Thursday, January 01, 2009


I usually write a new year's post. Usually I feel a contagious sense of possibility from getting to start over. January 1 coming around again is like a do over. What will I do this year? What plans can I hatch? This year my mind is elsewhere. It's too early for a backlash, but it's found me.

It's been, what, half a year since gas prices got to $4 a gallon, since we realized we're in an interconnected heap of trouble like a figure eight of standing dominoes that have been tipped? Since then activism is back at the front of the line: collective responsibility. Its manifestations are take out cups made from corn, fair trade chocolate bars, and coupons that you can buy to erase your carbon footprint.

I like people. I am against poverty and pollution. I am heart sick about the polar bears. And simultaneously I feel annoyed by so much goodness. If I were a child, I would be pinching the goody two shoes and getting sent to the corner. As a professional adult female, I am currently suppressing urges to physically push people when they offend by, oh, let's say staying in the women's restroom longer than the standard slow pee and hair correction require.

I read a soothing article published on recently about this very subject. I'm always soothed when made to feel perfectly normal for being my imperfect self. The article, entitled: "Well, Excuuuuuse Meee! Why humans are so quick to take offense" explains that "the evolutionary forces that have made us cooperative and empathetic are the same ones that have made us prickly and explosive." Writer Emily Yoffe goes on to reveal a Darwinist benefit of seemingly undesirable traits. She says: "gratitude allows us to expand our social network and recruit new allies; vengeance makes sure our new friends don't take advantage of us." We want to be treated fairly, and it is up to us to make sure this is so.

So, we pay close attention to social nuances, like "who's doing what to whom and what [it] means to [us]," says Yoffe. Why does the goody two shoes offend? Well, you've got to ask yourself more questions: Why is she such a goody two shoes anyway? Something's up. Does she want special favors? Down with goody two shoes! Keep her in line! I'm not sure that someone who buys carbon coupons to make up for a deluge of carbon emissions needs to be kept in line, but then again maybe he or she does.

Sometimes when there's so much jumping on the bandwagon I want to reject it for the simple reason that there's too much. There's something suspicious there, some subtle nuance I'm picking up on. It takes a lot of thinking to figure out what danger may be present, to sift it through. While I continue winnowing away I'll be a gruff little misanthrope, doing my duty.

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