On Passivity

We’re all guilty of it.  We’ve all taken the easy way out, or in, most of the time.  We’ve all been passive participants in various life activities, and usually, this is nothing to be too concerned with.  The problem occurs when this manner of passivity pervades our lives, occupying nearly every aspect.

An excellent example of what I’m talking about is the “Like” feature on Facebook, Youtube, and other similar social media sites.  Long before the existence of these social media sites, the most interaction one could have with an article or image was to simply read or view it, shaping their own views or opinions in their own mind.  With the introduction of the nearly universal comment features on social media sites, the level of interaction with internet material has grown in a small way, but unfortunately, often in the wrong direction.  Sadly, many just forgo providing any sort of substantial response at all now, opting to just click “Like,” or even worse, clicking “Like” below someone else’s comment.

It easy to wonder why this should be considered worrisome.  After all, you’re just providing a way for others to show their approval, right?  Well, yes, but it is also encouraging passivity.  This passivity, when encouraged in this way, extends to other things.  A good example of this is the things that are “Liked” on social media sites, and Facebook in particular.

Now many businesses have Facebook pages because it’s a free way to increase their profile, which is understandable.  This is true of small mom-and-pop business as well as huge multi-national corporations.  In my experience, it is not uncommon to log onto Facebook and see that ten or fifteen of my friends have “Liked” Mountain Dew or McDonald’s or even Sleeping.  So what’s the big deal?  This sort of thing requires almost zero effort, thereby encouraging an almost complete lack of thought.

Facebook is a small example.  This passive sensibility pervades nearly every aspect of contemporary American life.  Food is a great example.  I know few people who are genuinely interested in the ingredients and process used to manufacture the food they’re putting into their bodies.  I’ve spoken to several people who acknowledge that they would likely not eat a chicken nugget if they actually knew what was in it, so they choose not to know.  In August of 2011, William Deresiewicz wrote a powerful Op-Ed piece on the nation-wide blind acceptance and support of the United States military complex.

Deresiewicz writes about how the American military uniform almost always commands respect and even reverence from all those who see it.  He writes:

The new cult of the uniform began with the call to “support our troops” during the Iraq war. The slogan played on a justified collective desire to avoid repeating the mistake of the Vietnam era, when hatred of the conflict spilled over into hostility toward the people who were fighting it. Now the logic was inverted: supporting the troops, we were given to understand, meant that you had to support the war. In fact, that’s all it seemed to mean. The ploy was a bait and switch, an act of emotional blackmail. If you opposed the war or questioned the way it was conducted, you undermined our troops.

Most people understand that it is possible to support the individuals placed in the unfortunate position of having to fight senseless wars while simultaneously disagreeing with the war itself.  After all, the individual soldiers have no say in where they end up after they enlist.  The blind support for the military, like the thoughtless “Liking” of mass-produced merchandise, is something that actively discourages critical thinking.

I’ll return now to a previous rhetorical question: so what’s the big deal?  Ultimately, the problem with this sort of pervasive passivity is that it creates a culture where unquestioning acceptance is acceptable, or even encouraged.  When we’re talking about soda or fast food, it’s not a serious problem, but when we’re talking about killing people in other countries or standing idly by while industrial farming tortures animals and pollutes the environment, it becomes a big problem.

What it really comes down to is that a population that unquestioningly accepts war and willingly partakes in fandom surrounding a soft drink is a population effortlessly swayed.  We need a population that engages in less viewing and more doing.  Instead of clicking “Like” on the Support Marriage Equality Facebook page, donate a small portion of your money or better yet, attend a rally or demonstration.  A society in which clicking “Like” feels like a substantial contribution is a sad society indeed.

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2 Responses to On Passivity

  1. Lee Weishar says:

    couldn’t help it.. I had to click ‘like’ :)

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