Monday, June 15, 2009

Slacktivism and the Subjective Weight of Human Life

One of the questions I have been coming up against today: What is the weight of human life? Why do we give some lives more weight than others? I don’t really want to open this up into the abortion debate (as that is too heated and one of my least favorite topics to talk about), but it is the one that has gotten me thinking. If people are willing to protest in the streets about abortion and use ‘the sanctity of life’ as their main argument, why are they not protesting all the times where this sanctity is being betrayed? I can remember being taken out to picket at a young age, but I was never taught about the atrocities happening in the world around the same time –the South African apartheid, the Rwandan Genocide. (I know that I can’t generalize, as I have been called out on this more than once, so understand hear that I am speaking out of my personal experiences, and those of people I know.) I don’t understand how we can go and protest one thing but not the other.

Vocal support only goes so far. A good example of this is Darfur. I will always say that I am against the genocide happening in Darfur, but what will I do against it? What do the people I know who are ‘against’ this actually do? It’s like the recent commentary by the Globe and Mail as well as NPR on the growing epidemic of slacktivism. “‘Slacktivism’ is an apt term to describe feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in ‘slacktivist’ campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group” (NPR 19 May 2009). Admittedly, there are some online campaigns that do good, so I cannot generalize and say “all” but the vast amount seem to be nothing more than a one-button click to ‘show your support’ and then after that nothing. I am guilty of this myself, so please understand that I am including myself in the guilty party.

This also reminds me of the folly of activist blogging. What good does blogging do? The student government at UM recently held a “Blog or Shut Up” campaign to promote discussion on student government activities. While this is a possible solution for the lack of involvement on campus, I have often heard (and used myself!) the same phrase to refer to activism. I just have to laugh because what does that really do? Unless you have a substantial politically-activated reader base, what the hell do you think is going to happen? People are not going to get out of their comfy office chairs (I am one of those who has trouble ungluing the seat of her pants from her computer chair) and start acting because someone wrote an angry post on their obscure blog. Even with the more popular bloggers, what do they cause us to do? Do we shake our heads at the misery the world over? Do we go to a different website because it makes us uncomfortable? Will we (will I?) ever be motivated to truly move?

When I live in a nation with the incredible privilege of free speech and the opportunity to stand up against injustices without fear for my life or the life of my loved-ones, why is it that I will not use these priceless advantages I have been given to stand up against the problems in the world today?

NPR: Foreign Policy: Brave New World of Slacktivism

Dear Student Government

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