What The Hell Is Our Problem?

Does anybody else feel like their well-being is suddenly dependent on winning a game of political Whack-A-Mole?

Or like they’ve been dragged out in the middle of the night and dropped into Rebellion Boot Camp, despite the fact that they need to go to work in the morning?

Or how about the vague sensation that someone spilled cheap coffee on the world we were working on for years and now we have to start all over?

Do any of those things sound familiar?

If you’re anything like me (and I suspect a lot of you are, because this blog attracts like-minded people), all of those things sound familiar. And maybe you also feel that you must act. That you must find who has caused this mess and shake them until they fix it. I wish it was that simple, too. The trouble is that it only works in small groups.

You are not a member of a small group with a problem to address.

You are one tiny white blood cell in a system that contains billions of cells, a system that also includes this constant barrage of hostile infections.

The job of a white blood cell is to detect a problem in the immediate vicinity and attack.

Millions of us have to do this. It will not be orderly. It will not be pretty. It will not always be the idyllic decisive victory of watching Captain America punch Hitler in the face. Sometimes it will mean writing a letter. Sometimes it will mean cleaning up graffiti. Sometimes it will mean telling your racist or sexist family member that they are wrong, even if it means committing that unforgivable sin, Making a Scene.

Sometimes it may mean putting your money, job, or safety on the line.

You have to do it anyway. Because if you — all of you — aren’t doing your job as white blood cells, this whole body is going under, and all the people you ever cared about or respected or admired are going with it. Free speech, access to medical care, your right to vote…if we don’t do our jobs, these things we take for granted will vanish, and we’ll be left groping around for them in the dark, saying “I know I just had it a minute ago…”

Are you ready?

Let’s say you’re ready. What do you do?
You’ve seen the thousands of ideas, right? Sign a petition, write a letter, go to a protest, donate to an organization, make a phone call (ugh). You should do as many of those things as you can. But don’t mistake them for a finished job. That job will never be finished, and it will also never be enough.

The title of this post was not hyperbole. I spent a lot of time thinking about it today. What the hell is our problem? Slanted news? Corporate greed? Is it the fast-food-ification of organized religion, or a decline in public education? Sure, it’s probably all of those things, a little bit. But when we examine what allowed those things to flourish, when we really go for the roots, we start finding answers. Your discoveries might be different from mine. But here’s what I found after rolling it around in my brain for a while.

People have learned to think cynically, but not critically. They distrust the government because we created the perception that only a fool trusts the government, but they don’t know why. Everybody wants to seem smart. Not everyone wants to put in the work. Research is hard. Facebook is easy. This widespread cynicism, unpaired from critical thought, is why so many damaging and erroneous ideas have done so well. I tested this hypothesis against many of the mechanisms spreading hateful thinking. It looks to me like it panned out.

Which means the best thing we can do is to think critically, and demand that others do the same.

You’re never going to convince your racist uncle that his Facebook feed is wrong unless you force him to defend his position. Let him google things. Ask what evidence he has that his source is the work of reputable journalism. Ask him how he knows it’s true.

If an advertising company tells you that they work with a misleading ‘news’ site, or a hate site, or worse, because it is not company policy to screen clients, ask them why they are doing business that will damage their reputation. Ask if they would work with a client who came into their office and punched them in the face. Ask how that is different than working with a client who supports the abuse of women or minorities. Ask them for an official statement, because you are going to make it public.

If you write to a politician and get brushed off, don’t stop there. Get your letter printed on a giant poster and sit outside their office with it. Rewrite it and get it published as a letter to the editor, and then send the politician the newspaper with highlighter all over it. Rainbow glitterbomb the sidewalk outside their door. Be creatively annoying.

That’s my advice.

Think critically, strike tactically, act globally.

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