Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Glamour of "Activism"

Ever since a friend told me last year that she'd always wanted to get into "activism," I've been thinking. What is it about "activism?" And why don't I like it?

I carried the question in my mind through the activism over the Ferguson shooting and the "rape culture" autumn and the Staten Island asphyxiation.

To say nothing of the social media butterflies at Islamic State.

Now comes Virginia Postrel, libertarian writer. I have a copy of The Future and Its Enemies but I never got around to reading it. But in 2004 Postrel co-wrote with Phil Patton and others Glamour: Fashion, Industrial Design, Architecture. Then she went solo in 2013 with The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion. But wait, there's more. Back in 2013 Postrel wrote a piece for Time on "Glamour and Terror." And now she's written a piece for Bloomberg which gets right to the point: "The Glamour of Islamic State."

And now this morning we have the terrorist attack in Paris complete with glamorous AK-47s and rocket launchers.

But let's not be shrinking violets here. Let's not just talk about the glamour of a terrorist bloodbath. The attraction to "activism" among nice educated middle-class girls in college is the glamour. I think of Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain: "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."

Whaddya think I am, Lina? Dumb or somethin'?

That's the point. For all the promise of wonderful prosperous educated professional lives, it all comes down to hum-drum. Oh sure, some guy will get to be a Peter Thiel and some gal will get to be a Sheryl Sandberg. But for most of us, it's a life of hum-drum, working in the middle of some bureaucratic organization.

Glamour is the cheap way out of that. And today in the schools and the university they teach young skulls full of mush that the way to find meaning in your life is in activism.

Now, in reality, leading a group of marginalized people, as President Obama did for a season back in his twenties, is a rather dull and unrewarding experience. That's why the future president bagged the community activist stuff and sought the glamour of bigger game. He got into the swim of Chicago liberal politics and wafted aloft as everyone's Magic Negro.

But for most ordinary, dutiful, young middle-class kids, activism is a direct route to glamour. It is, as Tom Wolfe realized half a century ago, "radical chic." Think Che Guevara tee-shirts. That's what the stone-stupid Brunch Bunch think as they disrupt nice Manhattan liberals at their Sunday brunch. Yeah, don't worry; Michelle Malkin is on it. You can tell Brunch Bunch have all taken their Activism 101 class because they all spout the same stultifying non-negotiable demands rhetoric in their tweets that we've grown to know and love.

Of course, it makes complete sense that the over-under Democratic coalition should teach its "over" youth how to lead the "under" part of the coalition in "peaceful protests" and "marches." But if you are in the middle, a responsible individualist in the working class or the middle class, you may wonder how long this is going to go on.

The answer is simple. It will go on until we, the majority in the middle, put a stop to it.

Because the whole point of the culture of responsible individualism is that you don't reach for glamour and you don't worship it either. The ethos of responsible individualism is that you just think about what to do next to contribute to your world: at work, in the family, towards friends and neighbors.

Glamour has nothing to do with it.

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