Two great posts have just gone up that have some bearing on my last, so I wanted to point you towards them if you haven’t seen them already.
•Girl Detective just posted about an encounter we both had with a politically-minded drunk, who lambasted me for my laziness, privilege, and selfishness in getting a PhD rather than (for instance) volunteering in New Orleans, and then urged GD to make me understand what’s really important (by taking me to see Charlie Wilson’s War, mainly). One of the points GD makes in her post is that, despite our interlocutor’s avowed progressivism, she was actually embodying the anti-intellectualism (and, in her dealings with GD herself, the sexism) that is such a staple of the right wing. Now, most of the progressives and radicals who level accusations of liberal privilege are not drunk and belligerent, but rather thoughtful, committed, and intelligent. Nevertheless, the same kind of duping is often present: at the Shrub Blog, I observed that some criticism of Yes Means Yes, in dismissing the link between women’s sexuality and rape, was echoing right-wing opposition to (for instance) The Vagina Monologues. One of the right wing’s great triumphs has been to use privilege as a wedge issue against the left—think of the emphasis on Kerry’s billions and Edwards’s haircuts, while Bush and Cheney are allowed to be as rich as they want—such that ambition and idealism are both considered superfluous and inauthentic.
•After reading about my brief meat-eating stint, Uncomplicatedly posted her own solution to being a vegetarian in a meat-heavy locale, New Orleans in her case: simply to ask the chef to prepare something vegetarian, which can be more intimate than simply picking something off a menu:
You see, ordering a vegetarian plate gives you a unique relationship to the chef. Some will just give you a collection of their side dishes, which can be a bummer, but some will look around at their kitchens, see what’s on hand, and improvise something special for you. If taste is the most transitory aesthetic experience, it is also one of the most intimate, and I am grateful to all the chefs who have ever taken extra time to consider my needs. While my family members struggled with difficult choices, I would be sitting serenely with a closed menu, waiting to see what delightful thing the chef would do for me. I didn’t feel restricted — I felt more free.
Uncomplicatedly also writes movingly about the ways those with good intentions towards animals can reconcile themselves to the times when we can’t help them as we’d like. This seems to me applicable to other attempts to help the disadvantaged, and provides a link between what the two threads of my last post, threads which at the time I thought were unconnected. We should do what we can to help, and we should absolutely criticize those who harm. (To slip into the specific for a moment: some may feel this way about Yes Means Yes; I disagree, but more power to them.) But energy is almost always better spent doing, than it is lambasting oneself or others for not doing more.
Update (1/4): Joseph Kugelmass gives his take on all of this over at his blog, in an ambitious and thought-provoking entry. It includes, among other things, the only defense of meat-eating I’ve seen that goes beyond “The lions do it,” “The cavemen did it,” “It tastes good,” or “How do you know PLANTS don’t feel pain?” Highly recommended.