I’m coining a new (to my knowledge) phrase here today: Inactivism.

That’s when you do a bunch of “activism” that has zero chance of making any real impact, and the only reason you do it is some combination of outgroup rage and ingroup status-seeking.

Sam is my example. Sam professes to care deeply about the plight of the homeless. Sam yells a lot, both online and off, about this deep concern. Sam directs ire and rage at anyone associated with the “wrong” side of this issue, always within sight or earshot of plenty of people on the “right” side. Sam has never ever donated a dollar to a cause that actually helps the homeless or volunteered in any way to make an actual dent in the problem.

Sam is an “inactivist.”

Now, I’m being slightly uncharitable to the likes of Sam. I’m accusing all inactivists of being motivated entirely by status-seeking, but I think there truly is another angle at play. I think that the way our particularly skewed view of information presents these issues to us has led many of us into an “all or nothing” trap.

You see, all the information you receive about any particular plight is centered around the idea of that plight being dire. When things improve, even a little, it isn’t newsworthy. This can lead you to believe that problems never get better by increments – we either solve them all at once, or we don’t solve them (and it’s always the latter, and it’s always somebody’s fault).

But that’s not true at all! Imagine that you felt really bad about people being rained on. You think it’s terrible! So every time the clouds gather, you spend all day screaming at the sky to stop raining. It never works. Someone suggests that maybe you could just buy a few umbrellas and give them to people, and then at least those people wouldn’t get rained on? And you scream back: “But that doesn’t stop it from raining!”

Yeah… nothing will stop it from raining. That’s the reality you refuse to admit.

That’s the reality with pretty much any problem. You, personally, cannot make a dent in the problem as a whole. But you can absolutely do wonderful, powerful things locally and in small numbers.

The next time you want to be an “activist” about something, look around instead. What is a small – but actual – thing you can do about that problem in your own town? Go do that instead, and then get on with your life. The only real justice is the justice you can touch.

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