The World Is Burning
Eileen Webb, “Productivity in Terrible Times”:
“When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”
It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries. The Trevor Project needs your donation more than they need a JS developer proficient in easing animation.”
“I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?
I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.”
I have a good reason. Whatever shit is going on in the world, it does not make everything else unimportant. Life doesn’t work like that. At best that’s a route to giving yourself mental health issues, and at worst it leads to extremism itself.
To take Jason’s three examples. “The new Blade Runner movie” is related to a film which is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential films ever made. The horrific politics and actual human suffering happening in the world at the moment doesn’t stop that from being interesting and important. “How stamps are designed” can only be dismissed if we’re going to think art isn’t important any more – and I don’t want to be associated with anyone who thinks that.
And the blurry ham? Take a look at it. Yes, that’s a fun optical illusion. But let’s state what optical illusions are really about: how we all perceive the world. If anything, that’s even more important now than it was six months ago. That blurry ham is not about ham.
We can all dismiss and belittle our own work, for various reasons. Maybe we’re frustrated by state of the world and wish we could do more. In my case, it’s that I don’t want to be seen as arrogant. Let’s take an example of something I wrote recently over on Ganymede & Titan, about edits made to pre-watershed showings of Red Dwarf XI. It’s hardly the most important article in the world. A few changes made to a couple of episodes of a sitcom, big deal. I put aside hours of my time to rewatch the whole series and write that?
But worries about arrogance or not, the fundamental issues considered in that article are bigger than that. That piece is talking about broadcast standards in television. It’s talking about who has the right to make changes to a television programme. It’s talking about how you can remove material from a programme and still keep the meaning of a scene. And finally, it’s talking about the very nature of comedy, and how the taboo subjects affect it. In its own way, that piece of writing is as political as anything I’ll ever write, and there’s not a mention of Trump or Brexit in sight.
Just because there are absolutely atrocious things happening, and that some people are suffering hugely because of it, that doesn’t mean other things aren’t important. Because if we never think anything else is important aside from people’s suffering, we invalidate 99% of human endeavour. Nobody needs me to list a catalogue of atrocities… and beside it, list all the other important things which were happening in the world at the exact same time.
We should all care about the terrible things going on. We should all make sure we’re doing something to make the world better. But never feel guilty talking about your silly things.
Because they’re not really that silly, you know.