Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Withdrawing From the Moral Bank --- OR --- "I Want the Vaccuum"

The odd thing about this article, and a few others I looked at when I found it, was the repeated idea that transactional rectitude is unconscious.  How many times a day do you witness someone saying, or do the office break room chat-and agree, that “if it’s for someone’s birthday, the cake has no calories” or fill-in-your-equivalency … ?  Or the “I worked out, I can have more – or I’m GOING to work out (I swear!), I can have more”, or what have you.  Not only is this conscious, the joke of it is culturally enshrined by now – that we acknowledge some foible with a laugh, but we foible away nonetheless, even seeking approval for some exchange or other.

It’s most often caloric, in American culture at least, but I’ve certainly seen people explicitly note their moral or social cred before whipping out some racist or privilege-blind remark or other.  The old “but I have (such and such minority) friends” clause seems to go far, for a lot of us, in excusing saying things it would otherwise be unthinkable to voice publicly.  I’ve heard someone describe Blacks as “monkeys”, who then went on to use that old saw.  (Fortunately, not someone I’ve been associated with for decades now.)

As to the gas-guzzling vehicle owner boggling minds by purchasing locally or ecologically, I’m highly amused by the use of Whole Foods as some sort of example of the ultimate in moral retail.  Whole Foods is a wildly cache’ brand, affordable frankly to few, and appealing more for its elitist snootery than for its marvelous righteousness.  I am acquainted with exactly nobody who could ever afford to shop there exclusively for food, and those I know who shop there at all do so precisely to splurge in one way or another.  Splurge.  Not the baseline I would have used, in terms of examining the motivations and/or behavior of the population at large, who would go broke in a week trying to feed a family at their prices.

I drive a Prius, but it is not a motorized reservoir, for me, of opportunities to waste in other areas.  Per the comments at the first link above, I drive it because it reduces my gas consumption – which, while nicely affecting my carbon footprint, is also cheaper in what I hope will be a long run.  I also put out recycling every time they come to pick it up – but produce, as a single-person household, barely enough garbage to fill the extremely huge rollaway bin provided by the county in the space of a *month*.  This isn’t, for me, a matter of morality except insofar as I consider profligacy in any form – drinking, eating, spending, or using the resources of my environment – generally to be avoided.  I like my driver’s license, current wardrobe, credit rating/savings, and planet more than I do the rewards of most behaviors which could, in excess, endanger these things.  It would be a pretty tough row to hoe, at that, destroying any one of these things – for myself OR for anybody else, depending on the scale of my effects in this world.  I like the garden growing as it is, as it were.

Like a lot of women, I certainly enjoy some level of Martyr’s Complex – “ahh, I work so hard, and it’s just never done” – but I keep two things on hand at all times to prevent too much self indulgence.  One is gratitude:  that my life is cram-STUFFED with blessings (and, that thing noted above, with privilege I never did anything to earn nor deserve).  Two, self awareness.  If I let myself believe for one second I ever deserved any of the good I’ve got, I won’t deserve one iota of it.  Ever.

It’s like this, in shorthand:  I live my life striving to be good enough for those who love me.

I used to say “my dog” – but now I have dog and cat, and let it be said, I also understand the enormity of the love of those who’ve proven willing to tolerate me in their lives.  I have a LOT to live up to, if the love in one’s life is any measure, and to deserve it all will take beyond all my life to even hope to attain.

If I dented whatever wee and paltry contributions my life provides in this world, because I believed my contributions were a sort of personal savings account – an annuity of “goodness” I could DRAW from as if there were some right to that – then there is no contribution at all.  And if I make no contribution to the world, attaching the strings of self-indulgence to even the smallest of “good” acts (with, of course, myself as the judge of what may be good), I’m lost to ever being good “enough” for the abundance I have been given.

You never get to be good enough for your dog, being an emotional/moral/righteous accountant.  You can never pay back anyone – if you consider life anything that can be balanced like a checkbook.

Yeah, I’ll eat far too many Chee-tos in one sitting, and I accidentally leave the AC on too cold for too long, when I set it to “hold” while I was sweating and working, and forgot to put it back on schedule.  When it comes to my writing - my unpaid job - I am excuse-maker extraordinaire:  "fallow time" or "my computer is on Safe Mode" or "I've been wiped out from work for three weeks - and I haven't had a vacation in three YEARS now" make it all to easy to do other things than quering or researching.  That desk I was on about this week is in some ways, "I'll start the diet Monday" of my unpaid/unpublished authorial career.  I just failed, for three weeks, to do my little calesthenics at my desk, and don’t think the size of my arms doesn’t reflect the lassitude.

But:  don't think I don't know when I'm bargaining with myself (a.k.a. "the Devil") - and cheating myself, all in the same acts.

But #2):  I also don't exchange eating crap for drinking a diet soda, and I don’t tell myself there’s no sin nor effect, when I push life’s balances out of whack.  I even participate in the “well someone worked so hard to make these brownies, surely I have to have another one” games we all sometimes play.  Frankly, playing games SOMETIMES is a part of the pleasure of life.

Just ask my dog.

Then watch, and see if she cheats on her taxes because she was nice to ME today …


Jeff said...

Christianity has a word for unearned, undeserved privileges: grace. :) The foibles and self-deception you describe are a big part of the reason why I love Chaucer; when you get to know his pilgrims, they're not so different from most of our office-mates...

DLM said...

Oh, Jeff - that is a joyous point, thank you for making it. I think I know several of the pilgrims, certainly ... but won't say which one(s) I might be!

It's funny you put this out there just now - and I'm grateful all over again.