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.