How long does it take between the time one recognizes one’s faults and the moment one’s behavior changes to correct them? The following excerpt from something I posted to an old blog of mine in January 2008 (when 46-inch televisions were considered big deals, I guess) offers a hint:
Wouldn’t the world be a better, more comfortable place for many millions more people if we of the “middle class” would be willing to live much simpler and less video-intensive lives, opting to divert much of our wealth to providing fundamental shelter for people in need? How badly do we need that 46 inch television? How big a difference would the money we spent on it have made to the family living in a dirt-floored shack on the edge of a river in Asia?
What makes me angry, and makes me personally ashamed, is the outpouring of liberal bullshit from people who talk a big game about doing something about conditions throughout the world but who, when it comes to brass tacks, won’t give up their embarrassing riches, not even a little, to share with others. I don’t recall where I first read the term, “an embarrassment of riches,” but ever since I’ve felt that embarrassment whenever I compare my life with people on the verge of oblivion. My extra televisions, my 2-car family, my choices to go out to dinner, etc., are deliberate choices I have made at the expense of people who are desperate for ANYTHING to make their lives better. Where is the “correct” balance between having too little and having too much?
Guilt at the failure to replace one’s gluttony with ascetic philanthropy does little to change the world. Yet that’s the extent of the response taken by many people; guilt at their embarrassment of riches, but enjoyment of that embarrassment, nonetheless. At what point does our willingness to enjoy and appreciate our riches become synonymous with hypocrisy? At what point do we appear, to outsiders, to be sanctimonious and dishonest?
When the guilt becomes too much to take, some people overcome the guilt by donating money or time or both to a “cause” that demonstrates one’s piety. The fact that the respite from gluttony is temporary may not matter; but it might.
Isn’t that a skeptical attitude about philanthropy? Doesn’t that suggest a mistrust of humankind? Or, maybe, it provides the impetus to reject hypocrisy and to promote the sharing of good fortune. We never truly know what motivates people to act or fail to take action. We never fully understand our own motives. We want to believe the best about ourselves, so we latch onto those behaviors that support our positive perspective. Yet we cannot help but notice the discrepancies between actual altruism and philanthropy dressed up to look presentable.
Until I started blogging in 2005, I had not regularly recorded my thoughts and perceptions about the world. So, my understanding of my world-view prior to 2005 is based almost entirely on memory. I have proven, many times over, how utterly unreliable my memory can be; I do not remember events that should have been permanently etched into my psyche. Yet I “remember” experiences that evidence suggests were entirely fabricated in my head. Therefore, anything I “remember” about my youth is subject to understandable skepticism. My recollections about the extent to which my world-view vacillated sharply from day to day are questionable. But, after I began blogging, recollections of the wild discrepancies in my “beliefs” seemed more and more plausible. After all, when I started documenting my inconsistencies, it was difficult to argue that they were simply the products of faulty memories. Hmm. All this makes me wonder about myself and my history. Since I began blogging, I have been—and continue to this day—documenting my intellectual and emotional evolution almost in real time. My far left liberalism has developed and receded and recovered in a predictable, repetitive pattern. My tendency toward centrism has reacted in concert with my liberalism, except that occasionally the pendulum swings surprisingly far to the right during brief convulsive seizures of conservatism.
The wild swings in my attitudes and my understanding of the world reflect the transformations in me that illustrate, on the one hand, my empathy and compassion and, on the other, their polar opposites: mercilessness and animosity.
Some mornings, the dull grey sky looks gentle and alluring. Other mornings, that same sky looks drab and dismissive, as if Nature takes offense at the existence of humankind. I rather doubt my assignment of anthropomorphic attributes to the physical world around me has anything to do with the natural world. It has everything to do with me and the extent to which the connections in my brain either are solid or badly frayed, causing short-circuits and the attendant odors of sizzling electrical wires. But do I smell like an electrical fire? Probably not. But., then, my sense of smell has experienced greater precision and less confusion