Back in my FMF days, I read Salon religiously. I was even a member, and Salon was on my PDA constantly. Somewhere in the last two years though, the sparks died. Maybe being outside of the US, I wanted to make room for more regional and local news (like the mediocre but safely unengaging Shanghai Daily). Maybe I grew obsessed with Democracy Now audio clips… I dunno exactly. Either way, I weaned myself off Salon. At the time, the ezine’s end seemed near, according to its editor. Convinced, I stopped keeping up.
Oddly, I came across Salon again a few months ago. I was reading something online (where else?) about animal rights activists. Then, I found “Thugs for Puppies.” It was a lengthy article, not their finest piece (I got a bit lost following the story), but reading the article got me thinking again. You know, it’s a shame that with so much diversity in the world, it’s still so difficult to find people with whom you truly connect. Descriptors like “dog lover” or “animal lover” or “activist” are no longer a viable Litmus test. There are crazies out there, man. EVERYwhere!
I’m especially curious about these SHAC people… I mean, how do they function in daily life? Do they not take medications? Do they not use saline solution or contact lenses or cosmetics? Surely, animals have always suffered with the development of these common products. What feasible alternatives or solutions do they suggest? And how does terrorizing people and their families and cracking skulls with ax handles convey their core message? I dunno about some of these activists.
Another example: Last time I was in San Francisco, I got so pissed off because Critical Mass was out one night. I was downtown driving, and suddenly the car was surrounded by all these cyclists. I had no idea what was going on (partly because I had been out of the country for 18 months). Next thing I knew, some dude cycled head on to my car. Obviously, I stopped. Then, he had me sit there for like ten minutes. First of all, what was his group’s message? No idea. Seriously, if you’re going to be an activist, deliver your message, disseminate information. Don’t just stop me and then ignore me. I’m a captured audience, so let me hear your pitch, you know? Sure, FMF also had its share of flaws, but any time we did an event, we had signs, flyers, and stickers, all with our URL. The movement isn’t just about us vs. them. It’s about building your case, reaching new people, growing the base.
Sorry, it’s late and I’m rambling. Back to Salon… Last night, I rediscovered Cary Tennis’s column, “Since You Asked.” It’s an advice column, but so much better than Ms. Manners or Dear Abbey or Savage Love (in Asia). So very thorough in analyzing the situation. I’m impressed. Of course, I guess it helps that the people seeking advice write intelligently and articulately too…
So the latest entry is about this grad student who’s stressed out because he cannot afford to attend his good friends’ destination wedding. So objectively, the case seems simple enough: you’re broke; decline the wedding invitation. But Cary offers so much more:
…I know the power of money to shame us into distorting the truth and abandoning our values. We might become artists or musicians or study arcane and little-understood phenomena, we might live more simply, we might dedicate ourselves to what we love, we might take time off from work to improve our lives and our relationships, we might spend more time with our children, if it weren’t for the fear of not having enough money, or appearing to not have enough money.
And we might indeed have enough actual money to do what we need to do if we were realistic and honest about what we need, and did not spend money to avoid being shamed or excluded or misunderstood or thought poorly of.
Rather than say, “I’m sorry, your destination wedding in Hawaii does not fit my budgetary plans for fiscal year 2006,” we say, “I’m so happy for you, I’ll be there!” We pretend to have money that we do not have. And then we create for ourselves a set of unreasonable expectations. We attend a wedding we cannot afford to attend and give gifts we cannot afford to buy. And then we pay later. We pay with our time. We pay with our dreams.
Not only that, but we regress politically and spiritually. As progressive people, we want to ask of every significant action we take, What will be the effect of this, not only practically but symbolically? What is the meaning of this destination wedding in Hawaii? Is it in keeping with my goals and values? Or is it an upper-middle-class fantasy that reveals a lack of commitment to progressive values? If I attend this wedding in Hawaii, does that mean that I endorse the idea of expensive destination weddings and the class-based fantasies they embody? What is my relationship with these people? Is it reciprocal? Would they respect my values in the same way? If I decided to, say, have a destination graduation party in the mountains of Peru, would they trek up the mountain and live in huts and eat simple food with me for four days to honor my commitment to simplicity and solidarity with the poor?
I don’t know. Maybe that’s stretching it a little. Maybe that’s being pretty hard on your friends. But your values count. Think about it in terms of who you are and what it means; find the courage to act according to your conscience and your pocketbook.
Money is neither your problem nor the solution to your problem. It’s more like air: It’s all around us and we just need to get enough of it to stay healthy.
He’s good, eh?