Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Getting with the Program
by Elliot Neaman
Social activism is alive and well in the age of Twitter and Facebook. The ability to communicate on a global scale means that social movements can arise quickly and gain legions of followers. Authoritarian regimes can no longer control the commanding heights by turning out the lights. But as Malcolm Gladwell, Douglas Rushkoff, and others have observed, social activism on the Web is also based on weak connections. It takes a minute to sign a petition against genocide in Darfur, and then one moves on to the next website. The old social movements were based on deep connections between activists who knew each other for a long time and thought long and hard about the issues before jumping into the fray. It took guts to confront authority and one's opponents. We need to recapture some element of that discipline. Just as we have a slow food movement, how about slow thought? It may sound paradoxical, but in order to change and heal the world, I'd like to make a plea for the old-fashioned art of reading -- in particular reading difficult books that cannot be reduced to blog length. The ancient Greeks understood that philosophy was about the art of living, changing oneself before one changed the world. I love my computer as much as the next modern person, but if Socrates were here I think he would go out into the town square and have some hard questions for the "programmers," a term that would surely make him shudder.
Elliot Neaman is professor of European history at the University of San Francisco. He is not on Facebook, and does not tweet, but you will sometimes catch him reading the Pre-Socratics on his iPad.
His articles in Tikkun include "I Fought the Revival of Nazism," July/August 1994.
Source Citation: Neaman, Elliot. 2011. Getting with the Program. Tikkun 26(1): 59