Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Personal Virtue as a Poor Substitute for Political Change

Via the Just Seeds blog, a great article summing up the flaws inherent in the personal virtue model of social change.

Not a new idea by any means, but one that I've always found interesting and thought-provoking. I've always liked Noam Chomsky's succinct rejoinder along these lines:
Q: [H]ow can you justify living a bourgeois life and driving a nice car?

A: ... When I go to visit peasants in southern Colombia, they don't want me to give up my car. They want me to help them.
Just so. It's an obvious point, but so easy to lose track of in our culture, even once you're aware of the dynamic at work.

And it really is a distraction, as teeth-gnashing over one's contribution to gentrification, for example, ends up being "white guilt" of the most pointless sort: you either waste your time twisting yourself into knots, trying to explain how you're actually not part of the problem; or you shrug your shoulders and resign yourself to being an irredeemable oppressor, and thus liberated from any responsibility to change the system.

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