How much of an activist should one be?

Lockdowns, police brutality and violence, curfews, a loss of freedoms, student loans. These are a few things that deeply bother me. So far, I’ve been using instagram as an outlet to vent, because I “have to do something.”

And yet, there was a question within me: how much of an activist should I be? To be an activist is to be someone who “campaigns to bring about political or social change.” And in my own way, I was being an activist on instagram.

One answer to the question was “I should not be an activist at all.”

This comes from Jordan Peterson’s idea to “set your house in order before you criticize the world,” and from Nassim Taleb’s idea of having skin in the game.

One shouldn’t try to change large systems like entire societies when one can’t even keep their own room clean. Why? Well, with your room, you’re the only one exposed to your actions. If you make good decisions, hurray for you! If you make bad decisions, you alone will be the one who suffers. All secondary and tertiary consequences make their ways back to you. Plus, when you realize how hard it is to clean your room, you’ll learn a bit of humility in the process. You’ll learn that complex systems are hard to fix.

By being an activist, I would be attempting, in action and in speech, to change entire systems. Even if it’s just the simple activism that I’ve been doing by trying to change the minds of my friends by posting arguments against lockdowns on instagram, I’m still not primarily exposed to the consequences of changing their minds. But it goes further than merely changing entire systems.

I don’t have skin in the game. I don’t have the ears of policy makers beside me. I am not a lawyer fighting the government in court. I don’t have children. My parents are not in nursing homes. These restrictions are mere nuisances. To critique a policy publicly when I cannot take into account all of the consequences is irresponsible, pointless, and possibly harmful. I cannot take the consequences into account: all of the moral, statistical, or economic ones, and simultaneously adapt my thoughts to them.

So, to sum up this argument: I should not be an activist at all because I am not exposed to the consequences of my activism on how *society* should operate. I am also not in a situation where I am capable of making societal changes – I can’t strike down legislation due to my arguments in court or something like that.

The other philosophy vying for control over me argued that I should be an activist *in moderation.* Very few people are capable of being full time activists, and I am not one of them. To do so, you would have to be okay with existing in a constant and irredeemable state of anger and frustration, (for change is slow and hinging your satisfaction to change is painful). The alternative to this is to moderate your activism, just like how one does with cell phone usage or sugar. Keep it to one hour a day. Or one day a week. This is what I’m referring to when I say that I should be an activist *in moderation.* Here are two arguments for this:

First, because we are so closely networked, the video or speech of one person can reach millions, even billions of people. That’s exactly what happened in the summer of 2020. A video of George Floyd suffocating under the knee of a police officer travelled all across the world over social media. A couple of weeks later, there were protests against police brutality in every major world city. Marijuana was decriminalized or legalized in quite a few states. Police reform (or abdication) became a major issue in nearly every city. All because of two men, on one video.

If a video or speech can have that much reach, then it is possible that something I say or do online can affect millions of minds. Even if it reaches a few thousand people, it can still make a difference in the minds of other people. Even if it reaches 100 people (my instagram stories usually reach around 170 people), that’s a lot of people. And not all people are equally influential. If I can affect a very intolerant minority, I can change a lot. That intolerant minority might be young people who demand freedom. It might also be old people sick to death of the restrictions, and who are willing to challenge them head on.

I can create a post that can either go viral or that can affect a minority of people. The latter is assured – I know for sure that I’ve made many people question what the reasoning is behind the government’s actions, and what the costs associated with them are too. But the former requires more work, and more thought. But I think it’s doable. I can create such a post, with a lot of practice.

Lastly, igniting a social movement through a viral post or through making people question their situation is the best way to end the overreaches of the restrictions. We live in a democracy. The executive responds to the mood of the people. I can affect the people through instagram stories. Thus, I can affect the executive. I can affect the opinions of those in my democracy through my activism.

I think the proper answer to this question is that your activism should be proportionate to the domains in which you have skin in the game. It doesn’t make sense for me, for example, to forcefully oppose lockdowns from the government when I am someone who is not deeply afflicted by them (unlike restaurant owners who’ve invested their life savings into their businesses and have then been shot in the knees). It does make sense for me to oppose the curfew in Quebec though, because it deeply affects my psychological health, my rights and freedoms.

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