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The CEASE Manifesto
2013-05-27 02:50:27

The CEASE Manifesto

[Note: This is a joke. Or, at least, it was going to be when I started writing it.]

Every year, tens—if not hundreds—of thousands of newly-minted undergraduates around the globe join a student activist organisation. Such organisations span the political spectrum and all issues imaginable, but are predominantly progressive in their principles and address either social issues on a national or international level, or focus on some disease. The majority of such groups emphasize awareness campaigns, although most also collect donations that in some way benefit their cause.

For several reasons, this is a terrible idea.

As a general rule, students interested in the world around them are still very busy learning how it works; they have not yet completed the very degree which is meant to provide them with the critical reasoning skills, self-discipline, philosophical maturity, and base of knowledge that they have committed to. Freshmen in particular have only their high school education to rely upon, and are propelled by their new-found freedom as legal adults—not yet accustomed to the responsibilities that entails. As a result students tend to be rash decision-makers, romantics, and prone to emulating others in search of guidance. To adopt a statement as profound as "X is my cause, I will devote a part of my life to picket for X" is, simply, premature.

This can have consequences for the organisations themselves. As small non-profit (and frequently volunteer-driven) organisations, there tends to be little information provided to student activists about how to actually run them—everything from setting up a proper internal policy to managing finances—and there is nothing to stop abuses. Such organisations are often plagued by cronyism, embezzlement, and coups by the power-seeking and charismatic. Students not familiar with such behaviour from other life experiences are likely to be easily manipulated into playing along.

Much activism is redundant, and students are generally ill-equipped to judge what is vital and what is not. Awareness campaigns require experience to deliver an effective message efficiently, and generally the audiences most readily accessed by student activist groups are of minimal relevance to the cause. Ample attention has been spent on "slacktivism" recently—typified by the pursuit of unheeded Facebook memes and online petitions—but really this is just the next natural step in an already futile genre of self-gratification.

In the worst case such mistargeting may breed apathy or even resentment. Groups that choose to go beyond activism and donation-collecting may end up sending students into dangerous environments such as poverty-stricken or wartorn countries, putting untrained academics in harm's way to provide a service that the group does not even have the resources to decide where (in the country of concern) to best allocate it.

This, in a nutshell, is the thesis of the Campaign to End Activism by Students Everywhere (CEASE). It is an un-advocacy group, devoted to discouraging students from creating or participating in activist groups that (a) accept student members without first ensuring they have good reasons for being involved, (b) are run primarily by students, or (c) lack competent, disciplined leadership. This last concern requires special attention, as it is also true of numerous non-student non-profit organisations as well.

Hypothetical CEASE services would include watchdogging of student activist organisations (largely through a protected whistleblowing program) and most of the activities this document either explicitly condemns or implicitly disapproves of, including going into poverty-stricken and wartorn countries to prevent other students from providing poorly-allocated services.
Samantics comment   8452.844 tgc / 2013.401 ce