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February 11th, 2014, The Day We Do Nothing Of Consequence

11 Feb 2014

Today, February 11th, 2014, is The Day We Do Nothing Of Consequence against mass surveillance.

There, I said it. This whole "Day We Fight Back" thing is an utterly pointless waste of time and efforts, and nothing more than feel-good armchair activism. Like all the armchair activism before it, it's a way to get instant gratification, for people who want to feel like they are "changing the world", regardless of whether they actually are changing the world. And like all the armchair activism before it, it is not useful in practice.

There are undoubtedly many reasons why people engage in these kind of activities. Personal ego, wanting to feel like they're "contributing", a feeling of helplessness, a genuine belief that it might work, perhaps even the knowledge that it will distract from real efforts... whatever the reason, the only practical consequences it has are of a negative nature. Not only do these tactics not accomplish anything in reality, they also distract people from making a real effort to change the world. They make people feel like they've "done their part", effectively killing their willingness to get involved in any more constructive future efforts.

Demand Progress is an especially bad offender of this type of armchair activism. Several times a month, I receive an e-mail from them, asking me to sign a petition, "call my representative", or similarly pseudo-activist actions. Demand Progress has existed for three, nearly four years now. Demand Progress, if after four years you are still talking about the same problems, don't you think your strategy might not be working out?

"Calling your representative" isn't helping. The small minority of "representatives" that has the best interests of citizens in mind, is effectively powerless to make a change in the larger scheme of things. Not just that, they are part of a governmental system that is inherently broken, and vulnerable to corruption. Just look at the past few months of Snowden leaks for a tiny sample of that. Signing a petition isn't helping either. Those who could theoretically change things, are not interested in your list of signatures. And your list of signatures isn't going to do anything of its own volition.

And then there's the matter of "raising awareness". Possibly the single most common argument that people bring up to defend their armchair activism. Not only is it a common argument, it's also incredibly wrong. What, exactly, are you raising awareness of? The majority of the population already knows that things are rotten, you don't need to tell them that. What you need to do, is think about a way to solve the problems that exist. "Raising awareness" for the sake of raising awareness, is like advertising a product that doesn't exist; yes, you've made people aware of the 'product' - but in practice that's a completely useless achievement, as the product didn't exist in the first place.

No doubt this comes down to the "one trick pony" behaviour that has been rampant lately, both within Anonymous and within other (pseudo-)activist circles. Just like the average Anon will grab "DDoS" as a tactic without any strategic planning ("well, that worked for Mastercard, didn't it?"), the armchair activism reflex outside of Anon has become "call your legislator, sign a petition, raise awareness". Nobody actually thinks through the consequences (or lack thereof), they just assume that it's a good strategy because it did something at some point in the past.

This is to all armchair activists: your "achievements" are meaningless. Calling today the "Day We Fight Back" is a disgrace to all serious activists throughout the years, no matter their cause or methods. You aren't "fighting back", you are complaining in a corner. If you want real change, start thinking strategically, and start using tactics that are appropriate to the situation. This guide exists for a reason.

UPDATE: A few people have demanded that I come up with a solution. They are missing the point entirely. A strategy for "changing the world" doesn't fit into one short blog post. Even if it did, it would be of no help - the same people would just be blindly following my suggestions, instead of those of somebody else. So if you're expecting me to tell you what to do, here you go: develop a strategy that is in line with your beliefs and goals, and share it with others. This is not something I can (or should) do for you.