Ethics and Morals

Guilt-Trapping

Abundance is a mixed blessing. In yesterday’s post about food, I talked about guilty eating, and how it is making us unhealthy in mind as well as body. But the cultural guilt goes much further than our dinner plates. We are tripped up by guilt at nearly every turn, from where we shop, to what we eat, to how we live. The stress builds up and takes a toll on our bodies, our families, and ultimately, our communities.

We live in a time of vast abundance. Food is so plentiful and cheap that the poor in America suffer from an epidemic of obesity. Information comes at us not in a trickle of rare, expensive books and exclusive educations, but a flood from the internet. Internet access is available to anyone, at the public library if not at home. Americans live on the fat of the land, and the result of this is a lot of free time. That freedom can be used for good things, but it can also be used to set up guilt-traps. When we aren’t working on providing for our families, humans tend to bicker and squabble, and the modern version of this is virtue signalling.

Have you ever heard the stories of the church scholars debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin? Is discussion of whether a prius or a Tesla is more energy-efficient any different? It’s irrelevant, just like the dancing angels. if nuclear energy were considered virtuous in modern society, we wouldn’t be talking about solar panels on the garage roof. But nukes are bad, for no actual reasons, and emotions are free to surge between solar and wind power, when the facts show that both are futile in the true production of energy.

Local suppliers have jumped on the bandwagon, as I pointed out in yesterday’s comments on locavores. David Burkhead, a fellow author, made a comment I asked if I could share here: “When I spend more at a “Mom and Pop” store than at a big box store, then I have less money for my daughter’s braces, I’m less able to pay for her art lessons (she doesn’t do dance), and when the time comes I’ll have less money to put her through college. Why is that Mom & Pop store’s kid more important than mine? And what about that third vacation home? Somebody was paid to build it. Don’t people have to maintain it? Does it have a lawn care company? Don’t those people deserve jobs? What about the children they’re providing for? When you try to guilt me into paying more at a Mom and Pop store without providing me with commensurate value–which value does not need to be financial–you are asking me to deprive my child for someone else’s sake. It’s begging for charity. And if you’re going to do that, at least be honest about it.”

He’s hit the nail on the head. I like the idea of supporting small local businesses – I have run one for years – but I don’t want to be guilted into spending money my family needs in order to do so. Down that road lies debt, despair, and financial ruin. Keeping up with the Joneses seems to have become a national sport, and we are the poorer for it. Instead of seeking contentment with our own home and family while living on what we bring in, too many want to have the biggest. The biggest toys, houses, cars… whatever it is. Or, if they are inclined to virtuosity, they want to be the most ecologically aware, the most local, the most ‘authentic’ until they are morally and literally bankrupt. As I pointed out yesterday, products with the right label – be it ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ or ‘handcrafted’ is exponentially more expensive than it would be without those marketing labels slapped on it. Why do we do this to ourselves?

We are a naturally competitive race, we Homo sapiens. Right now, in the culture I live in, that competition is who can virtue-signal the loudest. A couple of hundred years ago it might have been piety of the church, but we live in a much different religious age, where the worship isn’t of a higher being, but of preservation of nature and the planet. I’ve always been a conservationist – never an environmentalist, because even as a child I could see that radical extremists were unhealthy and self-righteous. Something that repulsed me as a girl, and still does to this day.

We can afford to be guilty, in this age of abundance. We couldn’t, in times where resources were scarce. I’m not romanticizing the past – I love the abundances of food, work, and information of this time and place I live in. But I do not like the guilt traps laid by idle hands in competitions to see who is the most righteous.