It’s that time of year again when people become wistful and wishful, filling social feeds with hopes and dreams for the new year. Every year I see the same resolutions about losing weight, getting fit, finding a new job, being grateful, practising mindfulness. People wish each other well and set out to begin their new habits, each lasting a few days, or a few weeks if they are lucky. What I never see, however, are resolutions about community building, looking after each other, or tearing down an unjust system. There is never a call to collective action, only the desire to improve one’s own life.
If Christmas has for the most part become an ode to consumerism, it would seem the New Year has become a paean to hyper-individualism, both holidays firmly entrenched in the practices of neoliberalism. While Christmas calls on us to spend obscene amounts of money to demonstrate our love for others, the New Year asks us to reflect solely on ourselves, dreaming up all the ways we could live our best lives, without regard for anyone else. And when we fail in implementing these dreams, as we inevitably do, neoliberalism is once again waiting, eager to sell us things designed to assuage our guilt and misery.
Well I, for one, am done being miserable. I am tired of seeing my family and friends berate themselves when they fail to achieve unrealistic goals, or worse, achieve them only to realise they are still deeply unsatisfied because their goals were meaningless in the first place. The time has come to reclaim New Years from the cult of individualism. If we really want to create change, at New Years or any other time of the year, the answer is in collective action. And it all begins with asking yourself what type of society you really want to live in. How will your New Year’s resolutions help create a better world?
The trap of neoliberalism is believing that both the problem and the solution are individual. You are not thin enough, you are not enlightened enough, you are not ambitious or hard working enough. By focusing on these individual problems, you have neither the time nor energy to see, let alone take action against bigger, systemic problems. Losing weight will not change the system of patriarchy, sexism and fatphobia — in fact, by buying into the narrative that thin equals beauty, you perpetuate the system. Spending time learning to quiet your mind and be grateful for the small things takes away the justified rage you should feel at the global systems of inequality and racism. Working harder at your job will never change the fact that you are just a worker, a cog in a machine that doesn’t care about anything except profit.
It is only by eschewing these individual goals, and coming together for collective action, that there is any chance of meaningful change. What if women collectively decided to opt out of the weight loss culture, and chose to love themselves as they are? What if people seeking individual enlightenment instead spent that time helping to feed, clothe and house those less fortunate? And what if workers called a global strike to insist upon worker-owned companies, extreme wealth taxes and a universal basic income for everyone? These are goals worth getting behind.
This New Year’s, it’s time to reclaim your resolutions from a neoliberal individualist mindset, and instead create resolutions that do good in the world.