The Depravity of Political Activism

When I was a freshman at NYU, I had no purpose. The City is what really attracted me. The university was an excuse to be there. It didn’t hurt that the institution itself was and is cloaked in prestige. “I go to NYU.” That just sounded good.

Life without a purpose is something like a warrior without a war. It eats you from the inside out. Without a motivating force, childish exuberance transforms into dull idleness. The Devil’s workshop once erected in an idle, passionless mans’ hands, he goes about his business. Any number of illicit activities become salvation in disguise. Finally, something to do, something to feel.

The astute, or maybe just the fortunate, might stumble upon the realization that self-destruction, though temporarily thrilling, lacks sustainability. That level of self-awareness breeds two potential responses: a deeper love-affair with anything promising immediate gratification, or disillusionment. Which response takes hold depends to some extent on how convinced the individual is that hope is lost. No hope, no goal, no purpose. All caution is thrown to the wind.

It’s odd to say that disillusionment is the “proper” response to the realization that a given course of action is self-destructive. But it’s at least rational. What else would you expect from an individual who was directionless in the first place? What other reaction might you expect upon discovery that yet another possibility lacked the promise of fulfillment?

The restless disillusioned embark on a search for something to do. I imagine what they actually hope to find, as I did, is something that matters. Enter politics.

What a grand goal it is to fix the problems of the world. Ironically, this sort of extreme idealism might just be the obvious response to years (or longer) of striving without purpose. The call to arms must be grand! What else could justify shedding years of doubt, of endless dead-ends?

Perhaps this is why the zeal of political activists of all stripes is unusual to the older generations. Restrictions barring gainful employment to the under-privileged and low-skilled weren’t so high back then. Yes, I know — older readers — the young “have never had it so good.” Consider, though, that the good with which we have it is the product of a long-dated process of capital accumulation and production. Material and technological abundance, appealing as it is to the American Consumer in us all, is no substitute for fulfillment.

Give man a worthy task, and no level of material abundance will match his pride at a job well done. Withhold from man a worthy task, and no level of abundance will fill the emptiness in his soul. Stated differently, the value of a goal is not derived from its achievement, but from the pursuit of it. The horror of 21st century America is not the lack of material wealth, it’s the systematic incrimination of entry down paths to pursue it.

In the face of insufficient numbers of the capable, a great American educational complex was erected, with robust tax-payer funding, to enhance productivity. There American youth learn the great narratives of social change. If you wonder at the origin of the hordes of leftist ideologues, look no further than the nasty one-two punch of labor-incrimination and youth-reeducation. “These kids have never worked a day in their lives!” may be a true refrain from older, more conservative generations, but its source is deeper than the immediate reality. The withering down of a culture and value system that once upheld the act of serving your fellow man as soon as prudently possible is the more ultimate cause. Pray tell though, who was around then to watch that great structure crumble?

A scant minority of modern youth figured out that the ideology of socialism and communism, as evidenced by the experience of the 20th century and despite the certification of intellectual elites, is as vapid and hollow as other attempts at immediate self-gratification. They watched Ron Paul on YouTube. They learned of a new grand narrative — except this one had something resembling the essence of morality.

We’re in the midst of the 10-year anniversary of the 2007–08 Ron Paul run for President of the United States. Though he’s out of politics, many of his followers, aimless as their country through anti-labor legislation and their culture through “higher” education-hysteria has left them, are anxious to take his place. Some travel parallel paths. Blogging, non-profit work, local political volunteering, and the like offer an alternative to value-creation through production and exchange in the market. Oligarchs with too much money to know precisely where to put it hire nicely dressed professionals who hire accountants who eventually find a “tax-conscious” way to support such activity. Conveniently, such spending serves the dual, charitable-purpose of scratching the itch to “give back.”

Whether there’s an organized conspiracy to raise barriers to entry, stifle competition, and promote oligarchic reorganization of a once free American market is beside the point. Though if there was one, you’d be hard-pressed to fathom a more intricate, well-executed plan to accomplish those very ends. The depravity of activism is the crown jewel of a system rigged against the uncritical, agreeable, and ignorant.

The happy news is that this isn’t the end of a grim story, at least it doesn’t have to be. Try as they might, politicians cannot legislate away man’s need for his fellow man’s service. Every man can opt-out. Situated in the proper context, every man has what he needs, the knowledge, to do things differently. He might even leverage this knowledge into power. He might even succeed in serving his fellow man. For him, fulfillment is within his grasp.