Why begposts make you uncomfortable (and why that's good)

The intended audience of this blog post is "your average liberal", but folks farther left may also find it interesting or useful.

As an average liberal,

You probably believe in a bunch of things. You probably believe in systemic racism. You probably believe that unregulated capitalism is dangerous. You probably believe in healthcare reform, student loan forgiveness. You probably believe that minorities, whether for race, gender, sexuality, neurodivergence, or ableness, are unfairly disadvantaged. You probably believe these things should be fixed. And you are absolutely correct.

But you may also find people asking for money, aka requests for mutual aid or begposting, uncomfortable. My hope is that by the end of this post, you'll have a good grasp on why.

However, I'm not going to promise that this discomfort will go away. In fact, it's probably going to get worse. But it'll point you more in a direction to do something about it.

A society where money is power

As humans, we are a product of the society we grew up in. And in the united states, money isn't just power, but worthiness. The implicit messaging around us, everywhere, is that the rich are rich because they worked hard, and the poor are poor because they didn't. As your average liberal, you probably understand intellectually this isn't true, but that level of moral hardwiring isn't easy to shake off. When someone asks you to give them money, the first question--for me, too--is "in exchange for what?" Money is value. And to ask for it in exchange for nothing upsets some deep moral programming in what money means, and what value means, and what it means to have it, and what it means to not.

But the trick is that "in exchange for what" isn't the right question. If you ask that question, you'll come up with answers like "for being black, for being trans, for being disabled," but that probably doesn't make the discomfort go away. Even if those answers make sense to you. After all, not only do we live in a capitalist society where money is power, we live in a racist, ableist, trans- and homophobic society. And while sometimes this is enacted through laws or through the police, eventually a lot of it boils down to cold hard cash. Refusing to hire someone, refusing to loan to someone, getting fired for incarceration, having your savings drained via medical debt, having to relocate to escape hostile situations. In a capitalist society, money is the means by which minorities are oppressed. To give is to offset that harm. Generosity is an act of resistance.

But say you understand this, you might still feel uncomfortable. I'm writing this post, and I still feel uncomfortable when asked to give. And, as alluded to earlier, it's never going to go away.

To be asked to give is to be asked to fight

If resistance were easy, it wouldn't be called resistance. Fundamentally, this is what the discomfort comes from: when someone asks for money, they're asking you to confront and counteract the oppressive forces of our society. And that is never easy.

And they're asking you to confront these forces on several fronts at once. Most directly, the economic oppression, which takes money from those deemed "not suitable" to our society. These forces wish for these people to remain disadvantaged, without power, without a voice in our society. By giving, you are allowing these people to have opportunities that the hegemonic forces in society want to deprive them of. Sometimes that's shelter, sometimes that's food, sometimes that's electricity, sometimes it's the ability to participate in cultural phenomena of the newest movie or video game.

And if that last one feels weird and wrong to you, that's because the other front you're being asked to confront is the ideological one: that money is tied to worth, and those with less are worth less. That those who don't have money don't deserve happiness and simple pleasures. Don't deserve to decide how they spend their money and their time. That they can't be trusted to make their own decisions.

All of this is to say, when people ask for money in exchange for nothing, they are asking you to confront the terrible realities of society we live in: that money is the means by which oppression is inflicted on those who don't conform to it. That there are millions of people struggling to survive for no reason other than that it makes someone who has plenty just a little bit more. That our society has us convinced that they deserved it, and that to ignore their suffering is--against every ounce of our human nature--morally just.

You're being asked to confront the moral pillars of your world view. And that's why it hurts. You're being asked to take action in opposition to everything you've been taught. And that's why it's hard.

The discomfort doesn’t go away, only changes

But even after you work through these things, the discomfort still exists. I think I’ve mostly internalized what I’ve written here (and writing it down helps me internalize it more, too), but I still feel discomfort when I see mutual aid posts. For me, it comes from despair--that I could give everything I have and who knows whether that would actually make things a better place.

I have two thoughts on this remaining discomfort. One thought is that it’s illuminating--it shows that individual action is not enough to fix the underlying problems, that the problem is systemic. It’s not that you are not generous enough, it is that the structure of our society--capitalism and its moral messaging--is inherently greedy, and undermines the impact that an individual can have. I can give all of my life savings, but odds are that capitalism will make sure it all funnels into some billionaire’s pocket.

And the second thought is that maybe everything I just said is wrong. Maybe there’s another ideological front I still have to fight through. Maybe I, as an individual, do indeed have the ability to make the world a better place. That even if everything I give also enriches some billionaire, maybe the add on effects of helping a person down on their luck will ripple in unexpected ways. Maybe the practice of acting against my social programming, the practice of using my own abilities to subvert the status quo positions me better to fight systemic forces on other fronts. Maybe the changes that I enact mean nothing when it comes to hurting a billionaire’s pocket book, but maybe that’s what the billionaire wants me to believe is the only thing that’s important. Everything about the way our society is structured screams at me that the things I can do don’t matter, but I can also see how that messaging of despair and lack of power is key to the perpetuation of the status quo. And maybe that means that it’s a lie.

So what should I do?

If you're with me so far, hopefully you've come to the realization that telling people to stop making begposts is not what you should do. Putting them out of your sight doesn't make the problem -- the real problem of economic violence -- go away. It'll make the discomfort go away, but the discomfort is good. Discomfort is how we remember this society isn't fair or kind or just. Discomfort gives us incentive to take action.

So what actions should you take? Well, for one, you could give. While I’ve been waxing lyrical about giving, it hasn’t actually been my intention to convince you to give. Hopefully you are convinced, a little bit, but ultimately it’s beyond the scope of my expertise to say whether giving is actually the most effective action to take to combat the forces of oppression in our society. But what I can say is that--even if the money that you give just goes into some rich person’s pocket and they use that to entrench themselves even further--in the meanwhile, you took someone who’s being screamed at from every angle that they’re not good, not smart, not worth anything, and told them that you disagree. You’ve given someone, who understands in their soul that this society is not right, a little more control over their lives. And to that person, that might be everything.

You may also find that you would rather give to an organization. Maybe like the ACLU or the NAACP, or Give Directly. As mentioned previously, I have no idea which approach is more effective, but I would say don’t let one prevent you from doing the other. An organization has the scope and resources beyond any individual, but also don’t underestimate the psychological effects--on both you and the recipient--of acting as an individual against the status quo. The simple act of dropping in twenty bucks is small, but all big changes start from small things.

And last but not least, if you really are the average liberal, I would highly encourage you to take another look at leftist movements with an open mind. The status quo hurts people, but the democratic party of the united states is a joint party of both the establishment and those who want to move forward. When you vote, you might have a choice between the two. Think carefully about the discomfort, ask yourself which of the parties will make actual steps to alleviate it, which is just putting the discomfort out of mind.

social capitalism