The Awareness Myth

I realise that it’s always a shock to see something actually being posted on this blog, but meh.

My current favourite hobby horse is the degree to which “awareness” has become the new model of social action. In some ways it really started (at least in my mind) with the Make Poverty History campaign and Bono’s call that “we don’t want your money, we want your voice”. And while I get that, it seems to me that the vast majority of Gen Y is being passed a pale imitation of activism: where it doesn’t cost you anything except for a little badge on your Twitter avatar or a Facebook status message. The grand-mother of them all is the ubiquitous Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns. Is it too terse to say that perhaps the battle for Breast Cancer Awareness(TM) has been run and won? Are there really women still out there not aware of the need to check with their doctor about any lumps?

This was spurred on by seeing the magnificent opposite. Last night I saw “The Most Dangerous Man In America”, a doco on Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers. He was an defence analyst who made the decision to release masses of documents on the Vietnam War: showing that the US were essentially in it to save face. I was incredibly struck by an press-conference in the film where Ellsberg was being asked whether he was concerned that he was risking a jail term by releasing these papers. He replied: “Wouldn’t you go to jail to end this war?”

Now I’m not on my way to jail, but I refuse to believe that anything of value comes without a cost. Much as I love U2’s music, I’ll take Ellsberg’s activism over Bono’s any day.

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