Entitled Salvation: How Cartoons Saved the World

An amazing thing happened over this past weekend.  Child abuse was ended forever.  I know!

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

Go ahead, try and abuse a child.  You can’t do it.  The Pure and Just force of the Internet is stopping you.

When the internet first came into being, this is the sort of thing that we all hoped it could accomplish, and now it has.

Thank you Mark Zuckerberg.  You may be the douche bag some people claim you to be, but your Facebook experiment has harnessed the vast goodness of humanity and done what no other power has been able to do.  Someone has, finally, thought of the children.

So what exactly was the point of this whole Cartoon Profile thing?

Well, from the animated horse’s mouth:
Change your FB Profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. The Goal???To NOT see a Human Face on FB until Monday December 6th. JOIN the fight against Child Abuse!!♥ (copy and paste to your status to invite your friends to do the same!)

This is classic Awareness Raising. The idea, like pink ribbons and LiveStrong bracelets is to get people to think about something.  Presumably, the more people think about something, the more likely they’ll be to do something (anything) about it. Because the action asked of them (changing a profile picture, wearing a bracelet) is so minimal, it’s seen as a simple and innocuous way to potentially make a great change.

It’s a load of bollocks.  (I’m going to ignore the obvious fact that ‘child abuse’ is hardly one of those issues people are unaware of.)

It’s the same sort of mindset that tells people to spend $2 on a lotto ticket because they could potentially win millions.  Statistically, the purchase is almost certainly a waste (in terms of net purchases by all lotto ticket buyers versus winners, it’s a complete wash), but the amount paid for the ticket is so small that people tell themselves it can’t hurt.  Nevermind that if you even only buy 1 ticket a month, over a few years that translates into a hefty investment with no return.

The defenders of this Cartoon Profile debacle say, “What does it hurt?”  Maybe nothing.  (I’d argue that it does have a negative effect, but I’ll get to that in a moment.)  But what does it help?  These defenders go on to say, “Well, it raised awareness, which is the point.  People are talking about child abuse.”  To that, I have two responses.  First, if raising awareness is all you want, then don’t get mad at me for decrying the whole inane activity.  This blog post is also raising awareness, so it’s win/win.

Secondly, I would say that the notion of ‘raising awareness’ being a goal in and of itself is actually dishearteningly counterproductive.  Without focusing people towards a specific act (donating to a charity, volunteering with outreaches, educating themselves on how to recognize child abuse, etc.), all you’re doing is giving people one more reason to grow cynical about doing practical good in this world.

Besides, everyone knows that the sole purpose of cartoons on the internet is to fulfill Rule 34.

This weekend, Facebook users raised awareness about child abuse.  Next weekend, it’ll be about breast cancer.  After that, AIDS.  Or autism or Darfur.

All worthy causes, to be sure.

But people know these problems exist.  Their ‘awareness’ of them isn’t the issue.  It’s their complete unwillingness to get off their asses and do something productive that is the problem.  By telling people that doing nothing (and changing your profile picture is pretty much the dictionary definition of doing nothing) is accomplishing some small victory, you’re reinforcing an attitude that great strides can be made by doing very little (or nothing at all).

At the same time, you’re also just piling on a list of capital ‘I’ Issues that you expect people to care about.  We should all be concerned about the myriad of horrendous problems that affect our nation and our world.  And when another earthquake decimates a third world country, we should care about that.  But, in reality, each individual has only a finite amount of resources (time and money) to devote to any number of causes.  The awareness raising technique is a way of alleviating guilt by telling people they can address every issue simply by acknowledging they exist.

Instead, people should focus on the one or two issues they can truly invest in and encourage others to find their own worthy causes.  This is not to say that people should have tunnel vision and ignore other problems (especially because different world problems tend to arise out of similar root causes), but we also shouldn’t reward inaction by giving everyone a blue ribbon for showing up.

If you want to cure AIDS, it’s better to have 100 active, committed people than 100 million ‘aware’ do-nothings.  Granted, if we could turn those 100 million people into activists, that would be a great accomplishment, but saying the bare minimum is all that’s required of them is not going to light a fire under anyone.

As a culture, we are breeding something I call, “Entitled Salvation.”  Specifically, this means that people believe they deserve to be rescued from the absolute chaos and cruel indifference that rules the universe.  We acknowledge that the world can be a shitty place, but we don’t think that it should be a shitty place for us.

Some writers might be tempted to blame the internet for this narcissistic worldview, but that’s far too shortsighted.  Yeah, the internet has a way of amplifying our laziness and our self-obsession, but that doesn’t mean it created it.  If anything, I’d say the first tool to really exploit this idea of entitled salvation was religion.

Religious belief developed out of the very real understanding that the world is a dangerous place to live.  Attempting to make some sort of sense of the torment, the idea of an all-powerful God developed.  How do we use this notion of God to weigh things in our favor?  Well, how about we pray to him and suddenly we’ve got miracles in our corner.

I used to believe there was a God.  In my Christian days I prayed a lot (I was known as an ‘intercessory prayer’), but I also developed another belief:  God helps those who help themselves.

Even if you do believe in God, you have to admit that telling people that all they have to do is get on their knees once  a week and God will fix the world is not really a healthy way to address crises.

Cartoon profile pictures and a few Hail Marys are not just ineffective, they encourage people to not take action.  It’s an investment in a lottery that will never pay out, for anyone.  The next time you get motivated to help, leave Bugs Bunny out of it.

It’s been said before, but it’s a quote worth repeating:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”