Sentence of Enduring Value

“Baby Boomers… by the way, destroyed the effectiveness of protest by creating a protest culture which emphasized alienation from, rather than solidarity with, the larger culture.”
Megan McArdle

(I’m thinking about renaming this feature: Brilliant Things Megan Said)

7 thoughts on “Sentence of Enduring Value”

  1. Not that I’m exactly enamored of baby boomers or anything, but she’s holding them solely responsible for political and social apathy in the US? Nothing about the media-as-entertainment culture? Nothing about media ownership consolidation trends? Nothing about COINTELPRO? Nothing about similar government actions which still happen today?

    I assert that protests are less effective because authorities are smarter about countering them. Mass protests are the peacetime equivalent of lining your riflemen up in ranks and marching at the enemy position. That whole chunk of McArdle’s post can be reduced to “those damned hippies.” McArdle makes many other keen points, but her reasoning in this statement seems shaky.

    Side note: Boomers and ex-hippies are bitterly frustrating to work with. I know this from experience.

  2. I don’t think she’s “holding them solely responsible for political and social apathy in the US”. She says they’ve “destroyed the effectiveness of protest”. That’s really quite something different.

    Her point, which is brilliant, is that protest/grass roots movements are not and have never been very effective. Movements have to have important causes that get the public’s attention *and* they have to move public opinion in their direction. The latter is really hard and the former is rare (e.g. her point about the world being pretty good these days).

    To the extent grass-roots movements are effective, the so-called counter-culture made them less so because they made it harder to change the mind of Joe Public. They alienated themselves from the mainstream and that happens to be the club of which Mr. Public is a member.

    You will need to provide more evidence for your assertion that the authorities have gotten better at quashing protests. Linking to past CIA programs and lame police tactics in the present only puts the opposite contrast on the issue, i.e. one way to connect those dots is to say government has gotten worse at anti-protest.

    It seems more likely that due to social progress, we’ve run out of Really Super Important Causes and we see declines in protest effectiveness because its harder to get collective action around so-so movements.

  3. Government tampering is a difficult front to press without coming off as a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist.

    I maintain that protests are quaint, old fashioned, and obsolete. If you gather a million people to march on the capitol, not many people are actually going to see you or hear your message. The part where they even care is directly linked to their quality of life, true, but you can’t even be apathetic if you’re ignorant of a cause.

    I’ll agree, though, that one can effect more change in a system by opting in than by opting out. Protest is the lazy man’s way of satisfying his emotional need for change without having to do any of the actual hard work.

  4. I have no doubt some wack-job in the government thinks its his duty to tamper and he is. But is this the primary reason protest is less effective these days. I think your answer is no given the “quaint, old fashioned, and obsolete” comment.

    These days there’s an extremely low cost of information. If a cause is important enough, people will hear about it.

  5. “These days there’s an extremely low cost of information.”

    No… there’s an extremely low cost of publication. Accurate information is as precious as ever. Sieving this information from the background din is a growth industry. These days, a civic minded citizen yells “‘Shopped!” first and measures pixels later.

    “I have no doubt some wack-job in the government thinks its his duty to tamper and he is.”
    Apropos? (assuming this is accurate)

  6. “Protest is the lazy man’s way of satisfying his emotional need for change without having to do any of the actual hard work.”

    I’ve also considered that you can replace “Protest” with “Angry blogging.” I, too, am guilty of this.

  7. RE cost of information…

    You’re right. The level of noise has gone up, but so has the level of signal. The question is has the signal to noise ratio gone up. Its an empirical question, but my gut tells me yes. I’m not spending more time these days online because I have to wade through all the increased bad stuff to get to the good stuff. I’m spending more time online because the quality of what I see is higher.

    Economically, if we see more info-hunting (which is a cost) then we can conclude the signal to noise ratio (the benefit) is higher. My preferences for quality information hasn’t changed (I don’t think… there could be life-cycle effects) and my wealth has only gone down (and I suspect quality information is a normal good).

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