by Leon Felkins
As painful as it may be for some of you to hear, activism has failed. It's dead! The era of traditional activism is over.
Sarah Thompson, "The End of Activism"
While driving along Al Gore's "Information Superhighway", more commonly known as the Web, I've noticed a lot of litter along the sides. Upon closer inspection I see that much of it is valiant efforts by a hodgepodge of activists for this cause or that. And for every old one that falls to the side, several new ones pop up to take its place.
The result is that we have thousands of activist sites and mail lists warning us of the ever encroaching power of massive government and admonishing us to do something about it.
The problem is, as Dr. Thompson's quote suggests, it is mostly a waste of time and effort. Internet activists are regarded by the government much like a dog regards the fleas on his back. We are a mild irritation. Occasionally some of us may get irritating enough that we have to be swatted, but for the most part, we are just ignored.
There are a number of reasons why this is so. Number one is that the government, so incredibly powerful with access to virtually unlimited resources, just doesn't consider the citizens to be a serious threat. If necessary they would use brutal force to keep us in line but other than an occasional incident like Ruby Ridge or Waco, it is not likely to be necessary. Most citizens are easily keep in line by a powerful propaganda machine and a nice paycheck.
Another reason nothing is likely to change is that the activists are so splintered and disorganized. As I said, there are thousands of organizations and web sites devoted to try to turn around this drift toward socialism and the police state. If all joined together, it could be a force that the government would have to contend with but as long as they remain small and unorganized the government has nothing to fear.
But there is yet a third issue that is even more sinister and that seems to be poorly understood and that is the belief that "if we will all just do our part, we will get results". Not so. It just might very well be that "just doing your part" is a complete waste of time. Now, let me explain.
No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.It will take an avalanche to turn around the statism trend of our society. You are just one snowflake. While millions of snowflakes can trigger the avalanche, one most likely will not. Just "doing your part" is no more likely to have any noticeable impact in stopping statism than one additional snowflake will cause an avalanche.
-- STANISLAW LEC
Various political activist group are constantly asking me to join them or they just put me on their mailing list without asking. Most of the time I politely ask them to remove my name from their mailing list. Sometimes they want to know why.
A typical exchange goes like this. They say, "we need your help". And then I say, "I'm very busy and my contribution to your effort or the lack thereof will not make a difference anyway." And they say, "Oh, no, we need you to be involved". And I say, "No, you don't need me, you need thousands of people like me. But if your organization is going to make it, it will make it with or without one single person's input. In fact I am not interested in being involved if your situation is so critical that my contribution would make or break it."
No one wants to hear that and many never really understand the argument. But it is true. The problem is that with regard to my vote, the solicitor and me see things in two different ways. He is basically talking to thousands of people, a group. His interest is the group and one vote more or less is not going to hurt him.
Now we move to my side. I am not the group, I am just me. I realize that my vote only makes a difference if there is a tie, which is extremely unlikely. I know that whether I participate or not is not going to impact anything. It does no good to ask the question, "but what if everyone did as you are doing?", for I am not everyone, I am just me.
Political philosophers have long recognized this paradox. They accept that the real question about voting is not why don't people vote but why does anyone vote!
Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.
-- Law 7 from The 48 Laws of Power, by Joost Elffers and Robert Greene
It is a well known phenomenon that many people are content with making a symbolic, "feel good", contribution. They don't really care if it is effective or not. If that is your case, then the rest of this paper will not interest you. But if you would truly like to see a change, then here are some suggestions.
Any time you have an idea for changing the politician's, the news media's and the public's collective mind, you must think through specifically how you would do it. We are constantly hearing politicians, news media, and our friends saying we ought to do this or that, we ought to have family values, we ought keep our kids out of drugs and sex, we ought to make our schools better, etc. -- all this is useless unless it is part of a coordinated, goal-directed, plan.
A few years ago, I got an email from Barry Krusch (which I have long since lost, so I am quoting from memory). Barry said that what this country needs is a new constitution and he was in the process of preparing it. When asked about how he would go about getting a constitution convention together in which his constitution might be considered, he said no problem, we will just spread the word on the internet.
The conversation never went very far because to his every statement, my response was "How?". In summary, I pointed out that to get the internet to do your bidding, you will need a massive advertising campaign and, in turn, you will need a leader, and sub-leaders.
While this may seem so obvious, this last statement is the whole crux of the matter: You need a leader if you wish anything to happen. That leader must have a plan and must pursue it in diligently. Nothing is going to happen whatsoever just because you think it should happen and you tell a few people about it. At best, all it does is make you feel a little better.
And therein lies the problem, or course. Who is going to be this leader? If it is your idea, how about you? Oh, you don't have time? You're not willing to sacrifice your life? You think your idea has only a small chance of success? I see. Well, don't waste your time and mine sending me email for I have my own list of good ideas that I am not willing to give up my life for!
Let us look at a specific example:
We have these thousands of freedom loving individuals on the web, wasting each others time, just basically talking to each other -- "preaching to the choir".
The only way that something can be effectively accomplished, requiring group effort, is to have a plan in operation that somehow convinces the group to do the required effort. Nothing happens when you just tell me and a few other friends what to do. Your goal should be to convince me and thousands of others to do what you think should be done.
I used to be an active member of the FEAR group (Forfeiture Endangers American Rights). We daily sent messages to each other to fire each other up. One day I posted a message to the group and said that this is a waste of time. We need to have a directed plan to get the attention of thousands of people. None of us in the group needed any more convincing that the government's seizure of private property without due process was bad. I was soundly criticized. And still, the general public knows next to nothing about this awful government abuse and the news media ignores it altogether.
So, the next time you want to get their own version of political activism moving along, you should go through, at least, these steps:
As straightforward as this seems, I would bet that at least 98% of the suggested political actions we receive from our friends and the politicians do not come close to meeting these simple requirements.
Millions of words are written about what is wrong with our political system and what politicians ought to do. Guess what: they are not paying any attention whatsoever. Even the results of the millions of dollars worth of research grants into political philosophy -- paid for by the politicians with our tax money -- is ignored by these same politicians.
When James Buchanan won the Nobel prize for his work in "Public Choice" theory in which it was shown that politicians act in their own self interest and rarely in the interest of the citizens, did you notice any politicians wringing their hands and saying, "Dang, we've been nailed. I guess we better cool it for awhile or at least quit funding university research in political science." No, they gave it no notice whatsoever, and university grants continued to be doled out as before.
Because, you see, it just doesn't matter university professors (or anyone else) think.
While the reason for why this is so is extremely simple, for some reason the man on the street doesn't understand it, which is not surprising, but neither do most of the academics and the news media. What is this simple reason for the almost total lack of response by politicians to our whining?
Both politicians and rats tend to do what they are rewarded for doing and to avoid those things for which they are punished.
This simple law of nature, of course, applies to many more animal classes than just politicians and rats. It equally applies to me and you and even our teenage children. It is too bad that we forget it most of the time for its acceptance would make life a lot simpler.
If that be the case then, let us look at a typical example.
Remember the giddy days in 1994 when the Republican's made a successful effort to gain control of congress? Remember how they were going to drastically cut back the government, eliminating whole Federal agencies by the hands full? Remember the "Contract with America"? So what happened? Did you notice a massive reduction in government control and spending? (We have more now than ever!) How many bloated wasteful Federal departments were shut down? (They've all grown!) How about "term limits"? Ha!
While a couple of minor changes were made, the implication that we would see a major reduction in government control and spending has not materialized. Government continues to grow and freedom continues to take a beating.
The reason is simple -- the politicians do what they are rewarded for doing. They are rewarded for lying to get elected. And there is no significant reward for them to change the direction that this country is going. The more government, the more power, the more spending, the better their lives are.
If you want change, you must somehow figure a way for them to be rewarded for the things you want to happen and to be punished for the things you don't want to happen. Until you do that, you might as well shut up, for all this whining is not very dignified.
"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinion, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
-- Oscar Wilde
I am not implying that to influence public opinion, a massive, expensive campaign must be waged. While that is certainly the way that has the highest chance of success, it is possible to pull it off by guerilla memes. You have no doubt heard about "memes" (or their political counterpart, "pemes"). Another word for "memes" is "viruses of the mind". Well then, if a meme is just a virus, like any other virus, you should be able to start small and then it should be able to spread on its on.
Nevertheless, you must think through how it would be done. Different people are subject to different viruses. While you may be able to have it spread itself around the internet, how much chance does is have of infecting the public at large? Consider the "Drug War". It seems obvious that folks on the internet would dump that program in a minute. But, if the politicians are right, the general public still is oblivious to its failure, fraud and terrible expense. So, most of the public is immune to ideas on the internet in that their collective mind does not allow entry to such viruses.
So, for an effective memes strategy, you must design a meme that will infect and spread through the general public (professional lobbyists do it all the time).
There is an enormous amount of activism on the web hysterically promoting that we "need to do something". It is about as effective as "kicking a hundred foot sponge" as the saying goes. But some sincerely think their exasperated writings will somehow do something, someway. Probably not, I say.
If you write because it makes you feel good for one reason or the other, then enjoy yourself. But if you are sincere in wanting to actually make some progress in the fight against statism and liberty repression, you must at least think about the details of how it would be done and then personally see that it gets done. A lone voice in the political wilderness is a useless and insignificant addition to the cacophony that politicians have already learned to ignore. You must explicitly define, step by step, how you would get thousands to do what you think needs to be done. While politicians could care less about you, they do get concerned when large groups seem to be endangering their livelihood.
You must come up with something that pulls the politicians' chains -- not just what upsets you. Politicians and rats both do what they are rewarded for doing and avoid what they are punished for. It is that simple. The complicated part is how to obtain a set of rewards and punishments for politicians that will ultimately be beneficial to the citizens.
Even if you don't have the huge amount of funds and resources to wage an effective campaign, it is possible, but by no means easy, to create memes that will do your bidding by spreading your good idea -- like a virus -- through the minds of the populace.
In closing, I think it is fair to respond in advance to an obvious question: "In view of what you say, why are you, Mr Felkins, bothering to write all these nasty essays about the government?" Simple -- I get a great deal of satisfaction in letting them know that I know what they are up to -- even if I can't do anything about it.Claire Wolfe said,
"America is at that awkward stage.
It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards."
What she didn't say, but I will, is that it is likely to stay that way a long, long time.Leon Felkins
Copyright 1999 Leon Felkins. All rights reserved.