11 September 2005


about (seemingly?) widely divergent things. such as (1) the tiny, tiny, tininess of the intellectual and cultural world i seem to want to inhabit and (2) the awful, awful, awfulness of inequality and injustice in our world.

(1) yesterday i stumbled on that washington monthly ranking system (see below), and then was complaining about it to my classmate, who used to work there and who previously attended a good prep school and a fancy college and who seems to know, or know something specifically non-academic about, every single ivy-descended son or daughter of privilege currently inhabiting the taste- and thought-making classes. i am starting to recognize more of the names than i am fully comfortable with. after all, what is it that these people do, exactly?

(2) that particular name-naming conversation (just one of far too many that i have either joined or initiated in the past year or so) took place on the way to the absurdly expensive quasi-quasi-indie movie theatre, where i had the privilege of sittiing in a darkened room with about 100 other people who had $9.75 to blow and watching a movie that was, roughly, about capitalism's destruction of africa. and of course there is always katrina to mull over as well.

the constant gardener is great. it's beautiful and tragic. it also contains two scenes guaranteed to raise the hackles of the socially conscious upper(-middle) class. these scenes, which nicely bookend the main character's development, involve decisions not to help individual people in trouble. the talented and resourceful white people in their vehicles whip hesitatingly past africans whose distress is so typical that there really is an argument to be made that all will be better off if aid is denied. oh, comparative advantage, i hate you hate you hate you.

i have been beating my head against that concept quite a bit recently. because it seems necessary and still somehow absurd to pick up and go to new orleans (or kenya or wherever), and because the bible enjoins us to give everything away and follow jesus, and because it is still possible that the folks at the believer or n+1 are doing more for the world from their aeron chairs than they could if they tried direct action. we all have different gifts. i know! but i'm finding it galling lately that a lifetime of privilege may put people in positions that make it sensible and efficient, on a world scale, for them to remain comfortable.

not entirely unrelatedly, heard a platitudinous sermon this morning on the value of forgiveness. i fucking hate the idea that, to put this rather broadly, love means never getting to ask them to say they're sorry. for example, what does it mean for a new orleans evacuee to "forgive" george bush? frankly, i think that using the example of september 11 forgiveness is too damn easy. it's hard to forgive terrorists, but at least you can assume that they believe their cause is just. how do you forgive someone who doesn't seem to want to consider notions of justice at all, or who believes that people who do not "help themselves" are expendable?