There is no shortage of desperately important worthy causes, especially since the invention of selfie sticks. The average Jane or Joe can’t leave the house – or stay on the couch to watch telly for that matter – without being assaulted by need. We must all wise up, right now, all the time, about everything: we have to save the planet and the animals and the trees and retired donkeys and starving people in faraway lands and special needs people around the corner and an endangered species(s) and social justice and free speech and progress and conserving heritage and lonely old people and self-harming young people and kittens and – please God forgive me if I neglected to mention your own personal pet cause, I acknowledge its importance.
It’s fair enough. There are things that desperately need our attention. We are allowed to – and one might argue should be encouraged to – take an interest in the world and to try and improve it.
A number of factors are worth bearing in mind though.
Firstly, the reality that few things are completely neutral. In reality, most things require trade-offs and compromise. It isn’t possible to save the habitat of the Lesser Spotted West-Virginia Swamp Rat without chasing jobs out of the community by opposing the construction of the planned local Stripmalls R Us. Who gets it? Spotty the Rodent or the Minority Single Mom with a Baby To Feed? You decide! Most importantly, you don’t just decide – you must publish your decision, and then also ensure that you malign the motives of whoever disagrees with your choice. Name any cause and there are likely to be counterclaims.
In the easy and oversimplified world of moral smugness – the good guys and the bad guys are very neatly delineated. The Rainforest is the worthy cause – a chaste, virginal and pure victim, threatened by the evils of Western Commercial Interests. If the fight is between a burger chain and the amazon, it’s fairly easy to pick sides. But in truth it isn’t the burger chain threatening the amazon. It’s poor people. Millions of them. Who want a better life for themselves and their kids and need the land for farming and housing. It’s so damn sexy to strut around a Western campus with a t-shirt and a chip on your shoulder. Lecturing the starving third world masses to their face… is less of a good look.
Second, the selfie stick factor shouldn’t be underestimated. A lot of doing good is posturing. If I help people to feel good about myself, then my ego is the primary recipient of my charity. You’ve seen it. A bunch of housewives wearing diamonds that could cure scurvy in Africa if sold on the open market, at an art gallery, paying $2000 a plate to go to <insert cause here>, while batting their bovine-like eyelashes and discussing all the sophisticated topics of empathy and kindness – before returning home to yell at their minimum wage maids.
Or celebs. You have opinions, I have opinions, my dumb and backward cousin Jim has opinions. But suddenly if you are in front of cameras a lot – for either admirable or banal reasons – your opinion counts more. It’s not that I believe soccer players, comedians, musicians, writers and actors shouldn’t have opinions, or causes. It’s just that I recognize that being noteworthy in one way does not translate into being noteworthy, or correct for that matter, in other ways.
You can usually tell sincerity from the level of hypocrisy involved. Take Gervais. Likes animals. No reason to doubt him. Doesn’t blatantly contradict himself on it or align with any causes that exploit otherwise. I say we believe him.
Compare that to a soccer player ‘taking the knee’ or wearing (or threatening to wear, as pragmatism would have it) a rainbow armband. It’s not that I don’t think equality isn’t an important cause, or that I doubt some (not all, surely, but some) players carry those issues close to their hearts. But I can’t buy it if you are physically present to play in Qatar. I’m sorry, I just can’t. I don’t believe you. You’re bullshitting us. Your activism is convenient and performative. I say we never have to listen to a word that comes out of your pie hole again.
Third, and this is a big one, even if your motives are as pure as snowflakes, there is the little matter that factually, objectively, you might be wrong. The 97% of Scientists Agree Crowd happen to have their mascot a Scandinavian girl famous for skipping school. I won’t say you don’t believe what you say – it’s just that I don’t. It’s not about being a ‘denialist’ – it’s about understanding and distinguishing between facts and fiction.
Magicians Penn and Teller once went to a climate protest and got hundreds to sign a petition to ban the chemical dihydrogen monoxide. People signed. Dihydrogen monoxide is H20. That’s right, folks signed a petition to ban water.
Not only that – but senior leaders of various movements – not just in the climate field but in any cause you can name – have made appallingly bad predictions in the past. At what point do we start doubting their accuracy, if not their motives? Remember global cooling? I do. Remember the 1970s predictions that in 20 years the world will end, or that millions will die by 1989? I do. I had to listen to the hysteria.
Yes, yes, I will be performative myself, and I shall recite the Creed as required: Yes, climate change is real. Yes, mankind causes some of it. Yes, we should do what we can to mitigate the effects and change course and be good stewards of the environment.
But is it too much to ask for people to read Bjorn Lomberg and not just the placard held up by the purple haired chick with Henna on her face?
People are good – most of them – at least the ones I know. If you tell them there is a problem, they are happy to help. There wouldn’t be as many charity ads on the telly if that wasn’t the case.
But these people, the regular people, are also viewed as cannon fodder by unscrupulous idealists who have decided that their cause justify any means. They block traffic and the working-class lad can’t get to work, the dude misses a funeral, the lady can’t get to hospital, the cop dies. They have no shot at fame or respectability so they go to a museum and throw paint or ink on something that they could never create nor equal in value.
Then they bask in attention online, where their echo chambers sustain them, and the mainstream diverts some of the precious lifeblood of attention their way. Fine. Then they go on TV – and I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice it – but they offer nothing but inane platitudes.
Most of them can’t even articulate the problem as they see it, let alone convince anyone else.
It’s just “We are facing DISASTER.”
You have to agree, see, because if you don’t, you’re like a heretic.
Can you quantify the disaster? Can you tell us more about it? Can you point out who disagrees, to what extent they disagree, and what specific actions you feel they need to take that they aren’t? Can you, in this world of trade-offs and ulterior motives, convince us that your remedy is the correct one and that it would work as you think it would? Do you even propose remedies at all – or is it just “It’s all a disaster, humans are evil and I demand attention from everybody with my ceaseless publicity stunts?”
Perhaps we should demand a relationship between levels of passion and levels of knowledge and competence.
Before you take on a strong opinion – perhaps you should know what you are talking about. Be able to argue the contrary viewpoints with maturity and intelligence and conviction, if only to battle test your ideas.
Perhaps lobbying politicians, donating to effective organizations, and volunteering for ocean clean-up is better – that is, objectively superior – to spilling the milk on the floor at the local supermarket.
Most of us are tired of being collateral damage so that people we wouldn’t even dream to employ can make us work hard in trying to cope with them.
We desperately need a grassroots activist movement to protect people from grassroots activist movements.
The problem is, opposition creates more attention and galvanizes them.
If you slap the kid who just poured ink on the historic and one-of-a-kind artwork created by a rare genius – suddenly – there is inexplicable controversy. You simply feed them more attention.
The media, however, won’t let us ignore them either – so the petulant little bastards keep going.
When it comes to actually neutering these unhinged idealists, I think I might have a cure.
A quiet way to protest – that can convince them that their behaviour is counterproductive.
Now, of course, it won’t be without cost. Things are expensive, we’re in a cost-of-living crisis. But no cause is without its sacrifices.
It’s a price – expensive as it is – that we – the good guys – must pay if we want them to stop.
I have, at this stage, only a symbol and a pledge. If people unite behind the idea, I can write a manifesto. But I wouldn’t go bigger. No office. No paid activists. Just a pledge, a symbol, and an idea. (That just sounds so rags to riches it’s bound to inspire)!
Our symbol shall be a ribbon of bacon.
And here’s the pledge (repeat after me):
“My household and myself hereby solemnly pledge, that for every publicity stunt – be it on a highway, in an art gallery, in the supermarket, or anywhere else, that disrupts life, staged by activists – we will simply triple our meat consumption for the duration of one week per stunt.”
You can also now let them know that you oppose them without giving them more attention. Simply say: I’ve taken the pledge, and hold two fingers to your lips (symbolizing the two pieces of bacon you’ll also eat tomorrow morning because of them).
Now I know it won’t be easy and it will cost more. But it is as far as I can tell the only way to fight back, feel good, not feed their childish little egomaniac games, and support the economy at the same time.
It’s not that I don’t care about the planet. Honestly. It’s just that I seriously doubt the solution to our problems lie with little shits like you.