You Already Are An Activist, Just The Wrong Kind
July 31, 2012
No, seriously. You are.
I’m not talking to my fellows at arms, the women and men who march in the feminist equality trenches and fight for the rights of all sorts of minorities from women to people of color to vegetarians to poly people to LGBTQI people to geeks to poor people to people who seriously enjoy being around ducks. You’re all great and I respect the kinds of activism you do.
Everyone else? You’re still activists. You’re just the wrong kind of activist.
When we think of activism, we think of chanting. Marching. Protesting. Speaking out. This is what counter-culture’s activism looks like. It’s what minority groups look like when they’re trying to raise awareness, broaden the message, and get people involved. It’s what people who are not part of the majority do when they want the majority to listen to them about something. It is not, however, the only kind of activism.
There’s also silent activism. There’s the march that consists of everyone going to the same job, voting for the same person, and going to the same places. There’s a kind of activism where the dominant, chanted message amounts to, “Why do they do this? Do they think anyone’s listening? It’s all so stupid. Everyone’s at fault. Why rock the boat?” This is the activism of the status quo. Most of the people who read this will be these kinds of activists, people who vigorously march to the beat of the meta-culture’s drum. Even if they don’t realize it.
To continue, let’s look at silent activism that minorities (and a few majority groups) have participated in.
The most overt is boycotting. Boycotts don’t have rallies (usually – I’m sure someone is going to mention some of the Suffrage rallies and some of the Christian ‘oppression’ rallies to encourage boycotting) but they are organized statements through action. People actively avoid supporting an institution through monetary and advertisement support due to views or values. This is activism, and it’s a very important kind of activism since it’s both easy to start and easy to maintain for the most part. Once you set down a system to avoid shopping at a particular place, for example, time becomes the greatest support mechanism to make the activism easier.
Other forms of silent activism include cultural occlusion and group eraser. This is when people are taught, perhaps even trained, to ignore, denigrate, or despise groups of people who are frequently found around them. This is a form of activism (in that it is an action taken to support a particular political or social belief or system). For example, look at how homeless and poor people are treated by the great culture. They are treated as outcasts and parasites, necessarily, and they’re ignored. In media and social culture, people are taught to systemically avoid interacting with homeless and poor people. This is both occlusion (occluding, or hiding, from the social systems around it) and group eraser (editing the social experience to ignore and erase the effects, experiences, and existence of a social group). These systems are active systems that require purposeful participation by the people involved. The reason it doesn’t look active is that everyone does it out of hand, so it seems normal (and, therefor, taught to be automatic).
So, there’s lots of invisible actions you constantly take that make you an activist for the larger culture. For the status quo. This is a problem as it robs you of agency, or the ability to express your own wants, needs, and desires, as well as placing power over your choices and actions in the hands of those who would most likely take advantage of you and (to use a metaphor) strip-mine all the wealth from your life that they could possibly get away with. They do this through social indoctrination. Technically all groups do this through social indoctrination, but I’m perfectly fine with being indoctrinated into a social group that emphasizes my agency and my participation, but this is neither here nor there.
So, lets talk about what you’ve been indoctrinated into. The most obvious one is, well, everything you believe about how people are supposed to be.
No, please keep reading, this is important.
A lot of the things you do or don’t do because of OUGHTS are based on systems that you have been taught to just accept without asking why (or when you do ask why, the response is some variation of “Because I told you to”). This is everything from how you are supposed to interact with the people around you to when you’re supposed to wear pants. (Which is a really important question. Why am I even wearing pants right now?). These systems lay down a lot of really, really important rules. Things like share, don’t steal, don’t hurt each other, be nice, treat others with respect, act in a way deserving of respect, pay attention to those around you, be aware of yourself and your surroundings, wear clothes when appropriate, eat in a manner that does not make one look like something akin to the caricature of a barn animal…y’know, good foundational rules for society. A lot of these things aren’t bad, but we can’t exactly say you’re doing the right or wrong thing unless we exam the reasons you’re doing them. I say we because this, all of this, should be a discussion. Somewhere out there is someone who is totally willing to talk about your behaviour with you and help you figure out how you could be better at being who you want to be. And if you can’t find someone, you can talk to me probably. Unless you’re a total and unrepentant jackass that has no interest in actual self reflection, I’ll at least chat with you a bit.
Now, the OUGHTS that you’ve learned about how society, economies, and the entire world works are frequently packaged with bad things. I pointed out an abuse of power by people who have money in a prior article and this is another way to explain how this kind of indoctrination is bad. We have really good proof that inequality breeds bad things for an economy. People in power, people who are already wealthy, have no social reason or indoctrinated focus in being generous and conciliatory to the lower classes in Western culture. So it’s safe to assume that, rather than acting in a responsible way to ensure that other people don’t starve, these people in power try to make the most money possible even if doing so inevitably damages the economy. This is how you get things like just about every economic bubble in history. Especially the housing bubble in the US. Many people who either read this or who know people who read this have been taught to value the economic system that permits these people to continue to strip-mine the economy. So, because the world has not taught every single one of us to give a lot of a damn about poor and underprivileged people and people are taught to intrinsically support laissez-faire economics and neither of these beliefs are challenged based on available data and historical precedence, we have a world where people ignorantly support the capability of the powerful to just become more powerful.
And if you have spent any time in recent years defending the American economic system, the right of “business owners” to “hold on to the money they earn” or have fought the idea of taxing and supporting the economy through direct spending, you have most likely participated in activism in support of the status quo. When you get up to vote for your local Republican or Democratic member of governance who supports these things, you have participated in activism that supports the status quo. When you even complain about other activists, you are actively participating in the enforcement of the status quo.
So yes, you still need to be an activist. But you need to be the right kind of activist.
Go out in the world and question everything. Question yourself. Question your questions. Question why you ask things, how you ask things, and what those answers are.
Until you can define yourself, these questions are the most important thing you can do with regards to your politics, your relationships, your lifestyle, and your happiness. Until you can say, “I am like this because of these reasons, and I know this to be a fact.” then you are not yet completely an adult. You are but a child who has donned the suit of adulthood and is but mimicking what it means to be an informed, participating Agent within our society.
So go out there and learn yourself yourself.