30 August 2014

The Commodification of Activism

The commodification of activism is a term I've coined to describe the popular culture phenomenon whereby everyone who creates awareness for their personal bugbears considers themselves an activist.

 Commodification as she is commodified

Commodification is a term I've borrowed from Karl Marx.  I'd be sure to pay him his royalties for all his hard work, but fortunately he frowns upon these notions of property and ownership.  We're all standing on the shoulders of giants, or even on the shoulders of midgets since everyone is equal in Marx's Utopia.  Much obliged, Comrade.  I took according to your borrowed ability to satisfy my needs.

The way I understand Marx is that he fell victim to Hume's guillotine by implying that things like love and labour really should not become commodities.  They're too valuable to put a price on them.  The phenomenon whereby these invaluable things become saleable commodities is what caused Marx to turn up his nose.  Those heartless capitalists know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

For our purpose, commodification refers to social status credits being accumulated by cheerleading for the socially acceptable causes.  Conversely, not cheerleading for the socially accepted causes or even rallying against them may result in the accumulation of social status debits. 

The commodification of activism is therefore not commodification in Marx's sense, whereby invaluable properties become saleable goods and services.  It's more of a conceited metaphor for activism itself becoming a commodity in the social status sense.  What have you done for the cause, Comrade? Oh, liked and shared? Very well.

Simple social commodity production in theory and practice

Let's start with the practice first, then see if we can formulate a hypothesis from that:

The most obvious example of the commodification of activism is sharing pictures of neglected animals on social media.  Pass that buck to everyone who becomes a potential scapegoat if they dare question the holy cow cause or object to your noble intentions of aiding it with sensationalist sensitive material spam.  We're all primates here.  I groom you and you groom me.  I groom you by placating you with the values we all should share, and you groom me back or I question what kind of monkey's uncle you truly are.  Not grooming back doesn't make the circle bigger and results in a vicious cycle!

Another example is the mass hysteria surrounding animal testing and hunting.  On one hand, this would satisfy Marx since is-ought problems abound when we ought not conduct testing on animals even if we're not turning a profit or if we are helping to progress towards a cure for regressive diseases.

If these facts conflict with the neatly packaged, bite size version of reality where testing on animals is just wrong wrong wrong, we simply play Procrustes until it fits.  No direct cures are obtained via animal testing, you see.  Despite the purpose of animal testing being pre-clinical trials to ensure safe testing on humans, or determining the causes of diseases in addition to finding cures, when only 8 out of 100 treatments even make it beyond animal testing, what's the point?  When 92 of those 100 treatments are potentially harmful and they don't get tested on humans, what's the point? 

How about veterinary treatments? Shall we test them on animals?

A few more esoteric examples:  The barbarians at the gate rallying against a fractional reserve banking system, whatever that may be in their minds; those tiresome ribbons that we're not quite sure which one is for which noble cause any more but it's very important to support it because we all make a difference; the movement to label GMO food because we can't really tell the difference between organically grown, free range products and their inorganic, God-playing scientist spawn but we're convinced that it's bad for you; stop bombing the children in Gaza you heartless Jews; the ice bucket challenge for those who can't feel the shivers down their spines; and socially responsible investing because if we're going to be egalitarian we may as well get rich from it.

In theory:  Take up thy soapbox and megaphone.

 What are some of the characteristics of these examples of slacktivism?
  1. Misinformation.  Those who partake in these sacraments just point and click.  It appears that not much effort is expended on informing oneself on the topic at hand in order to present a balanced view, nor is there much thought given to the quality of the sources.
  2. HypocrisyL'Oreal fired a teenage model because  of their official stance on animal testing in an effort to create a charade of wholesome family friendly goodness, yet they're quite happy to comply with mandatory animal testing for their Chinese market.  Slacktivists view it as a victory that cosmetics animal testing is outlawed in the EU, but they don't consider the consequences and implications beyond a mere Pyrrhic victory.
  3. Petulance.  Thou shalt not second guess someone with good intentions, less so when it's for a good cause.
  4. Ignorance.  Do I need to remind anyone of the dihydrogen monoxide scandal?
  5. Bigotry. This is mostly experienced by hunters from what I can make out.
I could go on but that is sufficient to comply with the Law of Fives.

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