Monday, June 8, 2015

"Slacktivism" IS Activism

It should be no surprise by now that I'm a geek. 

As such, I have on rare occasion attended the geek equivalent of a mass: a convention. Or "con" as it is often referred to within the culture. I still get updates on the con season and was quite dismayed to learn that a woman had been subject to harassment and assault at a convention in Atlanta. Management and security at the convention told her it was because her cosplay was too revealing. I was quick to post my opinion that no outfit that anyone wears is ever any justification for them to be touched inappropriately or otherwise harassed.

Replies to my thoughts were likewise quick:

"Dude, she's not going to [have sex with] you just because you're defending women on the internet."

"Quit making this political."

"You're just a Social Justice Warrior."

"Quit being/you're just being a slacktivist,"

That last one sticks with me. The definition of the slang term "slacktivism", as found in Urban Dictionary, is "participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to solve a problem." 

While I can understand the word's genesis, I am often resentful of its misapplication. Here's why:

-There is a long list of problems in the world. Extreme poverty, gender and racial inequality, torture at home and abroad, animal rights, and the increasing damage done to our environment. No one person or even a single group of people can handle everything on that list. That, however, is not an invitation to apathy. Even if there is nothing that someone may be able to do in the immediate, that does not bar them from having a voice.

-What is often slapped as "slacktivism" is someone discussing these very problems. Awareness of the issues is essential as is keeping the topics circulating in the urbane discourse of the marketplace of ideas. For example, I would not have known of the thousands of people tortured and killed in Nigeria had activists in Amnesty International not alerted the world. I would not have known about the horrific treatment of the cosplayer had I not read someone else taking a stand against it. That leads me to...

-We need to end the bystander effect. What we permit is what will continue. If no one speaks to defend someone such as the aforementioned cosplayer, then nothing will change. We need to make all around us aware that we will not stand for injustice. If you hear of an injustice, no matter how far from you, speak. It is a responsibility. It may feel or even appear that you're one voice piling on in a crowd but that chorus is necessary. That's how change comes about: when enough people care. If we want to change something like the misrepresentation of women in Congress, a culture must first be fostered where such a misrepresentation is not permissible. 

-Of course one should act but remember the phrase "think globally, act locally?" Before someone is chastised as a "slacktivist," it should be known for certain that they really are doing nothing. Climate change is the most critical issue of our time, an existential issue if there ever was one and someone may write or speak about it at length. But before you say "rhetoric is cheap," consider that the speaker might very well be doing all they can. Recycling, reusing, keeping their electrical use low, driving less, and of course keeping people informed on the issue. That is doing something about it. This should also include, of course, contacting political leaders and voting.

And one word about that phrase "quit making this political." It shows both pusillanimity and a startling lack of understanding. One needs to understand that everything is political as everything is an argument. The very demand of "quit making this political" is in itself a political statement. Secondly, the request implies a form of intellectual weakness, of wanting to shoo away a subject so as not to deal with it. Sorry, but we live in times where no thinking person who is concerned about the world can afford to be unengaged and ill-informed. You don't get a free pass.

Then again it might just be easier for a subset of the population to slap the label of "slacktivist" on a voice and then feel assuaged about doing nothing. If that be the case, then I will choose "slacktivism."

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