modern disempowerment: having to wait in queues; sitting stuck in gridlock traffic (the great social leveller); feeling job insecurity; relationship stresses caused by having to work unpaid overtime; ordering a dish which looks nothing like it does in the menu.
Of all the great classic New Year’s resolutions, I think 2014 should be the year of personal empowerment. We’re so busy trying to meet everybody else’s expectations and only treating ourselves in really unsubstantial and commercialised ways.
I think that if we keep trying to ignore all the ways society is very good at disempowering us, we’ll just keep being dragged down subconsciously without a real understanding of what’s happening. Not that knowing will always help you beat the system all the time, but ... like looking at a pile of ‘real’ money that is all yours ... it’s a start.