A friend of mine once had a semi emotional breakdown about the fact that the world is so horrible, there are so many people suffering etc. In a way I was kind of insecure about this, because I consider myself to care more about that kind of thing than most people and I am doing more to help then she is, yet I don’t experience these negative emotions to the same degree she did. But then I reminded myself that 1) outwards burst of emotion like the one she had aren’t an accurate sign of a person’s emotional state and 2) it doesn’t matter how strongly I feel about something or how much I want something beyond how much that motivates me to act. What matters is what I actually do to steer the future in a better direction.
A friend of hers told her (paraphrased obviously):
“You should feel guilty about the fact that you have so much more than other people. You didn’t choose to be more in to a rich country with well off parents etc.”
(Her emotions at the time seemed to be more of the form of “I have so much, others have so little, I feel guilty” whereas mine are usually closer to “others have so little, actually, no one really has anything compared to the ideal situation, I need to do everything I can to make it better”)
When she told me about this I disagreed. Firstly I don’t have a guilt based moral system, but even if I did this argument wouldn’t completely resolve me of my hypothetical guilt. The example I gave was to imagine that everyone is created in a box, all able to see each others boxes but unable to leave our them. Also each box is a different size and has different amounts of food and other resources delivered to the box each day. In this scenario it would indeed be pointless to feel guilty for being created in a larger, more resource filled box that others that you can observe.
But if the scenario was changed so that you could divert resources from your box to other boxes and chose not to, than clearly you should feel guilty because you are choosing for them to not have the resources they need more than you.
Clearly we happen to be in the universe where you can divert resources from your box to others.
But I added, to help her through the emotional negatives she was going through, the way I get around thoughts of “oh god I’m not doing enough I’m bad arrrg self loathing” is to remind myself that I am much more motivated by positive emotions rather than negative emotions.
Example when I was in high school and I had an assignment, if it was behind schedule and I was worried I wouldn’t finish it on time I would hide in my room under my covers and not do anything. but if I think I can achieve my goal of completing the assignment I am much more likely to try and actually do it. In the same way if every time I thought about EA stuff I felt bad for not doing more I would just not dor EA stuff or not think about EA stuff.
There is a part of me that is worried that this isn’t true and that I am just rationalizing to avoid going down the unpleasant path of guilt as a motivator even if that path does more good. I guess we we’ll see what happens.