I want to convince all the left-leaning middle and upper middle class white (or otherwise privileged) young people in this country to get into feminism, antiracism, secular spirituality/ethics, and activism–because I believe this is the only thing (besides raising a child or a very very sincere devotion to, say, art or science) that will cure them of a profound anxiety/neurosis/malaise I believe most of them feel–and, as bell hooks suggested, go “door to door passing out literature, taking the time (as do religious groups) to explain to people what feminism [and antidiscrimination and anticapitalism] is about.”
What is this malaise? If it’s not obvious, I’m speaking from personal experience. I looked for a long time for something I could unreservedly give my all to, but found that art for art’s sake came to seem empty and unnourishing and isolating to me. I was looking for liberation all along, but could not see through my privilege and so could not identify clearly what had constricted me. Now I see that I had fallen for the trap of consumerism/materialism after all, focusing endlessly on texts (a consumable item) instead of on people/souls. I believe that the mainstream model of success is so exclusively focused on material prosperity and material consumption that it is devoid of psychological nourishment–devoid of community, of a sincerely ethical life, and of spirituality. I believe most of all that it forces people to hide or disfigure the majority of what they are, and to only express what they ARE allowed to express in a way that is dishonest in some way. I believe that, like a poison, ironic self-deprecation and a feeling that one is in some way a fraud has seeped into our souls.
And so the only cure I know is the one that worked for me: to check my privilege, to seek to become a genuinely good and humble person, and to find something to devote my life to that I really CAN give my whole self to. I no longer feel like a fraud, no longer feel secretly superior and therefore secretly inferior. To paraphrase David Graeber, in the game of Babylon/imperialist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy, even the prize the winners receive is bad. I will happily spend the rest of my life trying to return this prize so I can get my soul back. I can’t tell you how infinitely grateful I am for the opportunity to do so.
Similar to this, I’ll include here something I wrote the other day:
When people seek to be cool–seek to be esteemed and find themselves estimable–the only thing that really makes sense to do is to become a genuinely good person. Anything else is hollow. DFW says this in “This Is Water”–how whatever in you you worship will leave you empty, feeling like a fraud. The only way to feel others have an airtight, totally understandable, respectable reason to like you is if you yourself have such a reason–and the only qualities that one can possess that satisfy that requirement are ones that one can admire regardless of where one finds them, whether in another or in oneself. And the only ones like that that I can think of are virtues like compassion, kindness, patience, humility, and so on.