What does it mean to sell out? Does it mean that at one point you were sold in?

The phrase “selling out” bothers me quite a bit. I have not been able to articulate why until eating pies at Piebury Corner. Over dinner with a friend, we came to the conclusion that it is not the phrase itself that bothered me; it is the the implications of the phrase itself. Because we had just taken our final for our Issues in Economic Development module, we tended to contextualize issues relative to econometric. When our conversation turned towards the topic of “selling out,” we realized that it is not the phrase itself that bothers us. It is, namely, that claiming to “sell out” is correlated with a series of other traits that I consider to be character flaws.

It is a point of endogeneity. The trait is correlated with other facets of identity that are questionable. I have taken the phrase at face value for all my life, but it is not a phrase that should be taken at face value. The phrase converges to other character traits, consecrating into a homogenized individual who have a distinct set of markers that define them as a user of the phrase of “selling out.”

There are two main points of contention that I have:

1. “Selling out” implies an indifference to moral responsibility.

Selling out. As in, the direction of life that is chosen is one of maximizing shareholder profits. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with maximizing shareholder profits as long as it does not depend on some degree of predation or exploitation, but it does imply an opportunity cost to do good for society. Of course, it is by no means an obligation to do good for society, but it would also be flawed to say that we do not have some form of structural responsibility to help others who have not had the same amount of opportunities of others.

Going to a school like Penn, it is hard to find someone who does not want to do either finance, tech, consulting, or medicine. But, as the $50k/year in tuition school that it is, it general attracts a certain demographic of people: rich people. And, while I am more sympathetic towards individuals who come from lower socioeconomic statuses in privileging financial security and to some degree excess, it is hard to find the same sympathies when I can witness the materialistic tendencies that is associated with a lifestyle of wanting to maximize shareholder profits.

Which brings me to my issue. How can individuals justify to themselves that they deserve to live a life of material excess when there exists so many individuals in the world who struggle to make ends meet? There is nothing morally wrong with spending $200 on a meal at a Michelin star restaurant or spending $300 to go to a music festival. The novelty of experience can be justified in certain contexts. But how can individuals justify such a regular expenditure of goods when given the opportunity to do so? How could we forget that the majority of the world lives with so little while some live with so much?

And claim of “selling out” is the proclamation that these consumption behaviors are justified. That the rest of the world is not even a thought. That the goal of maximizing shareholder profits in order to accumulate as much capital as possible should be a goal in itself. How could such an absence of forethought and empathy be considered to be good? Being so detached from the reality of others to live in the pursuit of continuing to justify material expenditures — how could anyone aspire to live like that?

2. “Selling out” implies an absence of personal passions

It is quite cloud-like, not that there’s anything wrong with being cloud-like. I often fantasize about being a cloud. But, living life by going where the money goes without adding value to society. It just… I don’t know. Where is the direction that we create for ourselves? It would seem that one of the few things that actively challenge the universe’s will is our own passions. We can choose to pursue our passions or not. We can choose if we want to make a positive impact on others. We can choose to go against inclinations such as the desire to make money without adding value through caring.

But, “selling out?” It implies that you don’t care. There is nothing morally wrong with not caring, of course. But, what does it mean to live a life without caring about anything other than material excess? What does it mean to live knowing that there is nothing more important than consumption and validation? There is nothing wrong with wanting to pursue fields that are lucrative by nature such as finance and consulting. But there is a difference between wanting to pursue something for personal interest (when given the financial security to do so) and just wanting to do it for “selling out”?

3. “Selling out” implies a lack of self-understanding

It is interesting. When individuals tell me that they’re “selling out,” they are almost saying it as if they want me to refute them. They want me to say “No, you’re not selling out” or “It’s only going to be a short while” or “You can pursue your passions later.” They want me to comfort them because, to some degree, they understand that their desire to “sell out” is not a positive one. Yet, through the act of joking about it through a self-deprecating lens, they mask their subconscious understanding through converting their contradictory sentiments into a source of humor and self-deprecation.

Because, when individuals joke that they are “selling out,” they no longer believe what they are saying is true. Humor, in this case, serves as a defense mechanism for hiding the guilt that is associated with the desire to abandon passion and responsibility to maximize shareholder profits. The logic goes: if I joke about selling out, then I cannot actually be selling out because I would not joke about a personal trait that I know is associated with my identity. The self-deprecating humor, in this case, serves as a distancing mechanism to avoid inner confrontation.

Without addressing the source of dissonance from the root, it becomes cyclical to continue to mitigate the effects of guilt through the use of self-deprecating humor. But, the continuous repetition of wanting to “sell out” only indicates that there either does not exist a desire or a capability of wanting to address the guilt that arises with the desire to “sell out.” The ability to introspect personal flaws that I value in individuals is either not present or not wanted. Whatever the case, I consider such an absence in self-realization to be a personality flaw.

It is one of those few things that I could genuine empathize with. I do understand why individuals can live life without ever questioning the role of their structural responsibilities or personal passions in dictating their life’s choices. My empathy comes from experience, but my empathy is precisely why I feel so strongly. I do judge those who claim to “sell out.” It is a choice to “sell out,” at least among individuals who I surround myself with, and it is also a choice to live a life in accordance to structural responsibility and personal passion. To create something positive for society.

I suppose that I am I am privileging one way of living over another. All I am saying is that wanting to consume materialistically through maximizing shareholder profits should not be an ideal to strive for.