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The Hypocrisy of Achievement

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Recently a nugget of wisdom mentioned in Back to the Future has come to mind. I love the film, but this statement encapsulates a belief in achievement that is particularly pervasive in American society but is popular throughout the Western world.

If you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything.

It sounds like a good, positive, somewhat hollow platitude. Most of all it sounds harmless. However, the attitude that it represents is all the darker.

American society is built on the idea that you can make it in the word through hard work and a good self-confidence. This is known as the American Dream, the idea that is sold to immigrants and poor people to give the impression that it is up to you alone if you want to stay in your wretched state of poverty, or advance to a higher, winning state. It gives the impression that there are no obstacles stopping you from becoming a winner, other than lack of self-belief and not working hard enough.

Let us investigate this attitude more closely, because it is one that has become more pervasive in British society since the coalition came to power.

While in America, this attitude is used to demonstrate that class is flexible and anyone can make it. In Britain we know that class is mostly fixed, which means that anyone who happened to be poor, disabled, sick, unemployed, or in any other way face challenges in society, are somehow themselves culpable for their situation. The recent debate about disability benefits has brought this into the light like never before.

It appears as though the government believes that being disabled is a lifestyle choice, and one can just cease to be disabled if one tries hard enough. The thought might seem ridiculous, but this attitude is becoming more and more mainstream. Unemployed people should 'just get a job', as if there were loads of jobs out there to choose from. Depressed people should 'just cheer up and stop whining'. Gay people should just stop being gay because they are sometimes faced with hostility and prejudice in society, rather than taking action against the people who perpetrate this hostility and prejudice. I suppose according to this 'logic', non-white people should become white to increase their acceptability in society and improve their job prospects.

The whole discussion is ridiculous, and I can't believe that this attitude is even acceptable, let alone becoming mainstream. Many people face unimaginable challenges every day, and to say that they can 'just' do something to avoid being in that situation is frankly offensive.

Yes, confidence does make your life easier, but that's not to say that anyone lacking in confidence should be scolded for it. Talk about kicking someone lying down. It is instead the attitude of people who do the victim-blaming, who think that challenges can be overcome by 'just' doing something, and who look down on people who face challenges rather than praise the fact that they perform feats of greatness every day, that needs to be rectified.

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