There is no question that complaint is a vital instrument of bringing
change. There is broad historical evidence that the airing of grievances
occasionally seems to encourage collective thought on the object of these
grievances, and sometimes even makes the resolution of them a reality.
When people are individually or collectively unhappy about something, there
is a natural tendency to cry on each other's shoulders.
I'm being facetious of course.
It is my observation that in the course of their lively and usually
thought-provoking debate on a given subject, some K5 readers tend to
run out of effective, well-reasoned counterarguments.
How does one know this? Because suddenly the tune from such a party
in the discussion becomes of the following inflammatory flavour:
"You're just complaining for the sake of complaining. When you find
a plausable alternative, we'll talk." The other permutation is
"who are you to talk about what's going on in X, or encourage
course of action Y, unless you're on the front lines, literally
in X, doing Y - literally participating."
This seems to suggest that
to complain (topically) is somehow a vice, and that everyone who
merely complains without offering "alternatives" or "solutions" is
a waste of oxygen (or bytes, in this context, I guess). Such
things can be aimed either at actual K5 users, or some other
source of lamentation that is relevant in some way to the discussion.
The first vivid, concrete example of this that I can cite can
be found in the story "Chomsky on 'The New War Against Terror'."
(No link is given, because at this time it sits stagnant in the
moderation queue.) I do not feel it is polite to point any fingers
or call any names, but I also recognise that sometimes people and
what they say are necessary casualties (or catalysts) for social
change. Therefore I will cite a comment that appears somewhere
in the story that reads somewhere along the lines of: "
When is our dear friend Noam flying over to Pakistan to volunteer
to drive trucks for the aid agencies? Until that happens I don't give a
damn about what he says about my compicity. Those who can, do; those who
can't, bitch." Make your own conclusions as you will, dear reader,
but it is my profound conviction that this is a counterproductive,
ineffective genre of response to a given situation.
Why exactly is complaining bad? There is a very large number of people
in the world who are very well educated about a given social or
political problem, especially in the way in which it directly affects
them, but cannot offer an academically plausable solution,
alternative, etc. that will make remedy to the problem. Many people
know what they're talking about when they complain, and can articulate
it very well, but can end up damaging their own credibility in the
eyes of others when they attempt to suggest remedies for the problem
that may seem stupid to their audience. For example, many people
in the world are directly affected in a negative fashion by a given
policy X of given country Y. They can explain plausably to you
why the brutal enforcement of X by Y has burdened them with intolerable
hardships. But they are insufficiently educated about the internal
political apparatus of Y, and are unable to provide a plausable
suggestion for how this problem can be disposed of from the top down.
Is one to hold this against them? That they understand their problems,
but perhaps not their solutions?
What is wrong with being a political philosopher - a theoretician?
In the example of Chomsky, is it inconceivable that he might in fact
be educated enough to make an academic analysis of a situation --
I'm not saying whether he is or isn't -- without being right there
on the front lines, in Pakistan, driving aid trucks? Does his
unwillingness to do this somehow undermine his credibility as a
political commentator? Think about the other instances where people
have said such things, when they have been quick to dismiss someone
by such a rigid, dogmatic path of (un)reasoning. Does that make
them wrong, or undermine their knowledge of their field - even if
It seems to me that this is really another manifestation of illogical
attempts in social convention to silence non-conformist people.
But it's really unfortunate to see this intolerance manifest itself in
a relatively educated readership like that of K5. Why must someone
who merely has a grievance also be responsible for conceiving
a "viable alternative", regardless of their own circumstances and
knowledge? Everyone has problems, but not everybody can be the
architect of the sometimes sophisticated, detailed, and multi-faced solution.
In the case of world politics, it seems to me that to hold them responsible
for doing this is, in most cases, engaging in perverse, nauseating
oversimplification of the issue.