Hedonistic Activism

My friend/neighbor came over the other day to bring back my earring that I lost in his yard (I’m pretty cool). He asked what I was doing that night.
“I’m going to this presentation about Darfur for my journalism class. It should be really interesting.”
“Oh, that’s cool. And then afterwards you can feel all good about yourself for caring about these people.”
I paused – then realized the irony.
Sometimes, I feel like I participate in hedonistic activism. I do just enough so that I can appease my own conscience or feel like I’ve done something productive and selfless. But is doing something nice for someone else really selfless if you do it just so YOU feel better? Even if someone else benefits, isn’t that still selfish?
I was driving home from class the other day and decided to swing through Taco Bell’s drive-thru for lunch. I saw a homeless man sitting on the corner by the Bell, in typical homeless person fashion: ratty clothes, sad face and sign offering to work for food.
I ordered two tacos and gave one to him.
“Thank you,” the man said gratefully, accepting my offer of temporary fulfillment.

But I didn’t feel better. In fact, I hated myself for it. I didn’t do it because I wanted to help him as much as I did it because I hated the way he made me feel when I saw him.

Instead of doing something that would really impact him, I did just enough to be able to pat myself on the back and say, “good job, you gave a homeless man some lunch.”

I have a “Save Darfur” sticker on the back of my car, so I certainly look like a good little social justice advocate; but what have I ever DONE for the people of Darfur? I’ve never been there, I’ve never encouraged President Bush or the U.N. secretary-general to push for peace in Sudan. The most I’ve done is tell my friends that they should care. But how much does caring do? How far does raw compassion go?
We were watching Sahara the other night (awful movie, 411), and, mostly because I’m too ADD to like movies, I said, “unrest in Africa is too politically current to be entertaining.” (I like to talk like that around my friends – I don’t really know how I have any.)
My friend shot back, “There’s always political unrest in Africa. I love how everyone’s all Darfur, Darfur, Darfur – because that’s the trendy thing to do. Half of them don’t even know where Darfur is.”

See Also

Another friend and I were sprawled out on her bed the other day, aimlessly flipping through channels on the TV. She landed on a wedding show about bridezillas who spend exorbitant amounts of cash on their dream wedding. We’re talking millions of dollars on ridiculous venues, superfluous food and drinks and pricey entertainment.
“How can you justify spending millions of dollars on one day when people all over the world don’t even have clean water?” I asked.
She shrugged. “It’s their money – they can pretty much do whatever they want.”
It’s true that affluent people don’t have an obligation to do anything. In fact, they can spend every penny on themselves, if their conscience allows; and it’s easy to point fingers at people who buy $1,000-dollar handbags and call it extraneous. But, on a smaller scale, we all do it every day. Did I NEED to spend $15 on dinner the other night? I could have made Ramen noodles for 15 cents; the end result is the same.

We are a generation living in a society of excess. Our money gives us a feeling of (probably false) security. Apathy sets in when we never have to worry about where our next meal or paycheck is coming from. We don’t feel the reality of struggles when we have none of our own; and we don’t sense the frailty of life when ours are so thoroughly insulated.
I would venture to guess I’m not alone in my struggle. Although people all over the world are doing amazing things with their time and efforts, too many of us (myself included) aren’t doing nearly enough.

Scroll To Top