There sometimes comes a time when the voices of internet activists are so loud that they begin to effect an actual change in the real world. There sometimes comes a time when enough people shouting, “We aren’t happy!” prompts other people to ask, “So what do you want us to do about it?”
It’s true that my activism takes place primarily on the Internet. There are a few reasons for this, but it’s mostly a matter of timing, and I’ve been working through the last six months to transition that activism into the real world. Even so, I don’t think that internet activism is automatically slacktivism, because I can point to at least five people whose ties to libertarian thought originated with my Facebook posts. Five, of course, is a drop in the bucket, but I would consider the time spent writing to be well used if I’d introduced even one person to libertarian philosophy.
Something I’ve written about before is continuing to happen, though, and Arvin Vohra gives is a clear case of it within the Libertarian Party. I’ve frequently said that Black Lives Matter enjoyed the national spotlight for nearly two years and yet didn’t accomplish a single thing except to make people aware that they weren’t happy. No policies were changed, and no police were found guilty. You’d be forgiven for thinking that we hadn’t just seen interstates throughout the nation shut down by protests. It’s a curious thing that protesters could command that level of attention and organization, yet accomplish absolutely nothing.
The activist has goals, and usually has at least some idea of how to get from where we are to that destination. The slacktivist has no goals, and instead has only emotions. “Everyone should be treated equally!” isn’t a goal, after all–it’s an emotional statement that could lead one to formulate a goal. “The military should be dismantled entirely” is a goal, albeit one that is hard to sell to the masses. It’s an actual action with an actual outcome, not a loose guide.
Considering Arvin Vohra, the emotional statement is “You shouldn’t say negative things about this group!” while a concrete action would be “Arvin should be removed from office!”
At a glance, I’d say that the difference between activism and slacktivism is that the slacktivist wants to tell other people what to do, while the activist wants to do things that have a desired outcome. The slacktivist proposes mandates of other people’s actions, knowing that they can’t be enforced, while the activist cares little about what other people are doing because the activist is working personally for the change they want to see. The slacktivist says, “You do this.” The activist says, “I’m going to do this.”
The goal of the slacktivist is nothing better than ensuring that everyone knows how unhappy they are; the activist doesn’t really have time to wax at length about their emotional reactions to various stimuli. In Buddhist terms, the slacktivist says, “I am suffering,” while the activist says, “There is suffering.”
Everyone has goals, though–even the slacktivist. However, the slacktivist just wants everyone to know that they aren’t happy. Slacktivism obviously isn’t limited to the internet, but the internet has made it much easier for Random Joe to spread his discontent, so it’s going to be more common on the Internet. How many pointless, ineffectual petitions are there on Change.Org? Tens of thousands? That’s slacktivism in a nutshell.
Why, there’s even a petition there to remove Arvin.
When the slacktivist sets out, their goal is to make sure other people know they are unhappy, and their method is to tell everyone that they aren’t happy. They want nothing beyond that, and if their voices become so loud that it seems they could actually achieve something beyond that, they’ll strangely back off. The child doesn’t want the parent to do anything except acknowledge that the child is throwing a tantrum.
It came as no surprise to me, to see a motion put forward to remove Arvin, and to immediately have the masses of people calling for his head to say, “Oh, hold on, let’s not be hasty here!” The same thing happened with Comey just a few weeks ago–mere months ago, liberals were calling for his head, but as soon as something real happened, they flipped entirely to the other side.
It reminds me of when I ran for class President my senior year, and proceeded to Ralph Nader the crap out of it. I didn’t want to win, and it’s a tremendously good thing that I didn’t. But, strangely, that didn’t stop me from running and campaigning. I didn’t win, but I split the white vote (in a school that had a very slight white majority, and it’s a matter of record that most people voted along racial lines–yes, even the black kids) enough that the black girl who had run and lost each year actually won the election. All that said, I didn’t want to win, and I didn’t even really want to spoil the vote. But that didn’t stop me. I guess I just wanted to see if I could. I don’t know. I was an idiot high schooler who dropped out a month later.
The platitudologists among us would probably say that the slacktivists truly want to accomplish things, but they are more paralyzed by a fear of success than anything else, and that could work as an explanation of this strange behavior, but I don’t think that “fear” is the right word. They’re not afraid of success; they’re just not aiming for the goal that most people assume, and that they even express to be their goal.
They say they want Arvin removed, and I know of many people who said that, right up until a motion was made. The removal of Arvin Vohra was not their goal; however, the threat of removing Arvin Vohra was among their methods for achieving their goal. They just wanted everyone to know they weren’t happy, to give them attention and acknowledge their discontent, and to at least pretend to give a shit what they feel. Toward that end, they did two things: they bitched, and they made what they thought were mostly empty threats. Like if I said I was going to nuke Washington D.C. (Hello, NSA/CIA!) if Trump didn’t step down, that would be an idle threat that no one would take seriously. But what if some rabble-rouser who shared my sentiments agreed and sent me a nuke?
Uh-oh. I’d suddenly be in a pretty awkward position (not to mention–in Gitmo) of having to find some kind of way to avoid admitting that I was totally full of shit. To that end, I’d backpedal from my previous hard-line stance, and would probably say, “You’ve gotta give Trump a chance to comply…”
Just like people backpedaled on Vohra and, now that they metaphorically have nukes, are suggesting that he must first be given a chance.
“Full of shit” indeed.
They didn’t want to remove Arvin. They just wanted to threaten to, as a way of forcing people to take their incessant whining seriously. Without that threat, they have nothing, and can easily be dismissed. “I’m not happy!” by itself is a lulz-worthy whine. “I’m not happy! Fix it or I’m gonna…” can be a potentially serious threat.
I say we should call them on their bluff, and call them on their bullshit.