Late into Dana Spiotta's brilliant new novel, "Eat the Document," the protagonist, a woman who has lived "underground" for years, hiding from the consequences of a 1960s political protest gone badly awry, flashes back to the moment of choice:
"The question is, do we want to leave action to the brutes of the world? ... There are some inherent problems built into acting. It lacks perfection. But I believe we must fight back, or we will feel shame all our lives. We, the privileged, are more obligated. It is a moral duty to do something, however imperfect. ... If we don't do something, all our lives we will feel regret."
Here's the sentence: "We, the privileged, are more obligated." Noblesse oblige. I was brought up on that concept and I will be grateful for that upbringing until my dying day. I was brought up to believe that the privilege of being from a "good" family, having a good education and being of above average intelligence meant I was obligated to give back to the world and to help those who are less fortunate than I am. And I was further brought up to believe that being privileged does not entitle me to make demands on others so that I may have even more privileges than I started out with.
What has happened to our country that we believe privilege entitles people to grind the poor under their feet, exploit the earth's resources and destroy the environment? What has happened to the noble concepts of altruism and stewardship?
It is so, so painful to see what we have become as a society. Selfishness has been elevated to a virtue.
I so agree with the above declaration about taking action. If I don't fight back, I will feel shame all my life. My way of fighting back may be small - email activism, producing this blog, financially supporting the ACLU - but it is something. Anyone who chooses to put me under surveillance will know that I took a stand and so the risk of speaking out is real.
However small it is, it is something.