Unless you’ve been completely abstaining from any form of media over the last two days, you’ve likely noticed that the Supreme Court has been hearing oral arguments for the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8—two landmark cases for gay rights.

You may also have noticed that the pink and red version of the Human Rights Campaigns’s logo has been circulating on many people’s Facebook walls and profile pictures. For yesterday and much of today, Facebook feeds were inundated with the HRC’s red and pink, as well as a few snarky or clever derivative images.

There’s been a somewhat predictable backlash, though, and contrarians from many different ideological backgrounds have been criticizing this campaign as if it were #KONY2012 all over again. There are definite problems with slacktivism, particularly when it replaces legitimate work that might have otherwise been done to help solve a problem. But I think images like this are misguided:

I saw this on Facebook at least a half-dozen times

The edgy provocateur-extraordinaires at Vice Magazine wrote an entire post about how useless a gesture the Facebook campaign was, noting that it would be more helpful to do things like donate money, write representatives, and take other proactive measures to ensure that gay men and women can share in all the same privileges and responsibilities that the rest of the country enjoys.

And I actually don’t disagree at all with the idea that there are more pressing and influential actions that can be taken by those sympathetic to gay marriage,[ref]and I encourage readers to do some of the above if they haven’t already[/ref] but I think Vice and other Facebook naysayers are wrong to suggest that the heavy show of solidarity doesn’t matter or otherwise help.

Chris wrote yesterday about how momentous an occasion these Supreme Court cases are, and the hopes and futures of many gay Americans will be determined by the decision. Even if we ignore all the gay users who were very personally invested in the ruling,[ref]George Takei was one of the early popularizers of the image[/ref] I think it’s a mistake to suppose that everyone who took part in the Facebook campaign was trying to somehow shift the outcome of the case.

Instead, I think the gesture is done out of a show of solidarity for our gay friends and family.[ref]That’s at least why I did it. I hope this post is more than simply my own rationalization.[/ref] People recognized what an important and pivotal moment this was for so many Americans, and what resulted was a spontaneous outpouring of support that turned many users’s Facebook feeds into seas of pink and red. And this hasn’t gone unappreciated. Andrew Sullivan posted a letter from a reader, who saw:

. . . update after update of friends changing their profile pictures to red equal-sign logos, and posts about wearing red, and posts on hearing updates. Even my young niece changed her profile pic to a red logo.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: the majority of folks who made these updates and posts are straight! In my circle, the biggest champions of marriage equality have been my straight friends. I am somewhat ashamed that others are fighting and believing in something for me that I never fought myself – merely for the reason that I just never thought it was possible. To be sitting here on such a precipice, with all of their support, is amazingly humbling.

So, given responses like this, I’m confused how a gesture of solidarity and support for gay Americans can not matter. Perez Hilton called this campaign the greatest idea since stuffed crust pizza,[ref]and I’m sure there are more examples than the two I’ve provided, but I’m kind of too lazy to go digging. Links would be appreciated[/ref] but it’s somehow ineffectual because a few cynics don’t think it’ll shift the decision? I don’t think anyone expects it to shift the decision, and that was never the point.

Trying so hard to be a contrarian, responding to everything with cynicism, and taking every opportunity to try to put others down so that you can be distinguished from the red-and-pink masses strikes me as a sad and shitty way to live. This might sound strange coming from me in particular,[ref]I’m saying this as an often sarcastic and extraordinarily cynical human being who reacts to nearly every situation in life with some kind of mixture of reluctance and disdain.[/ref] but I think that sometimes we can take things at face value. We can let our hearts be warmed by good faith gestures and showings of support without becoming gullible or overly credulous.

So I’m going to keep a different profile picture for a few days. I’m not under any misapprehension that this will drastically change the world, and I won’t blame anyone for not taking part. But if you take an outpouring of support for gay Americans as simply a chance to let everyone know how above slacktivism you are, then I’ll probably just think you’re an asshole.

Vlad Chituc[ref]has been reading too much David Foster Wallace[/ref] is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

8 Responses to “A quick note on gay marriage and slacktivism”

  1. Tony Houston Says:

    Someone posted the meme who had also changed his Facebook profile in solidarity. It’s not black or white. I found it funny and I have a solidarity profile pic. It may look like cynicism, but it could also be having a laugh at your own expense. We don’t all take ourselves so seriously.

  2. Sarah Kaiser Says:

    I appreciate you making this point, Vlad. Was thinking the same thing about all the mocking posts I’ve seen over the past couple days. To be fair, I haven’t changed my own profile picture but I’m not going to criticize people who do. I value the effort they’re making.

  3. Muhammad al-Khwarizmi Says:

    The tumblr SJW stance on this issue:

    http://agnesgalore.tumblr.com/post/46709012222/why-i-almost-defriended-everyone-who-had-an-hrc-logo-as

    So I know that when I look at my facebook wall and I see fifteen little “equals” signs, I’m supposed to feel happy. I’m supposed to pat my liberal friend group collectively on the back and feel good about the progress that society is making. I’m supposed to be grateful that after all the years of hard work and all the billions of dollars spent on the gay marriage campaign, America is finally coming around.

    But I actually feel sad and more than a little angry. Okay, a lot angry. Folks, the HRC is an organization run by rich white men. They have consistently chosen not to support trans rights. They have consistently silenced POC organizations and organizers. They have accepted donations from, and even honored, multi-billionaire corporations who have done more than their fair share to contribute to the unequal distribution of wealth and to systematic racialized and gendered oppression in the US. Their vision of “equality”—as obviously signaled by their logo—is not, and never has been, equality for all. It is equality for those who can afford it. It’s equality for those who can prove they are “just like everyone else,” who respect and embody gender normativity, middle class sensibility, and white supremacy. It’s equality for those who don’t care about coalitional politics, and who endorse both trickle down economics and trickle down civil rights.

    One wonders if you sometimes feel compelled to appease these more radical voices in your midst, given the pettiness of other causes you’ve thrown yourself in with. I can’t say I know that feeling directly, but my condolences in any case.

  4. VladChituc Says:

    Hi Muhammad,

    Thanks for the contrasting perspective, and I don’t mean to give the impression that any of this at all was meant to endorse the HRC in all of their policies. I also think it’s a mistake to suppose that most people adopting HRC’s logo even knows who HRC is or what they stand for. Criticisms of HRC as an organization may very well be extremely legitimate and compelling (as your quote suggests, taken at face value). But that doesn’t change that they’re on the right side of this issue, and I don’t think that really has much to say about my post or the sentiment behind those who were reaching out to show solidarity and support on the Supreme Court Cases.

    That said, I don’t know at all what you mean by your commentary on the quote. What petty other causes have I (we?) “thrown [ourselves/myself] in with?”

    Similarly, I have no idea what you’re condoling exactly.

    Care to expand on that a little bit?

  5. Muhammad al-Khwarizmi Says:

    “What petty other causes have I (we?) “thrown [ourselves/myself] in with?”

    The general reaction to “new atheism” hasn’t proven itself to be much more thoughtful than “new atheism” itself, and tends to focus on the truly small, e.g. secularizing religious rituals. (I’m not religious FYI, just highly critical.)

    The “compassionate atheism” or whatever is just reactionary new atheism … neither of these two brands of atheism is greatly concerned with thinking too hard.

    Other questionable philosophy abounds as well:

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/2013/02/12/be-my-valentine-carl-sagan/

    I found solace in Cosmos, such as when you wrote: “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”

    Vacuous combinatoric point … do I witness a miracle every time I shuffle a deck of cards as well? (There are somewhat under 8.1 * 10^67 possible arrangements.)

    I mean hell … the intelligence community is in rapidly increasing agreement that large parts of this Earth will become utter toilets in the 21st century. I’d like to think the leaders I’m electing are willing to do considerable violence to keep ‘Merica together.

    “Similarly, I have no idea what you’re condoling exactly.”

    Apparently being constrained to commit to ideas based on whether they seem “reasonable” to others, not on their philosophical and/or scientific merits as such.

  6. Keith Favre Says:

    For some reason, I think your last footnote is breaking the formatting for the remainder of any page this post is on.

  7. VladChituc Says:

    Ugh that’s been driving me crazy yeah I think that’s what happened. Thanks Keith, hopefully it’s fixed.

  8. Friendly Fire: Vorwürfe gegen HRC-Kampagne - phenomenelle Says:

    [...] A quick note on gay marriage and slacktivism [...]

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