The very first thing I want to talk about to kick off this post is something in activism that I call “tunnel vision”. It happens when an activist judges the morality of every social situation through the lens of their preferred social causes only, neglecting other relevant social concerns.
To break that down, let’s think about cryptocurrency. Proponents of proof-of-work based blockchain cryptocurrencies often highlight the benefits. For instance, the blockchain’s decentralized nature, resilience against various attack vectors, privacy benefits, freedom benefits, etc. But they either fail to mention or brush off its environmental impact and tax implications.
In Richard Stallman’s appearance on Monero Talk, he brings up both the issue that proof-of-work blockchains cause massive energy consumption and they make it harder to tax the wealthy. These are both issues that I don’t see taken seriously enough. I care very much about the environment and I still hesitate to include donation addresses for energy-intensive cryptocurrencies on my about page for that very reason. I don’t want to encourage a network that wastes enormous levels of energy when there are less energy-intensive alternatives. I’ve never seen anyone else even make that point before. Perhaps that’s because it’s more convenient to ignore the energy impact when there’s money to be made.
And that is exactly the kind of problem I’m talking about. It’s focusing on one important social issue to the detriment of others. Even if you’re accepting donations through energy-intensive cryptocurrency for a good cause, the environmental impact shouldn’t be ignored. At the very least, it warrants a discussion.
What’s interesting to me is how different communities react to social issues. Some communities seem to have less tunnel vision than others. In cryptocurrencies like Monero, there is a lot of not seeing the bigger picture and the full implications of what is being created. There is a lot of tunnel vision. In darknets, I see the opposite. Everyone knows darknets enable immoral behavior that people otherwise couldn’t get away with as easily.
The difference between darknet communities and cryptocurrency communities as I see it is the darknet communities better acknowledge the downsides of their technologies. Several major darknets acknowledge the downsides directly on their websites. Their collective response is basically “Yes this technology enables bad things, but it also enables good things, and the good things outweigh the bad things”. Official websites for cryptocurrencies aren’t as forthcoming about the downsides of their technology. This is bad because we need an honest conversation about the good and the bad of technologies. Simply viewing everything through the lens of “freedom” or “privacy” is harmful, in the long run. There are other social issues to consider.
Dealing With Conflicting Social Causes
There’s a lot going wrong in the world and, as an activist, there are infinite social issues worth fighting for. Some of them conflict with each other. So the question becomes how to deal with conflicting social issues. Because the alternative is just ignoring them. It’s just having tunnel vision.
Sometimes there are clever ways to get around conflicts of interest between two social issues. For instance, using proof-of-stake consensus for blockchains instead of proof-of-work mitigates the energy consumption problem of cryptocurrencies. It preserves the good qualities of cryptocurrency while mitigating the purely bad qualities.
Darknets - Good and Bad Content
Other times, there just isn’t a clever way around a conflict. For example it’s very difficult to create darknets that only permit “good” content. Who is the authority on what content is good and not good? One must either allow all content, or come up with a complex “scoring/rating” system for content on the network. But then the scoring system may be abused to censor “good” content. There’s no simple solution.
Prisons - Privacy and Safety
Prisons are another example. A privacy advocate like myself doesn’t want prisoners under 24/7 video surveillance. However, just removing the cameras causes safety problems for prisoners. I wouldn’t just advocate removing the cameras without making any other changes, because that could be dangerous. I’d rather see guards employed to watch the prisoners, but that creates budget issues for the prison since it has to employ more guards. Also, guards may be corrupted to turn a blind eye whereas camera footage is a different story. What’s the solution?
Free Software and Organizing
A final example I’ll give is free software and getting organized. I’ve attended climate protests in the past. Unfortunately the communication channels and websites that organize these protests sometimes make it difficult or even impossible to access them using free software. Given that I don’t have unlimited time to figure out workarounds, my practical choices are either give up software freedom or miss out on some climate demonstrations. Which should I choose?
A Reasonable Compromise
If you are an activist who doesn’t have “tunnel vision”, who is capable of considering several social issues at once, you are going to run into situations where two or more social issues are in a “hard conflict” and there’s no easy way to respect them all. What you have to do in situations like those is to figure out your priorities. This isn’t easy because there are often complex interactions between any two social issues. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong approach.
As an activist, you must sort out your priorities. There aren’t always ways to respect every social issue you fight for. Compromises have to be made. These kinds of compromises are made in politics all the time. It’s a matter of strategy. Some social issues are more pressing than others.
This is not saying you have to be an activist for every social issue in the world. That would be absurd. No one has the time or energy for that. What I’m saying is when you’re fighting for a cause, you shouldn’t ignore the effects your actions have on other social concerns. If you want to have a positive impact, you have to integrate your activism with the whole space of related concerns, moderated by your priorities. That is the meaning of integrated activism.
1: Monero Talk Featuring Richard Stallman
2: About Page
3: Tor’s Response to Abuse
4: Freenet’s Response to Abuse