The Capitalist Model of Activism and Why it Sucks

The recent flood of white people on my timeline vying for the position of “most intersectional activist of the year”, a competition I have felt myself compelled to join, has woken me up to a lot of uncomfortable realisations. The last thing the world needs is a white person blogging about racism and white supremacy, but I do have one observation that is far more universal, and applies not just to this one thing, but in general to activism today, particularly on the internet:

Activism has become competitive, capitalist, commodified. You can consume it, you can be entertained by it, you can raise your status in it, if you have sufficient education, means and leisure time you can become really good at it, even well known and endorsed for it, and then you get to crap all over the folks at the bottom of the ladder struggling to get on the bottom rung.

Capitalism is all about hierarchy. I reckon most of the bad stuff in the world happens under the influence of the competitive part of our nature – the bit that likes control, competition and dominance, the bit that counts beans and tries to make sure its own pile (or group’s pile) is bigger. We have a collaborative side, too, but it takes a different set of conditions to bring this out in us, conditions not prevalent in our capitalist, kyriarchal culture. Activism as a competitive process is doomed because it just continually re-orders the hierarchy (see Orwell’s Animal Farm, for the definitive satire on this phenomenon) – it will never dismantle it. It’s not designed to dismantle it, just re-allocate resources differently – a scramble for different types of privilege in an alternative structure that has become just as hierarchical.

The activist sphere has become a world where knights roam the landscape impaling as many people as possible on their swords of truth and justice, with onlookers cheering them on while they reach for the popcorn. Everyone has their own crusade, and it is just, and worth hurting people over. It’s an arms race where the weapons are the stacks of social justice pages we create that demonstrate the supremacy of our causes. Ideas triumph through popularity, measured in retweets, likes and shares that are assisted by none-too-socially aware algorithms. Controversy and attack attracts an audience, and so nuance and bridge-building become uneconomic activities.

Let’s not forget in all this that the spreading of fear and stress is in the interests of those who own the internet – because the less happy we are, the better consumers we are. And it’s also in the interests of those who want to rule us, because the more fearful we are, the more easy it is to divide us and control us. Fear is weakening us, impoverishing us, and strengthening the kyriarchs above us and among us.

Yes trans activism, I mean us. Yes feminism, radical and otherwise, I mean us too. Yes anarchism, green politics, left politics, animal rights and all the other groups from the Judean People’s Front to the People’s Front of Judea – I mean all of us. I mean me. I need to do better.

As someone who strives to build bridges, relationships, networks, understanding – love, even, I was seduced by social media to believe this was a perfect environment for this to happen, but now I wonder – is this a social media problem, is it my own deficiency, or is it just people being people? Whatever it is, I think I’m done with this capitalist model of activism; I want to grow something different – who’s with me?

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8 thoughts on “The Capitalist Model of Activism and Why it Sucks

  1. Karl

    I feel weird writing, “this!” and then re-posting it on facebook hoping people will read it. Nature of the beast and all that, I guess.

    So what would something different look like? My first instinct is “go back to the grassroots” and help people and myself redevelop a stamina for nuance in analysis and firm-decision making. We need to remind people and ourselves that critical thinking eventually has to turn into a decision that is followed through on by a group of people who want to change or eliminate a shitty aspect or institution of oppression.

    What are you thinking about?

    Reply
    1. Sam Hope Post author

      Yeah, and I don’t plan necessarily to get off the internet – internet activism is really strengthening and brings people together, particularly vulnerable, marginalised and disable people, but we need to be aware of how we are manipulated and how the medium makes us competitive.

      As a counsellor I always go back to empathy, to strengthening the right side of the brain, to being creative with what’s in front of us, to being relationship orientated, to strengthening the side of our nature that is collaborative rather than competitive, to embracing vulnerability and non-knowing, to letting go of the need for control.

      I would thoroughly recommend reading anything by Starhawk for some ideas about how this is done . . .

      Reply
  2. Pingback: You’re not being tone policed, you’re just an a**hole | A Feminist Challenging Transphobia

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