Useless Guilt, and an Activists Crisis of Confidence

Today I did a bad thing.  Or is it a bad thing?  I don’t know any more.

I bought some fairly unnecessary but pretty clothes from H&M.  There I am, on the shop floor, holding these clothes and having a massive internal crisis.  It’s just not fair.  Most people I know are able to buy things that they want, that they can afford, without feeling bad about it.  Without even thinking about it.  What’s wrong with me?  Buying one dress and one shirt, or not, won’t make any difference to the world.  I think of something somebody once told me, that you have to do as much (or as little) as will satisfy you own conscience.  My conscience is clearly making a fuss about me buying inorganic sweatshop made clothes that are creating a need for fabric that isn’t really there because so much of the stuff gets put in landfill.

But hang on, how can some people get away with this and others not.  Isn’t it being a bit smug to set myself higher standards than I do to other people.  I think again of Rebecca Solnit’s criticism of certain types of activism, where ‘the point becomes the demonstration of one’s own virtue rather than the realization of results.’  And I am still stood frozen on the shop floor like a complete nutter.

Somebody once said to me, ‘It must be really awful having a social conscience.  I mean, don’t you feel guilty about everything?’*  The short answer is yes, I do feel guilty about everything.  And then I feel guilty about feeling guilty because it seems so middle-class and self-indulgent.

What I think I need to do is let go of some of this guilt, and then turn the rest into something productive.  So, plucking an example out of nowhere which has nothing to do with justifying recent purchases, there is no point standing in the middle of H&M feeling massively guilty because you really want the flowery shirt that is in your hand.  I mean, where does that get you?  What good is it really doing?  Just buy the sodding shirt and wear it to a demo… a meeting… volunteering.  Go create some real social change and stop being so neurotic.

Is that okay?

* This really did happen.  Seriously.


One thought on “Useless Guilt, and an Activists Crisis of Confidence

  1. On Guilt « Another Cuppa

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