You’ve missed the point.

It is becoming a trope that I hear in every internet “argument” now — the idea that “if you persist in disagreeing with me, you have missed my point.” I was responding specifically to the phrase “there is a certain amount of maturity and personal responsibility lacking from Talia’s inflammatory article” — did I misunderstand an intent to describe Talia as immature?

“Talia wasn’t the one needed / hers was a tantrum” — Yes, it was a tantrum. It was also pretty damn funny, and I note in her description that she aspires to comedy, so as a fellow writer I thought her choice of delivery was clever in that regard: it was a sendup. A spoof. It is an incredibly common form of protest or criticism, including the intensely personal point of view which is what gives these kind of pieces impact (successfully, I might add — she’s got all of Medium talking about this issue). The idea that she “isn’t needed” or shouldn’t be the one talking about this is problematic: who *should* be talking these issues? Do we need to elect a spokesperson? Why shouldn’t we be talking about our experiences? That is the essence of free speech.

Everybody is focused on this “opulent” expenditure on whiskey as a reason to discredit her entire point. I am amused and confused about how quickly the pearl-clutching conservative mentality emerges as prompted by a bottle of $25 Bulleit rye. The liquor shelves go much, much higher than that — would we have considered Talia a valid human if she’s drinking Wild Turkey? Or do we demand that poor people be teetotalers before we listen to them? Or… perhaps it’s just that we’re looking for excuses to confirm our belief that poor people must be worthless: look at all the mistakes they make!! Why don’t they do what *we* think they should do?!

I’ll pull out the “missed the point” card on the “My Bootstraps” story because the point of Jon Lee’s entire post is that our personal experience isn’t relevant to Talia’s situation, nor does it give us the right to judge others. And since I’m becoming one of The Olds here myself, I can confirm how the economic conditions confronted by Talia and her generation are vastly different — and much less hospitable — than the ones I had to go through in my own bootstrapping days. It is not the same world, after another ~15 years of neoliberal econ policy played out in America — by almost all available metrics one can look at, Talia’s generation is significantly worse off, from the cost of education/debt load out of college to the cost of housing to record high unemployment rates following the 2007–8 market crash and financial crisis that wiped out huge swaths of the meager wealth gains made by the middle class in the preceding decades. I have a lot of empathy for her challenges for these reasons — beyond the plain old “empathy for other humans” i like to keep in stock as a matter of course.

Of course, it’s a lot *easier* to just point a finger at Talia and write the whole thing off as if any amount of “working harder” can negate those wider economic conditions — it can’t. But thinking about those Big Systemic Issues is much, much harder — so we avoid it, and take the easy way out, which is to discredit anyone who points them out and tries to engage us in dialogue about them. I’m not trying to absolve Talia of her actions — she can be both irresponsible *and* constrained by larger forces, in the same way that I can perhaps feel that I may have chosen differently but still have empathy for her situation. Opinions are not zero-sum: we are complex animals, and we’re allowed to take multiple positions on the continuum (which is what is so irritating about politics, where the game is always about the polarization of 2 opposites).

Re “those who can’t compromise on the deals you have to make in life” — it’s a funny thing we do, to make ourselves feel better about the sometimes bitter compromises we’ve made, which is try to map the same requirements onto others. There is no requirement. There was no requirement for us when we made those decisions, and there’s no requirement for Talia to conform either. It’s just a choice we make: whether to compromise based on what others want, or take the likewise difficult road of *not* conforming to expectations and forging a new path. Talia chose the latter, which is what is getting under everyone’s skin. We will contort ourselves in all kinds of ways to try and invalidate her choices instead of doing the far more difficult work of investigating the possibility of injustice. It’s hard, and we’re “out of patience” for confronting systemic issues. So instead of confronting them, we dogpile on the people who try to, by nitpicking them apart and pointing out all the ways in which they’re not perfect, should have done x or y, did not display enough “true sacrifice” (like a true Scotsman would!), and so on.

None of us are perfect: though we try to hold others to that bar. Also, we’re all narcissists: that is just inescapable psychological fact grounded in our biological need to survive. We can’t ever escape it — we can only counteract it through diligent self-reflection and a conscious desire to try and remove the planks from our own eyes. That is the nature of empathy: probably one of the finest, most quintessentially human traits that sadly is unmeasurable, untradeable by a market, an invisible force that governs almost all of our interactions and yet feels actually in peril in a world so razor-focused on optimizing The Things Which Can Be Measured. Talia struck a nerve in a world that likes to avoid dealing with emotions.

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