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When Caring is Trendy

Dear Hipsters,

I like hanging out in your coffee shops. Really, I do. Thank you for providing a space in which to read and think about my future in the Peace Corps. I appreciate your good taste in music, in coffee, and in scarves. The acuity of your taste is no doubt related to the copious amounts of energy you pour into making sure other people perceive you just as you would like to be perceived. As I understand it, you want people to see you as not only trendy, but caring and relevant -- attuned to the real problems of the real world.

Let's make one thing clear: talking about how much you love the poor and actually loving the poor are two different things. At some point in the past few years, I realized that caring has become trendy. Maybe even sexy. For example, I've often witnessed some college guy showing off to some college girl his concern for the downtrodden and weak, like a peacock fanning its plumage. Or again, a high school student boasting, positively boasting, about her involvement in some volunteer endeavor or another, a proud student earning gold stars next to her name.

I fear that our generation believes this is enough. We have met our moral obligation. We have spoken the words, taken a public stance, acknowledged that there are people suffering unjustly. Appearing to care has somehow become a legitimate substitute for action. 

Listen: only a simpleton or a psychopath would claim that things are as they should be, that everybody has gotten what they deserved, that the world is a just place. In other words, as much as you would like to think that in your sermons or small-group meetings, you are having novel thoughts about injustice or that you are challenging the world with revolutionary, counter-cultural ideas, you're not. What you are doing is serving to muffle the cognitive dissonance built up by your awareness of the world's injustices.

This muffling, this palliative, can be a powerful drug, one that I have been guilty of taking, too. But having this feeling does not change the fact that you may actually be a bigot or an asshole, or worse - the oppressor.

If you really feel like things are not as they should be, that some people are getting a rotten deal, that the rich world is benefiting from their suffering, and that this should not be so, then necessarily you must also believe that our society needs to change. We can make this change happen, but it won't just materialize out of our words or good intentions. Good intentions do not save people from an early grave.

This letter is directed at the hip, trendy groups for two reasons. Firstly, it is the age group in which I belong. Therefore, I see and interact with you people all the time. I am your peer (though I could hardly consider myself hip or trendy). Secondly, our group particularly is in danger of an ineffectual, feckless destiny, because we have a moral pressure relief valve and a tendency to bestow meaning onto our meaningless acts, to bestow the illusion of substance onto form. And isn't that what hipsters do best?
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