Archive for perceptions

The Simple Dollar tackles privilege and advantage

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 07/24/2015 by Fox

Well, well, well. Looks like I haven’t been the only one told that my story is due to “privilege.”

“The other day, I received a note from a reader who informed me that the only reason that my story of financial recovery was even possible was due to my own ‘privileges.’

“In the end, life deals you a hand of cards. Sometimes that hand of cards is good and sometimes it isn’t, but the game isn’t over after the deal. You choose how to play your hand and make the most of it.”

This idea that Trent or I only did what we did because of our (unspecified) privileges is toxic. Yes, disadvantage is real. Privilege is real. But telling people that their success was possible only through privilege is just as oppressive as telling people that success is only for the privileged. I’m white, I pulled my ass out of debt. If I did so only because of my privilege, does that mean that someone who is Latino or physically handicapped or transgendered can’t pull themselves out? That their “disadvantage” makes it so that they can never hope to achieve what I have?

Last time I checked, that was called “racism.” See also: “offensive.”


You don’t win even when you win OR I got called a “classist” for insisting that actually, most people could get rid of their debt

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 07/21/2015 by Fox

You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.
~Jim Rohn

Bulkiest post title in the history of the blog, guys.

So in a comment thread on another website, I mentioned that actually, I’d paid my loans off making about minimum wage and that most people could do it…if they really wanted to.

I got called “classist” and “class collaborator.” I got told that “not everyone has bootstraps.” I got told that it’s not possible “if you’ve ever had even one period of longer than a couple weeks on unemployment [and/or] had to pay all your own expenses.”

Nevermind that during the time I was in debt I spent two months unemployed and I received no substantial aid from any quarter.

Of course a lot of this is the Social Justice Warrior mindset. Gotta stick up for the little guys, even against other little guys. Oh, wait, I’m white, dammit, that means my opinion is invalid. Shit. But I digress. While it’s impossible to tell, given the following of this particular website, no doubt these are most likely youngish, affluent, white females. They probably have no idea what it’s like to not be able to afford a new bath towel set in the fabric and colorway they prefer, nevermind not being able to afford a bath towel, period.

But I’m the classist prick because I insist that yes, most people can pay off their debt and they don’t because they don’t want to. God forbid they give up their lattes and apparently buying a new shower curtain liner every month is mandatory for the rest of humanity. I did not realize this. I change mine when it’s gross. At no point during my comment did I say that everyone can do this. I know for a god damn fact that there are people who cannot, for various very good reasons. My comment was that most people can, and that a lot of the bitchers don’t want to give up the bitching. It’s fashionable to be in debt, and god damn there’s a post I’ve been meaning to write since the blog’s inception.

These people think they’re being socially conscious. They think they are sticking up for the little guy. They honestly feel that getting out of debt or making do is impossible. And they think this because they’ve never lived it. They’ve never been without that latte or that new shower curtain liner or the new bath towel set. They’ve never gone without and minimalism is this big crazy thing that’s completely new and fresh and it’s all about sticking it to The Man and saving the environment and looking good and organic bamboo free-range yoga pants and they forget that some of us have been practicing minimalism for completely different reasons and sometimes for a very long time. Only it’s not cool when we do it, because we look like hobo Goodwill shoplifters and not cool fashionable people who practice White Buddhism.

And if we make it, well, we’re just a fluke. It’s where you live. It’s your employment history. It’s where you went to college. It’s your parents or your significant other. If you didn’t have all that, where would you be then, so there.

No, the Social Justice Warrior has to swing down from the fucking heavens with manna and name-brand shoes. You can’t have your great American story about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The new great American story is the affluent taking pity on the lesser beings.

When do we encourage and inspire people to pull themselves up? Where do you draw the line between valid excuse and failure to take personal responsibility? When do affluent white people stop getting into other peoples’ business?

Mountain gorillas, poverty, and incongruity

Posted in green living with tags , on 09/21/2014 by Fox

Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.

I was invited last week to a free screening of a documentary about Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Such films are a solid reminder that while I’m not wealthy by American standards, I am wealthy by world standards. I have a 1,200 square foot house all to myself. I have my own car. I have air conditioning. It’s hard for me to watch something like that and not feel privileged, grateful, wealthy, and wasteful.

It’s almost a form of pornography for white, affluent, first-worlders. You feel better about yourself, but guilty, too. And you feel better about yourself for feeling guilty.

At one point in the film, someone mentioned that each of the groups wrestling for control of the area had their own agenda. My immediate thought was “And what is your agenda?” It’s impossible to claim that everyone but you has an agenda. That everyone but you is lying.

And then I went to the after party and listened to someone connected to the park talk about the work they’re trying to do while a bunch of college students ignored him and drank the free beer. It was hard to watch. There are people in Africa making illegal charcoal on park land, and these guys were chatting and drinking without a care in the world.

I wondered how much was spent that night, on free alcohol and travel and electricity, and why it didn’t go directly to the park instead. My friend wondered what she could do to help, claiming to be poor. I tried not to get snappish. She’s better off than I, and we’re both far beyond some Americans and almost everyone in the film.

What is the point of such an event, though? They didn’t appear to be soliciting donations, and if they were, why offer free booze? My only guess is that they were “raising awareness.” Hoping, maybe, that by spreading the word someone with enough money to make the free booze and travel expenses and the rest worthwhile. An elaborate setup aimed at the few with the money. The rest of us are left to the beer and the guilt.

What is there for my friend to do in such a situation? Nothing, I fear. The Congo is far from Texas. Aside from offering what money you can, there is nothing to be done, unless you wish to give Virunga part or all of your life. Some have, most won’t.

It was a difficult night. My friend’s distress, my doubts, the atmosphere contrasted with the content. I didn’t feel moved, I felt nauseated. The only awareness raised was the awareness that I need to stop doing these things to myself. I need to stick with first-world problems. I’m not affluent enough to deal with the third-world ones.

Humanity’s place in nature or, Why can’t I shit in the woods?

Posted in green living with tags , on 08/13/2011 by Fox

Lister: Why does it have to be such a big deal? Why can’t it be like, like, human beings are a planetary disease? Like the Earth’s got German measles or facial herpes, right? And that’s why all of the other planets give us such a wide berth. It’s like, “Oh, don’t go near Earth! It’s got human beings on it, they’re contagious!”
Rimmer: So you’re saying, Lister, you’re an intergalactic, pus-filled cold sore. At last, Lister, we agree on something.
~Red Dwarf, “Waiting for God”

What is humanity’s place in nature? It’s hard for me to sum up what I’m getting at here, so I’ll just dive right in with an example.

Crapping in the woods. Crap is biodegradable. It’s hard to get more “natural” than crap. But we’re advised to pack our crap out with us when hiking in the woods because we want to “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” Which is to say, our crap is unnatural and doesn’t belong. I don’t doubt the power of a thousand people’s crap on some popular trail in Yellowstone to become a problem. But has environmentalism so removed us from nature that we can’t take a shit in the woods without packing it out (in some nice little petroleum-based plastic baggie, probably)?

Because in some ways, I feel less like a citizen of Spaceship Earth and more like gum on the bottom of a shoe somewhere. Oh, yuck, it’s a human. Well, thanks, way to make me feel like I belong here. Which should be the point of environmentalism, right? For me to recognize that I’m a fellow member of a biotic community. But I have to take my poop with me when I leave, thanks, goodbye, humans are second-class citizens. It’s like we’re subjecting ourselves to the opposite of anthropocentrism. We’ve shifted too far in favor of every-other-species-centrism and are now discriminating against ourselves, but of course, only morally. To functionally discriminate against ourselves would require some form of asceticism and that’s not going to go over well with the public at large, but somehow it’s okay to publicly berate ourselves for just existing in time and space and taking a dump while we’re at it.

Of course, it’s not so easy as to just suddenly declare ourselves full citizens and start shitting everywhere. It’s one of those things where if a couple people crap in the woods, it’s fine and eco-friendly. If everyone craps in the woods, we’re going to have problems.

So no, I really don’t have a good response on how to not feel like a second-class citizen, at least not in a universally applicable way. So this post isn’t really constructive at all. There’s a problem, one that’s been discussed before, that no one has any idea how to solve.

But I think the first step any of us can make in the direction of a solution is to quit demonizing ourselves. To quit that knee-jerk “humanity is bad” response. There’s seven billion of us, almost. Anything multiplied seven billion times is probably not going to be environmentally friendly (aside from breathing). That doesn’t mean it’s automatically of the devil.

Besides, sewage treatment plants probably aren’t all that, either.

More nitpicking from Grist

Posted in green living with tags , , on 07/25/2011 by Fox

The man who doesn’t relax and hoot a few hoots voluntarily, now and then, is in great danger of hooting hoots and standing on his head for the edification of the pathologist and trained nurse, a little later on.
~Elbert Hubbard

Yep, it’s time for Fox Bitches About Ask Umbra Again!

Today’s bitching is courtesy of Kristin:

With wedding season in full swing, what’s the best way to deal with the dreaded three-choice dinner card? It’s usually beef, salmon, or “pasta” (whatever that means!). Wedding guests cannot check on the sustainability of the choices (is the beef grass-fed? the salmon Pacific? Most likely not).

So I’m wondering, is Mystery Pasta is always the best choice to check off on that dreaded card? Are Mystery Meat and Mystery Fish equally awful choices? Or are all bets off for weddings? What’s a guest to do?

Of course, Umbra steers Kristin toward the “mystery pasta.”

My question, is, naturally, why the fuck is it such a big goddamn deal? It’s one meal among thousands you will eat in your life. Do you have to go green all day every day no matter what? Can’t you just chill the fuck out, be a human being, pick whatever option makes you happy, and enjoy yourself? No one’s putting a gun to your head and saying you have to choose the sustainable choice. You can be green at home, when you’re the one picking the meals. Don’t bitch about the options you’re getting for someone else’s wedding, for fuck’s sake.

I wish the weddings I went to had a salmon option. Hell, the weddings I go to don’t usually have options. My cousin’s wedding? Texas barbeque (wedding was in Seattle, so this was kind a big deal). There was no vegetarian option…my father puts bacon in the beans. The last wedding I went to had beef, chicken, or beans and rice for options.

This shit pisses me off because these sorts of people don’t come off as…people. They come off as shallow, two-dimensional attempts at people. They’re more concerned with being (or appearing) green than they are with participating in society or in social activities without freaking out about the napkins.

By all means, go green. Often, but not all the damn time. Occasionally take some time out of being green to just say “fuck it” and enjoy yourself without worrying too much. You can’t control everything, so just sit back, relax, and do what you can; no one’s asking you for more than that.


Posted in simple living with tags on 06/25/2011 by Fox

No matter where you go or what you do, you live your entire life within the confines of your head.
~Terry Josephson

It seems that a lot of simple living bloggers are into mindfulness. There’s a whole chapter on it in “The Simple Living Guide.” “Be mindful!” they say. “Experience life even while doing the dishes!” “Do only one thing at a time!”

Well, you don’t have to be mindful to live simply. I’m not, and I do.

I really don’t have anything against mindfulness, it’s just not something I’m particularly interested in. “Feeling every drop of water” while I shower isn’t really my thing. I’m showering. I get in, wash myself and my hair, and GTFO. If I choose to hang out in the shower for whatever reason, I do so. If I don’t want to, I don’t. I’m not going to meditate on showering, and I’m certainly not going to be mindful when I’m taking a crap. It just seems sort of silly to me.

I’ve yet to hear a compelling reason to start being mindful. I don’t see what the benefit is. Being mindful is not going to make washing dishes or vacuuming the floor any more pleasant or less annoying. If I was mindful at work I’d go insane. Try doing the exact same damn thing for ten hours a day, five days a week mindfully and see how you like it. Literally. Right now I’m doing the same thing every minute of every hour I’m at work. Twelve pieces to a whole, and twelve wholes total. One hundred and forty four of the same thing over and over and over. Thankfully, I’m not doing all twelve wholes, but I’m doing most of them. Conversation and jamming out to the Beastie Boys while working keeps me happy and productive. Yes, that’s right, I’m more productive when I’m not being completely 100% mindful of my work. My boss knows this, and thus he let us listen to the Boys a little more loudly than he probably would have liked. It’s called “morale,” and we has it.

Now, not being mindful at all is pretty bad. A certain degree of mindfulness is necessary when performing tasks such as…driving a car. Yes, I would like my fellow drivers to be mindful while driving. And by mindful I mean “paying attention,” not “feeling the wheel under your hands” or “noticing the response of your car when you accidentally slam into someone in the other lane because you were too busy feeling the breeze from the window.”

Now I’m just being snarky. But really, the only time I’m 100% focused on something is when I’m reading a book or playing a good video game, and that’s called “immersion.” I’m not terribly into multitasking (I can’t listen to music and read or write at the same time for starters, and listening to podcasts is reserved for work), but I don’t see how talking to a friend while washing dishes is such a terrible crime.


Posted in simple living with tags , on 06/15/2011 by Fox

A great video of comedian Steve Hughes, who asserts (correctly, in my opinion) that “nothing happens when you’re offended.” So it’s…mostly…off-topic, but hey, it’s Casual Wednesday.

Or watch it on YouTube.