The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism

Image of The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting,and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism
Release Date: 
March 14, 2011
Beacon Press
Reviewed by: 

Experienced journalist Fran Hawthorne creates an absolutely relatable, if not always easily readable, book.

She paints a picture of too many choices and the reality of how that makes socially sensitive consumers feel.
Instead of a clinical investigative approach, she chooses to wander through questions and contradictions hand in hand with Jane Q. and John Q. Public. Like so many, Hawthorne seems to be looking for a way to assuage her guilt about what she isn’t doing, and to figure out what she should be doing (i.e., the title to Chapter 1: “Juggling Lessons”).

Hawthorne acknowledges the reality that no one can spend 100% of their time trying to figure out every way possible to “save the planet,” and her method for exploration seems simply to keep asking questions and seek out answers—or at least possibilities to consider in lieu of definitive solutions. Maybe that’s the beginning of what she is asking others to do.

One approach that was not altogether expected is the author’s use of humor to highlight absurd lengths U.S. consumers sometimes resort to in their efforts to “do the right thing” for the planet. The ability to recognize the realities of everyday life in the midst of social responsibility and admit to her shortcomings is quite refreshing. Hawthorne even occasionally goes further, embracing her “revolt” against what she seems to know might be a more earth-friendly approach. This serves as her way of giving her readers a reality check: balancing what might be a too-serious, overwhelming, extreme viewpoint with information from a wide variety of scientists, activists, and specialists on the challenges of a shrinking, overused, ”overloaded” world. It also helps Hawthorne make the serious contention that activism is, in her opinion, where the greatest difference is made.

Do the lack of answers or overload of questions make this book unsatisfying? Only in how often Hawthorne exposes self-doubt, or even a feeling of hopelessness, as she strives to learn more. What saves the book in the end is that Hawthorne moves beyond what seem like endless questions. Her aim appears genuine; she wants to bring people who want to make an informed, conscious decision to limit their impact on the environment toward one central truth: Make a list of ways that you can personally make a difference—and don’t forget to include activism.

Ironically, this doesn’t seem to be a message limited to liberals. Perhaps it was not the author’s intent for her audience to be singularly made up of such individuals, regardless of the book’s title, for when Hawthorne says, “Whatever I do will help make the world a little better. All I can promise is to try and to care,” that seems to be a worthwhile challenge for anyone to take up.