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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Social Activism

Global Warming, Iraq War, Population Growth....the list of causes clamoring for my involvement is endless. I'm not indifferent to the world's problems or suffering of others; it's just that there isn't a whole lot I can do (as an individual) about it. Putting a bumper sticker on my car is going to stop someone from being oppressed in a country on the other side of the planet.

The success of these various social movements depends on the participation of large numbers of people. My participation most likely won't affect the outcome. Even if I was* the most persuasive person alive, I doubt I could convince enough people to alter things significantly. Even if I could, would I be doing the right thing?

If you think Global Warming is going to melt the polar ice caps, cause sea levels to rise, and flood low-lying areas, move to higher ground. That's easier than trying to get millions of people to pollute less isn't it? I'm not saying you should stop caring about public issues, but there is a limit to what can be accomplished through mass movements, especially when there are opposing mass movements.

Nothing can alter the fact that the world is just a collection of indivduals doing whatever they think is sensible. No matter how many laws are passed or repealed, or whoever gets elected or thrown out off office, the world would not be fundamentallly different than it is now. Mass movements succeed in changing things from time to time, but in my opinion, you're better off focusing what you can do on your own.

I think I'll finish off with this quote from Herbert Spencer:

"If in these personal affairs, where all the conditions of the case were known to me, I have so often miscalculated, how much oftener shall I miscalculate in political affairs, where the conditions are too numerous, too widespread, too complex, too obscure to be understood . . . when I remember how many of my private schemes have miscarried; how speculations have failed, agents proved dishonest, marriage been a disappointment; how I did but pauperize the relative I sought to help; how my carefully-governed son has turned out worse than most children; how the thing I desperately strove against as a misfortune did me immense good; how while the objects I ardently pursued brought me little happiness when gained, most of my pleasures have come from unexpected sources; when I recall these and hosts of like facts, I am struck with the incompetence of my intellect to prescribe for society."

*Proper grammar would be "If I were," however, I feel that rule is stupid. A singular subject should take a singular verb.

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