Sunday, January 27, 2013

Contextualising the whinge

I'm not running at the moment due to some sort of weird chronic-fatigue-like virus. I know that there are millions of people in the world who have real problems to deal with - famine, starvation, war, etc - which are much worse than mine, but just for me, not being able to run is horrible, it's the worst thing ever.

Aren't I just a brilliant compassionate liberal. I realise just how big the problems that others in the world face are in comparison to those that I do. I understand and am grateful for my position as a citizen of a first-world country with access to all the material goods, health-care services, education, food, etc that I could ever need.

But there's a spanner ready to be thrown into the works here. I'm not stating how minor my problems are for the purposes of highlighting the burdens carried by others - it's completely the other way around. I am describing a different social reality - that of people in the third world - to justify contextualising my own problems. Once this has been done, I can complain all that I like, because I'm smart and cynical, because I supposedly understand that my problems are relatively minor. In this way, I'm using their problems to legitimise the fact that I am complaining - how less ethical would my outburst be if I hadn't mentioned the real issues of famine, starvation, etc...? In that case, I'd just be a whingey brat.

This is a similar kind of argument to the one that I made about the less-compassionate underside of "Born to Run" - here we perceive a certain colonial exploitation. Without the problems of the people in the third world, I could not complain about my own - I need their problems in order to feel ethically sound. I am creating/maintaining/using their negative circumstances for my benefit - I am exploiting them.

Us do-gooder liberals are so used to contextualising in defense of others. An example: we once had a discussion in Spanish class about bull-fighting - should it be banned or not? Many people said "yes, of course, it's a practice that is brutal to animals", but my friend said "no, porque es su cultura" ("no, because it's their culture"). What he meant was that, within the Spanish cultural context and as a result of the nation's historical development up to this point, many people in Spain do not see it as a brutal, unnecessary practice, and that this activity is part of their cultural identity, part of who they are - therefore, we should respect it; we should leave it alone. The flaw in this argument is obvious - the cultural value of the practice doesn't stop the bull from being put through immense amounts of pain.

Before now, I haven't noticed that we often make those arguments in relation to ourselves - On a fundamental level, the line is: "within the historical development of my nation and my current social context, my life is the worst fucking shit ever".

My mum once said that "there's nothing worse than having the newspaper left out on the wet lawn".
There was no end of laughter for my brother and I - "ummmm mum...holocaust? Genocide?" It's as if the complaint would be rendered tolerable by mum saying "I know there are much worse things happening in the world, but I hate having my papers left out on the lawn, it's horrible!"

Like the suffering of the bull, the thing that must be kept in mind here is that it's ultimately still a useless whinge - no amount of contextualising will change this.

No comments:

Post a Comment