Making Peace by Not Doing: Good Slacktivism

“What do you do?” is typically the second question anybody asks you, if you are over the age of 20.  We are socialized to formulate a response relating to our professional career, workplace position title, or place of employment, which are usually indicative of our socio-economic status.

We have allowed what we do from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, to determine who we are as humans.

Don’t get me wrong.  If we truly own our work, it should be our pride, and our self-worth should be, to some extent, derived from it.  What we do in terms of work has some significance, and how we do it certainly has some significance.  But what about the things we don’t do?  Might they be equally important?

In a society where our identities are characterized by how much we do, how efficient we are, and how quickly we perform, what can we learn about how inaction contributes to making peace in our world in a very practical way?

The word “activist” rightfully conveys a sense of urgency.  Some problems in our world require a bold and urgent response.  The Latin American greats (Gutierrez, Freire, etc.) warn the community of activists of becoming uncritical alarmists.  The warning should penetrate the American activist community much deeper, given the high-speed professional culture.

I have seen many friends, even myself, become disillusioned with the struggle for social change and structural paradigm shift because it simply tires them out.  They invest infinite hours, energy, and personal expenses for their worthy causes, but to what end?  When the fruit of their labor remains unseen and unshared, the result is a retreat into the realms of complacency or cynicism.  It is understandable.

But perhaps we can partially actualize the reality we desire through non-action.  Just by not doing something, by abstaining, we can undermine the systems of domination and oppression.  Maybe our freedom can sometimes be obtained at our own convenience (admittedly, this is not a universally applied rule).  So for the sake of the weary, Here are a few practical ways I have tried this in my own life:


Not Driving

The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 created a new world for America.  This world made the poorest peasant reliant on the motor vehicle.  Family vehicles became a necessity.  The infrastructure of the country was now designed not for the human, but for the car.

Living without a personal car is hard, but the human experience is meant to be limited, and this includes geography.  I walk, I bike, and sometimes I catch rides.  I see this as a benefit to myself.  It prevents me from spreading myself too thin, and it keeps me more physically fit.  (Why drive half an hour to a gym to ride a stationary bicycle?)

The less we drive, the less we contribute to the oil demand which causes wars around the world (not only in the Middle East).  Oil is said to be present in Amuru District, Northern Uganda, and the military government is attempting to thieve 100,000 acres of land from multi-generational farming families in an effort to obtain it.  Similarly, the DR Congo is home to about 80% of the global supply of certain resources used to manufacture vehicles (and other technology).  Consequently, there is war everywhere, and millions have died and continue to die over the mineral rush.  So long as oil and minerals are in demand, due to our driving, mass violence will continue.  Help make peace by reducing the mileage on your vehicle.  You’ll enjoy the money you save on gasoline, repairs, insurance, etc.

Not Making Purchases

Boycott buying, even on basic needs.  You don’t have to be legalistic about it, but if you want some ideas, check out Buy Nothing Day and the Freegan ethic of food consumption.  This can be a benefit to your pocket, health, sanity, and ironically, your convenience.

Not Texting

This one was a hard habit to break.  Sometimes I was that guy in a circle of friends shying away from real conversation to communicate shallowly with someone distant.  Texting isn’t evil, but you can survive without it.

The mineral war in the DRC that I mentioned above is also fueled by the mobile phone industry.  Doing away with phones in today’s world is difficult, but if you’re willing to sacrifice texting (though you have the option not to for a more expensive plan), there is a company called Earth Tones which utilizes a phone recycling program, has excellent/personal/immediate customer service, and gives all of its profits to environmental organizations.  The network is as wide as mainstream mobile networks, and there are no hidden fees or anyone that tries to screw you over with contracts.  They don’t do the same stuff companies like Verizon do: lobbying politicians to avoid a single dime in taxes, refusing to give reasons for unexpected fees, etc.

To reduce my Earth Tones bill, which is already a manageable one, I use my Gmail account to make phone calls.  For international calls, I use Rebtel, where you get the first test call for free and the rest at very cheap rates.  Less cell phone use means less war and less dependency on corporatocracy.

Not Doing Taxes

The United States defense budget is large enough to fit every other defense budget in the world inside of it, and much of this budget be legally changed.  (Apparently war is in the long-term plan, regardless of your party affiliation.)  $20,000 per second is spent on uselessly killing innocent people, training non-fighting personnel to shoot to kill, and maintaining several bases in Germany (didn’t the holocaust end awhile ago?).  I don’t wish to support such undertakings.  Of course, there are some taxes that go toward generally positive things, like education.  If I made enough money to owe anything, I’d probably write a check out for the amount I owed, give it to a school, get a receipt, and mail the receipt to the IRS.

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  1. You’re right about the taxes, Patrick. What I’m advocating is the same thing Shane does, except just with all the money you owe and just giving to government-funded groups instead of charities (public schools, for example)….guess I wasn’t too clear about that.

    Anyway, I hope you can find a good way to reach work on your bike. Kind of tough with your route, definitely. The river and the types of roads make that route kind of unsafe and difficult. I met a guy who was walking from midtown all the way to Marysville and back for work (not by choice, just out of necessity). I can see why lots of people have a car as a necessary evil, especially if you don’t live downtown somewhere like you said. When I was using my late grandpa’s Blazer, the thing became more of a headache than a convenience.

    Re: Freegans – there is also a documentary called “DIVE” – not sure if it’s available online.

  2. The taxes part is hard for me to reconcile, especially since they’ll just garnish your wages to get what they want anyway. Shane Claiborne talks about doing basically the same thing you would, only what he does is figure out what portion goes to support defense and donates that to a charity, then writes a letter to the IRS with the receipt. I’m fine supporting public education and everything else, but the war end is what gets me.

    It’s also amazing how difficult it can be to not drive in America. Unless you live in an urban area with sidewalks and (sometimes) bike lanes, it’s pretty hard to keep away from it. One of my goals this year, though, was to ride my bike more, and if I can find a safe route to work (as in not riding along 11/15, where there’s almost no shoulder), I will probably be able to limit my driving. America’s infrastructure clearly favors the car; in fact, I remember having a conversation with you about cars being the dominant species on our planet. Ha ha, not too far from the truth at all.

    Also, thanks for the freegan info. Definitely going to look into this a bit more.

  3. I see your point, and I like what you say in the majority of the post. Great thoughts on doing less in a country that always wants more. However, it’s erroneous to sum up our tax dollars as you did. Sure, a large portion of our taxes funds the military. However, if we all stopped paying taxes, we also wouldn’t have public education, libraries, public spaces, environmental management (i.e. waste water), health insurance for those who can’t afford it, safety net programs for those who can’t make ends meet, etc. An even larger portion (roughly 75%) of our taxes funds the above public programs, and I only want to see them expanded!

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