There are those who look at something wrong in the world – a broken system, a failed idea – and stand on the sidelines criticizing it. This is the easiest way to garner social media attention, popularity, and praise – but it does absolutely nothing to solve the problem. In fact, in many cases, it makes solving the problem harder. This is the easy way out. Then, there are the doers – those who see the same fault in the world, but instead of complaining about it and then doing nothing else, they seek to find solutions and implement them. They think of better ways, new methods of thinking, creating new services and ideas – this takes much, much longer, requires patience and perseverance, and will not gain you praise in the short term. But. It will be much better for the world – it will solve the issue. That is not to say that activism, or calling out an injustice, is not valuable – far from it. It can educate the public, and make the issue get noticed for a doer in search of a job. But it is not a substitute for creating change. Progress is achieved by finding solutions and working to make them a reality. I implore everyone to, when they see a problem, be the doer, not the critic.
Of recent months, the most prominent example is Racial Justice. In response to the terrible murder of George Floyd, we saw inspirational marches and protests – but that is simply not enough. In response to these protests, we saw a ‘national reckoning on race’ – constituting of some army bases and some roads being renamed. This was not an example of political leaders doing something to help, but an act of virtue signalling to appease people and hope they move on. And, we did. Renaming a sidewalk is not police reform. But the activists settled, and went home.
Instead, if people cared enough about the issue to actually try and address it, we would see a wave of progressives going to the trouble of getting elected to congress, or city council, or mayorships, doing whatever they had to in order to get in the door, and then instituting change. We cannot hope that the same people who have been in power for decades – who have enabled the problem of racial inequity – will be the ones to solve it. We saw the opposite. Accurate yet polarizing slogans were adopted which allowed Republicans to actually pick up seats in the legislature, which made real change further from reach. Working within the system actually helps, and if someone new, who actually cared about the issue, ran for office, and everyone in their constituency who liked a tweet regarding racial justice turned out to vote for them, maybe we would see progress. Alas, we will have to wait for longer.
Secondly – environmental concerns and Climate Change are perhaps the most important of the issues humanity faces, and the clock to address them is ticking down to zero. There are two figures I would like to compare: one is international superstar and hero Greta Thunberg, and another is mostly unheard-of entrepreneur Boyan Slat. Greta Thunberg did a great thing, by inspiring people to demonstrate about Climate Change. But those demonstrations did not actually take the world further in stopping them. Their end result was to get the UK government to respond by declaring a ‘State of Emergency’, which is a fancy way of doing nothing but hoping people see that and stop caring. Now, I have tremendous respect for Greta Thunberg – anyone who is able to galvanize a global conversation at such a young age is worthy of praise – but all that followed was a conversation. Greta called out major world leaders and corporations for harming the environment, which is true, but have they stopped doing so? No. More concerned with re-election chances and profits respectively, they chose not to act. Polarization and uncompromisingly extreme remarks and demands only caused the status quo to dig their heels in further. They remained indifferent. Boyan Slat is a different type of person. You may not have heard of him, but he should be a model to those interested in working towards a better future. He was concerned with plastic pollution in the oceans, at age 16, and came up with the idea to use circulating currents in a passive system that cleans up the ocean. Once 18, he founded The Ocean Cleanup, which he leads as CEO, which develops ‘advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.’
Currently, cleanup systems have been deployed in Indonesia and Malaysia, cleaning up the oceans right now, and further systems are being prepared for deployment. The point is this – once seeing a problem, Boyan innovated and worked to find a solution to it, then once old enough, he worked, himself, to make it real, implementing it globally. Did this garner him 10 Million followers on twitter? No. Did this make a real difference to the environment? Yes. We need more innovators to actually move the ball forward – I have no faith in incumbents to do the right thing – young people cannot waste time trying to appeal to them who for decades have become stuck in their ways. It falls to us to do their job. ‘We are the change that we seek’.
On the topic of the environment, I’d also like to compare the Green New Deal, a proposal laid out by progressives in congress, vs actions the Biden administration has taken of recent to combat climate change. I personally agree with much of the Green New Deal, and think it was a bold and valid proposal. But such a plan did not further the cause of climate action – it gave conservatives and fear-mongers a talking point to hammer home, and turned many on the fence away from the side of action. Then, there is Joe Biden. Biden did campaign on a progressive climate response, but distanced himself from the Green New Deal. This led many on the left side of his party to be critical and dismissive of his intentions on climate. But this was not the case at all – it got him elected, and in the first week of his administration, President Biden has done more on climate change than any President in American history. That is progress.
Third, I draw attention to how easy it is to criticize technology/ social media platforms for their actions and algorithms, drumming up hatred and fear, compared to how hard it is to make changes. First, are the legislators. Congressmembers and Senators on the right and left have been criticizing Big Tech – Liberals for antitrust practices, and conservatives for censorship. This is a great talking point, and an excellent issue to slip into campaigns. But this talking point disappears as soon as action is taken to address it, and so action is never taken. There has been no strong legislative effort to repeal Section 230, and there has been no strong legislative effort to break up the big tech companies. Therefore, these companies continue to reign supreme, doing as they please. Words vs action.
Then, there is the absence of efforts made by those critical of how negative social media can be on mental health, and how algorithms destroy one’s soul, to create a new site that does not do so. It is much easier to tweet about how twitter is evil than it is to create a better social media site, but which would have a better effect on humanity? IBM once dominated the computer industry. Bill Gates could have written a piece in a newspaper about how IBM’s computers were dated, and never thought about the issue again – but, he chose to create instead, pioneering personal computers that everyone uses today. The best example of this actually being done is Signal – not a social media site, but a communications app that is run not for profit, that protects users’ privacy. It was set up in response to WhatsApp trying to take more user data, and is an excellent alternative that people should move to. It achieves a lot more than using WhatsApp to send someone an article about how WhatsApp sucks.
Finally, I raise the point of political progressivism. I am a progressive, but one who actually wants to see progressive policies adopted and implemented, not just rack up twitter retweets. This appears to me like a rare breed of progressive, and that is terrible. I am disappointed by the elevation of multimillionaire socialist celebrities who criticise the system but would never donate to progressive causes. And I am most disappointed by the fact that so many progressives focus more on making sure every liberal, progressive politician loses elections by being so polarizing, then on nominating someone who can actually win, and working so they do win – who can then fight from a position of power. This is exemplified in the progressive civil war between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Ideological purists who seem content with progressivism remaining fringe prefer Sanders, and those who are willing to support someone not calling for a revolution in order to get 90% of their policies implemented support Warren. Warren has been fighting for progressivism her entire political career, through the system, and has formed valuable relationships with those who need to approve policies. I respect Sanders, and understand why people like him. But for the sake of progress, progressives should have united around Warren and helped her win – then, all of the policies she fought war would be getting implemented right now. FDR was elected President, and once he was, he was the most progressive President in history – not by demonizing the legislature, but by working with them to get more bills passed in the 1st 100 days of a presidency than anyone ever. He did things, not just spoke about them.
All I want is progress – real progress, not the fake ideological spats that take place online, but progressive policies on climate, racial justice, economics and the environment to be adopted. I want to see alternatives to Twitter and Facebook that do not exploit users pop up. I want innovators to be celebrated in society for actually making change. I want the world to become better. This will only happen if people take genuine, gruelling, long-term action that works for the public good. Please, if you believe in change, if you believe in progress, don’t just criticizes the imperfections and ills you see – do something about them. It will be harder, but humanity moving forward requires hard work.