Say what you will about the last month and a half (you know, that post-electoral period of time where liberals suddenly woke up to the fact that fascism exists, then predictably made it all about them), but one thing it’s done for me personally is forced me to take a hard look at what my purpose as a leftist is.
I’ve spent most of my time in the last decade hung up on propaganda – here, on twitter, in real life political conversations, you name it. And ultimately, I can’t help but see it as 90% useless.
Now, before you jump down my throat, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aware of propaganda – of course we should keep track of it. Tactically it makes sense to try to understand empire’s motives, and it makes sense to try to use awareness of propaganda as a tool to wake people up. But in the grand scheme of things, cataloguing propaganda is just a tool – it’s not the *purpose* of the left.
I can’t help but feel like much of the activism I used to see in real life has slowly seeped onto the internet; and in-turn has become a chorus of people shouting ineffectively into the social media wind about how horribly hypocritical the empire is, while doing (it seems) much less to actually combat empire. Facebook has taken over more and more what used to be in-person contact and planning; twitter has become our soapbox; and the services that can’t be replicated online? I’ve seen so many of them dwindle that I can’t help but feel like there’s a connection. FnB chapters shutting down. Showing support materially to the homeless gets replaced by ribbons on online profile pic. Just in general, community solidarity getting sucked into online presences that provide a tightly-controlled-and-advertised-to-facsimile of actual connections.
In short, the internet has made activism a brand to be built up, tailored to every single one of us to feel like our voices are being heard, and that they matter because we sign enough petitions, or boycott enough websites, or hashtag the latest fucking bullshit. Me, you reading this, all of us participate in this. But the reality is that no matter how loud our voices are through the fiber optic cables, we aren’t going to downvote and hashtag capitalism out of existence, anymore than you can stop bullets by yelling at them.
Of course I’m being bombastic here. There is a purpose to cataloguing propaganda, as I mentioned. There are benefits to connecting with people over the ‘net that we might not in real life. I get it. But for so, so many people it’s become the primary way they get their activism on, and it’s a cop-out. And worse, this idea of wringing our hands while we watch as bad shit happens to other people even if we are trying to make people aware of it by exposing propaganda and lies, just means that those of us with high-speed internet connections at the Imperial Core become the online biographers of a death-spiral in the rest of the world. No blog post is going to stop Israeli phosphorus.
When I was 19 I was in Seattle for the WTO protests. And while I’d like to say I was there because I was a principled anti-capitalist at 19, the reality is that I was going to meet some friends for coffee (I lived in Tacoma) and was completely unaware of what was going on until I happened to end up in a cloud of tear-gas. But it was electrifying. I’d grown up concerned about most of the same things these folks were protesting – my parents were always dissidents to one degree or another, so I grew up more “woke” then most people. But I was a typically self-involved teen, and had never seen street level activism until then. It opened my eyes up to what opposition could really be – people caring enough about <insert issue> to get up and *do* something about it. (Which in retrospect proves how little people listen to their parents, since my mom had told me plenty from her own civil-rights / anti-war stuff in the 60s).
That experience was eye-opening, but it was quickly subsumed by a less-concrete form of ‘activism’: yelling about shit on message boards on the ‘net. Then IRC. Then blogs. Then twitter. After all, it was alluring – it *felt* street level in a way (remember all the talk of grassroots online efforts? The ones that turned out to either be bullshit, or part of a color rev? Yeah). It offered me a way to feel like I was *doing something* with my time that mattered. Sure, there is no fundamental difference in how time is spent on the ‘net, whether you’re talking about the next model of chainsaw you want to buy on your favorite logging message board or snarkily pointing out hypocritical errors in a propaganda website; but the latter definitely feels different because it’s intended to feel different.
I’m not excluding myself from this. I’m 100% implicated here. I’ve become lazy about my activism, and the ‘net is one of the primary causes of it. What used to feel like this tool that provided me so much has become the platform for my entertainment, my ‘activism’, and my work all wrapped in a neat little advertising supported bow. Corporations literally support my activism online, and yours, and everyone else’s. 20 years ago we might have been able to have non-corporate communities on the internet, but now they’re few and far between, and the ones that exist are probably Fed honeypots.
So I titled this post “Rethinking My Purpose”, and I’ve been doing a lot of just that the last couple of weeks. I keep starting posts about whatever piece of propaganda infuriates me that day, then I stop and ask myself “what’s the point?”. What else can I be doing that this is taking time away from? For me, I’ve realized, there are far more important and concrete things I can be doing with my time instead of being online. And for the first time in a long, long time I’m actually excited about my plans again.
So, with all of that in mind, this will be the last post here. I’m retiring roasty, years after I should have, but I am. I’m going to work entirely locally, and I’m not putting any of it online anymore. What’s the point? I don’t have anything I need to prove to anyone, and indeed it’s bullshit narcissism for me to try to – it’s more important that I use the same privilege that allows me this laptop and internet connection to do something concrete then it is to worry about the lies that the Washington Post feeds the world. In all of my time online, I don’t truly believe I’ve changed one person’s mind about capitalism. Not one. I’m sure I’ve influenced people (or at least I hope I have), but they were people who were already sympathetic to being influenced. You can’t snark your way to a revolution (at least not one that any of us probably want). I’m going to focus on mitigating harm to people where I can; I’m going to focus on doing something, anything locally to combat climate change (because can there BE anything more anticapitalist then fighting the extinction of 99% of species at the hands of capitalism?)- even if all I’m doing is helping people and animals in the short run, it’s better than doing nothing.
So, one last time, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish – to all of you that have become my friends, you are the major bright spot to spending so much time anarchying online. Later all, catch you at the community garden.