What's The Point of Activism
Recently, a Twitter user shared a video that showed a group of vegan activists protesting in front of the New York City Louie Vuitton store while a young man ate an unspecified cut of meat in front of them. Two separate unnamed women are berating the flagrantly eating man (unflinchingly eating, I should mention) while calling him a "fucking coward" and informing him that he has a "small dick" (no points for originality, it seems).
It is certainly not the first time, nor will it be the last time, when protestors become unhinged and wail at someone for having the temerity to disagree or simply not care about the issue du jour. You may recall the BLM protests where diners were verbally assaulted (sometimes physically) by gangs of activists. But the "meat-eating bad man" video above got me thinking, what is their goal here? And more broadly, what is the purpose of activism in the year 2022?
What makes activist movements compelling is that most have legitimate causes at their core; take the animal welfare issue, for example. Whether it be factory farming, useless and cruel medical testing, or other animal abuse cases, these are issues worthy of having concerns raised. But doesn't it, at best, dilute and, at worst, counteract their message when they come across as lunatics? Well, maybe not. It all depends on what you are attempting to achieve. But, let's back up for a moment.
When you think of activism, what do you think of? Or maybe, more precisely, of whom do you think? Activists represent a group of the most influential people in history, particularly in the modern world. So influential, in fact, that addressing many of them by a single name, or initials, is sufficient to identify them (see MLK, Malala, or Mandela, to name a few). Among this rarified group, certain qualities are common in nearly all of them:
The ability to convince disbelievers or agnostics that they should join the movement because they hold the higher moral ground
The ability to inspire people to action on behalf of that cause
The selflessness to put the cause above themselves
That list may not be comprehensive, but it seems like a reasonable foundation to build on. However, finding people to participate in a movement with all of those qualities is extremely rare.
If you combine the rarity of finding people with those qualities with the fact that activism has become an enormous business (and, in turn, requires massive numbers of participants), the outcome is predictable. For example, Black Lives Matter and BLM-associated groups received over $90M in donations in 2020. When groups have this level of funding with which to perform their activities (and they aren't buying multi-million dollar homes for their founders), they need to find a large number of people to propel their movements. In turn, we will have many activists who do not hold those essential qualities, leading to the havoc noted above.
Additionally, the growth of social media has changed the nature of activism. No longer is it simply about in-person demonstrations and hopefully the occasional news coverage, but also about putting black boxes in your Instagram feed and making a general nuisance of yourself to post on Twitter or Tic-Tok. And so we end up with two distinct types of people involved in these causes; the first is the true believers of the cause. The second are those with a "feeling of inferiority," as the Unabomber would call them; those who feel powerless in their lives and gravitate towards activism because it's something they believe is within their control and can prove the extent of their authority to their group.
So back to the question, what is the goal of activism today? For the true believers of a movement, the answer is straightforward. True Believers aren't trying to convince you at all. You are irrelevant to their end goal because the goal is not to convince but to compel. Why take the time to persuade millions of people that you are right when they need only to convince a few thought leaders at elite universities, who will create highfalutin jargon to spruce up the concept and find lawmakers who will pass laws through simple majority votes to force you to act the way they choose?
Additionally, corporate HR departments will latch onto this jargon; voila, it becomes part of their ESG (Environmental & Social Governance) initiative. And this is the root cause of our political nihilism today. There is no goal other than power. There is no need to change hearts and minds when you can simply compel.
But the idea True Believers hold is only one step. In the next step, they need to show the concept holds sway over people. That's where the inferiority members become handy. The inferiority members make the True Believers movement seem more extensive and passionate than it is by performing these Tik-Toc/Twitter ritualistic spasms, which germinate not from a desire to convince, but from the desire to prove their bona fides to the tribe.
So next time you see an activist act like a rat who was just let out of his cage after months in confinement, and wonder, who do they think they are convincing, remember two things: first, that most of the participants are useful idiots, and second, the target for the message is an ever-shrinking number of people...and it isn't you buddy, that's for sure.