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10 Reasons For and Against Activism

I believe that intolerance, wealth distribution, elitism, mass incarceration, government surveillance, environmental destruction, extortionate medical costs, and an increasingly irrelevant education system afflict my country and must be addressed. But does my belief in this morally compel me to be an activist? At the very least, does it morally compel me to post my opinion on the Internet and raise it in conversation? I think many people, as I do, live with this question under their skin. So let’s look at both sides.

To be an activist

  • Your voice matters. You don’t get a beach without grains of sand, you don’t get a sea without drops of rain, etc.
  • If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Every person who doesn’t care about a topic is another reason for a politician to not address it.
  • Even the semi-informed opinion of a moderately intelligent voice is invaluable in public discourse. Perhaps you’re no expert on the issue, but certainly you’re smarter than most of the idiots squawking about it, and if you don’t represent yourself, have no doubt, you will be represented by parrots and seagulls.
  • Perhaps you hold some privilege: male, white, cis, wealthy, speak English, well educated, etc. Like it or not, you benefit from the (at least) historical and (likely) present oppression of others. If you benefit from oppression and do nothing to prevent future oppression, you are an oppressor.
  • As complex as you see an issue to be, as sensitive as you are to both sides, you know that nothing gets accomplished without hard stances. The world may not be ending, but if you don’t march like it is, that environmental regulation will never get passed.

Not to be an activist

  • Your voice matters in an ideal world, which is certainly not this one. Even the most independent and intelligent voices can’t help but harmonize with campaigns and propaganda, because what else can we respond to but the world around us, and what builds that world but power and money? Is your voice really your own? Furthermore, not only are there shady buffers like superdelegates,  but the link between a constituent’s voice and a politician’s is tenuous, if not mythical.
  • Being a generous and loving individual in your life and community likely does more good for the world than pushing your opinion on it. Perhaps you aren’t part of the solution to a topical problem like environmental protection or abortion rights, but you are a part of the solution to a bigger problem: you inspire compassion.
  • You see the bigger picture. When it comes down to it, issues of state, such as whether the US should deploy troops or offer foreign aid, have far more to do with high level political balancing acts and obscured agendas than the issues themselves. What does it matter whether you think the US shouldn’t go to war? You cannot know what is at stake. Domestic issues end up entangled too: maybe the cost of healthcare reform turns out to be environmental exploitation—political dealings require unexpected compromises. And the opinion of some consecrated economist likely trumps anything you or Bill McKibben have to say about greenhouse gasses. Being an activist for an issue above your pay-grade may just be dishonest and irresponsible.
  • Your time and resources are better spent on yourself and your loved ones. Perhaps you must devote all you have to the health and safety of your family. Perhaps you believe personal development precedes societal development, and for now you seek to become a better, wiser person, perhaps inspiring others to do the same.
  • You believe that telling anyone else what to think accomplishes nothing. In fact, it might be its own sort of destructive behavior. If you care about someone’s opinion, you ask for it, so why would you go shouting yours? If anything, you inspire people to think for themselves, and in that way disempower the puppeteers.

And then there’s laziness

There’s usually a little laziness. If you care about social and political issues, and if you find you disagree with the above reasons for not being an activist, perhaps you need an espresso, a long walk, and an enthusiastic friend.

But apathy . . .

If you really couldn’t care less about political and social issues, then I’m surprised you’ve read this far—this wasn’t written for you. True apathy (not just laziness) is another issue entirely.

A conclusion?

I wish I had one. Hopefully this helps you think more clearly about why you do—or don’t do—what you do (or don’t do).

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