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My running hypothesis is that people can't see any way to enact change that also serves as a socially-acceptable life path.

Or, to put a finer point on it: some people think the only way to fix the system is e.g. "violent protesting", but they abhor being seen to personally enact violence more than they want change. Other people think the only way to fix the system is e.g. "becoming involved with politics", but they abhor being seen as a politician more than they want change. Etc.

There are problems people want solved, but the same people that want the problems solved have things they not only care about, but which society expects them and tells them and perhaps in some senses brainwashes them to prioritize over their own needs. Everyone in the modern world is afflicted to some degree with a social anxiety telling them that their families and friends would disapprove of their doing anything so outré as actually fighting for change (rather than preaching-to-the-choir about change), especially when that could hurt or endanger said family and friends. As the thinking goes, you're just not supposed to risk the people you love for something as silly as bettering democracy.

(And yes, that's even true when a person's family and friends are outwardly exactly the people who claim to want change, and who hold forth about the change that needs to happen, and disapprove of the people who don't similarly hold forth. The people who spend their time signalling that they care about change, are some of the least interested in associating with the people who actually enact that change.)

Modern Western culture seemingly has entered a failure-mode unprecedented in history, where we have nobody willing to go first, to stand out, to do what needs to be done, to enact the changes everyone else wants. We've run out of empathetic iconoclasts—people who see the suffering of distant/distributed others, and for whom that aggregate suffering outweighs the risk that might come to the comfortable-life-in-obscurity of all their closer companions. The people with hearts that bleed for their fellow citizens, but then don't shrivel back at the thought of their companions being the ones who end up bleeding.

Let's also not forget about what happens to those empathetic iconoclasts: they are routinely assassinated. In fact I believe that the main reason Bernie Sanders is still alive is because his campaigns have been largely ineffective.

Everybody dies. Most people don't ever live.

> You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid... You refuse to do it because you want to live longer... You're afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you're afraid someone will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

> Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.


I would argue that even MLK Jr. had it easier specifically in social-approbation terms than we do today.

Nobody is, per se, afraid of low-probability high-impact events like being shot (otherwise nobody would join the military.)

But everyone is afraid of high-probability low-impact events, like being shunned by your community for committing a faux pas.

So, if actually acknowledging an elephant-in-the-room issue—or actually trying to get that issue fixed in a way that steps on people's toes, instead of endlessly debating how to get the issue fixed without stepping on anyone's toes—is considered such a faux pas; if it's considered something that gets you branded as low-status even by the people you're working to help, rather than something that gets you branded, at least in some small community, a hero—then the human mind just seems to say "fuck this strategy." We need acceptance—not from everyone, but at least from the people we are most trying to help. Without that, we see no reason to help them.

tl;dr: MLK Jr. may have had to choose to be a hero, but he never had to choose to be Batman. It's seemingly impossible to choose to be Batman. (Well, at least with normal human psychology. But even outside of that—even assuming benevolent schizoid folk who think Batman is a great life-path—we've set up our systems of education and accreditation so that such benevolent schizoid folk fall through the cracks, becoming excluded from society before they can ever make any impact.)

> We need acceptance—not from everyone, but at least from the people we are most trying to help.

If people were worth saving they wouldn't need saving. I need acceptance from myself, to be able to look myself in the eye, and I have that, by now. I made plenty of mistakes in my life, but I don't regret any instance of doing or trying to do the right thing, not to get gratitude or recognition from any external source, but because I consider it the right thing. Looking at just about anyone around me, it seems that much harder than never giving in is having given in, being broken or tamed, and then reclaiming yourself. And even suckier is never reclaiming yourself, now that is suffering. I wouldn't want to swap with any conformist or even just "average person who isn't rocking the boat" I know. They generally seem unhappy, slow, and boring even to themselves. I have my worst times behind me, they have their worst times still to come.

> we've set up our systems of education and accreditation so that such benevolent schizoid folk fall through the cracks, becoming excluded from society before they can ever make any impact.

Can't really confirm that for myself. You know how they say when you get into prison you have to not shirk the inevitable fight, or you're going to be the toy of others for the whole stay? Life is like that, too. I don't care what "random person who happens to be my contemporary" thinks of me, if anything, I would care what people like Sophie Scholl or Hannah Arendt would think of me. But more than that, what are the things you would think or say or do even if the whole world was against it? Because only that is really yours and really you. The rest doesn't hold water and will leave you in the ditch inevitably.

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