Dismounting the activism high horse

horsedismount

The world sucks right now, y’all. ISIS is displacing millions of people, race relations in the U.S. seem to be regressing instead of progressing, the next U.S. president will either be an unhinged maniac or a calculating murderess, there are millions of people still trapped in slavery, U.S. veterans are not receiving adequate social, psychological, and economical support when they return from overseas, Blake Shelton’s and Gwen Stefani’s duet is being treated like legitimate music..

What to do? In the past I would feel compelled to read and post as many articles on facebook as I could to raise awareness, give as much money as I could spare to causes that fight against these atrocities.. if necessary, I would even duke it out with a complete stranger on my friend’s posts comment section just to make sure those creepily curious but silent Facebook readers were getting my side of the story. But more recently my online presence has consisted of Seinfeld-esque rambles, intermixed with Instagram shares so people don’t forget how adorbs and amazing I am.

What has happened to ol’ Galloswag? Well, to borrow from Hillary Clinton, I’ve ‘evolved’ recently in how I think about my personal involvement in these really huge, disturbing, meta-issues that are plaguing the world. A few points I’ve realized –

  • Never in any point in history have we had access to so much information. Although it’s great to have the ability to google ‘Sri Lanka government’ and get about 893,000 results in 0.51 seconds, the constant barrage of info is completely overwhelming. Instead of making me a more empathetic, conscious world citizen, it’s numbing me. I simply cannot get worked up about each and every issue. This says nothing about their worthiness of attention, but my own physical and emotional limitations. I would have a mental breakdown if I did.
  • As a PhD student, I recognize that there are experts in everything now… and almost all true answers are “Maybe/probably, but it’s complicated.” Almost all public knowledge is so dumbed down and distorted by various media sources that it’s almost impossible to know the real truth of the matter – especially when it’s a politically contentious issue. Basically, the “truth” comes down to which news source you like and what sort of assumptions you’re bringing into every issue. Now to borrow from Jeb Bush – although I’m not an expert in world or political affairs, “I know what I don’t know.” I’m not descending into moral relativism – I do believe in absolute truth. But I also believe absolutely that I don’t have the time, resources, and intelligence to diligently research and understand the truth of every issue.
  • There might not be any worse place to talk about important issues than on social media. No one logs into Facebook so that their world view can be radically altered. Readers are much more likely to misunderstand the content and tone of posts and tweets, and are more likely to respond with hostility instead of understanding. It’s not shocking that whenever I say “if you want to talk about this more, please private message me,” that no one follows up on that offer. It seems that practically no one wants to have a reasonable conversation. They want to share their thoughts and defend their stance publicly, not learn or be challenged.
  • I can’t speak for everyone, but be honest – are we REALLY ‘grieved’, ‘outraged’, ‘deeply saddened’, etc.  about *every* school shooting, racial riot, tsunami, government overthrow , genocide, terrorist attack — or do we just want to make sure everyone knows that we’re socially conscious people and keyed into relevant issues? It’s like we’re all running for office and have to put out a press-release documenting our official response to all trending topics. Why?? Are you actually in a position of power to change those situations? Do you actually have anything new to add to the conversation, and/or can you actually say something more clearly and eloquently that someone who actually is an expert has not already said?
  • “But Galloswag!”, you protest, “we could always give money toward different causes, right?” Sure.. except do you really have the time to research the integrity and effectiveness of all the organizations you support? I used to think, “I’d rather give money and it be used unwisely than not give money to a worthy cause.” But sometimes throwing money blindly at problems really can cause harm (see Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity). And not to get all Marxist on y’all, but there are limited resources in the world, which means pouring resources into an ineffective or corrupt organization really is a sort of evil, because you’re stealing from the people, causes, organizations that actually are legit.

Here’s where I’ll pivot somewhat from the bleak and cynical. I’m starting to think that mayyyybbeee we’re given specific skills… put in specific times and places… around specific people… for a reason. Maybe I should focus on helping my lab-mate move to a new apartment, doing good science that actually makes a contribution (however small) to finding a cure for a devastating disease, and supporting local businesses, artists, etc. It’s not that I want to bury my head in the sand and pretend the big scary world doesn’t exist. It’s that I can’t stretch my poor little emotions so thin that I become a self-righteous maniac or a detached psychopath who responds to all evils with a moving fb status update or a disturbingly glib reaction meme, respectively. I’m beginning to think the best way to bring shalom* to my world is a be a good sister, help out in my own community, and save my money, time, and emotional energy for one or two causes/issues that 1) are particularly important to me and 2) are being combated by trustworthy organizations that I’ve taken the time to research.

This is a departure from my usual tongue-in-cheek, bossy-pants posts because I truly don’t know if this is good or right.. but this is where I’m at right now. So I welcome your thoughts. But of course, you can also just silently judge me and I will continue merrily on.

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*Shalom is one of my favorite concepts of all time. It’s a Jewish word that is sort of a synonym for peace, although it’s not just referring to the absence of conflict but the flourishing of a community. ❤

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