Aaron R. Davis
Last week, there was a campaign to get people on Facebook to change their icons to a pink equal sign on a red background to show their support for equal rights for the LGBT community. And, as always, the cynics came out to laugh about how pointless it was and how above that sort of thing they were, mostly by scoffing that people who changed their icons were fooling themselves into thinking that they helped to solve one of society’s problems merely by doing so.
For example, a popular macro on Facebook was an image of a woman sitting with her laptop and smiling at the camera, overlaid with the equal sign and the condescending caption “There! Problem solved!”
Another example: that one Facebook friend who spends the entire day grumbling and complaining that people are mistaking the changing of the icon for actual activism. “You’re not joining in the fight for equality, you know!” he rails. “You’re not doing anything helpful!”
And all the while these people are laughing and giggling about how they’re smarter than you for figuring it all out, and what is their cynicism achieving for the cause of equal rights? Absolutely nothing.
So here’s my issue with these people: you may be cynical, but you’re not brilliant, you’re not smart, and you’re not helpful. And you are part of the problem.
See, there’s this theory that goes around that people who do things like change their Facebook icons then don’t do any real activism in the real world, because they’ve taken the path of least resistance and done something that gives them the illusion of having helped. I think that’s honestly bullshit. I think — and it may be weird that it’s me saying this — that people are smarter than this theory gives them credit for. I think that those people — the people who, supposedly, are choosing to change their icons instead of donating their time and money to real world action — would never have done anything, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying these people are bad or lazy. Maybe they work several jobs or have agoraphobia or go to school or just don’t have an avenue of participation they can walk down. I’m just saying that, because of time or opportunity or any other factors, they don’t have the time or money to give. So what do they have to give to the cause of equal rights? Their moral support. Their solidarity.
And that’s the thing: I think no one in the world is simple enough to think that changing their Facebook icon to an equal sign is the same thing as solving the issue. They know it’s not activism. But they do know that it’s solidarity. It’s a show of support. In some cases, it may raise the awareness level of the issue. It’s a reminder. It’s about a sense of community, of showing acceptance, of showing that many of us share the hope and determination for the future.
Is it literally the least I can do? Yes, it is. But at least it’s something positive.
No one is under any illusion that they’re changing the world with their Facebook icon. But I think it says something that people are willing to openly say they support equality. We know it’s not activism. But I think it’s still meaningful, and I think the cynical mindset — the one that assumes people are sheep and stupid and must think they’re doing something grand when they’re not putting in any effort — is pointless and harmful.
Cynicism is how immature people pretend they’re smart. It’s negativity born out of the fear of not looking cool, or the fear of accidentally being made to look dumb by some other cynical asshole. It sounds like wit and knowledge because it’s said in the same cadence, but it’s childish. Outgrow that shit. What is the benefit in being so above it all and disaffected? I can’t think of a single one, except for the bare-level, moronic thrill of feeling (to yourself) like you’re smarter than someone else. I can think of a negative, though: you hold yourself back from genuinely being enthusiastic about things, because you’re too afraid of being judged. If you’re lucky, one day you’ll back on your cynical self and cringe at what a prick you were. And if you stay that way, well, you’re going to miss out on a lot of cool, fun things while you’re standing there, alone, making little digs at what other people feel.
And the worst part of your cynical undermining in this case is just harmful. It’s just as bad as the people who actively work against equality. Because what you’re doing is trying to make other people feel bad for expressing support. You’re telling them that they’re not doing enough, or that what they’re doing is useless, and basically reinforcing the status quo by embarrassing people into no longer expressing their support, simply because you can’t stop yourself from trying to make everyone see how smart you are to see through everything to how meaningless it all is. You’re a dick. Worst of all: you’re a dick who is also not doing any kind of activism, either. You’re just poking holes because you think you’re some kind of romantic gadfly or something equally misguided.
Look, no one thinks they can change things overnight with a status update. But I think it takes some measure of courage and respect to openly support something so stupidly controversial. It takes absolutely none to try and make someone feel bad for doing so. You’re not taking a stand being cynical about it. You’re not doing anything. You’re just trying to make yourself feel better about doing nothing by saying everyone else is doing nothing, too.
If that makes you feel good, you need to grow up.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.