Couch-based activism 101

You want to make the world a better place. The intractable difficulties and complications of reality are stacked against any chance you might succeed.

This is a quick introduction to strategies and tools for protest, sharing and action in the Internet age—most of which can be done sitting down.

Emailed protestsPackaged dildo

When thousands of outrage-laden emails start pouring into the inbox of the incompetent government minister, a simple filter redirects the electrons onto an information technology compost heap. If your protest must consist of sending someone something, put down the iPad and stick a stamp to an actual package, which you can then get someone else to mail for you.
When protesters wanted to have their say about anti-gay laws in Russia they sent Vladimir Putin dildos in the post. Does anyone know what he did with them? (—The dildos, I mean, not the protesters.)

FacebookFacebook icon

Judge your friends and acquaintances by how enthusiastically, often and mindlessly they click the ‘Like’ button underneath your posts.
The name ‘Facebook’ carries within it the judgmentalism of the software program that was its precursor, ‘Facemash’, a computer game that sorted Harvard women into ‘Hot or Not’. Users turn Facebook into whichever kind of game is most important to themselves: like me or don’t like me; approve or disapprove; with or against me; agree or disagree; and so on.
The non-threatening and non-judgemental uses of Facebook—keeping in touch with friends and family, arranging invitations to parties, etc.—are the outer and upper circles of a deep, cold hell where people can easily convince themselves that ‘sharing’ a news item is actually sharing.

Twitter Twitter_logo_blue

… Apparently able to tear down corrupt governments with a single tweet retweeted until your despised oppressors simply pack it in. The 140-character messages on your fancy phone are powerless unless someone—a million someones—actually decides to turn up. Turning up is what topples governments; turning up in sufficient numbers and refusing to leave until something happens.

OccupiersOccupy_Wall_Street,_Unofficial_Logo

… Which leads me to occupiers, not strictly part of the couch-based activism movement.
You’ve got to love the commitment and outrage of the occupiers of the Occupy movement but, the moment the news starts showing them sitting in a circle, on cushions, and passing the talking-stick, you know something has gone wrong.

Poetry

No. (Yes, it can be done sitting down but, as a strategy for social change, it doesn’t work.)

SatirePutin made up

You can do this lying down or standing up. It is difficult to do well but it can be effective. Modern trends seem to favor non-verbal, graphical forms of mockery (except ‘street theatre’, which is now only acceptable at Earthcore events).

Unions with Facebook accounts

Without doubt the most accurate sign your union has abandoned hope that your job and conditions can be protected is the appearance of the union’s Facebook page. Not as concrete as a poster or letter, not as personal as an email, not as rousing (or as dangerous) as a good old-fashioned meeting or speech, the union Facebook account turns all news, good and bad, into ‘timelines’ of blue-hued inevitability. The union organisers who post news to Facebook are most likely at home on the couch right now with a bowl of popcorn.
Unions should own more megaphones than smartphones.

YouTube YouTube-logo-full_color

Meat including Pork (73%), Water, Premix [Potato Starch, Tapioca Starch, Salt, Modified Starch (1442), Soy Protein, Mineral Salts (451, 341, 450, 452), Dextrose, Spices, Antioxidant (316), Sodium Nitrite (250), Fermented Red Rice], Food Acid (325), Sucrose, Smoke Flavors, Vegetable Gum (412), Anticaking Agent (551) … YouTube is the manufactured meat product of the Internet.
While it is one of the great, supine protest activities, YouTube’s effectiveness is greatly enhanced when done outdoors and in the kinds of places where human rights are being abused, decency trampled on, and innocents being shot. No editing or music is required. Just set your camera-phone to upload videos automatically and start recording.

George Franju’s «Blood of the Beasts»

Our attitudes to butchers and meat have changed in ways that our parents and our parents’ parents could not have imagined.

Firstly, there is the matter of the declining status of butchers. It is a worldwide phenomenon. In the UK in 1980 over one hundred thousand people were employed in privately-owned butcher-shops. By 2008 the number had fallen to about thirty-five thousand. In New Zealand, and elsewhere, negative growth in employment of butchers outstrips the negative growth in most other trades during the past couple of decades by at least a factor of ten. It is not just a recent trend. CSIRO research on meat retailing once claimed that numbers of butchers in Australia dropped 40 percent, from ten to six thousand, between the 1950s and 1980s, and said…

There are two main reasons for this decline; firstly, [butchers] will be replaced at the counter front by sales persons, who will be trained in consumer contact skills and not in meat preparation. Secondly, there may be a move to centralized packaging, employing capital intensive gas flushing techniques for primals and sliced and trayed meats. These trays will have extended shelf life without the dull presentation of vacuum packaging and be capable of being stored in the retail shop until used, thus relieving the necessity for shop butchers to break down carcasses.

Secondly, we can add to the simple fact of decline the observation that technology and supermarkets have had their effect on how we think about the places, sensations and people associated with meat. Yes, supermarkets have butchers we can sometimes glimpse working in a space whose design has changed; but gone, very gone, from many people’s lives are the smell of the butcher-shop, the bloodied aprons, the wood shavings on the tiled floor, the tools dangling from the leather belt. Yes, gone—and a good thing, too, I can hear some of you say. Very well. I understand that.

Third, our meat no longer looks like what it is. It comes, instead, skinned, weighed, seasoned and cooked, packaged in plastic trays, labeled, branded, transported, stacked. Often, it does not even have bones. Many people have come to react with revulsion to meat that has any bone in it, as if the bone reminded them they were about to eat an animal. (Jacques Derrida said that the very word ‘animal’ carried within it a presupposition of the cage and food.) A bone in a fish is an existential threat. Look—I’m not going to mention offal (the meat world’s unmentionables), or Masterchef (cooking turned into melodrama). The whole “protein” thing makes me very mad. I’m not going there.

Zuckerberg strangled a chicken.
Zuckerberg choked the chicken.

Mark Zuckerberg said somewhere, because everyone is pretending that his aspirations and thoughts are now public, that he was going to try to eat only meat from animals he had killed himself. Suddenly, I have the thought in my head of one of the world’s richest men chasing and choking a chicken. Or, confronting a cow with its ultimate sunset clause. And, then, a series of other thoughts… Of course this idea that one should only eat what one is prepared to kill comes somewhere from the desire to live a healthier life and to live in a way that reduces the effects of animal cultivation and destruction on the environment, and hence on the planet. I am about to agree this seems like a very good idea. (Peter Singer has remarked that this answer to the problem of unnecessary violence only affects a tiny fraction of the slaughtered animals.)

Then, I wonder about the practicality of this resolution. Chickens, yes, I can imagine most people coping with the consequences of the resolution. There are problems with some of the other animals. Cows are, plainly, rather huge. You would have to share. Actually, you would have to get help to move the poor thing, especially when dead. There is the difficulty of learning the butchering techniques, safety issues, storage issues, and so on. Other animals, smaller ones, present difficulties of scavenging and hunting, not least that you need a lot of time.

Somehow, I don’t believe Mr Zuckerberg’s idea is as easy or as noble as it sounds. I think there are going to be a lot of compromises. Compromises that involve hunting, plucking, gutting, butchering. He only claimed he was going to try to do the killing himself, so perhaps this is all going to be achieved with a Taser and a team of assistants.

I wish him well in his efforts to save the planet and his soul.

Which takes me to my point: the disturbing and great film, «Le Sang des Bȇtes», by George Franju. Made in 1949, and now dubbed in English and available to be viewed on YouTube, it shows butchery of horses, cows, calves and sheep with poetic and dispassionate realism, emphasising the professionalism and expertise of the butchers. Working at the cusp of realism and surrealism, «Blood of the Beasts» is a kind of homage to butchers and, simultaneously, a commentary on the need to do ugly things to survive and perhaps even to fight just wars.

Charles Trenet's La Mer
Charles Trenet’s La Mer

In the final minutes, as the blood of the beasts is being washed away from the streets around the abattoir, we hear one of the workers singing ‘La Mer’, by Charles Trenet, a song that would have been only recently released in France at the time Blood of the Beasts was made. (Was it the first time ‘La Mer’ had appeared on the soundtrack of a movie?)

Before you click on any link to view the film, I warn you: for most people «Blood of the Beasts» is now a much more shocking film than it was when it was made in 1949. Many people are not used to seeing animals killed, and would be wrong to think that modern movies and games had inured us to the sight of it.

[Unfortunately, the full movie is no longer available and none of the available excerpts give a good indication of the tenor of Blood of the Beasts. —SJW]

More information about Blood of the Beasts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_of_the_Beasts