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This Podcast Made Me Question Everything

Anand Giridharadas discusses the moral calculus by which we trust the market to save us and challenges the narrative that the wealthy need to do more good as opposed to doing less harm. “You can have your cake and eat it, too” is wishful thinking.

“The winners of our age must be challenged to do more good. But never, ever, tell them to do less harm. Capitalism’s rough edges must be sanded and its surplus fruit shared, but the underlying system must never be questioned.” – Anand Giridharadas

I spent one year living in San Francisco. By the end of it, I emerged with the ability to speak tech startup lingo, I’d attended my fair share of hackathons (“let’s revolutionize the supply chain of tofu!”), I’d invested in cryptocurrencies, and I was well acquainted with the brogrammers and burners who are changing the world one click at a time. I had experienced the life-changing process of Silicon-Valley-ization (if it’s not a word, it should be).

During the summer of my freshman year, I interned at a cryptocurrency exchange in Tokyo. At the rooftop parties of blockchain conferences and in the boardrooms of “disruptive” companies, I listened to people distill lofty goals into a single business deal. In South Korea, the level of technological integration I witnessed inculcated a sense of truly “living in the future”. Now I am in Hyderabad, India, for my third semester with Minerva. I am only twenty years old, yet, frankly speaking, I sometimes feel that the experiences I have had surpass what many can only imagine for a lifetime.

After two years of travelling and living in six countries, I’m starting to wonder how I’ll come out of it all. Do I question my frame of reference often enough? What are the gross assumptions I’m beginning to make about the world around me? How can I align my lifestyle with the values I purport to hold?

A few months ago, I listened to a podcast interview between Krista Tippett and Anand Giridharadas. As soon as I’d finished it, I dragged my thumb over the scroller and hit “play” one more time. Then I forwarded the link to just about everyone I know. For one whole hour, I listened to someone who sounded a lot like me — in older, male, more accomplished form — tell people in no uncertain terms that the path we’re on might be horribly, horribly wrong.

“I love this community and I fear for all of us, myself first and foremost, that we may not be as virtuous as we think we are; that history may not be as kind to us as we hope it will, that in the final analysis our role in the inequities of our age may not be remembered well.” – Anand Giridharadas

The savior complex

Giridharadas critiques “enlightened” capitalism. He speaks to the educated, globalized millennials who grew up despising inequality and oppression in all its forms. We’re the ones who have been so brainwashed by the “you will change the world” narrative that we genuinely believe that’s exactly what we’re doing, all the time. What we forget, he argues, is that we’re still operating within the system we’re intent on changing — which means that we’re all complicit in whatever byproducts that system produces. Call it capitalism, privilege, masculinity — it’s the prevailing power dynamic that guides every aspect of our lives. It’s our comfort zone, our home, our nurturing source — and it’s slowly poisoning us.

I thought I had escaped most of these problems when I joined the multicultural, uber-diverse community of my unconventional college. We travel the world and get professional exposure that may be unparalleled by that of any other undergraduate institution. We’re exposed to constant inspiration and stimulation and — like so many young, brilliant minds — we’re refining our lives into a neat little package that says “do good; be great”. It’s an admirable narrative that has become deeply ingrained in our collective identity — but how reflective is it of where we really are on the spectrum of empathy, justice, and action?