I was in the Peace Corps in Ukraine in 2005. At the time, there was a bird flu scare, globally, and there were some birds found in Crimea who had it. Bird flu is really scary and the thing was, maybe there was going to be a global pandemic and we were all going to die. I remember newspaper articles talking about “birds dropping out of the sky.”
If there would have been a bird flu emergency in Ukraine, Peace Corps would have pulled us out. This is, from one point of view, completely reasonable. Of course they would pull us out. We signed up to teach English, not to put our lives at risk. Right?
Except also, here I was, living in the community, engaged to my now-husband, and the message was clear: if shit gets real, my life has value, and yours does not. They weren’t going to evacuate my now-husband, or his family, or his friends. When it came down to it, even though we were all “living at the same level,” I was playing a game, and they were living a reality.
I see this in the FI movement, and it feels yucky. I don’t know if there’s a solution, but I think it should be recognized.
“We made it a game!” “It became a game, seeing how much I could put aside.” “I used to get a thrill from buying something from Amazon, now I get a thrill from seeing my accounts grow.” I mean, that’s cool. And I do it, too. And I think everybody should optimize their own lives.
But also, if we don’t recognize it, if we only see it from the point of view of some of the richest (okay, typically at least upper middle class) people in one of the richest countries in the world, we run the risk of assuming that this is easy and possible for everybody, and the flip side: that anybody who doesn’t do this is lazy, or a spendthrift, or foolish with money.
When it’s a game, that means that if shit hits the fan, there is an out. If I have a medical emergency, I can pull money from my accounts and take care of it, put the game on hold for a bit while I heal myself. Never ever ever would I get to the point where I don’t have money to eat, and if I did, well, once again, re-evaluate, take my savings rate from 50% or whatever to 47%. Because I’m starting out from a place of really, truly incredible privilege, the game is fun, but I can always hit pause.
For people who have money, the race to FI is a game. For people that don’t, it’s not a game, it’s reality.