Graduated and free, I’ve been trying to savour a well-deserved rest from obligations. I read the things I wanted to read during my studies, answer forgotten letters and emails, fix the garden, and emotionally bid farewell to this strange little student town and its inhabitants. But something has been weighing me down. I catch my shoulders slowly squeezing up my neck, I struggle to fall asleep sometimes, and when I do, I still dream of missing flights. In my stomach, I feel the rumbling restless demon that holds almost all of our minds hostage: debt.
Now, mine is a student debt, probably the most privileged of all forms of debt, but I want to rage against it nonetheless. While studying, we have been working on trying to understand and ameliorate the condition of human and non-human life on this planet. The insights and questions with which we leave will, presumably, increase the quality of our actions from now on, and the questions we ask and the answers we give will diffuse into society. In short, we have been working for society.
I don’t feel like I owe any more to society than what I already did by being born; our mutual dependence
So what’s with the bill? To what do I owe these tens of thousands? Did I buy knowledge? Did I buy social status? Did I ‘invest’? What even did I pay for? The labour of the teachers, fair, but as I said, that will benefit all of society, not just me, but most of it went to a roof over my head and the food in my belly; nothing more than human rights. What did the landlord do for me? Nothing, they didn’t even build the house. They bought it and are now making money renting it out. No, I don’t feel like I owe any more to society than what I already did by being born; our mutual dependence. I am only a little bit better equipped now to do my part.
Maybe I should flee to Mexico, so I can contribute to society in ways I have learned are the most necessary, rather than going for the high-earning jobs needed to pay off my debt. (My apologies to the tax official wasting their time looking for my non-existing funds while Shell gets away without paying a single euro in taxes. That must be frustrating.)
Maybe I should flee to Mexico, so I can contribute to society in ways I have learned are the most necessary
Actually, the majority of the work most necessary in our society is either done voluntarily – caring for the sick, the young and the old, feeding refugees locked up in Greece and protesting against failing climate change mitigation – or is forced on people for a sub-human wage that only those with no other option would accept – like cleaning the sewage system, recycling electronics, sewing clothes and growing rice. If I end up being able to pay my debt, that’d be great. If not, too bad! I won’t let this arbitrary bureaucratic number force me away from what I believe in – no, what I have learned at the university – to be what society needs most.
Luuk Slegers is masterstudent Internationale Ontwikkeling, richting Sociologie, en woont in Wageningen op Droevendaal met zijn vijf huisgenoten. Hij gaat graag ’s morgens een stuk wandelen in het Bennekomse bos.