Trying today to keep up with a rather deep political discussion elsewhere while also minding my kid and doing everything else that needs doing has made me realize: there just aren’t enough hours in the day/spoons in my drawer for me to invest the kind of time and energy I’d really like in the political/social justice issues I care about. Even before I became a parent, I already had some hard limits there, which is why I outsource a lot of my information gathering/responding to my elected representatives and the rare few journalists who have proven themselves trustworthy. Now, however, I’m realizing I have to do more of that than ever before. Most often of late, that’s meant relying on certain friends on FB and Twitter who post a lot of political news, and Snopes et. al. to make sure that those stories are above board. Sometimes, it means that I just plain miss stories/issues, or at least miss understanding them in the kind of breadth and depth I’d like to.
I feel kind of pathetic, especially as a journalist, knowing that I can’t do this myself these days. But I probably shouldn’t, considering how thoroughly complex and vast this all really is. Just paying attention to local politics, and issues that personally affect me is complex enough. Global stuff? Well beyond me. It wouldn’t be if I had 24/7 and unlimited energy and funds to devote to understanding it, but I have neither. And, let’s be honest: neither does anyone else who doesn’t do politics for a living. This is, after all, why we have a representative republic instead of a direct democracy: we hire people to haggle over tiny details of transportation funding or environmental regulations because none of us–NONE of us–has the bandwidth to keep up with all that’s necessary to run a first-world country in the modern age. We have just enough time to get the surface info we need to be informed voters, and that’s about it.
(This is, of course, why it’s so critical that journalists tell the truth, and not do “balanced” stories that end up being anything but. If a single scientist believes poison ivy has been unfairly maligned, giving him equal soapbox space with the other eight million experts who know better will result in a lot of itchy people.)
The other thing this lack of time leads to, though, is a tendency toward oppression myopia: We get so focused on the rough road we’re on that we just don’t have the spoons to care about other people. Add in a power class that likes doing divide and conquer–instead of acknowledging that justice is not a limited commodity–and it’s no surprise we guard justice for ourselves like starving rats fighting over a single piece of food. Intersectionality scares some people because they’re afraid their own very critical needs won’t be met if they give any space at all to the issues of others. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. If we simply approach the whole thing with one underlying ideal–compassion–the rest of it falls into place quite neatly, even if the details sometimes get lost in the fray. I don’t know every detail of what’s happening with LGBT rights in Uganda, but I’m absolutely going to vote for people who are in a position to know more and whose philosophy on the overall issue dovetails with mine. And if someone who knows more about a given issue tells me I’m on the wrong track with something, I defer to them. Simple as that. And I don’t get why that’s so hard for so many other people.
Something that’s always rubbed me the wrong way about hardcore libertarian philosophy is the notion that it’s “every man (and they mean man) for himself.” They argue against things like allergen labeling on food or other reasonable regulations, under the idea that people too “lazy” to figure that stuff out for themselves should be culled anyway. Some aren’t quite so extreme as all that (though the end result of their policies would, in fact, be deadly to those with less power), but they still worship a mythical Self-Made Man hero who doesn’t need no help from nobody no how, and think of the rest of us as lesser beings.
While it’s certainly possible that there are a rare few individuals who really could be dropped naked in the wilderness and manage to survive and thrive, the reality is that most people in the modern world can’t do that (and let’s not forget that even those naked warriors had to get their survival education from somewhere–they weren’t born instinctively knowing not to drink salt water or eat yellow snow.) Civilized life is far, far too complex for any of us to do everything on our own; community, whether small-scale (family, tribe, village) or large (government) is how we function. Heck, even the religious conservative wing gets this–they acknowledge their need for community via church. They just don’t get that religious fellowship doesn’t work for everyone, and therefore government has to fill the gaps that religion can’t.
Truly, I understand why this is such a big deal to some of the guys who espouse this lone-wolf ideal. They’re operating within the same power framework as the rest of us: the one that punishes the weak. They’re absolutely petrified of admitting that they need others because to do so would put a target on their backs. So instead of working to fix that root problem, they just go along with the game and perpetuate the very system that makes them live in such fear.
Under this idea, it takes a truly brave person to admit how much help they really do need, and to openly admit things like hiring housekeeping help (as I do) or letting the kid amuse himself in his crib for a couple more minutes while finishing a blog post (as I am doing right this very second.) It takes an even braver person to acknowledge that other people need help, and to give them help when they need it, when you have the ability to do so.
And it’s that latter part that’s hamstringing me right now. My social-justice instinct is strong enough that I truly want to know more about what’s going on in the world, and to do what I can to help those who need it. But I also have to acknowledge my limited number of spoons to be able to do this. I like to call this my airplane philosophy: secure your own mask before assisting others. Which basically means manage your own needs well enough so you have the strength to help others. Martyrs make terrible heroes.
I have great admiration for those blessed with health and youthful energy who literally take to the streets to fight for just causes. I did some of that myself when I had the ability. But I’m 42, I have a couple of icky chronic illnesses and a five-month-old baby to mind. There’s only so much I can do. So if I pull back from directly fighting for many things, it doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means I have to budget what I can care for directly, and trust others, in whom I invest what I can, to handle the rest.
And it also means I need to stop having intense political discussions that take up a portion of my day I should be devoting to other things. Much as my brain might want to do this, my body’s telling me that I can’t. At least not now. And really? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve paid a great deal of dues already in many different fights, and continue to do so in less direct ways (say, by writing books that include more diversity than most.) I think the world will survive if I don’t spend another hour writing a 5-paragraph comment–or an 11-paragraph blog post–about bigotry and justice. My kid, however? Could use some Mama Bear time right now. And so he’ll get it. ;)