It’s more predictable than the lame-ass jokes I make to start out every blog post. At least I don’t default all of my jokes to end with exclamation points so you can all tell when I’m joking!
Whoops. Oh well, no way to change that.
I’m talking about the reaction when somebody’s too good to believe it’s true story gets posted by a major media outlet.
Sean Cooper’s story about repaying his entire mortgage in three years is the biggest one in recent memory. While Cooper’s story hopped from CBC to the Globe and Mail to God knows where, so-called “online haters” were following closely behind, calling Cooper a loser for delaying consumption, living in a basement apartment, and going without the other luxuries most of us enjoy on a daily basis.
The story repeats itself over and over again. A couple of weeks ago, the Toronto Star profiled Anthony Molinaro, a 20-year old student who made $50,000 per year working a full-time job while also attending university. In an era where seemingly everybody graduates with a boatload of student loan debt, Molinaro plans to emerge from university in a couple of years with $80,000 in cash money, baby.
The Star’s Facebook page was filled with all sorts of angry commenters. These haters pointed out that Molinaro is lucky that he can live at home during all of this, in a nice middle class home. He doesn’t have to worry about anything but sleeping, eating, going to work, and studying. This makes him incredibly privileged.
Personally, I have no problem with a person taking advantage of the advantages provided to you. If your parents want to give you an interest free loan to pay off student loans as an example, you’d be 19 different kinds of stupid to not accept that. As long as you take that advantage and run with it, I have no problem with using it.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re also pretty well off financially, at least compared to the average Facebook user or CBC.ca commenter. I’m also willing to bet you have the same sort of attitude about Cooper, Molinaro, or anyone like them as I do.
Good for them.
Sure, we can argue the semantics of each plan. When I wrote about Cooper’s pay off the mortgage at all costs strategy, I pointed out that interest rates are so low it’s pretty easy to make the argument that he would end up richer if that cash was put into investments.
But the point is as long as someone like him can maintain a reasonable savings rate from here on out, he’s likely to end up just fine. And hey, he can sit back, relax, and rub one out about how the four walls surrounding him are his, dammit.
So the question remains: why do people hate successful people so much? Well, like anything worth explaining, it’s a little complicated. But I’ll give it a shot.
Not just jealousy
When Cooper was asked about his online haters, he gave a simple answer.
They’re all jealous.
I’m the first to admit the simple answer is at least partially correct. People are jealous of those who are more successful than they are. This feeling is only human nature.
But at the same time, there’s far more to it than that. Articles about Warren Buffett are everywhere, and they’re not filled with hate-filled comments about how it was so much easier to make money investing back in the 1960s. I write a lot of articles about billionaire investors for Motley Fool Canada (follow me, yo!) and I can tell you that people LURVE billionaires.
Okay, so if it’s not jealousy, then why do these kinds of articles hit home with online haters?
Here’s my theory. First, let’s look at this from the perspective of an average Joe. He picks up the newspaper or heads to the newspaper’s website, looking for, well, the news. And right smack dab on the front of the business section is a story about some other Joe Schmoe who got ahead simply by working hard, saying his prayers, and taking his financial vitamins.
Newspapers do this because they know these stories sell. They create controversy which is fantastic for clicks. Personal finance bloggers and other general money nerds pick up on the story and help spread it. And finally, they’re timeless. A story featuring a successful regular guy can be saved for a slow news day, and then you can riff on it during another slow news day.
The average reader realizes none of this. All he sees is a regular guy on the screen with a smug smile, all but taunting him. Look at me. I’m richer than you.
This feeling goes far deeper than jealousy. Readers know enough about the newspaper business to have a rough idea how the process works. Guys like Sean Cooper and Anthony Molinaro aren’t there because some dogged biographer begged to feature them. They’re in that story because they want to be. I don’t care what you tell me, there’s a certain amount of “look at me” with every single one of these stories.
They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. Without context, what does this picture tell you?
Don’t just scroll past this. Take a minute to really look at the picture.
Here we have a man in a tuxedo with a smug smile of satisfaction, surrounded by his friends, burning his mortgage papers. Not only is he (perceivably, anyway) happier than the average person reading the story, the media specifically points out how happy he is. He’s burning his mortgage, while the average reader is probably still struggling with any number of debts.
After I’ve said all this, you can imagine my frustration with people who just can’t get why the Coopers and Molinaros of the world get hate. It’s about perception, which is often more important than reality.
What this has to do with white guys
What? Aw jeez guys, Nelson’s crazy. STOP ACTING CRAZY.
Really, I promise this will all tie together by the end.
Throughout most of the last 500 years, it’s been good to be a white male. For a while, only they were allowed to own property. They controlled much (if not all) of the world’s wealth. They showed up in North America and not only rounded up the inhabitants, but killed most of them either directly or by giving them smallpox-infested blankets.
“What? We didn’t know!”
“Nice try, jerks.”
Depending on your perspective, you might even go further. Most European wars–including WWI and WWII–can be traced back to a few angry white guys. The Forbes 400 is dominated by white males. There’s ample evidence of minorities being treated badly in the United States, Canada, and other rich nations.
And so, a somewhat predictable backlash has occurred. People of color, women, and other folks who feel marginalized have started fighting for what they feel is their rightful slice of the pie. They want power, influence, and money just as much as everyone else.
There’s one problem with this movement. It pretty much consistently craps on what it considers to be a big problem–white males. Which is all fine and good, except it omits one pretty important detail.
Most white men are struggling.
We only have to look at the economic statistics if you doubt what’s happening. Debt levels are at record highs. Houses are crazy expensive across the country with Toronto and Vancouver fully embracing insane valuation mode. Good jobs for uneducated folks are few and far between. You can’t even make money working oil anymore.
For every Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jim Pattison in the world, there are millions of guys like my unemployed friend or my acquaintance that works cutting meat at a grocery store.
This has happened before, of course. History is filled with economic slowdowns and periods of tepid growth. The difference between back then and now is white males had other avenues. Men’s groups were very much a thing.
Men looking to commiserate with other men could join the Elks (in Canada, anyway), Freemasons, or one of many men’s only groups at golf courses, curling clubs, and so on. Hell, sitting around the barber shop used to be a thing.
Not only do these clubs not exist in 2016, but ones that get started are actively criticized by feminists, college students, recent grads, and other people who feel men gathering is some sort of indirect threat.
So men are forced to commiserate in different ways. They might become interested in the Men’s Rights movement. They might vote for candidates and parties (*coughHarperandTrumpcough*) who are openly anti-immigrant, hoping that slowing down population growth will allow them to get a bigger piece of the pie. Or they might do nothing, choosing to reluctantly embrace today’s new reality.
Or they might see a guy burning his mortgage papers and get pissed off. So they let out a little frustration and leave an angry internet comment or two. They become the much maligned online haters.
We live in a world where arguing online is filled with four-letter words and insults. Go to Reddit if you don’t believe me. We also live in a world where folks with different opinions than ours are chastised for not only disagreeing with us, but for being pretty much the worst people in the history of the planet simply because they agree with us on important issues.
We all know people who actually get mad at people who don’t hold the same political beliefs as they do. Hell, I know people (not just one, but several) who legitimately believe Donald Trump will lead us to a nuclear war.
We’re more divided than ever, in other words.
We live in a world that’s becoming more angry and less equal every day. People like me and (probably) you are somewhat isolated from this phenomenon, since we tend to be doing pretty well and probably spend our time with people who are equally secure. We have to stop acting surprised that the people who are being left behind have the audacity to be upset by their lack of success.
I used white guys as an example, but this isn’t just limited to them. We live in a world where just about every group is marginalized by some other group. If we learned to get along and emphasize with those without as much money as us, a nicer world would be the result.