This is a time where many people are deeply concerned with the welfare of others. This is a time of radical self-involvement. This is a time when we feel crushed by all the complex problems in the world. This is a time where One Video Can Change Everything You Know. There is no time in my life I can recall seeing so much widespread concern for others. There is no time in my life I can recall seeing so many selfies.
These are the best of times and the worst of times, which is both a good start to a book and a fancy way of telling you: I am pretty mixed up about how to fix the world’s worst things. And I am even more confused that there are many others who think that the worst things can be easily fixed.
Plenty of us agree that the world currently contains more than a tolerable amount of the worst things. But, only a few of us seem to agree that we probably need to have a good hard think about how to reverse the worst. I am in this latter group of miserable persons.
Being miserable and confused, I never responded to the kidnapping of the Chibok student kidnapping with a cardboard sign that read “#BringBackOurGirls”. Of course, millions did, and I don’t blame them for their belief in the power of cardboard. After all, Michelle Obama had done it and you’d think that anyone with an office in the West Wing would pick up enough about foreign policy to know what works, and what doesn’t, in securing the release of terrorised young women.
We believe that kids who find themselves in the middle of the worst, most complex political situations can be helped with our best and simplest expressions.
The fate of all those so cruelly abducted will never be known. What we do know is that those returned to safety owe little debt to cardboard and more to their own ingenuity. Still, we believe that kids who find themselves in the middle of the worst, most complex political situations can be helped with our best and simplest expressions.
Being miserable and confused, I never changed my Facebook avatar to support same-sex marriage on the grounds it would “stop youth suicide”. I don’t believe that the promise of a marriage certificate is a fraction as useful as adequate housing and mental health care in helping queer kids.
Being miserable and confused, I never said I’ll Ride With You. I never thought that I could undo fifteen years of anti-Muslim state propaganda by making you listen to my dreary white girl conversation on a train.
Being miserable and confused, I never said Not In My Name. I never thought that any person who underwent the atrocity of mandatory detention was interested in my name and what it was or wasn’t attached to.
Being miserable and confused, I never boycotted a particular women’s activewear store. This was pretty easy for me, as I have never entered a women’s activewear store. But, apparently, if I care about fatphobia, this is what I must do.
It is not that I do not care about fatphobia. I effing really do. I also care about all those other things. That there are people who flee their own nations or are held and reviled within their own nations forces steam from my ears. That there are people who feel the revulsion from others so deep inside their bones forces curse words from my mouth. But, to take these frustrations and turn them into a cursing, steamy act of public disapproval strikes me as something that will serve no one but me.
The worst things in the world happen for so many reasons, few of which can be solved with good feelings. Take the example of the Chibok students. No, don’t, otherwise we’ll be here with a discussion of global debt, territory disputes, Islamism, interventionist liberalism and what the heck Michelle Obama was doing holding up a cardboard sign.
I wish it were that simple. I wish there were One Video That Could Change Everything.
Take the simpler example of the activewear store reviled for its failure to stock plus-size clothes. Like any business, this one is in the business of making money. If it does not make money, it ceases to be a business, fatphobic or otherwise. So, clothes are produced off-shore where the labour is cheap and in the market’s most typical size-range. Clothing produced outside the typical size-range means both more time spent on labour—workers must deviate from standard patterns of labour— and greater market risk. What appears to the consumer as fatphobia is, in fact, a complex series of decisions made to maximise profit and minimise cost. And this is not the same thing as saying that fatphobia doesn’t exist; it absolutely does. But, the cure to fatphobia is not to boycott a chain store that sells mass produced goods, any more than the cure for capitalism is a hug.
I wish it were that simple. I wish there were One Video That Could Change Everything. Would that the world could be transformed by a hashtag or explained in a Tweet and that our most sincere feelings could also be solutions.
But, our best intentions provide no answer to the worst questions in the world. Their expression can hope only to show that we care. But we need to care past the point where we realise that our concern for the worst things in the world is meaningful only to us. The hard work comes in thinking our way toward complex solutions.
Image courtesy of Flickr/Ognian Mladenov.