March 14, 2007

Guilt is Not a Political Act

Pandagon recently had a post detailing one more of the many repercussions that consumption in rich countries has on the poorest nations of the world. The post focuses on tantalum, a material used to make components of cell phones laptops, and iPods, which is abundant in the Congo and highly sought after by the high tech industry, a thirst that is fueled by consumer demand. Tantalum is arguably one of the sources of the region's bloody conflict.

Some of the reactions of readers were familiar: people tend to have a guilty, knee-jerk reaction when they’re reminded that something they’re doing, and that they do every day, like use computers or cell phones, has repercussions, and they often respond by bristling: “It’s not my fault! I didn’t start it! Why don’t you blame those who have done something worse?” It may be a childish reaction but it’s probably inevitable when one wants to be able to keep doing what he or she wants to do and not have to feel guilty about it.

The more adult response would be to acknowledge participation and responsibility without attempting to make excuses and without feeling like one has to turn one's whole life around in order to carry on guilt-free. Guilt is beside the point. No one leads a perfect, pure life. Nor does guilt do anything to help the people who are adversely affected by our actions, because guilt is essentially a self-centered reaction: it only matters to ourselves whether we feel guilty or not.

The reason why we care about social injustice is a function of our basic decency and humanity, it’s not out of guilt. I don’t think any of the activists we most admire would say they fought for justice because they felt guilty. These are political issues and practical issues, not moral issues. Instead of wasting energy on feeling guilty or being offended by the perception that one has been made to feel guilty, we need to look at issues as clearly as we can and set aside our own vanity and egos.

I'm a little weary of people who say that changing their lifestyle is not a political act, therefore why bother? It's true that changing the kind of crap we buy or reducing the amount of it that we buy is not going to save the world, but that's only because to have an effect every individual act needs to be added to the actions of millions of others. It needs to be made into a visible, effective mass movement against economic inequality.

Justifying wanton consumerism by saying, "Well, what I buy or don't buy doesn't make a difference anyway, so I might as well just continue amassing whatever I damn well please," is a bit like saying, "Hey I can't change society's racist attitudes on my own, therefore I might as well go on using racial slurs." The difference may be that racism is widely recognized as a social ill, while excessive consumption generally is not, but both have very damaging repercussions.

March 08, 2007


I started the Green Day blog I've been threatening to do...

March 01, 2007

Moving, Again

Yeah, I'm sick of blogger and other various blog hosts, so I decided to bite the bullet and just get a proper web host and host the blog myself. I know I've written very little of late; the plan is to get back into writing with a fresh start and a renewed spirit of enthusiasm... or something. In part, I think I've become very confused about what it is I want the blog to be, so I no longer know what to write most of the time. So, though I hate predicting the future, since I'll probably change my mind or not be able to do what I envision because my all-thumbs inability to navigate even the simplest tasks has made me feel like a rube of late -- gawrsh, what's them there internets y'all keep a-talkin' about? -- I want to split the blog into two, and have one that's more serious and political and the other that's more personal and goofy. Plus I also want to do a Green Day blog, so I can write all the stuff that rattles around in my head and that I usually consider too embarrassing to talk about in any other context than as a completely shameless, adoring fan.

But, argh, I thought the whole setting up aspect would be easier to do. And I'm doing it the easiest way possible! The web host I signed up with offers one-click WordPress installation. How stupid do I have to be to find that daunting??? Granted that I can never leave well enough alone: I found a template I liked for one blog but felt compelled to alter it in minute and insignificant ways, and each tiny change takes me forever to puzzle out. Yeah, I could just not do that, but if I'm going to try to host my own blogs I want more control over them, not less, right? And then when I go to install two more blogs, which I haven't done yet, am I going to create a morass of bloggy files that I don't understand and won't be able to sort my way out of? Yeah, I know, whoever is reading this, if anyone is, will be thinking either: god, you're an idiot, or: hmm, yawn.

I've always operated under the assumption that if something is figure-out-able I can figure it out. Not because I'm so great, but because I've found there's usually a plodding and obstinate way to get at something even if the elegant and streamlined way eludes you. Working with anything that's computer related, from a user standpoint, has this very weird learning curve associated with it: it's both elementary and maddening. On the one hand, everything is set up to be incredibly easy, because someone else, usually teams of anonymous someones, has worked everything out for you and has thought of everything, in many cases for free and with a very generous expenditure of their time, and you can just dig right in. If there's something you don't know right away you can figure out a whole lot just by puttering, because most of what you want to do is designed to be intuitive. And if you get stuck, you can almost always look up an explanation. But, on the other hand, the first, most necessary and basic steps, and the bridges that link the series of steps to one another -- the parts that should be obvious but somehow are not -- are often left unexplained and remain oddly inaccesible. Sometimes I feel like I have a manual that tells me every detail on how to operate all the sophisticated gadgetry inside some futuristic house, but I'm still circling around the perimeter of the building like an idiot trying to find the front door.