The Fallacy of Misspent Resources

If you’ve spent any time on social media in the past decade, especially in politically or socially active circles, you’ve no doubt seen many variations on these statements:

“Before we start focusing on what’s going on overseas, maybe we should work on our many problems here at home”

“How can you get so worked up about this domestic issue, when there are people in other countries suffering horribly under oppressive dictators?”

“Why protest, when you could do something that actually makes a difference?”

“Why stay inside, when you could do something that actually makes a difference?”

“They want you to be outraged about that, it’s just a distraction”

“This thing won’t even matter unless we address this other thing first”

And so on. There are no shortage of people, of every ideology, in every scene, waiting to tell you that you’re worrying about the wrong thing, working on the wrong thing, or otherwise wasting your time.

I hate this, for the following reasons:

  1. We are beings of limited capability and motivation. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to hold the world in your head and do justice to its every facet. Whatever you have the energy for right now is what matters.
  2. Injustice is everywhere, and it takes every single one of us working hard to fix it. It’s understandable to want everyone to combine their efforts behind the things we think are the most important, but that’s not always realistic, or arguably, beneficial.
  3. We’re all experts in different things, and it’s a given that any time spent learning about one issue is time not spent learning about another. If someone is drawn to a certain domain of impact, that’s probably where they’ll be the most effective.

All that said: I think we do, in fact, have an obligation to expand our awareness of issues when offered the opportunity, especially when they’re highly intersectional. (Hint: most things are highly intersectional.) And I am distinctly not suggesting that we shouldn’t work to influence other people’s ideologies, advocate for the things we feel are urgent, or recruit for causes.

But let’s also try to be more mindful of when we tell people not to care about something.

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