A reader asked:
Your last post mentioned “coming to terms with how awful the world is.” When recognize that injustice is everywhere, and that you personally benefit from it, is it ok to find joy in the world even though it’s awful? Things like (in the US) visiting a national park and having a fun hike, when the land was taken a long time ago from Native Americans; or watching a good movie that’s problematic; or enjoying sledding after a snowstorm that was responsible for a few deaths?For me it is impossible to keep injustice in mind all the time. So whenever I have fun, or feel happy, I feel guilty later because that fun indirectly came out of injustice, and instead of fighting that injustice I was enjoying it. How can you keep in mind that the world is a horrible place without neglecting your right (is it a right even?) to joy?
The world contains much, much more than pain and injustice. It’s important to acknowledge and fight evil. It’s also important not to become so consumed by the fight that you can only see the horrible things.
The point is to build and to love. (And, sometimes, to fight battles that need fighting.)
Sometimes, people try to seek out some sort of purity by cutting out everything tainted by injustice. That doesn’t work, because everything is tainted in some way. If you go down that road seeking purity, you get stuck cutting out more and more things and not being able to find anything pure enough to like without shame. That doesn’t help. Everything is connected to something destructive. Sometimes particular kinds of destructiveness are dealbreaking, but it can’t be everything that has any connection to something bad. You can’t become pure that way, but you can do a lot of harm to yourself and others trying.
Liking things is good. Misery isn’t a moral accomplishment. If you want to make the world a better place, treat people right and build something good. The point is not to be miserable at the horrors of the world. The point is to build.
This is not about attaining moral purity through abstinence and misery. It’s about doing the work of making things better and building worthwhile things, and loving others more than our culture hates them. Your purity will not help anyone. Your work can.
To use some of the examples you gave:
Regarding the snow: it didn’t snow so that you could sled. Enjoying the sledding will not hurt anyone. Just don’t brag about sledding to people who are really upset about the snow. People who have been harmed by the snow might not want to hear how much you’re enjoying the snow, but that doesn’t mean that enjoying it is wicked, it just means it’s important to be considerate.
Watching a good movie that’s problematic: All movies have horrible aspects to one degree or another. It’s ok to ignore them and like something; *that’s the only way anyone ever gets to like anything in the media*.
But it’s also important to be willing to acknowledge that the problems are there and not be obnoxious about other people not wanting to hear about the thing you like. Everyone’s patterns of what’s deal-breaking are different. If the ableism in a movie is dealbreaking for someone, respect that, and don’t talk to them about how great you think it is. If someone got badly injured in the snow, don’t talk to them about how wonderful the snow is. Being considerate of other people’s boundaries, and their right to decide what is and is not personally dealbreaking, goes a long way.
You are allowed to be happy. It’s good to be happy. There’s a lot that’s wrong with the world, really really wrong, even. But…
The point is not to be constantly miserable about it. The point is not to wallow in shame. The point is to build.
Some building is activism and advocacy and fighting injustice. Some of it is just… building. All of it involves identifying situations in which you have the power to act, and finding things you can do that make good things more possible.
You can like things; you can love; it is good to like things and enjoy life. Refusing to ever like anything impure will not make the world better; your work can.