Saturday, April 21, 2012

On Activism, Anger, Reverse Anger, the Blazers, and Slacktivism

With the advent of the internet, it became much easier to learn about most anything.  Initially we liked the internet because encyclopedic information could be found easily without having to buy a $1,000 Brittanica set.  We could also email our girlfriend instead of having to write by hand.  And certainly the invention of the chat box dramatically multiplied the number of people we could have conversations with at the same time.  Eventually, people weren’t just using it to talk to each other and learn things, but also to influence people.  Political causes had websites, charities sent marketing emails, and churches could remind their members of events via computer instead of by marquee.

Today, the internet is crammed with people trying to influence us.  If you go to the Facebook page of a political candidate, you’ll find a dozen ads on the side of the screen trying to influence you to believe a dozen other things, or contribute money towards a dozen other causes.  It doesn’t take effort to be involved.  A simple “like” or a quick PayPal donation, and you’ve become a part of a movement.  Is this a good thing?

Today, a friend made the following comment that bothered me, and I wasn’t sure why:
 “Everyday young portland girls are exploited and forced into the sex trade...and our youth are marching against Kony. Makes me sick. Wish we could spend more time and energy protecting our youths.”

If I try to boil down my friend’s comment into bullet points, I think what he was trying to communicate goes something like this:
* I am concerned about the underage sex trade in Portland
* The people marching against Kony are wasting their time - how is marching around going to capture a guy in Africa?
* The cause I am concerned about is more important than the cause they are concerned about.

My friend’s comment is very similar to something I do all the time that I know annoys a bunch of other people. For years, I have been a frequent participant in Blazers’ fan sites.  Whenever I’d spend time there, I’d become increasingly frustrated with the constant whining about head coach Nate McMillan.  Every time the team struggled, no matter whose fault it was, there was a consistent drone about how it was somehow Nate’s fault.  Nearly every comment one person would make would be followed by a different person making a smart-ass comment how it wouldn’t have happened if we had a better coach.  My response was also to complain, not about the coach, but about the complainers.  For some reason, I thought it was worth my time to complain about complaining.  When the complaining got to be so bad that I was negatively affecting my life by participating in these fan sites, I finally got the willpower to quit visiting them.  It was a good decision.

If I think of the motives behind someone that complains about a Kony march, or former head coach Nate McMillan, if I’m honest, they’re complaining because they care.  They care about the team, or a different cause.  They’re not mad for no reason.  But just like my response to the complaining was misdirected, so too are complaints about a Kony march.  People are marching against Kony because they care about the issue.  It doesn’t mean they don’t care about the teenage sex trade.  But who gets to decide which cause is the most urgent, or most worthy of our efforts?

The way I see it, the moral authority on activism goes to the people that get up and do something.  Facebook comments (and blog posts!) are easy.  Giving up your Saturday to walk around in the sun takes dedication.  Who am I to mock a person’s cause just because I think my cause is more important?  And who am I trying to convince if I complain on Facebook about somebody who can’t respond?  I think this question shows a fundamental weakness of the internet.  We’re not talking to people in a setting that allows for expanded thought.  We’re throwing bumper stickers at each other.  There’s no respect for the intelligence of others, no consideration of the pure motives of the people involved.  We’re like cats running after laser pointers, expecting that our comment on the matter somehow makes a different.

I propose that there is value in activism, provided it involves dialogue between people with equally good intentions.  I also propose there is not value in being the person that is mad at everything, all the time.  How many friends have you let go of because all they do is rant about political causes?  Wouldn’t it be different if they had discussed these things with you in person, rather than yelling at them via the internet?  I, for one, don’t have energy to be mad all the time.

I read a pretty decent article this week that related to the topic of effective activism.  It’s worth a read if you’d like:

I’ve got 2 more religious interviews scheduled, and am looking for more.  Please let me know if you’re interested!

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