Saturday, June 19, 2010


Protesting can be a good thing. It can be an effective means to draw attention to a viable, yet ignored alternative. Once the status quo gets entrenched, sometimes the only real way to change it -- to progress -- is by applying pressure on the leadership.

The suffragette movement did this effectively in the early 20th century when they held mass protests in order to force governments to allow women to vote. That positive change seems so obvious now that I can barely imagine a world were women don't have equal rights (although sadly, there are still backwards strongholds on the planet where this is true). Protesting was necessary, and protesting was effective.

The Vietnam war, the pro-choice movement, Gandhi's Indian independence; there are many great examples where protests were necessary and were effective in promoting change. In all of these cases the outcomes enhanced our civilized nature, we improved our societies with viable, positive alternatives.

Given that, protesting can also be a bad thing. It has become an increasingly popular way to draw attention to an issue. It has become a fad.

When the issue is choosing an alternative, protesting is positive. But if the issue is simply something that people don't like, with no viable alternatives, then the protests are negative. They are just people gathering to vent their own personal frustrations.

There are lots of things that are wrong with our world, some major, many minor. Some of the craziness of our modern life is ultimately the evolutionary state of our systems as they have progressed. They are what they are because we are still on the path of creating something better. Hopefully they will grow and change with time, but they evolved into place for historic reasons. Capitalism is one of those systems. It is ugly, crude and often brings out the worst in people, but still for all of its flaws we have no real viable alternatives. We can't go back and we haven't grown intellectually enough to go forward.

Protesting Capitalism is negative unless there is a proposal for a viable alternative. Sure people can draw attention to the fact that they don't like it, and that there are ugly side effects, but so what? What can you do if there is nothing to change it to? We can't just abandon the last couple of hundred years of progress because parts of the system aren't pretty, aren't fair. A protest against Capitalism is a significant amount of mis-directed energy that could have been better spent on something positive, something productive.

The big changes in the world that so many of today's protesters admire and want to emulate have come because there was something reasonable to change to. If we really want to change the world, fix its problems, then the first thing we need to do is understand the pros and cons of what exists now. It is not until you know the full details, the ins and outs of both the positive and negative aspects that you can propose an alternative.

Just asking for change without providing a viable new direction is whining. It is pointless. It is destructive.

Once the status quo is understood we can move forward with newer, better approaches, being wary of course to really factor in the irrationality of most human behavior. The systems we have, the ones that mostly work and last, aren't pretty black and white simplifications precisely because our own human interactions are very complex and take place on many different levels. Human behavior is messy and spills out like oil into all of the crevices of possibility, which makes any workable system notably flexible and complex. It can never be clean and simple.

With a reasonable alternative, not just wishful thinking, there is a possibility of convincing the masses to change. Once enough people believe, then at that point it is time for protesting. At that point it is time to try to convince the establishment to abandon the status quo and head in a new direction. But you only reach that time when there has been significant momentum in convincing people that there is something to change to. Most people have to want the change, and the change has to be positive.

Protesting can be a good thing. It can lead our societies to grow and to achieve new heights of civilization, but only when it is a force for positive action. A violent, stone throwing fest concocted because people are just angry that the world isn't pretty, or that they aren't personally in charge, is a bad thing. It is one of those things we could do without, hopefully grow beyond. Perhaps someone should protest against pointless negative protests?