My contributions to this site have been received (in comments both here and on Facebook, as well as in private correspondences) as excessively angry, preachy, even arrogant. I do not think my anger is excessive, serious as the issues of war, the futility of change within our current electoral system, and the brainwashing of a whole populace are. I do think that they are perhaps “preachy,” but I am “preaching” on something of great importance. The final charge of arrogance is a difficult one to address. If one sees a problem and wishes for it to be addressed, is it arrogant to think one has a duty to speak on it?
Indeed, I do see a great many problems with how the left in our society deals with the status quo, and I may “arrogantly” point it out. Why exactly does this bother people? In my estimation (based upon the numerous self-contradictory and disproportionately furious responses I get), it is because the problems I point out in such a forceful fashion prove that mainstream American liberalism is part of the problem, rather than the solution, and just as liberal Americans cling to patriotism for their own self-worth, so too do they cling to the idea that the sort of “leftism” they were indoctrinated with by post-hippie white middle-class-dominated utopian liberalism is good. There is a deep gap in communication between me and my enemies. This is because, in their minds, attacking the value system they were indoctrinated with (liberalism and the Democratic party) is a sign of being a lunatic who cannot be taken seriously, and in my mind, taking up the progressive complicity in that same value system is evidence of moral and intellectual cowardice. Despite our shared opposition (in theory) to war, sexism, racism, homophobia, and the exploitation of capitalism, we have precious little common ground, because like the Daily Show’s “Rally to Restore Reason,” they insist that only non-threatening critiques are acceptable, while I insist that the system must be itself assailed as an evil for any vague possibility of change.
What then, some of the more well-intentioned liberals ask me, is to be done?
I’m glad you asked. Well the first and most important thing, often (incorrectly) attacked as “slacktivism,” is that we make clear to the people around us that we do not find it morally acceptable to turn a blind eye to the crimes of the system. We must name the problems as they really are, unpleasant though that may be. References to Democratic party politicians such as Obama must cease to be fawning. The two-party system is completely broken and we should regard members of both parties as equal enemies. Our friends who regard Obama as heroic must be corrected in the same way we would correct them if they tried to whitewash the crimes of George W. Bush, or for that matter Reagan or Clinton (Bill or Hillary, both are murderers).
The reasons for this also must be publicized. Many people I know claim that we spend too much time with our “slacktivism,” and not enough on “activism,” but they themselves deny the need for any serious action of either type specifically because they like to avoid information about the dangerous direction the US government continues to go in for its own citizens, as well as its sinister role around the world. These are real problems that can and should be explicated to people that we know.
I wish to repeat again for the record that out of ignorance (willful or otherwise), many people will at this point in the article already declare that I am too angry, too radical, beyond the pale, and yet (somewhat in self-contradiction) claim that I’m not doing enough (“it’s all empty talk! you can’t possibly be this opposed to war!”). In fact, I do take action, and as I get older I only find I am more able to engage in various kinds of activism which I will detail shortly, but the sheer volume of liberals who deny the seriousness of the problem in the first place should be enough to make it clear why we need to spend a lot of time engaging in the reeducation of ourselves and our peers vis-à-vis politics, society, capitalism, international relations, etc.
“Most people are not critical.” This is what we’re trying to change.
Once people know as we know that the system is deeply broken, we must renounce voting for the Democratic party. An argument could be made that truly principled people like Kucinich ought to be supported, but this should be because he is principled, not because he is a Democrat. Usually the two are in contradiction, and his ability to be both does not absolve the rest of the party of their well-attested lack of principle. When people like Kucinich (inevitably) fail to receive the DNC’s blessing for the national ticket, we must NOT accept whoever they ASSIGN us instead. We must vote for a third party candidate, or perhaps not vote at all. The past decade in Egypt, Turkey, Israel, India, France, the UK and the US should be enough to prove to us that elections are not a solution. They are merely a reflection of the national mood. If the national mood is one of resignation towards the lesser of two evils, we should not be surprised when the elections (supposedly a representation of the popular will) produce… an evil, even if it is a “lesser” one.
And speaking of Egypt and Turkey, we should attend protests. Not everyone has time, but it helps us time-wise that so few protests in the US are truly worth attending anyway. The Occupy Movement was unfortunately dominated by people who insisted they lacked demands, and there was a disturbing amount of apologetics for the Democratic party. People will claim this was in response to media scapegoating of that party by media sympathetic to the other party, which I wouldn’t dispute. But this is a trap we must avoid. We mustn’t defend Obama simply because racists and rightists attack him. We must be clear that we oppose Obama based on his POLICIES, not based on his party or the color of his skin. By falling back in line with the Democratic party out of a reflexive need to oppose the Republican party, we empower the former party even as it slides further and further right in accordance with the baiting of the Republican party.
I may appear in self-contradiction here: I claimed I supported protests and then attacked the Occupy Movement. I don’t mean the entire movement, but many protests did manifest themselves that way. As a proud son of the Bay Area (who presently lives in the ultra-reactionary bowels of Brooklyn), I would like to point out that Occupy Oakland had a very strong voice and frightened liberals and conservatives alike with its moral seriousness. Protests like this, anti-war protests, protests against incidents of police violence, of rape, and anti-capitalist protests such as the anti-G8 protests, all are to be supported and attended if practical. There is no contradiction in avoiding liberal protests if they aren’t morally serious. But we should by all means protest against tangible oppression in a serious fashion, even if we are fewer in number for now:
It should be clear that all of those protests above are very serious instances of activism, and yet people like me who attend such protests are accused of “slacktivism” for arguing publicly on the internet (the main open source of information for Americans today) against those protests which we feel don’t have morally serious voice. So it’s not really about a lack of activity, as the epithet “slacktivist” would imply. The real motive by the liberals is obvious: To tell people like me to stop speaking in such a scary fashion. If they were really concerned with “slacktivists” (that is, people who actually aren’t active), they would attack people who don’t attend any protests but speak publicly in favor of the status quo, but they do not. They charge with “slacktivism” only those who speak publicly against the status quo, without bothering to actually check to see what activism we engage in (and while I call on everyone who can to take part in protests, not everyone can all the time, but if you’re reading this, you CAN spare time to do more critical reading and share the information you find with your friends, family and colleagues).
We can all stand to read more. Seek out news sources that appear unafraid to offend political orthodoxy. Read political theory. Even if you don’t have time to read every article and book on politics, set aside some time to familiarize yourself with the constitution so you can critique it and the abuse of it. Read the Communist Manifesto, which shockingly few people do. Read Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” Or read “A People’s History of American Empire,” which is even available as a graphic novel.
For people who have money to spare, it should not be donated to the DNC (as some people I know do). There are many good charities out there which actually directly help poor people (and one must be very careful to make sure one is actually helping, and either way, charity is but a band-aid), and there are unions which help poor people which need support. Although if you have money to spare for charity, you ought to dedicate some time and energy to seriously research the actual impact of the charitable organization. Even if you (like me), don’t have the disposable income for charity, you may be able to find nearby places where you can purchase the goods you need more directly from workers, rather than from faceless multinational corporations which exploit their workers and control our government.
These are all things that individual people can do, but without serious education about the actual problems with our society, people can scarcely be expected to waste their precious time and money on them! That is why I praise what my enemies incorrectly call “slacktivism.” If you have time (either by linking or writing) to enlighten people around you about tangible problems, to share some critical thought and some serious analysis of the ills of society and their sources, you must always let your voice be heard. Don’t be silenced by these white liberals, who are so in love with the status quo and are so bothered by your anger.
Speak loud so that they can know why they are wrong, and so that others will begin to speak up as you do.
The more people who talk seriously, the more time we spend in serious contemplation of what is wrong, the more we will be able to collaborate on serious change. Before that, all we have are a bunch of fake crackers telling us to calm down and vote for the Democratic Party. They are loud because society has told them they are already right. But there are morally serious progressives all around us, and the less you are afraid to speak, the more you will find them around you.