Something useful to remember: people like to pat their selves on the back. "Good job, me."
That's why companies market products with charity or public-good tie-ins. "For every bottle of overpriced water, we'll donate 2 cents to treat a disease you've never heard of in a place you'll never visit."
And as the rhetoric gets more grandiose, the more people like to feel involved in it. I'm looking at you, PETA. We should treat animals as equals? Fair point. You're not wrong; animals are just as alive as us, they have rights too. But hey, equals? Sure, that's a fair goal. But we don't even treat humans as equals. Trying to bring animals into equality ahead of other humans would necessarily mean making people think animals are more important than those other humans, which incidentally many PETA people actually do, it seems. Just another reason I can hate PETA while loving animals.
Incidentally, the less meaningful your contribution will be, the more willing you're likely to be to give it. For something to have meaningful effect, it almost always requires a meaningful effort or sacrifice from you. Donate $1? Great, thanks; with the transaction fee, we can give someone two grains of rice now. Three more minutes of life! Not a bad value for your dollar, all the same.
But "raising awareness" is the most pointless thing you can do. We are aware of cancer, violence, and poor people. What you're really doing is being seen as someone who cares about things other people seem to care about; your actual concern is not relevant there. There's a whole area of psychology called "signaling theory" that deals with how we communicate and what the communication means to others; communicating concern you don't have is more important than having concern you don't communicate.
But cancer can't hear you hating it. Cancer does not have a twitter account. Neither does child abuse or world hunger. "Donating a tweet" is as useless than donating a fart - only the people near you will hear it, and it'll never get to the people you really want it to. If you're asking for money maybe you can make some difference; get enough people involved, and maybe some of them will give a couple bucks. But not as many people will retweet someone looking for a handout. You don't donate, so you feel guilty if you ask other people to do it. It's much easier to #endthebadthing than to #pleasedonate.
The people who need your message are the least likely to hear it - and hearing it, they're the least likely to care. Animal abusers don't care what PETA has to say. Child abusers don't care about people who think it's wrong. Social pressure is already coming down hard on these people in the public sphere; the fact that they still exist means that social pressure is not the solution. Maybe there isn't a solution that will end these types of problems. Maybe some people are just assholes, just like some people like dogs or baseball or a particular kind of sex. There are a lot of factors that go into these things. You can't pin it down to any one thing, but you can hit those things hard and hope to see an impact. But you can never hit every point for every person, so the problem will never be solved completely.
Monday, January 23, 2012
I'm putting the content of this post behind a cutaway. It's about something funny I noticed searching for dirty words on the Google Ngram Viewer, which activity was prompted by the latest comic at XKCD. I will be using all of these words; I don't normally self-edit for profanity on this blog, but the relatively high concentration does deserve some sort of warning I suppose.