Your Idealistic Faux Rage Is Unbecoming
There is a “we’re all in this together” rah rah spirit in this time of pandemic that can at times be an encouraging reminder and at other times a grating cliché.
As some of our commenters have said in recent days, we may all be in this pandemic together, but we are not all being impacted by it equally. Some of us who are more privileged and protected economically and medically bear a greater share of responsibility to do what we can to help those who are more vulnerable and who lack access to the resources we have. To whom much is given much is required.
So, by all means, let’s keep cheering ourselves up and reminding ourselves that “we’re all in this together” — and then let those of us who can go the extra mile as often as we can to intentionally include our neighbors in need in that, serving in ways that truly help them and protect their dignity.
But there’s another “we’re all in this together” theme being played by some idealists for whom everything these days is all about inequality. They, it seems, will not be satisfied that we who are more privileged can truly be “in this together” with others less fortunate until we throw ourselves on the ground, repent in dust and ashes, and vow to spend the rest of our days lamenting and performing acts of painful self-mortification.
Molly Roberts is, apparently, one of these folks. In a fit of idealistic faux rage, she finds the silliest of targets to pick on in her recent article at the Washington Post, “We’re telling ourselves fairy tales while stuck inside.”
The novel coronavirus has spawned a surprising aesthetic showing off humans’ capacity to make a heaven of hell.
You’d think self-quarantine would look morose and miserable, all rainy days filled with darkness and made-for-TV movies, a plodding life punctuated by sad sandwiches stuffed with packaged meat or sodium-soaked beans straight out of a can. Either we’re jobless or the work day blurs together lazily with the personal one. We’re always on, but we’re never burning especially bright.
But log on to Instagram, or Twitter, certainly Tumblr — the only way we see other people now, really, is the Internet. Yes, there are the stray still-in-bed selfies and confessions of ambient anxiety. But behold the sun-drenched countertops crowned with loaves of freshly baked bread with blistered crusts. The home-cooked meals, some of them even themed. There’s knitting and quilting and needlepoint, too, and there’s spring greenery along with flowers that run the ROYGBIV gambit.
These cheerily cozy glimpses are essentially a toned-down version of something called cottagecore….
…Most of us still aren’t in cottages, of course, but in a studio apartment or a two-level house out in suburbia. But we manufacture our own cottagecore, each in bespoke variations, depending on how much time, energy, flour and flowers we have to spare. And why not? We’re simulating a return to a simpler version of the world and a purer version of ourselves. Deprivation becomes an affectation; our loss becomes our gain.
We’re telling ourselves this fairytale: Once upon a time, everything was beautiful, and not only can once upon a time turn into today, but also the transformation is up to us. We can’t control the virus, we can’t control the government, we can’t even control whether our faraway family members and friends stay safe and inside. But we can control our own individual existences by making them that much less complicated than an outside world we’re not even allowed to live in anymore. Or at least we can trick ourselves into believing we’re in control.
Roberts goes on to complain that “‘giving up’ some comforts is only fun to those who are comfortable to start with,” and “You’re probably not spending the evening hours putting the final touches on embroidered pillow-covering when you’re worried about feeding your family, and you can’t curl up by the fire with a dusty old book when you don’t have a house, let alone a fireplace. You definitely can’t do it if you’re on a ventilator.”
She assumes that everyone staying at home who has tried to keep their sanity by engaging in projects and crafts and making their home environment more bearable and beautiful is guilty of shutting out the hard realities of those suffering in these hard times. She accuses those who share their “fairytale” pleasures with others on social media of being engaged in narcissistic escapism, of promoting pretend perfection that shields us from the fact that many people aren’t able to enjoy anything right now.
She would rather everyone feel “queasy” about their privileged status — around the clock, I guess. Furthermore, she assumes that, because people have been asked to stay home, that the enjoyable things they share on social media represent the whole of their lives, and that they have abandoned those who are suffering, taking no responsibility to help their neighbors.
Some people always have been more fortunate than others. Yet now the tension is harder than ever to ignore and harder than ever really to resolve. The usual answer to being a beneficiary of inequality and injustice is to get out and do something, but staying in and doing nothing is the new gospel. Or maybe that’s only an excuse for all of us looking to soothe ourselves in an unsettled era — to retreat to the cottage, and to shut the door.
I wish I could bring her to Indiana. This article, for example, tells of creative ways teachers are reaching out to encourage and lift the spirits of their students, how people are devoting themselves to making masks, how stores and restaurants are banding together to provide food for those in need, how the Girl Scouts donated cookies to blood donors, how neighborhood residents are greeting each other from their balconies with songs and waves to keep up the morale of those shut-in. In short, how people with more are trying to help people with less. How they’re trying to include everyone in “we’re all in this together.”
My former church, where Pastor Dan ministers now, has partnered with local restaurants to provide meals for hospital workers, especially those in Covid units who can’t access food services when working. A friend of mine who owns a brewery (severely affected by this crisis, by the way) devoted his time and resources to making hand sanitizer for first responders. A high school student in our area started up a free food delivery service to help those most vulnerable to the virus.
You can find dozens and dozens of articles from all over America chronicling services that the privileged are performing to help the vulnerable and hurting during this pandemic. As always, humanity is a mixed bag and there is plenty of bad behavior one could cite in this lockdown. But in general, I have been heartened to see people becoming more concerned, more caring, and more creative in finding ways to include and help the hurting and less fortunate in this “together” we’re all in.
And yet, an idealist scold like Ms. Roberts lumps all the “privileged” together and berates them for trying to also make their lives a bit more bearable and entertaining while they shelter in place? Perhaps she is too busy feeling bad about her own privilege and finding fault with the rest of us to see the humanity and love of neighbor that is actually happening through acts of generosity and kindness all around her.
And if some of those people want to use the time they are being forced to spend at home planting flowers, baking bread, setting nice meals before their families, making quilts, and sharing pictures and videos with the friends they can’t invite over to see for themselves, well, I’m more than okay with that.