Definition of an Activist

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ... getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

I began this post yesterday, with the introduction above, ready to take on this barf-inducing article in the Washington Post titled " Fulfillment Elusive for Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest."  Gee, who would have thought it difficult for a twenty-something with no real job experience to get someone like me to pay you to lobby the government to force me to pay for your personal goals for the world?

Fortunately, since it is a drop-dead gorgeous day outside, TJIC has already done the detail work of ripping this article apart.  Here is one snippet, you should read the whole thing:

So the best they can imagine doing is "advocating".

Here's a hint: maybe the reason that your "sense of adulthood"
is "sapped" is because you haven't been doing anything at all adult.

Adults accomplish things.

They do not bounce around a meaningless series of do-nothing graduate programs, NGOs, and the sophisticated social scene in DC.

If you want to help the poor in Africa, go over there, find
some product they make that could sell here, and start importing it.
Create a market. Drive up the demand for their output.

Or find a bank that's doing micro-finance.

Or become a travel writer, to increase the demand for photography safaris, which would pump more dollars into the region.

Or design a better propane refrigerator, to make the lives of the African poor better....

One thing that disgusts me about "wannabe world changers" is that
mortaring together a few bricks almost always is beneath them - they're
more interested in writing a document about how to lobby the government
to fund a new appropriate-technology brick factory.

Special mutual admiration bonus-points are herein scored by my quoting TJIC's article that quotes me quoting TJIC.

I will add one thing:  I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own.  Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition, universities feel like they need to make students feel better about this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

So what is being done to provide more pretend-you-are-making-an-impact-while-drawing-a-salary-and-not-doing-any-real-work jobs for over-educated twenty-something Ivy League international affairs majors?  Not enough:

Chief executives for NGOs, Wallace said, have told her: "Well, yeah, if
we had the money, we'd be doing more. We can never hire as many as we
want to hire." Wallace said her organization drew more than 100
applicants for a policy associate position. "The industry really needs
to look at how to provide more avenues for young, educated people," she

Excuses, excuses.  We are not doing enough for these young adults.  I think the government should do something about it!

Update:  Oh my God, a fabulous example illustrating exactly what universities are doing to promote this mindset is being provided by the University of Delaware.  See the details here.


  1. Kyle Bennett:

    "The industry really needs to look at how to provide more avenues for young, educated people,"

    I really with they'd stop calling it an "industry". Industry is industrious, it produces things. It generates money, it doesn't just consume it. The best this field of activity could be called is an avocation, but it's really not much more than a hobby.

  2. nicole:

    Great post!! I graduated from college two and a half years ago and work as a copyeditor of some really dry but pretty important stuff (codification of US GAAP). My boyfriend is younger and all his prep school children-of-academics friends just graduated this past spring, and this summer I met a bunch of them at a party all talking about the world-changing internships/fellowships/[insert euphemism for semi-paid semi-work] they would be doing now. They were amazed that I was a person almost their age and obviously intelligent, but with a Real Job. Thankfully, the boyfriend agreed with me about their complete vacuousness.

  3. Bearster:

    Great post. I do take exception to one minor points, namely that people who want to help Africa should start a business importing from Africa.

    Business is about finding a way to make money by serving a need of someone who can pay for it. It does not begin with a desire to help one's workers or suppliers.

  4. smcg:

    They forget that part of the value their "package" is the warm inner glow generated by their sense of self-worth.

  5. Andy:

    Nailed it!!

    Quote from WaPo:

    She's still holding out for the ideal: a job that takes her to Africa for health projects and gender relations issues. As she continues temping, Hanley scours e-mail forums for job possibilities and sets up interviews -- some with real stakes, some informational.

    It's been quite a few years since Psych 101, but what was that thing about the Maslow's 5-Levels? Seems to me that the last thing on anybody's mind when they're at Levels 1, 2 or 3 is gender relations! Health projects, perhaps depending on the health project being dispensed, but gender relations? Give me a break. But I guess that's goes hand in hand with all the other misguided ivory-tower psycho-babble masquerading as compassion.

    Lemme guess, for this naif, gender relations to empower this poor village widow trying to eke out a living for her 3 starving diseased-racked kid would consist primarily of a rendition of The Vagina Monologues at the village square. "I am woman, hear me roar".

    I'll bet that the health project she has in mind is that stupid commercial about nothing-but-nets.

    Hello!?! Nets only work when you're in it -- as in sleeping! Doesn't do squat when you're going about your daily routine of surviving. How about some DDT to terminate malaria?

    Or maybe it's birth control. Hate to break it to you, young lady, but the trick to bringing down birth rates is actually counter-intuitive -- just like you raise revenue by lowering taxes. Help ensure that kids survive childhood and the birthrate will go down. People tend to reproduce more often when the risks are high that their offspring may not survive childhood. Yet, the US and UN wants to throw ever more taxpayer's money at birth control.

  6. Kevin:

    Business is about finding a way to make money by serving a need of someone who can pay for it. It does not begin with a desire to help one's workers or suppliers.

    Indeed. That's why going out of your way specifically to import something from Africa would be a species of charity. And a more effective form of charity than funneling money into the Swiss bank accounts of the African country's ruling elite.

  7. Greg:

    I remember having discussions with the socialists & communists at UC Santa Cruz in my years there. For some reason these people couldn't understand why America wasn't embracing the revolution. So I think this is right in line with what you're saying.

    The people aren't bright enough to realize their need for revolution, so the activists have to go the Gov route and force all these good things on them.

    It never occurs to them that their philosophies are worthless.

  8. markm:

    Andy: "Hello!?! Nets only work when you're in it -- as in sleeping!" And even then, they only work until they are torn - which is probably days, as compared to months for a family to accumulate the money to make a trip to town and buy new ones. OTOH, spray a little DDT on the net and the mosquitos won't crawl around it looking for holes. Spray a little more on your house and the mosquitos are unlikely to even come inside. Protection while you are out working in the fields is a lot harder to arrange, but I think most mosquitos come out at night.

  9. Andy:

    Markm, totally agree on the durability point. Here's a question for the eco-freaks, what happens to unserviceable nets? Is there a recycle program, or does it just accumulate in a garbage pit to be burned later?

    Either way, seems to me that the economics don't support producing and disposing of band-aids compared to total eradication of malaria. We have the knowledge and technology to do this, yet we're hamstrung by emotional and illogical tree-huggers.

    By the way, mosquitoes may be worse at night, but where malaria is rampant, rain forests and other areas shaded from direct sunlight, they are 24/7.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but DDT isn't a repellent, rather a delayed-contact killer and more effective on larvae. A little DDT in the house helps after the fact -- any malaria-toting skeeters that get inside will already do damage before they succumb to DDT hours later.

    Overall, it is more effective to spray DDT where they breed. This is why native govt agency after agency clamor for access to DDT as an eradication program. But uppity nanny-ish Westerners continue to deny them the real solution to malaria, offering band-aids instead.

  10. Hank:

    An activist is a person who is valiantly fights the injustices caused by the last generation of activists in order to create injustices to be fought by the next generation of activists.

  11. ancap:

    That's right you have to actually do something about it, not just complain. Education is where it starts: