Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bubbles and Vacuums

I have a lot of thoughts I want to organize and write. I'm going to give it a try now--but I might have to rewrite this and try again sometime.
The title comes from something I heard yesterday; I was talking with someone who used to live in Portland, OR (you know, my current dream city)*, and she described it as a "bubble." I think she either said, "sort of like Rutgers," or I just made that connection in my head. I'm not sure. What she said was that it's a great place and there's all this activism and you think you're doing so much, but really it's just activism in a bubble. This was how Rutgers sometimes felt to me, especially since I've left it for another world. I now realize that it was much more progressive and diverse than the rest of NJ.
Living in a place that is a "bubble" might get old for several reasons. One might be feeling that your activism has little point--it might start to feel equivalent to being a loud, complainy high schooler who gets together with his or her friend group and just rants all the time about what's wrong with the world and everyone agrees and no one does much. Or--well, I can't really put this into words, but what I'm leaning towards is that maybe a place that is like heaven would get old, would feel like living in a fairy tale or something, and even if the "real world" has problems, I could just see feeling antsy and wanting to be there. Maybe it's because I'm the kind of person who is obsessed with change...

In the car this morning, I was listening to the news and it was all negative. This is not always the case, but my commute consisted of coverage of the current status of Zimbabwe (famine, cholera epidemic) and of female students and teachers in Afghanistan being attacked by those who believe women should not go to school. When I hear things like this, I think "My God, what am I doing!?" I know I can't change the whole world. I know I can't singlehandedly stop poverty and famine in Zimbabwe (and if I could, I couldn't stop it from happening somewhere else) and I can't stop violence and hatred. But am I doing anything? Am I doing enough?

In this way, I think, activism in a bubble might annoy me--if I realized I was making a place that was already good even better but not helping a place that really needed it.

On the other hand--I think it's important to work in a place that's already good, to make it better. For example, gender inequality, racial inequality, and other inequality in America seems like nothing compared to schoolgirls and female teachers being burned with acid in Kandahar**. Does that mean we should stop fighting for women's rights in America? No! Is it bourgeois to spend so much time thinking about Proposition 8? No! Not in my opinion--I think that somehow, making a place like this even better, somehow improves the chances of equal rights for people in other parts of the world. We can argue about this later.

But what I also thought of this morning was that some places are unreceptive to change, unreceptive to activism. Doing anything in such places is like activism in a vacuum, and maybe this is just as useless as activism in a bubble. It certainly is annoying!

But nothing is really a bubble or a vacuum. If you help one person, but don't think that's good enough, are you really being fair? Do they not matter--are they not good enough--because they are just one of several billion?

I don't know the answers; that's why I'm writing. I might edit this later, but I'm just going to post it as is for now.

Somewhat of a conclusion--if where I am is more of a vacuum than a bubble, I still think it's good to spend some time here, to learn how to live in the "real world." By that I mean, get used to a world where it's okay to assume that most people fit a norm of being male, white, straight, and married, and they are are neither vegetarians nor Jews who keep kosher or part of any other group in the world that doesn't want a ham sandwich.

* Since my trip, whenever I meet someone from one of my "dream cities," I have this bad habit of bombarding them with enthusiasm and questions.
** I totally just used to Google to make sure Kandahar was in Afghanistan.

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