She has the correct attitude to cotton buds, diesel cars, plastic particles, makeup, meat, coffee pods and bananas. She has an enviable monochrome position on transgenderism, HS2, the Union Jack, Heathrow, veganism and Africa. She knows which books, films and which newspaper to buy and which businesses and governments to hate. She loves black music, organic wine, refugees and any sentence containing the word ‘community’ or ‘democracy’.
She is my friend. Of course, I share most of her values, any decent person would. She buzzes with a thousand fluorescent Post-its, each felt-tipped in bold letters advertising her ethical position.
All this is not a problem.
She seldom speaks a sentence or types an email without publicising her moral Post-its. She rarely eats without disseminating her ethical food choices. She cannot even unwrap her parent’s gift of home-grown apples, without cursing the Daily Mail they are tenderly wrapped in.
This too is not really a problem. She has passion, a commitment to causes, a hatred of injustice. Deeply felt values. A political perspective steeped in tolerance, zeal and justice.
But there is a problem.
My friend, who I have known since school, has nothing left of herself. She has constructed her ‘self’ out of so many ethical building blocks that there is no longer any room for who she is. There is certainly no room left for ribbing, for self-deprecation, for jokes. Creativity is absent – she has become an avatar of herself, entirely constructed out of Post-its, dedicated to proselytizing her perfect ethical standpoints.
She has embedded her Post-its so deeply into her very being that they have become her self-definition, the sum total of her self-worth.
And self-worth is fragile. As we all know, you have to be big to handle criticism of yourself.
If, for a moment, I want to query one of these building blocks, I am hurtful, a callous person unaware of the reality of injustice. She flares up with intolerance and tears off a Post-it to thrust it in my face. If I even gently question any part of her ethical orthodoxy, I am a heretic, labelled instantly with expedient terms such as ‘unthinking’, ‘right wing’ or ‘out of touch’.
But, as her friend, I do not wish to be solely a sounding board/audience for a stream of ethical and political standpoints. The last walk we did in the countryside left me with a headache, as she bombarded me with a continuous salvo of her ethical views.
She is supported by news organisations that have discovered the formula that guarantees my friend, and those like her, buys their products. They give her a daily dose of moral indignation that fuels her self-definition. She is addicted to this newsfeed, because she is addicted to feeling good about herself.
This leads to a second problem. One-upmanship (ouch – did I say man?). Not, of course, new Teslas with personalised number plates on the neighbour’s drive, but the one-upmanship of moral indignity. She has more moral indignation than anyone else. And no one can utter any word that doesn’t pass her exacting standards of language. If you do not use the right term, you are condemned to hell.
I write this because I am sad. I cannot talk to my friend because she becomes hurt and antagonistic if I upset the equilibrium of her perfectly poised ethical centre. She can and does become vicious. Any relationship that doesn’t immaculately mesh with her self-definition has to be rejected.
Parents. Grandparents. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. Me. All lost.
So, she cycles away in her fair-trade cotton coat, her Post-its flickering in the wind, feeling good about herself.
But she is no longer herself and we can no longer be together.
She only has organic friends.
George Hopewell studied philosophy at Oxford and lives in the West Country.
See what you are missing ! This article was first published in the Spring Edition of the Salisbury Review.