Re: Divestment Revistited

First– and I can’t emphasize this enough– the goal should be to stop what remains of the Darfuri population from being wiped out. I support economic sanctions and military threats against Khartoum. (Read that sentence again if you missed it in my first post.) I say this because an ‘anonymous, in a comment,’ says:

I see no reason why we should not verbalize our opposition to fanatical
religious terrorism, genocide, and tyranny as a matter of truth and the ideals
of our republic in this new era. I do not want to see the Review creep (again?)
into useless anti-divestment diatribes, and go down a politically useless and
morally backward path as with S. Africa. Let’s always stay on the side of the
angels, or at least most of them. There is every reason to use both small
personal and large public means to oppose genocide.

In particular, I take issue with the last sentence. I think Christian’s and some of my analysis has done a fairly good job of showing why divestment would be ineffectual. Again, parallel debate. But let’s assume it is ineffectual. This fellow and Niral say it’s still the right thing to do. The issue for me is time– it’s limited, as always. Professors, students and others who clamor for divestment are therefore clamoring less for legislation. I argue that divestment and awareness-raising crowds out the true effectual action. People’s consciences become satisfied because they think they have done something.

This leads me to my opinion of ‘activism.’ Yes, I do basically oppose it, as it manifests itself on college campuses. I suppose activism came about because people for centuries thought there was nothing they could do to change their government. And certainly rights of assembly and petition are among the most powerful tools of a free society. But ‘activism’ I consider a different bird from political action. It’s largely symbolic. Linking arms, making signs, jumping up and down, chanting, making your voice heard. On a lark, I went to an anti-war demonstration in my home town. From the perspective of the legislature (and others who disagreed with them) the protest might not have taken place. It was scarily insular, preaching to the choir. I asked one guy what they were doing– were they persuading anyone? His answer, after I pressed him, was that he was ‘strengthening his political faith in the movement.’ ‘The Movement’ was unclear to me– there were everyone from black panther types to ANSWER-styled Stalinists to ancient hippies who taught English at my high school to kids in mascara who told me they didn’t really care that much about politics. But I think it’s clear that for many, activism replaces what religion once did for the human psyche– the ‘higher,’ the ineffable ‘thou.’ This sort of faith allows people to rationalize doing something that will have no effect. It’s centered on the believer who can step into grace by performing ritualistic actions. So I am opposed to ritualistic activism because I think problems should just be solved, without respect to ‘political faith,’ ‘optimism’ or other attributes, which, you notice, have more to do with the activist than the supposed object of his pity.

I’ve gotten some criticisms from liberals and conservatives from opposing some of the DAG’s actions. They say, ‘I basically agree, but come on– the Darfur Action Group?’ I wonder though how many have actually written to their congressmen or even know what’s going on in Darfur. Clearly, most or many of the inner circle of DAG have, I presume. I’m more concerned about the’laity,’ so to speak, the facebook crawlers. I suspect more just like the idea of the Darfur Action Group, in that they can feel that as Dartmouth students, they’re sort of /kind of supporting them, and when judgment day comes, they did their part, and their consciences are unsullied. Now that’s cynicism.