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thinking about leaving and privilege
I've been thinking about how privileged it is for me to be able to say "fuck everything, i'm going to travel for a while". It hit home over NYE when i bumped into M, who i haven't seen in almost a year. She's a carpenter and Berliner born and bred. When i said i wanted to travel for a few months she just looked at me like i was an alien. She's my age, but the first time she ever left Europe was last year to holiday in Thailand. For many people, a vacation overseas is something you spend years saving for, and then it's over in a couple weeks. Lots of people can't even take a few months off in their own homes, much less overseas.

I know it's no surprise to y'all to hear me say people in my industry are disgustingly overpaid. Every day it drives me nuts that i have to put up with jackasses complaining about how the next tech company over is offering 5k more for the same job, plus they offer free artisanal soda and back massages, meanwhile pink collar workers are on their feet 60 hours a week and still earning half what we do. The salary (and perks) inflation in the tech industry is shameful. You only need to look at places like the Bay Area to see how badly it fucks up communities.

On the other hand, i also know that i spend a lot less money on "stuff" than both my upper middle class peers and many working class folks. My apartment has two chairs, a mattress and some rugs. That's pretty much all the furniture i have bought since i moved to Germany. I have no gadgets. No ornaments. I am still wearing mostly the same clothes i had in my closet 5 years ago. One of the reasons why i can work here for 3.5 years and end up with enough cash to scrape out another 2 is because i hardly spent any of the money i earned.

Of course, back on the first hand, traveling the way i intend to is desperately bourgeois. I probably have enough money saved that if i did the hippie trail and spent my time couch-surfing and hitchhiking and staying in hostels in third world countries i could avoid working for years. But i don't really want to do that. I want to travel to places where people live off more than a dollar a day. I want to see different places and meet different people without worrying about whether i am getting the best possible deal. I don't need to go somewhere exotic, i just want to go somewhere else. And i don't want to depend on anyone. I don't want to blag my way around the world.

And there it really is - true privilege. The privilege to not have to depend on anyone else for a while. All around the world in all cultures people stick to their family groups, their friends, they become part of a community so that they have a support network. Even backpackers have their own community distributed all round the world. But, because of my job, i can afford to buy independence. For a (relatively) short time, i will be able to go where i want, do what i want, owe nothing and rely on no one. I can do it, because i know that at the end of the day, i am still going to come back to a first world country with ~15 years experience in an industry that massively overpays its workers.

I guess i should be happy that i was lucky enough to be born into a relatively well-off family in the right part of the world and i happened to be skilled in what turned out to be the biggest boom industry of my generation. But it makes me wonder... does my constant need to be "free", to be able to do my own thing, to not have to answer to anyone... is that only a dream i have because of my privilege? I mean, would it even enter other people's minds to disappear for a few months without any particular goal simply in pursuit of the sensation of freedom? As i talk to more and more people i am realizing the answer is no. The idea of just taking off and landing... wherever... it doesn't even make sense to them. It makes perhaps as little sense to them as using what little money you have to rear children or fill a house with "stuff" makes to me.

The thing is... am i being some kind of bourgeois apologist by saying, "well we are all different people with different goals and dreams, therefore it is okay for me to bum around while other people toil for scraps"? Or is the fact that - in the face of injustice - people are still able to find their own kind of happiness exactly something to celebrate about humanity?

I dunno. I know i wouldn't help anyone by giving away (more) money and ending up a parable of how the pious workaholic died by their own hand.

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I don't know if it IS privilege in the sense of being brought up to it. I think it's a kind of person that you either are, or aren't. My mom raised my sis and I on welfare, but we both came away from that curious. And the first moment that I realized I could read about a place in a book and that it was actually possible to buy a plane ticket and GO THERE, to just decide and do it? Life changing. I think it's fair to say that the entire trajectory of the rest of my life was trying to get more moments like that. I don't have a job that is massively overpayed, but I stay in one that I don't like because it allows and totally enables things like 3 month vacations and random trips around the world. It's a hard thing to trade out of.

Mmm I think you might be right. At least in the sense that plenty of people with the means choose not to spend it on traveling, and plenty of people who earn far less than I do most assuredly to want to travel.

Perhaps this isn't about travel at all and I am just continuing to feel guilty for working in the industry I do ☺

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Well you could argue that if someone earns enough money that they can afford to spend it frivolously, it would be better to tax them higher so that the money could instead help those who can't afford to put food on the table or stay warm in winter.

What gives me pause is the sense that if I couldn't move every few years, I would have a total emotional breakdown. But there are billions of people in the world who can't afford to move their whole lives and they don't plunge into depression. So is it possible that the only reason I have this anxiety is a result of me having the ability to move in the first place?

I dunno. Just random thoughts :)

I've been thinking about this entry for a while, then realized it got away from me. Interesting thoughts... I also may be misunderstanding - but here are my thoughts....

I don't know if the desire to "be free" has something to do with the means to do it, or it's hard wired into certain people. I'm not sure that I have that hard wire, though have more of it than my husband, who admitted to me fairly recently that he really DOESN'T like to travel, and prefers the familiar things (especially our cats) to be around him.

The desire to travel - to be free for me comes with self imposed restrictions (like where I'd choose to go, etc.), which, in essence lower my freedom. I admit -- to a certain extent, I choose those restrictions. Maybe they make me feel "safe" or more comfortable when things are familiar and understandable.

It's my contention that human beings are "tribal" by nature. Instinctively we gravitate to our "own kind", whether it be interests, culture, lifestyle, and - yes - even class, race and other things we don't much like to admit. It's what is wrong with our nation today -- we are terribly divided into our "tribes": rural, urban, suburban, rich, poor, middle class. No one routinely hangs out with those who differ, so we consider others unlike us "from another planet". When that happens, the next step is dehumanizing them - name calling, etc. That's where we are. This is not the fault of Donald Trump, per se. He is only exemplifying this.

But -- it is true what you say that the ability to be free probably comes with means to do it. You can't be free if you are chained -- paycheck to paycheck. And, I also agree that some people are chained to their possessions, which, if you truly are free, you need to be content having the minimum to allow that freedom.

Right now I'm thinking of the Syrian Refugees who fled (are fleeing) Aleppo / Isis. Travel is dangerous. Freedom is elusive and difficult -- and a tad different than the kind of freedom to which you are speaking, I don't think.

We have two houses. We're chained by them! That was my husband's doing. I admit - I do enjoy it, as it's a lifestyle change each season as we move from one to the other. But, if I was the one unilaterally making the decisions, I doubt I'd have gone that route.

Great thoughts, thanks for the comment.

I agree that human beings do tend to be tribal, and that this causes a lot of problems in the world. But I also know that a lot of people get great joy and comfort from their "tribe". People experience great pride cheering for "their" team. People gain so much emotional support from the community that builds around their church. People (usually 😉) love and cherish their family and close friends. For all the fights that have broken out because of it, for all the wars, I think a lot of people still feel that identifying as part of group is a positive and perhaps even essential aspect of being human.

Personally I really enjoy learning to become part of a community (this is why up until now I have tended to move a lot more than "travel"), but the longer I stay the more my anxiety mounts. Not because I necessarily have a problem with the individuals or their ideals, but just because somehow I associate deeper attachment with loss of freedom, and that (illusion of) freedom is more important to me than any tribe. But I guess the people who feel the way I do are their own little meta-tribe, whether you call us Third Culture Kids or Army brats or just hobos.

I think you are right that refugees almost certainly do not feel free despite being "on the road". I guess the things that give most people comfort - a house, a job, a community - have been destroyed by the war, disaster or social injustice they are fleeing. This is a good reminder for me... Not everyone needs the same things I do to feel happy, or to feel free.

I think it is okay that we are all following our own paths. I guess, as I mentioned in the reply to cat_tail_x below, I do still wonder sometimes to what degree I should be actively trying to build a world that helps others achieve their dreams, alongside pursuing my own.

Yes, I think some of the dreams we have, are a consequence of the way we grew up and the privileges we have or don't have. I was fortunate enough to be born into a family that had enough $ so that travel for pleasure was possible. It was considered desirable, even necessary for making one a better, more well-rounded person. Young me took that concept to be a law of the universe, until I met people with much different upbringing, who regarded spending $ on leaving town and being free for a while as an unimaginable extravagance. But as you say, giving away all one's $ and never leaving town again, just because some people can't afford to, isn't necessarily the answer.

Yes, I am not sure what the best way to deal with this is. I mean, acknowledging we have privilege is one thing, but do we also have some kind of moral obligation to actively try break it down?

I was talking about this with some guys at work the other day, and I think perhaps I spend more time thinking about this than some of my peers because I have chosen not to have kids. I think a lot of people see their main way of contributing back to society as raising kids who will help to build a more just future. When you don't have kids, I think it's easier to get into a bit of an existential crisis... like, if I just earn good money and jet-set around the world and then I die, did I leave this place better off than it was before I was born? I hope so. I mean, I hope everyone strives to do that. But it's perhaps less apparent what your contribution is when you spend a lot of time "bumming around".

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