On Anger and Activists

Posted on January 31, 2016 by Richard Goulter
Tags: ,

Oh, activists. <3

As a couple of examples, here’s IdleWord’s post about how to fix online advertising. – It’s an insightful, well-informed piece, with thought-provoking conclusions.
As another example, here’s Steve Johnson’s discussion of a ‘maximum wage ratio’. It’s less impressive, but still has some interesting discussion points.

In both of the above pieces, the authors discuss an issue they care passionately about, identifying concerning problems, and suggesting solutions which would fix the issue. So far so good. – But, then, both authors can’t help but go the next step and make jabs at their ideological opponents.
Johnson’s piece includes a rather irrelevant paragraph about “well, you think SV is libertarian, but actually it’s not” (as if anyone things California is anything but a socially progressive state..). IdleWords can’t help but lambast people like Elon Musk, whom he thinks are working on unimportant products while there are good things which still need to be done. – That is a bad thing; it’s irrelevant to the issue they’re trying to progress. Whether it’d be in progress of equality for wage-ratio to be considered a metric isn’t affected by whether libertarians are cool or not. Whether various solutions to advertising would be beneficial for all involved doesn’t depend on whether the talented, rich and powerful are pursuing socially-left goals or not.
– The motivation seems to be “these things are too important”, but the effect is that we’re left with a distraction with which to argue over.

I’d accuse that part of the motivation comes from an anger; the activist cannot stand their ideological opponent. The activist is the good guy, and anyone not helping is the bad guy. – And if someone’s a bad guy, you’re allowed to (and must!) take jabs at them.
And in addition to the anger.. the activist’s attitude is one of ‘destruction’. It doesn’t matter if the activist isn’t nice, so long as the activist is effective.

– Yet, despite this, I can’t quite say activists are a bane.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the attitude which says “Why be angry with everything? Life’s too short for that.”, “Why be angry with what you can’t change?”. I think this itself is in response to the outrage machine that fills social media; people getting angry over petty things which don’t impact them at all. This clearly isn’t constructive.
Between these two extremes, one has to sympathise with the activist more: it’s clear that there are many problems to be solved. (I’ll qualify that, though, with that sometimes people will see problems where there are none. It suits those not in power to stir trouble for those in power. Much ink has been spilt as to which problems are ‘real’ or not, usually across political divides).

And it’s somewhat persuasive to say that changes don’t happen without some external force. Those who are in power will want to stay in power; those who aren’t in power will want to gain power. – This probably needs to be qualified, too: killing flies with howitzers is just too much, counterproductive. (And things get tricky: those in power will say the angry are using too much force, while the activists not in power will always say they need to use such power. Drama ensues).

With all the above understood simply (it’s not, it’s a complicated topic which needs nuance),
what’s left is the issue of effectiveness and permanence.
– In her inaugural post for Status 451, Meredith Patterson (who usually writes outstandingly well) writes with a sharp-axe-swinging. (Aside from 3 paragraphs, which praise some other women working on diversity efforts in tech, which are quite nice). In the post, Patterson asserts that divisive efforts for change bring about only temporary victory; and that cooperative efforts beat out those who are for “all vs all” or “some vs all”. (She links to an article justifying this). – Meredith’s a smart person. I hope she’s right.

Newer post Older post