The most moving stories throughout history and art are often about sacrifice. Whether it’s a parent sacrificing themselves to protect their child, a soldier sacrificing their life for their comrades, or just a child giving up a beloved toy for a sibling, sacrifice strikes at the seat of our emotions. I love a good sacrifice story, and I’ve grown up willing to sacrifice what I need to in order for my loved ones to be healthy and happy.
Recently, though, I've been seeing stories of sacrifice that don’t have quite the same poetic feeling to them. Sacrifices that are just losses, with nothing gained for what has been given up. I went to a rally for workers in a nearby town who were underpaid. One man had worked for 72 hours in one week, which double full-time, for just four dollars an hour. He had given up that time with his family—let alone time for himself and his own health—and didn’t even make minimum wage in return. He sacrificed just for the benefit of the employers who broke federal law by paying him so little.
I read an article about people giving up their homes along the Florida coastline, because fears of rising sea levels are already bringing down property values, not to mention the flooding that has begun in some areas. People who worked their whole lives to retire somewhere warm now have to sell their homes—if they can—and move north again. They don’t get anything in return for that. No one gets anything in return for that.
It’s easier to isolate yourself from these incidents. It’s just bad luck, or it’s their fault. Maybe no one should have ever bought coastal properties. Maybe they should have found a different job, etc., etc. It’s easy not to sympathize, if you don’t want to. There are more stories, and every time, you could tell yourself that you have no connection to those people who made those bad decisions. But with each story, I can feel the American myth cracking a little more. What if you never save anyone by sacrificing yourself? What if everything you sow reaps nothing in return?
I don’t know how to fix our system. There are so many things wrong with America and the world at large, and a lot of the solutions involve more sacrifice. Give up your time, your money, your control over your life. Give up the hope of a stable present or a better future. Invest only in a fight that you will never see the end of. I want instead to build an alternative, where you can still get something for what you give, where, if you work the long day through, at the end you will have built something. If you know how to build this world, let me know. I’m getting tired of never getting enough.