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Feeling Absolutely Awesome About Yourself

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My candidate for word of the year, or perhaps decade, is FAAAY. It echoes the word "fey" which means slightly touched and vaguely otherworldly. It connects, at least in my mind, to fairy "a class of supernatural beings of diminutive size" (OED). It also typifies an all-too-common disposition where people's motivations start, and end, with feeling good about themselves.

I will be brief. As will be observed, I have not been applying any effort to my blog of late. And as this will be slightly provocative, I will post and run.

Basically, FAAAY is a name that I now apply when I observe someone signaling their virtues but not actually doing anything. We see this a lot these days. In fact, you could be forgiven for believing that this was a universal practice that crowds out all others. We see this at protests (I like to say that protesting is almost like doing something). We see it in crowd-sourced fundraising where people see affirmation, not to mention funds, accrue to themselves. We even see it in gifts offered that are really an advertisement of the giver's moral superiority. We see it when people support an issue as it goes to the election polls but only far enough to affirm their magnanimity so that they can luxuriate in a sense of persecution when their cause loses. 

FAAAY

I will end with a short recollection. After we relocated to Victoria BC (aka God's Waiting Room), my wife and I went on a guided "architectural walking tour" run by a local heritage society. It didn't take long for the tour to become a series of complaints about this or that builder or this or that city council shortcoming. At one point we stopped in front of a heritage house being renovated into a small block of high-end condos. Our guide was almost tearful in recounting how it should have been saved and turned into low-income housing. As the reno had yet to begin, I piped up with "it's not too late". We could buy it, renovate it differently, and put it to this laudable end. I scanned the number of people on the tour and calculated that if we each chipped in $50,000 or so (Canadian - so not real money) and then committed a further $5,000 or so each year thereafter we could buy the property off the developer, change the redevelopment plans (surely city council would side with us) and welcome deserving low-income families at a reduced rental rate that we would be subsidizing. "I'm in!" I concluded with. Confused looks were quickly replaced by abject terror. And the terror was not solely because no one on the tour really had any means to do anything of the sort. No, I sensed that the real source of the terror was the very idea that someone would actually do something rather than remain comfortably in the land of the FAAAY. Scanning the faces, I ended with "I thought so".

So this is a game you can play. Evaluate the professed opinions that you encounter against some simple questions. Do the people professing really have a commitment behind their words and are they actually risking anything? Does anything genuinely change the day after they are done professing? If not, then you can apply this label - FAAAY. 


 

Inflammatory Epilogue

This concept appears relatively innocuous on the surface but in reality is can be quite corrosive when you throw it around. This includes when we look at very big things and consider the interests at work behind various positions or practices. Take for example Climate Science and the research into global warming. The science around the warming of the atmosphere has been in circulation for well over 50 years and recent events (in 2023) are making it abundantly clear that this is a) real and b) no joke - hence the "inflammatory" in the above heading. The literature around is substantial; indeed, it has been increasing at a rate even greater than that of human-generated green house gases and that's saying something. 

Where is the FAAAY in all this? I for one marvel at the volume of research that has gone into, and continues to go into, studying the phenomemon of global warming and extrapolating its ill effects (some of which we are starting to sample), while there is proportionately very little, indeed almost nothing, produced on what to do about it - other than, of course, stopping the world (and protesting about needing to stop the world). I wonder if anyone has studied how much of the published climate science literature can be applied, practically and concretely, to taking action - again other than "stopping the world". I would be surprised if that amount registered anywhere above 0.001% of the literature published. Even in picking that provocatively small percentage, I am probably being unduly and indefensibly over-generous. So the sardonic interpretation that bubbles to the surface is that a lot of people, as both researchers and consumers of that research, are happy to point a finger at others they can blame (say - imperial capitalists) while feeling absolutely awesome about themselves. This affirmation is also mixed with some material interest as there are always research dollars in play for the researchers and other streams of funding for other stakeholders. So the feeling awesome part of FAAAY does have a mercantile dimension to it. 

And because climate change is obviously real and obviously accelerating, at some point people will need to do something (other than publishing and protesting) and when this becomes pressing there will be no room or patience left for FAAAY posturing. And we will collectively regret that we didn't move out of this self-satisfying mode earlier. Of course, moving away from the land of the FAAAY means doing something (protesting by the way is almost like doing something but not quite) and that means taking responsibility for the inevitable consequences of doing something. Those people enamoured with being FAAAY won't be the ones who make this transition. Others will need to step in and hopefully some of the by-products of the FAAAY will prove at least a little bit useful when the time comes to do something - which is now, by the way. 

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