When somebody asks how we are doing these days we give the same answer everyone else gives us. “We’re good. All things considered”. The truth is the “all things considered” qualifier feels slimy. On a relative basis, we are doing outright amazing. In the past month, U.S. jobless claims have surpassed 22 million. Meanwhile, my wife and I continue to work. In our pajamas no less. Maintaining a good job through this is a pick-6 from your own goal line. A 14-point swing if the placekickers are competent.
It’s not necessary or even rational but I feel a little guilty. I’ve even half-joked that instead of a virus that impacts low-wage workers disproportionately, we should have been dealt an EMP which halts “knowledge workers” [gag] from moving symbols around .xls and .py files.
I caught myself being more sensitive to interpreting memes from a lens of privilege. I am very aware of the role of luck in life, but if I’m getting a glimpse of what it’s like to see the world through an identity politics focus then take my eyes please. It doesn’t feel productive or virtuous.
Here are 2 examples.
I sent this to a NY friend who has been posting pics of his sourdough bread on IG. He’s a successful tech guy. Part of the WFH class. Also one of my best friends. I’m messing with him. (Not picking on @valueterminal either who I enjoy talking to).
But it’s so 2020 to interpret an isolated family’s desire and freedom to bake bread as anything more than an engaging boredom-breaker.
(Here’s the resulting self-skewering screenshot of our Whatsapp chat that my wife, Yinh, is also on.)
2. TikTok privilege
Our household is pretty obsessed with the Blinding Lights TikTok dance. And yet I can’t watch these vids and not notice the pimp pads many of these people live in. Or how white people seem overrepresented. I haven’t read anything about these things and I’m afraid to search. Because, again, I don’t think there’s any real social commentary here but I recognize how easily a sharp pen with an agenda could incite one. The fact that I’m even getting the privilege-vibe from watching these dances tells me there’s kindling within us that’s ready to flare if someone dropped a match.
An Equal-Opportunity Disappointer
If I have any ability to put myself in a reader’s shoes I’m guessing the conservative reader is tying their shoes for a victory lap. I just pointed out how ridiculous social justice warriors can be right?
Nope. I’m going to disappoint you. These superficial examples of “privilege” discourse are actually the mental Frankensteins you get when actual social justice is perverted. These examples are ammo for social justice detractors to lump good activism with bad activism. I’m not an expert on this stuff but there’s a wide spectrum between sourdough-signaling theories and 1960s civic reforms. I think conservatives sometimes fail to see the difference. I know it’s hard to believe, but you can have gold bars without thinking everyone is trying to take them.
And if I’m feeling my way through the dark of my confused feelings the far-left deserves a scolding. These examples are nonsense. The result of under-employed English phDs crying wolf. You undermine your own cause (the sincerity of which is questionable anyway). If I can’t enjoy an 80s retro synth groove without thinking my AirPods were christened in the sweat of a Chinese peasant who could have sung as soulfully as the Weeknd if he just didn’t have to spend 16 hours a day in a factory, then excuse me for feeling a bit gaslighted.
Now that I’ve insulted everyone let’s turn to something more productive.
Giving Back and Guilt
Guilt can be useful. A thought on giving back. Probably an unpopular take.
Complaining about virtue-signaling when people are public in their giving is stupid. Yes, we all know the giver gets a status rebate. So what? Is the social pressure it creates not worth it? Charity auctions with their pomp and paddles work for a reason. A GoFundMe donor rollcall might lead you to pull out your credit card.
Pressure works. There’s probably rules of decorum around this. Some Downton Abbey restraint. Brazen virtue-signaling is gross. But I also find the backlash to virtue-signaling gets me kinda itchy too. So I’ve decided it’s personal. Best to check my reflex on how people do their charity. There are tradeoffs to being Victorian about it and tradeoffs to being pushy about it.
The view I’ve settled on:
You don’t need to announce what you do but you needn’t work too hard to hide it. At the very least show your kids what you do. My mother never had much but she always gave and I noticed. Don’t feel guilty in vain. Channel it. You’ve heard the whole “don’t let perfect be enemy of the good”. I say don’t even let coherence be enemy of the good.
Related: A Simple Rule for Giving (Link)
For a nearly 1000 year old view, here are philosopher Maimonides’ thoughts on charity that I pulled from Jake Taylor’s Rebel Allocator. Maimonides understood the giver and receiver must be considered.
In ascending format, there are eight levels:
8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.
6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.
4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor’s identity, but the donor still doesn’t know the specific identity of the recipient.
3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.
1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.