[NOTE: I'm moving this back up just for a bit, because I posted it Friday evening, and Toast suggested I repost it again this morning.]
Echidne has a great post today in which she addresses a particular frustration of active feminists: “Feminists are somehow the unpaid cleaning crew … who is supposed to turn up after dark and fix the world so that the attractive nonfeminists can live in it comfortably. So that nobody else needs to spend time or money or their lives in trying to move the almost immovable rock that is public opinion on the so-called ‘women's issues’. So that it's only the feminists who can be painted with the caricature brush as mirthless and humorless, as too ugly to get laid, as man-hating fanatics.”
Her post reminded me of my lament in the same vein, about the American majority’s intractable lethargy toward their duty as a watchdog of government to ensure good governance. “Leaving a small group to carry the burden of caring doesn’t work—especially when the party in power has endeavored to marginalize them as hysterical lunatics at every turn and the impetus to stay disengaged makes accepting that characterization so very appealing, conveniently masking as it does any reminder that one’s own indifference is not just ignoble, but dangerous.”
And it struck me that both the sweeping scale of national politics and the subset of issue-specific progressive movements in America are both plagued by the same problem: too few people willing to do the hard work required to produce the results from which everyone wants to benefit. (Excepting, of course, the retrofuck jackholes who endeavor to drive us all several centuries backwards.) If only it were simply apathy, that would be, well, a pretty normal state of affairs. But it is beyond apathy—it is hostility toward activists, a resentment expressed in Echidne’s reference to “only the feminists who can be painted with the caricature brush as mirthless and humorless, as too ugly to get laid, as man-hating fanatics,” and in my reference to the marginalization of activists “as hysterical lunatics at every turn.”
Never in my lifetime has the word “activist” been as dirty a word as it is now, never has it been so inextricably linked to all manner of negative association—crazy, humorless, dangerous, traitorous. There’s always been a certain strain of activism regarded by some as laughable; anytime someone plops themselves in a treetop, there’s inevitably going to be giggles. Now, however, seemingly anyone who cares passionately about making a difference, holding the government accountable, ensuring fair elections, changing minds on social issues, arguing for fairness and equality, etc. is regarded as unhinged, and the quickest way to discredit someone is to call them an activist.
This is collective amnesia of our own history. America was a nation of action. The spirit of “can be done…the pioneer thing,” as Eddie Izzard would say. Go West, young man. Manifest destiny. Send the boys off to war; Rosie the Riveter and her sisters will keep the factories humming. Rural electrification?—no problem. By god, we’ll put a man on the bloody moon! And so we did.
And now, apparently, we’ve decided to take a little nap, after all our forebears’ hard work. Yawn. Thanks to their blood, sweat, and tears, we can fulfill our destiny as couch potatoes.
Especially since we all know that somebody will keep an eye on things. Surely someone will stay vigilant and make sure the train doesn’t go careening off the tracks, that we don’t lose our reproductive rights, our separation of church and state, our environment, our jobs, our right to vote, our very country. Yawn. What’s that? Cindy Sheehan’s on the teevee? Ohmigod, hahaha. What a wacko! She is such a loser. She, like, totally needs to get a life.
Get a life, you mourning mother of a fallen soldier. Get a life, you humorless feminists. Get a life, you parading queers yelling about marriage. Get a life, you affirmative action dopes. Get a life, you poor, lazy slobs on welfare. Get a life, you enabling progressives. Get a life, you national healthcare advocates. Get a life, Al Gore. Get a life, get a life, get a life.
So we are instructed by the La-Z-Boy jockeys. So is their resentment at those who refuse to quit stirring the pot made manifest. By telling the rest of us to get a life from the slack-jawed, numb-brained comfort of their comatose lives, by recasting inaction as life and activism as a pathetic, contemptible waste of time, they deflect the responsibility for any and every unhappiness, inequity, or injustice that befalls themselves or anyone else.
In the new American paradigm, pacifists are the enemy, and passivists are the real heroes, realizing their ultimate purpose as inert, impotent consumers, who contribute nothing but judgment on those who refuse such a fate. Get a life.
Even the phrase is rich with the notion of consumption. Get a life—surely the local Wal-Mart’s got several lovely models on offer. As if we don’t all have lives already. What we need is more people who are willing to use their lives for a purpose, to make those lives meaningful, to contribute to effecting the changes from which they want to benefit.
It is the definitive nod to what a lackluster, overindulged, ungrateful, and uninspired nation of people we have become that disdain for activism is not only accepted, but encouraged. When people marched to protest the war, the big news story was how they were holding up traffic, the inconsiderate bastards. Don’t they have anything better to do? Don’t they have lives?
Quaint, and silly, this notion of sacrifice, when juxtaposed against the ease of taking liberty and opportunity for granted. Only a fool would waste time trying to make his voice heard over the roar of complacency that echoes across the nation to its farthest corners. If we can have a war and tax cuts, surely too we can bask in our freedom with no obligatory exertion to protect it.
Having been given the chance to do nearly anything, the majority of us choose to do nothing.
But it can’t last forever. Believing one’s choices are guaranteed but leaving it up to others to protect the continued ability to make those choices—others who then become objects of ridicule for one’s amusement—is a recipe for disaster. Sooner than later, every American will be left with only one choice: keep on laughing at the activists, or become one to save themselves. And what a glorious dawn in America it will be when every chortling, finger-pointing, invective-hurling slacker who finds activism the epitome of pitiable profligacy stops counseling us to get a life, and instead, gets off his ass, and at long last takes a stand.