Bubbles form when air is trapped within a thin film of water, and there is enough pressure inside and outside the thin layer of water to maintain its spherical shape for a brief amount of time. Because this layer of water is so thin and fragile, bubbles have a short life span, and inevitably burst not long after they are formed.
Because of this fragility, we often use the metaphor of a bubble to describe various social and economic states of affairs that are understood to be temporary or unstable. We described the 2008 financial crisis as a bursting bubble, because it was an event in which house prices kept going up and up, which defied economic fundamentals and the laws of supply and demand, and eventually turned out to be based on lies and delusion, and then all of that fictional wealth burst and crashed, destroying the lives of many people and sending the economy into a deep recession around the world.
But what if high society itself was nothing but a massive bubble, a bubble sustained by lies and the broken lives of the poor and communities of color in particular?
To have anything resembling high society, we have to have an incredibly complex social structure in which all of our most basic needs are cared for. We have to have food, water, electricity, mining, manufacturing, transportation, maintenance, services, finance, bureaucracy, and everything else that is required to sustain all of the technologies, activities, and appetites that make up high society.
There is only so much energy, and only so much human labor that can go into administrating a society like this, so where is the labor going? Where is the energy going? Who is doing the work and the worrying, and who is doing the benefiting and the enjoying?
Ideally, we should all be sharing in both the burdens and the joys, and everything in between. But in this reality we have a society in which these benefits and burdens are unequally distributed. We have people scrubbing floors, transporting trash, sorting files, serving food, and we have people making a living eating food, ordering other people to scrub floors, profiting off of others living on their land, and etc.
This disparity has to be justified in the official record for it to continue on. We don't generally go about openly admitting that it is good that the most powerful members of society are exploiting so many of our most vulnerable to maintain their positions.
So maybe you occupy a position of privilege because your mind is great, or you are an incredibly strong and industrious person who has developed technologies or some sort of social or cultural legacy that is benefiting millions? And perhaps you get to sit back and rest a bit because you've done such a good job, and that others should labor for you for a little while?
What are people of privilege doing for the rest of society? Is their privileged position earned? What we seem to see more often is people of privilege occupying positions of unearned wealth, and causing destruction and suffering because of their privilege, denying others basic human needs and dignities, while living with reckless abandon consuming extravagantly.
Privilege is a taboo word today because it largely exists at the expense of vulnerable peoples, and oftentimes for no other reason than the fact that the privileged individual has a certain skin color, gender, sexual preference, and good fortune to be born into favorable economic conditions, and that people of privilege, contrary to our intuitions of them being super human beings, often demonstrate themselves as superfluous at best, and actively destructive at worst, lying and cheating to amass fortunes, fooling consumers, destroying the environment, and contributing to the imprisonment, maiming, and death of millions of people.
What exactly is all this beginning to look like? A bubble. A bubble that happens to be pressing down with incredible force on the rest of society. Now, whenever we see any kind of bubble pressing upon some sort of surface, it usually pops.