Something I often hear from adults when they find out I’m passionate about activism is that I’m a hypocrite. I’m a hypocrite for speaking out against a system I dislike whilst simultaneously living in it, reaping many of its benefits. I’m a hypocrite because, according to them, either I should distance myself completely from this system or stop criticizing it.
Just yesterday I was called a “champagne socialist” – defined by the oxford dictionaries online as “a person who espouses socialist ideals while enjoying a wealthy and luxurious lifestyle.” Now, this is a bit of an unfair term to use on any teenager . At my age, I don’t yet make my own economic choices and so my political beliefs remain (at least in part) separate from my lifestyle. But many still associate the phrase with young activists who, despite not necessarily “enjoying a wealthy and luxurious lifestyle”, do have some positions of privilege – be it economic opportunity, race, or anything else.
This stems from the idea that if you benefit from an unfair system, the unfairness of it all shouldn’t concern you. In other words – only those most oppressed should criticize the status quo; others who do are hypocritical. This is obviously a paradox since the most oppressed groups are the least listened to.
In my case, I was being criticized for my beliefs in left-wing politics and social justice when my own family is financially well off. The argument went that I should either stop speaking out against a system that makes me economically comfortable, or straight-out reject my privilege. That’s just ridiculous. “If you don’t like modern capitalism, stop partaking in it”. Yeah, and go live in a cave on my own and change… absolutely nothing. Realistically, how would my isolating myself from society help? How would giving up the opportunities I have make any difference? If I want to change things, I can only take advantage of my privilege and use it for the better.
To me that means getting an education and eventually reaching a position to have a bigger impact – UN worker, NGO director, lawyer or whatever I end up as. Not throwing away my shot at going to college even when others aren’t lucky enough to. Again, that’s just me. Everyone has their own way of making a difference. Just because the result isn’t instantly obvious doesn’t make you a hypocrite. In the meantime we can all do “small” things some adults are so opposed to: educating ourselves, talking to our community, acting respectfully & responsibly.
I’ve been called hypocritical about a host of other things – being a vegetarian, for example, when I contribute to an economic system enabling mass meat industry. Well, I didn’t choose to be born in this world – none of us did. Greedy individuals, cutthroat capitalist mindsets, and population needs have made it the way it is. Whether we benefit from it or not, we are all slaves to the system.
People who guilt trip you don’t want you to take extreme measures to fix their “hypocritical” issue. They don’t want to see you as a radical hippie living on the streets, growing your own food and straight-out rejecting the concept of money. They just want you to stop trying at all. They want to make you feel hopeless, make you stop speaking out. Maybe they only care about themselves; maybe they don’t want to make an effort and need to justify their apathy; maybe they truly feel demoralized… Either way they won’t be the ones leading this earth in fifty years. So, theirs is not the attitude I choose to have. They may be right; none of it may make a difference, but I do believe “it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees”.