Once upon a time the personal was political. Do you have a problem in your personal life? Men treat you badly? Your classes are authoritarian and stultifying and make you hate school? Your boss is a jerk? Take it public. You may find out that thousands, even millions of others have the same “personal” problems and that political action—joining together with other women or students or workers—can do for you what sulking or private griping can’t.
Now the political is personal. We still have racism, but the solution is for white people, one by one, to look inside themselves and confront their personal bias. There is mass poverty and oppression across the globe, and the solution is for each of us in the wealthier countries to be more careful shoppers, avoiding goods produced with the most exploited labor. Climate change threatens to overwhelm us, and to act against it we should examine our individual carbon footprints, drive less, eat less meat, change our light bulbs.
Of course, the political and personal overlap from both directions. Surely we need both. But an intensified quest for personal virtue can hardly substitute for a retreat from collective action.