It wasn’t me

Last week, Fred Clark over at Slacktivist posted about some recent research regarding why it is so difficult to frame climate change as a moral issue. It’s worth a read, and it reflects my experience talking about systemic justice issues with different groups of people, most of whom have little or no sense of these kinds of concerns.

Of particular note is the point that “…people tend to reject…messages of blame…” This is precisely what I’ve experienced. I’ve talked to churches about serving in a local homeless shelter – the response is always a group of volunteers ready to help. I’ve talked about the justice issues inherent in our food systems – the response is resistance, accusations of political motivations, etc. The difference is, there is no implication of guilt for serving at the homeless shelter. “It’s not MY fault they’re homeless, and I’m glad to help serve!” vs. “The food I get at the grocery store is linked with human trafficking, deplorable work conditions, even slavery? I call BS.” The response to any suggestion of guilt or complicity prompts resistance.*

I get it, nobody likes a guilt trip. Add in the extreme complexity of systemic justice issues, and it’s easy to write them off simply because they’re overwhelming to think about, let alone to do something. We like to think that we’re morally consistent creatures, and when confronted with the reality that we aren’t, our psyche resists. It’s easier to act like it’s not our fault or problem.

You would think that Christian communities, who hold the belief that we’re all tainted by sin, and who follow a guy whose primary message was “Repent”, might be a little more open to acknowledging our guilt.

Further, it’s hard to convict ourselves of our complicity when the logic of blame isn’t quite as direct as we’re used to. I didn’t exactly CHOOSE to participate in these systems; it always feels like they’re my only option. Something I can’t change. Which isn’t exactly true, but the changes necessary are difficult. We’re so conditioned to our privilege, the mere suggestion that it comes with costs to others (while our individualism and self-righteousness insist we would NEVER do something that hurts others!) – we reject the possibility of guilt and complicity.

Since we actually BENEFIT from these systemic injustices, you have another roadblock to change. It’s CONVENIENT to not know where our food comes from, or ignore our own environmental footprint, and we love convenience. It’s that convenience which allows us to do the REALLY important stuff. Like serve at the homeless shelter, where the people who lost their homes due to flooding went.**

*Of course, we likely ARE connected to WHY people are homeless. JP Morgan Chase could have unjustly foreclosed on that family I served at the shelter, and then I use my Chase card to buy groceries on the way home. But my little dialogue above is reflective of the thought processes going on.

**I recently bought a house, and while filling out the paperwork, it came up that we didn’t need flood insurance, because we’re not in a flood zone. I’m guessing the people in New York and Vermont whose homes were devastated by Irene last year didn’t think they were in flood zones, either.

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~ by Joe Paparone on July 8, 2012.

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