On Carrying a Concealed Weapon

A title is often misleading, and if you were hoping that this post was going to be about gun control, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I may decide to write on that particular topic another time, but not today. The weapon I want to discuss today is a far more universal one than a 9mm pistol or an AK-47 assault rifle – as ubiquitous as the Kalashnikov has become in almost every third-world country and former communist nation on earth, it’s still not as prolific as the weapon I’m going talk about in this entry. This weapon is legal in every country on earth; in fact if you don’t own one, you’re probably seen as weird, disorganised or just plain down-and-out.

What is this deadly side-arm of which I speak? Simple: a wallet.


“Wait, what? A wallet is a weapon? How does that make any sense?” I hear you asking. Well, let’s look at what constitutes the definition of a weapon. I’m sure everyone agrees that objects that are designed to inflict wounds, such as guns, swords and knives, can be unequivocally defined as weapons. Yet, a baseball bat can be as deadly a weapon as a sword. A broken bottle could inflict a fatal stab wound. These objects, whilst not designed as weapons, can easily be used as weapons. “Well, that doesn’t require much of a stretch of the imagination to see,” you say. “But a wallet? It’s small, soft – it wouldn’t do any damage if you hit someone with it!”

Of course, that’s true – you couldn’t possibly kill or seriously maim someone with an object like a wallet. However, in order to illustrate my point, I’d like to explore the notion of violence, and then, more specifically, chains of violence. First, let’s look at a hypothetical case, in which we have two fictitious characters – Tim and Bob. Tim is a small, slightly-built fellow who by nature is repulsed by the sight of blood. However, his squeamishness and weak muscles do not preclude him from having a cruel nature; he is a rich, extremely successful cut-throat businessman who has not an ounce of moral integrity to his name and no conscience whatsoever. The violence he commits is in contracts and ledgers.

One day Tim discovers that his wife has been having an affair. Enraged, he decides that she and her lover must die. However, due to his weak stomach and spindly limbs (his wife’s lover is a strong, athletic fellow) he cannot do the deed himself. Enter Bob. Bob is a tall, burly thug with minimal intelligence a penchant for brutality. He gladly accepts payment from Tim to bludgeon the hapless woman and her lover to death with a sledgehammer.

The deed is done. Two people lie dead, their bones broken and skulls crushed by Bob’s deftly-swung sledgehammer. Bob and Tim are both guilty of murder, in the eyes of the law. But who is more guilty out of the two?

I think most people would agree that while Bob is certainly guilty of committing the vile act, the blame for the murder falls upon Tim. Without Tim’s desire to have his wife and her lover killed, there would have been no murders. Bob would have had no reason to attack them without being instructed to do so by Tim, so they would still be alive and unharmed.

This is where I would like to introduce the concept of a chain of violence. Now, first, what is a chain? It is a single strand composed of many interconnected links. If even one link breaks, the whole chain is rendered useless and destroyed. So, in this case, we must agree that every link, wherever it is on the chain, is essential to the integrity of the chain as a whole. When one link breaks, the entire chain is broken. This concept is key to what I’m trying to illustrate.

In the case of Tim and Bob, the chain is a very short one, consisting of only two links. However, each is nonetheless vital to the integrity of the chain; without Tim’s desire to kill his wife, there would have been no murder. Also, without Bob’s willingness to kill the woman, there would have been no murder (none immediately anyway, until Tim had found someone who was willing to do the deed).

Now, in order to expand on the chain concept a little, let’s redo the Bob and Tim scenario with a few more characters. In this scenario (and let’s say that this happens somewhere in the United States), Tim doesn’t know Bob. In fact, he doesn’t know anyone who would be willing to kill his wife. However, he is a frequent visitor to a seedy strip club owned by a mafioso. He is on very good terms with the bouncers there and one of them, Chris, says that he will put in a word for Tim with Tony, the gangster who owns the club. Tony regularly makes use of contract killers himself, but is wary of getting one of his regular guys to help Tim in case it goes wrong and he is implicated and imprisoned. However, he is eager to take a cut of the large sum of money that Tim is offering, so he calls his friend Jeff, who specialises in human trafficking from Eastern Europe. He asks Jeff to source him a brutal thug who is willing to kill two strangers in exchange for being smuggled into the USA with a forged American passport, along with a small sum of cash. Jeff does some searching and comes across Bob, who is willing and able to do the deed. Bob is smuggled into the US, gets his sledgehammer and instructions from Jeff, and commits the murders.

Now the chain looks like this: Tim > Chris > Tony > Jeff > Bob. Again, let’s ask the same question: Who is most guilty in this scenario? All of the links in the chain bear some guilt for the murder of the two people; if we removed any one of the links from the chain, it would be broken and there would be no murder. Correct? Yet again, despite the length of this chain and the great distance between Tim and Bob (neither of whom are even aware of the other’s existence), the ultimate blame for the murder still sits squarely upon Tim’s shoulders – for again, without his desire to kill his wife and her lover, there would have been no reason for Bob to commit those murders.

“So what the hell does this all have to do with wallets?” I hear you ask. “Sure, we all have them, we all use them every day, but none of us know any mob bosses or contract killers! This is ridiculous!” you protest. But is it? How aware are we of the chains of violence in which we are the links, in which our desires provide the motive (just as Tim provided the motive in the murder scenario) for others to commit violence on our behalf at the other end of the chain?

It is obvious to anyone who even makes the slightest scratch through the shiny “ain’t life swell!” veneer of modern urban life, that our lifestyles are utterly destroying the planet upon which we reside, and are the cause of untold suffering, brutality, pollution and destruction. The oceans are choked with plastic waste and will be effectively dead and devoid of life by 2048. Read that sentence again, a few times, and allow the implications of it to actually set in. “That’s terrible!” you gasp. “Someone should stop those bastards!”. We kill 150 BILLION animals a year to satisfy our cravings for meat, dairy and eggs. I don’t think the human mind can accurately envision that number, but trust me, it’s enormous; literally, as I’ve just said, beyond comprehension. What’s more the vast majority of those 150 billion unfortunate creatures, who are slaughtered for the sole purpose of convenience and our pleasure, spend their ENTIRE lives, from birth to slaughter, never seeing the sun, breathing fresh air, for many not even being able to MOVE within the confines of their cages. They are treated with hatred, brutality, cruelty sadistic malice and callous indifference from the moment their lives begin until finally death releases them from this hellish existence. They are not shown an ounce of kindness, love or compassion.

And we are an integral link in the chain of violence at the end of which they are the victims – it is because of our link in that chain, our desire to consume their bodies and secretions that they are brought into this world. The livestock industry is a greater carbon emitter than all of the transport industries on the planet combined. The grain and soybeans used to feed and fatten these animals requires the clearing of vast tracts of land. Jungles, rain-forests and old-growth forests, which have covered the earth for millions of years and served as its lungs, its purifying air filter, are hacked down to make way for grazing land or to grow feed for animals in feedlots.

In South-East Asia rainforests are being destroyed in vast swathes to make way for palm plantations, to produce palm oil. Again, this destroys the earth’s lungs and is leading to the extinction of numerous species.

Our addiction to oil and plastic products has lead us to the point where massively destructive methods of extraction such as tar sands and fracking are coming to the forefront of oil sourcing.

In the third world millions of underaged workers, and indeed entire families, live and labour in conditions almost as bad as the chattel slaves experienced two hundred years ago on plantations and farms in the New World – yet these slaves (indentured labourers is the preferred euphemism, I believe) work in factories that produce our brand-name (and non-brand name) running shoes, athletic wear and technological products.

Before anyone jumps on me, yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy and bitter irony of the fact that I’m typing this on a product of this system.

Links in the chain – who is to blame? Remember Tim.

Let’s not stop there – what about resource mines that reduce entire mountains, valleys and other former wild landscapes to barren rubble to source the minerals from which our leisure products are made? Diamond industries that line the pockets of savage warlords who massacre families and force children into soldierhood and/or sexual slavery? Soft drink giants who are taking over streams and other fresh water sources in third world nations to source their bottled water, shamelessly depriving the poor of the single most important element (besides air to breathe) necessary for survival?

Most of the things that are produced by these rapacious, exploitative and immensely destructive industries are not necessities – they are luxuries. We can quite easily live without them, and indeed we can live far more healthy and fulfilling lives when we have weaned ourselves off of these addictive products and freed our minds from the consumption=happiness ideology that is forced down our throats 24/7 by those who profit from the destruction of the wilds, the enslavement and mass slaughter of billions of sentient beings, the plundering of our oceans and the exploitation of the poor in the third world.

Remember Tim.

Before you assume, however, that this post is entirely pessimistic/accusatory/judgmental/damning, let me make one more important point. While a wallet can be a weapon, a weapon that is an integral link in the chains of violence that I have talked about above, it can also be used for good. The whole point of this diatribe has been to illustrate personal complicity in systems of destruction, cruelty, barbarism, exploitation and greed – but remember, we have just as much power to say NO when we make a purchase. In fact, the act of defying society’s norms, awakening from a state of apathy, and refusing to continue to participate in the systems of exploitation and brutality that have been sold to us and forced down our throats as “normal and desirable” since birth is an act of massive power and defiance, akin to hurling a mass of hand grenades into the massed ranks of the enemy. Remember, every time we pull out our wallets and hand over a stack of notes or handful of coins, we are firing bullets. These bullets travel along a chain, as I have illustrated – but they need not be the chains of violence.

When we choose NOT to buy products that come from systems of exploitation and brutality and wanton destruction, and instead buy products that come from sources that espouse values of sustainability, kindness and compassion, we are like soldiers throwing down our guns and walking away from battle. There are no generals forcing us into the wars against nature, animals, the poor citizens of third world nations and the environment, these wars that we are unwittingly funding. We will not be court-martialled if we desert. And every “deserter” weakens the armies of destruction and exploitation, and for every soul who deserts these systems and crosses over to the side of peace, sustainability, forethought and compassion, a small victory is won. It may seem tiny and insignificant, but what is an ocean but a collection of tiny drops?

The time has come to awaken from the stupor of apathy, to throw down your weapons and desert the armies of the oppressor, and to make choices every day that say yes for good and no to evil. This is the only way that the war will be won: from the ground up. Always remember – we ARE the ground, we are the soldiers holding the weapons, and we have immense power in EVERY single choice we make.


On The Devaluation of The Photograph

one of my favorite childhood photos – little me with my father on his bike.

The camera is one of the most remarkable innovations of the last few centuries; perhaps not in its technical complexity (or lack thereof), compared to other inventions, or in its impact on matters we consider of primary importance (industrialised crop production to feed the urbanised masses, the discoveries of various vaccines and medicines against the microbes and viruses that used to decimate our species, etc etc). However, in its absolutely unique ability to capture and store, fairly indefinitely, a moment of the fleeting present in a physically accessible, tangible medium, it is unparalleled in history.

Before the photograph came along, the present remained a realm of complete inattainability; we lived through it, experiencing it constantly, but the precise details of it could never be recalled; they were coloured, shaded and contorted by the unreliable puppet-master, Memory, with his arthritic fingers and shaky hands. It was also a realm of utter loneliness; of course, it still is, and always will be, for our own experiences of interacting with the world and each other remain indescribable in their entirety to anyone but ourselves. However, with the photograph, we are able to preserve, exactly as it would have appeared to multiple, objective observers, a singular moment of space and time. Through the medium of the photograph, we can see, in almost identical detail, how the reflections of light that make up our visual experience of this world look through the eyes of another human being.


The consequences of this are profound – mostly, for me anyway, in that we can see the faces of the dead, as they were decades (or even centuries ago), as their friends and loved ones, as well as rivals and enemies, would have seen them. Somehow, through the miracle of a chemical reaction to the mystically transcendent medium of light, we can capture how the human eye perceives reality and transfer it onto a two-dimensional surface. Hamlet needed a skull to enhance his childhood recollections of the long-dead Yorick, and even with the physical remains of what used to be the man held in his fingers, how accurate would his mental image have been? How could he possibly have communicated this image to his peers in any manner as physically accurate as a photograph would have conveyed it? As a writer, and an avid reader, I am acutely aware of the power of words, sentences and descriptions to evoke a place, a person, a scene, a mood – yet at the same time, there is little that can rival the photograph in its ability to capture a single slice of physical time.

This musing on the evocative and sometimes almost sacred nature of photographs leads me to the point I wish to discuss, as evinced in the title of this post: the devaluation of the photograph. Photography had always been a fairly expensive pastime; one needed both a camera and film, which was costly in itself and required the services of a specialist to develop. Now, before any of you digital guys get riled up and offended, please don’t think that this post is intended to be an attack on digital photography – it’s not. Digital photography is a realm of infinite possibility, and for those who have an artistic eye, the medium is incredible in its potential for diversity. My father, one of whose lifelong passions has been photography (particularly wildlife photography, in which his skills are incredible) has embraced digital photography with wholehearted enthusiasm, despite his advanced years.

Yet, simultaneously, the spread of camera technology to the general masses, most specifically by the proliferation of cellphone cameras, has lead to a cheapening of the art form, both in a literal and figurative sense. We no longer need to buy film to take pictures – we can store thousands on the memory cards of our digital cameras and print any number of them from our home printers. We no longer need a darkroom to manipulate photographic images – anyone with even the most moderate computer skills can do this digitally. And in this mass democratisation of photography, something of the value once inherent in its processes has become lost.

images like these iconic rock photographs needed impeccable timing, dedication to the craft and more than a little luck to attain.

Because of the cost of film in a now-lost era, care had to be taken in image selection. You couldn’t just point your lens at any old thing and snap away with abandon – you only had 24, or sometimes 12, if I remember correctly, shots in your reel. You had to choose what you were going to shoot very carefully, because that film wasn’t cheap and neither were the fees to develop it. Now, you want to take fifty pictures of that convenience store salad you’re about to eat on a plastic table – sure, why not? After all, who wouldn’t want to see an image of such magnificent profundity? You and your friends go out and get smashed in the local pub – get those cellphone cameras snapping away! Everyone is very interested in the sixty-eight shaky, half-blurred shots of you guys smiling and laughing drunkenly that will be uploaded to your favorite social network the next day!

I think that in the last two years, more pictures have been taken of me than those that exist of me throughout the entire span of my life since birth. In one particular instance, a rather snap-happy gentleman took and uploaded perhaps forty or fifty shots of me drumming (and at least half of these were random shots of me staring into space between songs, drinking water, and other such inconsequential minutae). What, precisely, is the point of such an exercise? Have we collectively begun to assume such a sense of narcissistic self-importance (and the topic of everyday narcissism that is disseminated, enabled and reinforced through visual-heavy social media will be the topic of another blog post entirely) that we feel that it is utterly necessary to photographically document and share every arbitrary and banal detail of our existences with even the most casual of acquaintances?

According to this blog post approximately 85 billion photographs were taken from the time of the invention of the photograph up until the year 2000. Now, 3.5 trillion photos exist – and 10% of those were taken just last year! Now how many out of these pictures do you suppose were carefully thought out and profound images? Don’t get me wrong now; I’m not suggesting that every picture taken needs to be a work of art that touches on the sublime in some manner – there is a place for frivolousness, for light-heartedness, for whimsical images and candid snaps of friends at social gatherings. Indeed, I wish that digital cameras had been around when I was a child and teenager, so that I’d have more pictures of those long past years (all I have now, of my teenage years especially, are memories – I can count on one hand the number of photos of me as a teen that exist today). I have to rely on my memory to conjure up images of how my friends looked in the 80s and 90s, but I suppose there is something of value in that as well – for one thing, it keeps the old cognitive gears oiled and allows me to wallow in the golden half-light of nostalgic recollection every once in a while.

I’d be stoked if a photo existed of all of us together instead of just this cartoon…

I do also wish that I’d had the foresight to take some actual film photographs of my friends back then. We were a tight-knit crew, my teenage buddies and I, and I often sit and think of the times we shared and the mischief we got up to. I feel that this experience would be greatly enhanced if I could hold a photograph in my hands and see how the light danced on our youthful features, once upon in a time, in a present that has long since faded from this plane of reality. Alas, the magnificence of youth was wasted on me, who had not the foresight to photographically document the multitude of shenanigans in which my friends and I engaged. Or – was it really wasted, just because there is no photographic evidence to document those days? Certainly, they have evaporated into the aether of the past now, and there is nothing but the intangible and malleable notion of a set of memories floating around in our heads, but does that necessarily change the inherent value of those past experiences?

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t take for granted the fact that we have the technological means to capture a single moment, in all its fleeting glory, and transfer it to a medium in which it will be effectively frozen and stored indefinitely, BUT, don’t abuse it either. There is no need to overload an already massively-saturated virtual arena with images of banality and tedium. Try to recall the sacredness of the ritual of pulling out an old photo album, dusting it off and paging through it, feeling the slickness of the protective film on your fingertips and the overly sharp corners of the hard pages as you lean back in your easy chair and lose yourself in the memories that the images bring flooding through your mind. Appreciate the fact that you can capture a slice of the fleeting present, and freeze-protect it forever against the ravages of time. Capture moments of love and joy and friendship, and treasure them. Maybe save the 7-11 meals and half-blurred nightclub shots for your memory…


The Ups and Downs of Slactivism

“I speak to good, decent people all around the world.  And they all genuinely want to change the world – as long as they don’t have to change themselves. But life doesn’t work that way – first, we change in our hearts, and then, the world follows. True leaders must face their own demons courageously.” – Philip Wollen, philanthropist.

If there’s one thing that’s hard to deny about the age of The Internet and Portable Communication/Entertainment devices, it’s that it’s made us more lazy on the whole, and arguably more apathetic about the world around us. I can imagine that certain people are spitting coffee all over their keyboards right about now in a spray of indignant rage; “how can he possibly suggest such a thing!? Is that some of that rose-tinted (and btw, rather trite and pathetic) 80s and 90s nostalgia putting blinkers over the cataract-milky eyes of this old geezer?” Well before you scroll down to the comments section and unleash a dungpile of your finest trollage upon me for daring to suggest such a thing, please allow me my five minutes on the soap box.

The all-in-one Idiocracy chair, coming soon to all apathetic households.

Now, why would I suggest that the internet has made us (and by “us” I’m referring to the largely-Western citizens of the global digital landscape, not third world peasants with no access to this virtual landscape of bits and bytes) more apathetic on the whole? I make this bold statement, and it’s important to note the following point, people, in relative terms.

What I mean by that is precisely the fact that most article-skipping trolls will most likely have posted by the time you, the decent and polite reader, have reached this point: that humankind now, more than ever in recorded human history, has collective, instant and largely unrestricted access to more information about the past and present states of every single culture in the world than has ever before been made available to the common person.


We have the means at our fingertips, and you can take that in both figurative and completely literal terms if you want, to find out almost anything imaginable about the world. Google, wikipedia, youtube; these are, at least for me, the “big three”names in online information-seeking media, and with these three tools you’d be hard-pressed to name a subject upon which you couldn’t find heaps upon heaps of articles, critiques, analyses, exposés, essays and opinions ad infinitum.

Now while much of this content revolves around things of a rather inconsequential nature, there are vast reserves of online knowledge specifically pertaining to important academic fields such as science, politics, economics, medicine, history, biology, astrophysics, as well as a proliferation of equally important areas of the Arts, including fine art itself, literature, music, anthropology, cultural and gender studies, philosophy, psychology, film and other such areas of vital intellectual interest. In short, we have the means to thoroughly educate ourselves and expand our minds in an overwhelmingly vast array of fields of knowledge; the only limiting factor here is the individual’s capacity to absorb, analyse and retain whatever knowledge they decide to ingest.


Let me repeat this again: Never before, in the (roughly) ten thousand years of humankind’s span of civilised history has such a degree of knowledge been available to all as there has been within the last ten years or so.

Yet, how many of us make a daily, weekly or even monthly effort to access, analyse and digest even the most minute fraction of the monumental universe of knowledge that is freely available to us?

The point I’m trying to make in mentioning the vastness and comprehensiveness of information available to everyone relates to the founding principles of our postmodern, hyperglobal consumerist society: exploitation and unsustainability. Almost every industry around which our lifestyles of convenience and unquestioning consumption revolve is based on the plundering of some non-renewable resource (oil, for example), or cheaply exploitable but morally reprehensible source (massive exploitation of animals, exploitation of millions of third world poverty-stricken humans, including children, the wide-scale annihilation of the natural environment, the trawling of the oceans, etc etc).

Now, in the decades that preceded the 00s and the advent of global internet accessibility, it was relatively easy for those in power, the ones in charge of and profiting handsomely from industries dependent on massive exploitation and destruction, to keep the wool pulled over the eyes of the general citizenry, in whose hands the actual power rests (the power of participating in, or refusing to participate in certain areas of the economy). There was no youtube, no google, and no social networks like facebook upon which ideas could be shared and spread, with the rapidity and fury of a bushfire, across the expanse of the earth, transcending barriers of culture, language, nationality and socio-economic status. Documentaries, articles, books and opinion pieces that exposed the truth about the horrors of factory farming, sweatshops, the destruction of the rain forests, the extinction of millions of species of wildlife, resource wars in the third world, the dying oceans, etc, would have had to be actively sought out by those few individuals who were concerned enough to do so. Such materials would have been relegated to the “alternative thinking” or “New Age philosophy” section of independent bookstores, and in addition to being almost invisible in their physical placement they would have carried the stigma of those labels under which they were listed, which the exploiters have done such an excellent PR job of ridiculing, with public perception thereof being almost universally that of cranks, “dirty hippies”, crazed fringe lunatics, well-meaning but utterly ignorant and misinformed middle-aged-women, con-running charlatans, LSD-burned ex addicts, and all of the other false stereotypes associated with such labels.

Thus it was to be expected that in the pre-internet age, the majority of us, even the most erudite critical thinkers, would merely accept that the way our society functions as being good, right and wholly normal. We could not be blamed for harboring a complete disconnect with reality, because the means to expose that reality for what actually lay veiled beyond the curtain of the mundane, which consists of a series of horrific and monstrous systems of terror, destruction and exploitation, were simply not widely and freely available to us.

However, with the advent of The Web, this has changed completely. We can now see the truth of what forms the foundations of the pyramid upon which we totteringly sway, so sure of ourselves as the rightful Pharaohs of the universe, even as the base crumbles and gives way to the gaping maw of the ocean of desolation that is about to swallow everything. The Truth is but a mouse click away, for those that would discover it. And surely, we all want to know about issues so important that the very survival of our species utterly depends on it?

Morpheus is real, and his name is The Internet.

With that question in mind, let’s move on to the topic of “slacktivism”.

So, we’ve established that we have all of the information necessary to expose the Truth about the systems of horror and destruction that our lifestyles continue to fuel. We can learn as much as we want about dire and pressing issues that affect every single one of us and hold the very future of the planet and all life upon it in the balance.

But do we care?

We like to think we do. This is where “slacktivism” comes in. The term “slacktivist” came into use sometime in the mid-90s, apparently, and what it refers to is the usually very minor actions that an individual undertakes in support of a some distant cause. This could be something like “liking” a page on facebook, the online sharing of a video that promotes some cause, or perhaps signing one’s name on an internet petition. Less “passive” forms of slacktivism would be making credit card donations to a particular cause online, or in the real world, dropping some coins into a collection box for a charity or social justice cause.


Now let me say that in terms of what I have just described, slacktivism is not actually a bad thing. I am guilty of all of the abovementioned actions; yes, I too am a slacktivist when it comes to certain issues. I am not trying, in this article, to suggest that slactivism is useless. In fact, slactivism has actually achieved some pretty monumental things, which you can take note of if you peruse the following infographic.

However, the point I want to make about slactivism is that it’s not enough. While it has succeeded in making small positive changes around the world, it is not going to save us from the disaster we are speeding so recklessly and inevitably toward. It’s a temporary alleviation from extremely deep-seated feelings of guilt that, since birth, we have been conditioned to suppress way down to the furthest reaches of the subconscious mind. It’s a way of saying, “hey, look at me! I’m one of the good guys! I care about more than  just myself!” But more than this, it’s yet another means of instant gratification in the age of instant gratification, (and the internet, with its online shopping, free downloads, streaming content, etc has massively amplified, reinforced and enabled a veritable epidemic of insta-grat cravings and addictions) and it’s another ineffectual shortcut in the era of ineffectual shortcuts; a failed promise from a slick internet salesman in exactly the same vein as “30-day sixpack abs, 1 minute a day, gauranteed!!!”.

The scary thing about slacktivism is the other side of the coin. While slacktivist actions are a quick-fix reflexive reaction that make a small difference and temporarily alleviate subconscious feelings of unease about our lifestyles and complicity in systems of mass violence and exploitation, they also reinforce apathetic and lazy behaviour in the individual. They strengthen the part of ourselves that is greedy, that is selfish, that is lazy, the side that does not want to change or make any kind of personal sacrifice for the greater good. And when this side of human nature is indirectly and subtly criticized or attacked, it reacts with its concomitant emotions: violence, anger, cynicism, sarcasm and mockery. What do I mean by “indirectly or subtly criticized or attacked”? This is when the individual is presented with an example of a person who is making considerable efforts to alter their lifestyle drastically, to make great personal sacrifices, to actively make changes in the world that will transform things for the better. This especially happens when such a person makes their efforts publicly known. The lazy or apathetic person sees such an individual, and through subconscious feelings of guilt regarding their own complicity or apathy, they react by attacking, mocking or vilifying that person’s lifestyle choices. After all, it’s easier and more satisfying to be an armchair critic and not have to do anything oneself to contribute to positive change in the world.

This relates to another reason for slacktivism being such a great feelgood prompt; we can “take action” on and make a noise in public about causes which are completely outside our sphere of experience, in which we are fairly certain that we have no instance of complicity at all. It’s a form of the age-old culturally-insular practice of defining the Other (whether this Other takes the form of people of other ethnic groups, tribal groups, religious groups, nationalities, etc etc is irrelevant here) via a negative comparison to our own group’s (perceived) moral superiority. Thus I often see people in my own online social circles (facebook news feed, for example) ranting about the evils of consuming shark-fin soup (usually Westerners who would never eat such a thing anyway, yet who in the same breath will post pics of the steak they had for dinner), the consumption of dog and cat meat in China (ditto), fur farms in Asia (ditto), or perhaps they will post about the traumatic effects of bullying in schools (a popular one doing the rounds now), or the hate spread by the Westboro Baptist Church, and accompanying this post will be something commenting on how enlightened they are because they “think religion is bullshit”. Or, perhaps the biggest one of last year – the Kony campaign.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that these are things we shouldn’t be concerned about and that we shouldn’t be raising awareness about. Of course we should be spreading awareness about these injustices and contributing to bring an end to them. But the point, once again, is that this is not enough – not enough to create and undertake the kinds of drastic changes we need to exact to save global civilisation from itself.

Slactivism is counter-intuitive to this in a way, because while it does raise brief spates of awareness and activity related to (Other-ed) causes, it simultaneously fails to address those evils that we are completely complicit in in our own lifestyles, and creates a sensation of satisfaction, in the sense of “I’ve done my good deed for the day, I can go back to lazing about and being apathetic without any latent feelings of guilt to bother me”.

But as Philip Wollen says, this is not how the world works. We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into complacent apathy by temporarily-alleviated feelings of having “made a difference” for the day via slacktivist actions. We need to delve deeper, and critically examine our own lifestyle choices and the way that they are contributing to a looming global environmental and ecological disaster. We need to figure out how we can CHANGE the way we live, the personal sacrifices that WE MUST make in order to genuinely exact change. As Rowdy Roddy Piper says in the cheesy but relevant 80s film They Live, we need to “put on the damn glasses!”. Except these magic glasses will not reveal that an alien race as the threat to our continued existence upon Earth. They will reveal the threat that we ourselves pose.

“Put on the damn glasses!” “Whooooaa…”
How the magic glasses enable Roddy to see the world.

So where do we start looking if we genuinely want to wake up and start making a difference? How to we attempt to steer ourselves away from looming disaster? What do we need to change to move towards a more compassionate lifestyle that distances itself from greed, exploitation and apathy? Well, the first place we can look is in our refrigerators and on our dinner plates. Now while one can wax lyrical about the ethics (or lack thereof) of consuming meat and other animal products, (the main reason I myself eschew them is because of the utter horror, cruelty and and amorality of the conditions in which commercial livestock are raised and slaughtered), the bottom line is that most people just don’t care. We’ve all been raised to believe that animals are stupid, that they are incapable of even the most basic emotions, let alone complex thought processes such as empathising, planning for the future, learning and problem solving or acting with altrusim in ways that go against the “survival of the fittest” evolutionary paradigm, despite mounting and irrefutable scientific evidence to the contrary which states, in fact, that animals (including sheep, pigs, chickens and cattle) are way more emotionally complex and intelligent than we perceive them to be. If you are one of the handful of people reading this who might be interested in learning more about animal intelligence, here’s an excellent talk by animal scientist Jonathan Balcombe. Skip the cheesy intro and go to 4:10 for the talk.

However, if your cultural prejudices prevent you from seriously entertaining such notions despite the massive weight of the scientific evidence that supports assertions of animal intelligence, it is understandable, because it’s an extremely powerful set of deeply ingrained values that allow us to believe we are rightfully justified in exploiting animals for their meat and other products, so read on. I mean, you didn’t get to the top of the food chain to eat lettuce, right? (I can assure you though, if you were placed unarmed and naked, which is our natural state, in a cage with a lion, tiger, polar bear or other large predator, the “top of the food chain” chain myth would very quickly be dispelled). Eating or not eating meat is no longer merely a question of ethics and morals relating to animals. It has now become one of the most pressing issues related to the survival of humankind on this planet. And no, this information does not come from “bleedin’ heart bunny hugging” animal rights organisations or other such fringe groups that you can conveniently brush off as being well-meaning but ignorant fanatics and lunatics. No, this information comes from years of exhaustive, comprehensive research by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, whose damning report on the massive destruction caused by the global livestock industry directly correlates our appetite for meat with being one of the “major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation,  air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” The full report can be found here.

That “Happy Meal” you just enjoyed was perhaps not so “happy” after all. In fact, it most likely caused the equivalent environmental destruction of detonating a few sticks of shrapnel-strapped dynamite in a life-dense rainforest, as well as pouring a few barrels of highly toxic sludge into a river and releasing a hot-air-balloon sized ball of noxious gas into the atmosphere. It also took the food out of a starving child’s mouth, because “82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries.

Our voracious collective appetite for fish and seafood is just as destructive and if it continues unabated, the world’s oceans, once thought to be an inexhaustible resource, may well be devoid of most life by 2048. Modern commerical trawling practices also cause massive destruction as they tear up the ocean bed and kill everything from turtles to dolphins along with the fish that they are actually trying to catch.

We also rely extremely heavily on non-renewable, finite resources such as oil and petrochemical products (including plastics, which are one of the worst polluters and destroyers of the environment), to fuel our lifestyles of laziness, instant gratification and convenience, not giving even a moment’s thought to the destruction it causes or how unsustainable such a dependency is. We waste fresh water with abandon, treating it as if it were some infinitely-available commodity, rather than something which may well run dry and cause the greatest ecological crisis in human history within our lifetimes. (Just to return briefly to the meat thing, the livestock industry is one of the greatest water wasters on the planet, as well as being one of the biggest polluters of streams and rivers.) We waste electricity daily, not paying any thought to the fact that it mostly comes from the burning of coal and other non-renewable and heavily-polluting fossil fuels. And the saddest thing about all of these wasteful behaviors is that we believe that it is our inherent right to act in this manner, and that any alternative would result in an unacceptably egregious reduction in our standard of living, whereas quite the opposite is true; when one starts to live in a way that is compassionate, sustainable, and considerate to the poor and meek of the earth, one derives a far greater sense of satisfaction from life than from living for fleeting, temporary hits to satisfy brief and addictive cravings.

So this is what I’m essentially proposing in this piece: that slacktivism is not a bad thing in itself, but it can reinforce and excuse apathetic behaviour with its “quick-fix” ineffectiveness, and the bottom line about it is that it is simply not enough on its own to steer us from the course towards inevitable self-destruction that we have set ourselves upon with our wasteful, exploitative lifestyles of casual indifference, instant gratification and selfish convenience. We (and I include myself in this – like every person on this planet, I am nowhere near perfect and have plenty of my own vices) need to turn the lens upon ourselves and figure out what changes and sacrifices we personally need to make to work together for the greater good of humanity and our planet.

It is only through changing ourselves that true change for a sustainable, compassionate future can come about. And this will not happen by sitting back and clicking buttons on a computer…