Slacktivism is Reactionary First World Privilege

If there is anything one can say about the First World mentality and activism, it’s that there is an infinite pool of creativity when attempting to justify not carrying out work. The material conditions of the First World pamper people so much that they lose their revolutionary spirit. Devouring the spoils of imperialism First Worlders can sit back and afford not to take action because they have gained much more than their chains to lose. Because First Worlders don’t face the true horrors of the capitalist system, they are afforded the luxury of sitting around being useless. Nothing could exemplify this more than slacktivism.

“Slacktivism: The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” -Urban Dictionary[1]

Nothing could demonstrate the utter degenerative nature of First World activism than defending slacktivism. Someone sent me a blog post by Lucian Clark of Gender Terror which claims that there is no such thing as slacktivism.[2] The blog post attempts to justify the complete unwillingness of First Worlders to take serious action by making seven excuses, not arguments. To say nothing of the refusal to take any radical action. He begins from a false premise by misrepresenting what people are saying when they criticize slacktivism.

“The concept of ‘slacktivism’ and that people who focus their ideas online are ‘slacktivists’ is extremely problematic and downplays the importance and reach of online activism.”[3]

This is a misrepresentation of what people are criticizing when they make statements against slacktivism. What people are attacking is that this is all that people do for the most part. There is a real trend towards not actually doing activism and instead complaining on the internet. People are unconsciously building a whole slacktivist substitution for actual activism. The criticism is that this is a growing trend, not that certain individual people are doing it. There is a general problem in the activist scene, it’s not an attack upon certain individuals. (It should be noted that while it can be used as an attack upon an individual, it does not change the general problem of slacktivism.) Lucian Clark has taken a criticism of First World activism and personalized it. He has made it about individuals and not about a trend in general. I get the definite sense that he has taken it personally. I can certainly sympathize on a level. However this does not excuse his dismissal of a rightful criticism.

Here I will respond to each of his arguments:

The idea of slacktivism is rooted in ableism: First he attempts to defend slacktivism by claim that it is abelist. I find that the term ableist is quickly becoming a meaningless word. It is so overused and used improperly that it almost lacks any meaning anymore. Here we can see how he has individualized the criticism rather than understanding it as a general criticism. The First World has a problem with not taking action and instead complaining on the internet. I’d be willing to bet that those who have a disability who engage in slacktivism are a small minority. Even those with social anxiety are a small minority. Even if a person does have some kind of social anxiety, it is a First World privilege to sit behind a computer and be able refuse to do real work. What Clark does here is inadvertently paint all slacktivists as having a disability. He does this because he individualizes the criticism instead of understanding it properly as a general criticism.

The idea of slackitvism is also classist: Here he is admitting his personalizing of it. “I live in an area with no public transportation. There is no way for me to attend many meetings, marches, and so one without a ride.” I can certainly understand I face a similar problem. No activism is taking place where I live, all of it is taking place in Toronto which is really far away even if you do have a car. It is not classist. It should not be a surprise that the problems of society overwhelmingly affect those on the lower end of the economic order. The problem being protested is classist, not the necessary work to bring about the solution to it. The objective material conditions are not ableist, they’re not alive and don’t have a consciousness that would allow them to be discriminatory. He continues, “people may not be able to take off work in order to attend offline events and thus may spend valuable and limited free time doing online work.” According to this theory, whether he intends it or not, people who are unemployed are privileged. The reason people don’t take time off work is because they have a job to lose. They have more than their chains to lose. When you look outside the First World you see people willing to walk many kilometers to get to some kind of collective action. Those with nothing to lose are the ones who are willing to go out and do it.

Clark is actually being classist here. Slacktivism is classist. He considers it a burden to have a job so that one can’t go out and protest. The true victims of the global economic order don’t have a job to go to. They have no income. He is using the privilege of having a job (which globally is one) to excuse not taking action. Why? Because slacktivists are not the victims of the global oppressive order. Their benefits from imperialist plunder keep them wealthy enough that they don’t have to suffer enough to go out and do actual work. Their privileged material conditions are what keep them comfortable enough so that they don’t have to take action. This excuse certainly isn’t used in the Third World where people are willing to kill and die to end injustice. This is a reality that is unfathomable to slacktivists.

Offline activism is potentially dangerous: Instead of offline activism I’m going to use the term real world activism. Of course it is potentially dangerous, if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t really be activism now would it? Sorry activism isn’t easy. So because it is dangerous that justifies not taking any real life action? What a tremendous privilege that is! This is essentially a complaint that activism is hard. Do you see the rioters in Baltimore hiding behind computers? Do you see the Mexican student activist who were mass murdered [4] hiding behind a computer? Such a defense of slacktivism is nothing less than complaining that activism isn’t easy. There are hundreds of thousands across the world that are willing to risk life and death in order to fight injustice. But because the struggle here is so less intense, the problems so much smaller in comparison, they can hide behind computers. (Yes, poverty in the Third World is much worse than in the First World). This is comparable to signing up to be front line infantry and then refusing to fight because you might get hurt. I guess the conditions slacktivist face aren’t really that bad are they?

Online activism allows for the ability to choose to engage, disengage, and so on: As a benefit of slacktivism Clark touts being able to completely disconnect from interaction with the activity of activism if it becomes inconvenient or simply conflicts with a person’s schedule. He also cites the ability to disengage from the community if one’s mental health requires it. The mental health aspect I certainly do agree with, as it is a real disability that does demand attention away from activism. However, this is by no means an excuse for people who are perfectly fine to escape from having to take action because it is inconvenient. The majority of people who do slacktivism are not disabled in anyway. They merely wield a nice big benefit of being part of the global privileged class. Those who are truly suffering don’t get to take a break from real life just because it doesn’t fit into their lifestyle. Do African-Americans get to just disconnect from unfair negative police attention, remove themselves from a racist society, all because they need a break from it? No, they don’t get that. Do those that struggle against hunger, police killings, homelessness in the Third World get a break from it? No, because they have to live it. The fight it or they are going to die. Choosing to take a break from such work is a tremendous privilege.

The next two arguments are pretty weak. His arguments here are essentially just touting the benefits a global communication network.

  1. Online activism allows people to connect across station and national borders.
  2. Online activism allows for support/reach that offline activism cannot provide.

Again we return to the misrepresentation of the criticism of slacktivism. Yes, these are true benefits that come with a global communication network such as the internet. The criticism is that this is all people are doing, that this is a destructive trend. If this was just a tool people used in activism then it wouldn’t be a problem. The problem is that the lack of action is wide spread. No one is condemning such useful actions. Their complaint is that there is a lack of action because of slacktivism. These things as a part of an activist strategy are all well and good.

Online activism is not age specific: This final benefit of slacktivism is really just the advantage of anonymity. It’s good for underage people to be able to collect information and spread an idea. But underage people doing activism isn’t a justification for slacktivism being a problem. It’s people being slacktivists in general. This power to remain anonymous is very often abused by people who are simply cowards and wreckers. There’s a great advantage to be able to make accusations against people or groups without ever having to face those you attack. (Like First Worldist Marxists and their non-stop meme making hiding behind the internet for example.)

It is terribly ironic what we see here. This terrible justification of slacktivism stems entirely from privilege. It’s ironic because the people who would make this argument would be all about privilege theory. In my experience there is only one privilege that is universally denied: First World privilege. Even those who have a low level of provide privilege ignore the one they have.

I see this a lot when activists try to show solidarity with those suffering globally from a hyper accelerated version of what they experience. I remember seeing a picture of a guy in Egypt holding up a sign claiming solidarity with Wisconsin workers going through the whole “Right to Work” legislation. They feel in their minds that they are somehow part of the same struggle. This simply isn’t true. What is truly terrible about this is the fact that these First World activists are able to have such less difficult and significant struggles, because they benefit from the imperialist oppression that creates worse ones elsewhere. What First World activist suffer from is a super inflated sense of what they’re doing. They think their union strike is the same as Palestinian resistance against being murdered.

This slacktivism and worthless real life activism greatly aids imperialism.

This stems from denying such privilege. This is very much like the White privilege denial logic. “I get pulled over too but you don’t see me complaining.” Being pulled over while White and while Black are two completely contexts to the same event. The same goes with First and Third World activism. Unfortunately First World slacktivists and activists have a super inflated sense of what they’re doing

This whole defense of slacktivism just reeks of White, liberal, First World privilege.

“The workers have nothing to lose but their chains!”… Except here.

* * *


[1] Slacktivism, Urban Dictionary

[2] Lucian Clark, The Myth of Slacktivism, Gender Terror

[3] Ibid.

[4] Iguala’s Martyrs are Immortal, Leading Light Communist Organization

2 thoughts on “Slacktivism is Reactionary First World Privilege

  1. As a Chinese-American Maoist who has been to real life protests and is working part-time, I can pretty much confirm that pretty much everything you’re saying is pretty much what I’ve been trying to say for ages. None of these people are willing to rise up the same way the masses in China did against the KMT. They just want to sit on tumblr talking about how awful things are but never do anything about them. The whole “I don’t want to die” and “excuse me for trying to survive” excuses just makes you want to respond with “been there, done that.”

    (White) western first-world leftists are pretty much the most reactionary and liberal “leftists” I’ve encountered in my life. I’ve been to two protests consisting of Asians, Blacks, Indigenous people and Latinos (as well as a handful of working class white people). There was even a protester in a wheel chair too who came along so the idea that “revolution is ableist” is such a liberal thing to say.

  2. I’m also pretty sure he called his blog “Gender Terror” as a play off the popular gender-critical blog Gender Trender, which is run by a radical lesbian. Trans/queer activism is filled with homophobia and any gay person who questions the T in LGBT is attacked.

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