“They want us to be a piece shit so that the poor people kill the poor people, the rich people get paid off of selling the poor people dreams about being rich.” - Tupac
If you’ve listened to Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly” you’ve probably heard the source of the above quote. In the song “Mortal Man” Tupac says “Cause once you turn 30 it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a man. Out of a black man, in this country. And you don’t wanna fight no more.” These quotes are taken from an interview on the 1994 Swedish-radio show, “The Soul Music Show,” where in my opinion, Pac comes off as a prophet.
Last year I remembered the outrage the murders of innocent people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor caused on a global scale—it seemed like, for a moment, people of all colors and backgrounds found their heart and soul as they took to the streets. The scenes on TV were comparable to Fred Hampton’s multiethnic revolutionary federation, also known as a Rainbow Coalition—people from all walks of life were outraged.
Before long, I noticed the news starting to change its narrative—seemingly pitting sides against each other. The Black Lives Matter movement turned into a symbol of division. Calls for defunding the police were a large percentage of what I heard. The common ground that I saw and heard at first was buried by the noise.
A friend went to a Downtown Los Angeles protest, and said that change is in the air—America is on the road to real change. While not being overly pessimistic, I didn’t think too much would change. In my life I’ve seen movements die out. Tupac’s view that the poor are made to fight the poor kept resonating in my mind. “Is this the real reason there is no real substantive change in America?” I thought.
I walk around Los Angeles and see people suffering from homelessness and mental illness. On my recent travels to Hawaii, New York City, New Jersey, and around the Los Angeles area, I see stores shuttered. My travels around the country have shown me poverty in white communities and black communities.
“It’s not the same rules. We all have to follow the same rules. The rules have to apply to every man, women, and child. It cannot be just for the rich or for the poor. If it is then it’s gonna be war. And that’s what Thug Life is about. I’m showing you that when you oppress a people all we gonna do is blow up in your face.” - Tupac
Why does the richest state in the richest country have its people sleeping on its trains and streets? Why does the country with the most wealth have such a large gap between its wealthy and poor? Why is a country called The United States so divided?
Are we resigned to this fate? I sure hope not, but what can be done to right the ship? Even if you’re reading this and you’re not poor, what will the world look like if we continue down this path? Do we stand idly by as more of the same happens?
“I’m gonna show that I’m not the man. It’s a thug thing. It’s in every man. I love rat packing because it’s better. you can hit more spots, it’s more decisive and its more thorough. Less slip ups. I got more voices; I got more ideas. Plus, everyone is sprouting out, that makes the bomb bigger. If you got a bomb it’ll blow up and if it got five pieces of shrapnel it’ll hit five different people. If it’s just me and I blow up in a circle, I’ll only get one person Kamikaze.”
I’m probably on a terrorist list for sharing this quote. Know that Tupac isn’t talking about a literal bomb. He’s talking about the power we have as a collective to dismantle this system.
Most big changes in the world have happened through people coming together and demanding change. How do we get more people together to blow up this system? Inversely it starts with working on ourselves.
As I write this, Amazon is airing “Prime Day” advertisements—wanting us to spend. And it’s not just Amazon—for the sake of continued profit in this hyper-capitalist society, companies want us to continue spending—not worried whether consumers are going into debt to buy their products.
Most of the greed we see in this country comes from those that only see profits, and disregard how that mindset affects the planet and its people.
In Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics,” she mentions that the current goals of economic growth and Growth Domestic Product (GDP) need to be replaced with goals that work towards a more distributive economy—an economy built for its people and the commons we all share. For that change to take place, we must stop feeding the machine.
First things first. Realize that poor people in Kansas and the poor in Los Angeles have a lot more in common than we are led to believe. Television companies and social media enterprises don’t mind having division between self-proclaimed Republicans and Democrats because it drives up views and clicks. Our elected officials do the bare minimum while they also feed on the division. Cut off MSNBC, FOX, CNN, and any other organization—including social media—that tries to pit you against your neighbor.
Once you realize that people with different views from you aren’t your enemy then the focus turns to gaining a sense of autonomy—the feeling that your life—its activities and habits—are self-chosen and self-endorsed.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has a report that states that the number one contributor to our happiness is autonomy. It’s my belief that the more autonomous we are, the more we are likely to care more about issues outside of our own wallets. Something that keeps us from autonomy is debt.
If you’re reading this and in debt, take steps to get out. It’s difficult to change our lives, our communities, and the world if we are beholden to others.
I read Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” during lockdown and with the help of my wife, used its methods to clear 60k of debt. Ramsey isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but his methods helped. If you can find another resource that teaches the value of delayed gratification—fighting back the need to have now to be in a better place in the future—dive in. “The Richest Man in Babylon” is another book that covers this topic and is easily digestible.
There’s still some student loan debt that I must pay before being completely debt free, but I wanted to share my current progress because if I can get this far, I know anyone can.
There are so many people I know that worry about their finances—the thought of their bills consumes them. How much more bandwidth towards more pressing issues would they have without that stress?
Taking these steps is what Tupac called “Thug Life.” Too many of us have been oppressed for too long. It’s time we start living that “Thug Life.” This won’t be easy, but it is worth the effort. If we want things to change, let’s start working on that change—we start with ourselves and then we work on our communities.