That Old Bitch, Hipocrisy

Norman Mailer has quite the way with words: “Mediocrities flock to any movement which will indulge their self-pity and their self-righteousness, for without a Movement the mediocrity is on the slide into terminal melancholia.” (Armies of the Night, if you’re curious.) And with that I somewhat reluctantly offer this link.

I heard about Oxfam America’s new report, “Mugged: Poverty in Your Coffee Cup,” on Morning Edition during my drive into work today. This one hit me where it hurts: right in my stained, 16-ounce coffee mug — the one I fill and drain every morning or risk the consequences (first a headache, followed by pronounced napishness). America’s coffee industry, it seems, is one of the few bright spots in our sagging economy, thanks in part to 30-year lows in coffee bean prices (which translate into dire poverty for third world farmers) and to the continued trendiness of designer brands (you can now buy your $3 iced mocha latte in 5,688 Starbucks locations worldwide). I like my coffee strong and black, by the way.

I say all of that so that I can ask this: So what the hell do I do about it? As someone whose political convictions have allowed me to justify the time I waste each day on this blog, I find myself teetering between self-pity and self-righteousness, desperate to stave off the melancholia that lingers nearby. I mean, I’m not going to stop drinking coffee, right?

About a year and a half ago, Eric Alterman found himself engaged in a similar ethical battle. After considering the exploitive practices that resulted, finally, in his favorite meal, along with the humanitarian good that could be accomplished by the price of that meal, he finally came to the conclusion that so many of us are loathe to admit:

“Here’s the problem. I can’t answer any of these arguments, but I can ignore them. At least I intend to (except for the $200 one–I did stop in the middle of writing this article to fork over $200 to Oxfam). The trouble seems to be that I’m a massive hypocrite. I make sacrifices for my principles but not, apparently, ones involving hamburgers and steaks. I like them too much, torture or no torture, starving kids or no starving kids, E. coli risk or no E. coli risk.”

Mailer at least could take comfort from the burgeoning radicalism of his day. Marching on the Pentagon in protest of Vietnam, assuming that he would finally be arrested for a “real cause,” he could write, “some drabness had quit [liberals] since the fifties, some sense of power had touched them with subtle concomitants of power — a hint of elegance.” But that comfort is lost to me. I’m cursed with hindsight, with the failures of the New Left and the reemergence— the institutionalization, even — of banal drabness. In the immortal, irony-soaked words of the late, great Phil Hartman, “Good times. Good times.”