The world can be a terrible place and it seems to be growing more terrible with each passing day. It feels like the aged can finally quantify their ageless axiom: "Things were better in my day" - because they were. Today, warfare is a way of life for even those of the "first world". Domestic and international terrorism is a primary concern for ordinary citizens. Threats from the outside, as we've seen recently, are actually the least of our concerns: domestic spying programs have routinely infringed on what we've assumed to be our birthright to privacy. Ordinary citizens have been subjected to scare tactics and legal maneuvers that have left them so terrified of living that death, to them, becomes the only solution (we miss you, Aaron).
This is a short list intended to remind you that we are no longer living in our grandparent's world. That reminder should serve to make you ask the most important question you can today:
What is my responsibility to this world?
I would be willing to bet that your first thoughts are the activism and vigilantism to which some in the world have turned. That path is not for you.
What this world needs is less activism and more citizenship. We need less revenge and more reconciliation. We need less Robin Hood-branded domestic terrorism and more corporate responsibility. We need more people to show genuine tolerance and love and less "shaming" tactics ruining lives.
The world needs a better you.
If the better you had worked at MIT when Aaron Schwartz downloaded the digital library, you would have seen how irresponsible it would be to ruin an intelligent young man's life by allowing lawyers to abuse their authority and the legal system in the name of making an example.
Likewise, if a better you had worked in the DA's office when MIT brought charges, you would have found a way to suit the charges to the crime.
In either case, a better you would have saved a young man's life.
If the better you were working for any of the large companies forced to be complicit in the NSA's domestic spying program, you would have used the legal means available to you to both fight the program and make it known to its countless victims.
If the better you had been working at the NSA when PRISM was proposed, you would have found a means to accomplish your critical missions without blatantly disregarding the very things that make this the purported ‘Land of the Free’. It would have been harder but it would have been right.
Do not misunderstand my argument: there is a need for activism. Today, there is more need than ever before. Again, we are not living in our grandparent's world; ours is more dangerous and damaged. Activism, however, does not heal wounds, does not solve hatred, and does not bring opposing parties together. Activism is a reaction to the idealism of the entrenched authority - be it right or wrong. It is this contest of unyielding idealism that has given us the trench warfare tactics that rule Congress today. When the smoke settles after a debate, we see the blood and scars in the faces of both sides and a stomach-turning field of the dead and dying in the no-man's land between.
If the better you were serving in the hallowed halls of government, you would listen to those that oppose. You would accommodate the poor, the destitute, and under-represented in all of your decisions. You would chase your idealism with caution, knowing that the path you've crafted for humanity might be right - but that you certainly cannot work out the logistics of getting us there without help.
We have for too long ignored the disease that is the cause of the need for activism. We need to change tactics if we have hope for a better world because, to create a better world, we need to fill it with better people. For a better world, we need better people in positions of authority. For a better world, we need a better you.