* Before anything else, I need to clarify my meaning: There are “activists” whom I respect and support. (Ernie and Donna Hancock leap to mind, as do several Bitcoin “activists.”) I divide these people from the activism of my title, because these people act, encourage, and teach directly, not through third parties.
This distinction will become clear to you as we proceed.
The Distinction: What Happened to the Cool Kids
Once upon a time, there were courageous computer types who defied mighty Western governments and worked around them to deliver usable cryptography to the world. It took skill, it took intelligence, and most of all, it took courage. But these people took the risks and did it, and I think they deserve credit for it.
Sadly, however, more than a few of those people descended from the ranks of the righteously disobedient to the level of mere activists. They spend their efforts these days encouraging legislation, engaging in dialog, and promoting causes.
In other words, they went from doing things themselves to begging overlords to do them. Consider the two models:
The first model required skill, intelligence, and courage. It required people to act against the will of the dominator.
The new model makes activists advisors to the dominator. In their imaginations, they are so smart that they can trick the dominator into doing “the right thing.”
Please note that model #1 removes power from the overlord and transfers it to individuals.
Then please note that model #2 enhances the power of the overlord. It is only the overlord who is held as a proper actor.
Sadly, model #2 has become the primary model of activism in the Western world, and this is the model that I oppose.
Specific Reasons I’m Opposed to Activism:
#1: It enhances the existing order. As I’ve written before, mankind is now living with space-age technology and bronze-age rulership, a ridiculous and retrograde mode of organization. We desperately need to get past it, but rulership never willingly lets go of power. Supporting rulership – enthroning it as the only legitimate actor – is devolutionary; it drags us away from the future.
#2: It evades courage and risk. No one likes risk, but in a world controlled by bronze-age dominators, progress requires it. Under the modern activism model, however, almost no courage is required; the activist is a partner to power. Successful activism, under this model, ends with the ruler – and only the ruler – acting.
So long as we beg the ruler to act, we are harmless to power and even helpful to it. For example, while Alexander Haig was a major figure in the Reagan White House, he was confronted by anti-war protestors. His response was telling:
Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay their taxes.
Activism that relies on the existing order is no threat to the existing order. It benefits the status quo and it neuters potential activists of the first model, seducing them to avoid risk.
#3: It corrupts the activists. Activists of the second model tend to have problems with arrogance. That’s my observation, of course, and yours may differ, but the entire model rests on the ability of the activist to outsmart other people.
The model #2 activist outsmarts ruling factions to get his or her way. He or she works social media to get groups of people to repeat his or her slogans; he convinces masses to show up at his events; he gets TV cameras where they need to be when they need to be, then crafts sound bites that will play well on the news. In other words, he outsmarts everyone else.
The modern activist uses people as tools, especially the social media throngs. Thus, he or she gains a very real type of power. And as we should all know by now, power corrupts.
The successful activist, as a tool of his or her trade, must become famous, and fame corrupts at least as fast as more traditional types of power.
#4: It keeps the masses firmly within the status quo. People seeing the great, well-publicized successes of the model #2 activists never see any reason to move on their own. The brilliant activist gets things done by outsmarting power. That being so, their most sensible action is simply to support a successful activist.
Why should the concerned young person launch out on their own, seeing that famous gurus are already talking to the prime ministers, filing class-action lawsuits, and have thousands of online admirers? So, he or she finds a role inside the status quo that the activist is “changing.” Something feels naggingly wrong about it, but who is he or she to challenge the great guru?
And so the status quo continues forward apace.
#5: It creates and enhances a victim-based culture. Nothing gets better results in the modern age than portraying oneself as a victim or portraying one’s cause as in the service of victims. And so, that is precisely what the clever activist must do.
Worse, the activist needs his/her crowds to appear as victims and subtly encourages them to see themselves that way. Soon enough, the thousands do see themselves as victims, empowering the activist to champion their cause.
And please note that once we slide our minds into the role of “victim,” we give up agency over our lives. From then on, we become dependents, rather than confident actors on our own behalf.
In other words, we hand over our power to the activist and become dependent upon him or her.
Worse, we become morally dependent upon the activist, because the very role of “victim” requires a moral judgment. The guru activist then becomes a major force in our moral universe.
This amounts to a loss of personal power that is both subtle and pernicious, atrophying our ability to handle even our interpersonal interactions.
#6: It helps victims by using other people’s money. Convincing the state to “do something” is the easy way out. Rather than standing up and getting busy (and, god forbid, spending our own money), we empower the state to act. The truth, of course, is that the state does nothing without first stealing money, but we can easily imagine that it doesn’t cost us.
This model permits us to feel righteous at no expense. It’s false and wasteful, of course, but the illusion is easy to maintain… at least in the modern climate, where few things are called by their true names.
So, please engage in Model #1 activism: Use your own mind, your own cleverness, your own effort. Bless the world.
And once you do, give yourself credit. You will have earned it. You will have gained a real reason to feel righteous. Enjoy it.