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Activitism = pejorative term which charges contempary activist movements with anti-intellectualism

From a critical article at LIP Magazine,


"So what is the ideology of the activist left (and by that we mean the global justice, peace, media democracy, community organizing, financial populist and green movements)? Is the activist left just an inchoate "post-ideological" mass of do-gooders, pragmatists and puppeteers? No. The young troublemakers of today do have an ideology and it is as deeply felt and intellectually totalizing as any of the great belief systems of yore. The cadres who populate those endless meetings, who bang the drum, who lead the "trainings" and paint the puppets, do indeed have a creed. They are activistists.

That's right, activistists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hypermediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a 19th-century temperance crusade. In this worldview, all roads lead to more activism and more activists. And the one who acts is righteous. The activistists seem to borrow their philosophy from the factory boss in a Heinrich Böll short story who greets his employees each morning with the exhortation "Let's have some action." To which the workers obediently reply: "Action will be taken!"

Activists unconsciously echoing factory bosses? The parallel isn't as far-fetched as it might seem, as another German, Theodor Adorno, suggests. Adorno—who admittedly doesn't have the last word on activism, since he called the cops on University of Frankfurt demonstrators in 1968—nonetheless had a good point when he criticized the student and antiwar movement of the 1960s for what he called "actionism." In his eyes this was an unreflective "collective compulsion for positivity that allows its immediate translation into practice." Though embraced by people who imagine themselves to be radical agitators, that thoughtless compulsion mirrors the pragmatic empiricism of the dominant culture—"not the least way in which actionism fits so smoothly into society's prevailing trend." Actionism, he concluded, "is regressive.... It refuses to reflect on its own impotence."

It may seem odd to cite this just when activistism appears to be working fine. Protest is on an upswing; even the post-9/11 frenzy of terror baiting didn't shut down the movement. Demonstrators were out in force to protest the World Economic Forum, with a grace and discipline that buoyed spirits worldwide. The youth getting busted, gassed and trailed by the cops are putting their bodies on the line to oppose global capital; they are brave and committed, even heroic.

But is action enough? We pose this question precisely because activism seems so strong. The flipside of all this agitation is a corrosive and aggressive anti-intellectualism. We object to this hostility toward thinking-not only because we've all got a cranky intellectual bent, but also because it limits the movement's transformative power. Our gripe is historically specific. If everyone was busy with bullshit doctrinal debates we would prescribe a little anti-intellectualism. But that is not the case right now." (