When Activism Is A Waste Of Your Time


Whenever I hit Facebook, I often have a dozen messages shoved in my face by armchair activists with nothing better to do than “raise awareness” about causes they don’t mind giving some moral support to. Vote for Bernie Sanders. Oppose that Chinese dog eating festival. Look at this image of starving children and make a donation today. This is the kind of thing that causes compassion burnout for so many people that it’s not even funny. When does it quit being activism and start becoming a waste of your time and mine?
The key to good activism is to never ask anyone to do anything that you are unwilling to do yourself. I have a lot of respect for J.K. Rowling, who donated so much of her earnings from Harry Potter to charity that she no longer ranks as a billionaire. I would have more respect for the Pope if he announces that he’s going to use Vatican funds to give every homeless person in Rome a modest house to live in the next time he talks about helping the poor. The problem I have with talking heads that say they support a particular cause is that they expect everybody else to do the heavy lifting when they could be setting a good example.
Of course, at this point you’re probably asking, “What can I do beyond sharing something on Facebook and/or blogging about it?” Some things I like to do are:

  • Vote for a third-party candidate. To be honest, I disagree with many of the positions held by both the Republicans and the Democrats. It’s just hard to find good politicians who have some kind of leadership ability and a sense of accountability. However, I voted for third parties in the 2012 election when I could because I think that if enough people do that, the Democrats and the Republicans will eventually notice.
  • Instead of complaining about banks, make your next major purchase with Bitcoin. If you’re shopping for a new laptop and you’ve managed to pick up some Bitcoin, you might try Dell or TigerDirect. But of course, you actually need to obtain some Bitcoin first, so you could try selling some items you don’t want anymore in the Marketplace section of Bitcointalk (Life Pro Tip: Don’t make your Marketplace post your very first post on Bitcointalk. Participate in discussions a little bit first even if it means asking a few intelligent questions about Bitcoin.) or on social media groups like this one I just created or even just accept Bitcoin payments during your next garage sale.
  • …Or buy used. I’ve never minded buying gently used or refurbished versions of popular products, simply because it’s cheaper and often as good as buying it new. This is an especially good option if you object to crony capitalism, overpaid CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, puppy mills (adopt a pet at your local animal shelter!), or just can never scrape together enough money to buy new products all the time. There are some products that you should always buy used anyhow.
  • Have your own garden. The average carrot travels 1,200 miles to get to your plate. That’s a lot of gas burned just to have some carrots to chop up in your salad. Even if you can’t have an actual outdoor garden, it’s possible to save some of that gas and just endlessly regrow your carrot stubs in pots. This is especially helpful if your budget doesn’t allow for a lot of fresh produce otherwise.

So it’s easier than you might think to go beyond sharing Facebook posts related to the causes that you care about. Next time you want to annoy your friends with your armchair activism, you’ll get more mileage out of being able to say, “Yeah, I put in a garden this year because I got sick of buying that lousy produce at Wal-Mart and supporting their mistreatment of the front-line employees.” This kind of line might get your friends thinking about ways that they can help support a particular cause even if it’s on a smaller scale than what J.K. Rowling can pull off.

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