“Welcome to the Smugosphere” of Mainstream Activism by Dwight Towers

Smugosphere [sməɡ ō sfir]: 1. “the protective fog of (unjustified) self-congratulation and complacency that surrounds any ‘community’ of people claiming to be making the world a better place, but which lacks commonly accepted an utilised measures of success and failure”


The following comes from this video by Dwight Towers.

“… Because we are small in number, because we expect to lose, because we are doing this for friendship and self-validation as much as to win, we don’t look for feedback. …

“There is a kind of activism, especially on abstractions like climate change*, that gets done so the person doing it can feel good about themselves. That’s not automatically a bad thing. It’s good to feel good about yourself.

[* “Although climate change is a life and death issue, it’s not yet a bread and butter ‘I’m going to be really screwed in the short to medium term if our movement doesn’t win’ issue.”]

“But sometimes we do things, not because they make it more likely our cause will win, but because we can. Because they’re the way we’ve always done things around here. Because they impress us and our social peers. Because they get us attention from the media and the authorities. Because we can’t think of anything else to do, so we just keep on doing the same thing. …

“And woe betide anyone who points this out. For they spoileth the party. …

“The Smugosphere is a refuge from having to deal with power structures. Contact with ‘the enemy’ is gonna cause flesh wounds or worse. If you’re gonna lose, and you’re gonna tarnish your purity, and your purity is all ya got … well, the Smugosphere is a fine and private place. …

Ghetto Bloody Homeostasis (GBH): “The maintenance of a relatively stable set of attitudes and actions, regardless of their effectiveness in achieving the stated goals”

“GBH happens when we prefer to maintain our friendships and out informal alliances rather than to take a cold hard look at our effectiveness and at the pathologies in the ways we have been doing things.

“GBH happens a lot, especially in small groups with no chance of achieving real influence–given that they’ll never get to the promised land, the long term goal is just to keep feeling nice. And pure.

“GBH mechanisms include ignoring criticisms, insulting the messenger, and saying to people who aren’t coming to all of the meetings ‘I suggest you plug in before mouthing off!’

“You are generally not allowed to name the elephants in the room–the existence of cliques and invisible power, the lack of accountability mechanisms for lunchouts. [“lunchout”: one who wastes their days achieving very little]

“Standard responses include ‘but we’re a social movement, not a business–we don’t do all the fascist corporate appraisal stuff,’ ‘we’re volunteers,’ ‘we’re doing the best we can,’ … or (my personal favourite) ‘it all reads like a cry of depression.'”

You can watch the full video here.


Note: The standard response I see is more along the lines of “Well, what do you suggest instead?” The implication of that question is that, until someone presents an alternative plan, that we should keep doing what we’re doing, even if it’s not effective. I don’t have an alternative plan. But I want to suggest that we need to take a break from doing the ineffective things in order to have a conversation together about what we should do. But we can’t do that until we admit that what we are doing is ineffective. The first step is admitting we have a problem.

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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