Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Order of Indignations

I've noticed a trend in indignation.

I was at a "green friendly" grocery store the other day, and while checking out was asked if I had brought my own sack for the groceries. I had not. The fact that the check out lady could see I had no such carriers made the question itself annoying, but after I replied to the negative she harummpfed at the cash register as if I was personally responsible for the glacier ice melt.

Then yesterday I used the following phrase to a co-worker, "well, then you'll kill two birds with one stone." Innocent enough, I thought. But I was told by the co-worker that she doesn't use that phrase. She's a vegetarian, so "killing-animal" colloquialisms are off limits. Wow, I'm thinking I must be out of touch.

These are minor offenses and ones for which I have no animosity towards the offended, but I do think it is odd the things that for which we get indignant. We all do, from time to time, think "how could they" do this or that. The telling thing is not that we get indignant, but what incites the indignation.

St. Augustine defined virtue with this short phrase: "ordo amoris." The order of loves. Such as, loving a pick-up truck is okay as long as you love your children more. St. Augustine recognized a hierarchy of goods and suggested that our affections and actions should follow that proper order. In some ways the things for which we show indignation indicate the things we love, or that which we consider most important.

My point is this: it is good to want to protect the earth, icebergs and chickens -- but what about the eternally valuable, can we show a little indignation on their behalf once in a while? Want some justified indignation? Travel to one of dozens of countries and see how women and children, the weak and sickly, are treated. "

We'd rather pick more comfortable indignations, ones where the only sacrifice is the time it takes to count our carbon footprint. It's nice to be able to afford the indignations of the wealthy. Indignations of convenience. But this disordered value is inhuman and embarrassing. Sorry, that's the way I see it.

I started the essay with a tolerant disposition towards the opinion of others, and now ended, being indignant over the indignant. So I guess I'll stop.


Rambler said...

When I saw the Ozarka commercial for their new "earth-friendly" containers shaped to use 30% less plastic, I knew this whole eco-thing had jumped the shark: a company praising itself for using plastic for water.

Perhaps off-topic, but I am outraged at the outrage underlying the green-green-green movement that's clearly a marketing tool. Everyone's green, and it's so clear that everyone is just on the bandwagon.

ok, cynical mode OFF. :-)

Anonymous said...

Great post.

On a smaller scale, what do you think about this:
A wife nags her husband about leaving the toilet seat up and the husband responds "children in ethiopia don't even have a toilet seat to leav up"

Same concept, but less considerate to those suffering...and probably trouble for the husband. You can't ever call people out for their indignations can you?

Francis Shivone said...

I think you have a point anon., but I need to think about it. I think I didn't say it very well, but it is a question of magnitude, value, and hierarchy of Goods.
In your example the wife is justified but what if she started a campaign to raise the level of awareness of toilet seats on statewide level?
In her home the indignation is justified but not elsewhere.
I think people want to be indignant with something because it gives them a sense of superiority over the unenlightened. My point is: choose something worth being indignant over.
Anyway, good comment. It needs more thought.

Anonymous said...

I overheard "Feed two birds with one seed" the other day..