This is supposed to be a blog-off, but the only real back-and-forth between PJ and me has been flirtatious sniping. (Sarah says we have a special relationship. Yoo-hoo!) So how about a conversation?
A little while back, PJ’s Facebook status was something to the effect of: “PJ can’t wait for the Middle East conflict to be solved through Facebook status updates.” (That wasn’t the exact wording, but he has since deleted it, presumably because he risked alienating all his friends who had dumb Gaza-related statuses.) Everyone rails on political-engagement-via-Facebook, but I’m not sure PJ’s sarcasm was so well-placed.
There is undeniably something cheap-feeling about Facebook activism; it seems like you’re doing something, though you’re not really doing anything. The problem is that it’s hard to quantify the effect of any political action you can name. The chance of any one vote deciding an election is near zero, so why vote at all? The same can be said for street demonstrations, letter-writing, and so on – the chance of a single contribution making a difference is a longshot. And yet, we still do these things, and sometimes, en masse, they get results.
Facebook is a political tool like any other, albeit one that knows everything about you and records your personal information to sell to advertisers. “Drew Nelles reports: In 24 days 1312 Palestinians killed by Israel including 417 children & 108 women, 5340 injured. Donate your status http://apps.facebook.com/supportgaza” feels undeniably inappropriate, because it’s reducing a vast tragedy to an online vanity plate. But it’s really not considerably different from any other form of passive activism – it’s just a bit more novel. Facebook is still, relatively, new.
There’s no way Facebook can truly convey carnage and misery. Few things can. Not even photography, or writing, or film – nothing does justice to firsthand experience. But maybe that’s the last thing we should worry about. Israel started and ended the Gaza war on a purely political timetable. The inanity of a status update can’t compare to the crassness of bloodthirsty political leadership.
So, what do you think, PJ? And Sarah, Leah, Dave, Kelly, and anyone else in the peanut gallery? (Dave and Kelly: you guys have commented on PJ’s weblog, but not mine. What gives?)