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Distractivism is any form of activism that serves primarily as a distraction, either to raise morale (without actually improving circumstances) or to prevent people from carrying out actions that run counter to the goals of the "distractivist" (i.e. the entity promoting the distractivism).

Used maliciously, distractivism can be a way of preventing or forestalling desired political change by organizing people around an activity that has little or no effect. It is also often used for responsibilization (Wiktionary), i.e. transferring responsibility from higher authorities (who have the power to actually solve the problem) to communities or individuals with less power.


When the United States started to get concerned about litter in the 1950s, the American Can Company and other corporations financed a “Keep America Beautiful” campaign to divert attention from the fact that they were manufacturing enormous quantities of cheap, disposable, and profitable packaging, putting the blame instead on individuals for being litterbugs.[1]

In World War II, the British government enacted a program to recover metal -- especially iron -- from gates and fences in public areas, to be melted down to help with "the war effort". It was later revealed that this was totally unnecessary, as the amount recovered was miniscule compared to the amount needed, and that it largely served as a morale-booster to help English citizens deal with the hardship of the war.[2]

Prayer can also be seen as a form of distractivism, in that it accomplishes little externally while apparently providing many people with a feeling of having done something to help, thus (1) satisfying a psychological need which might otherwise drive people to take real-world action and (2) diverting time and energy which otherwise might have been invested in such action. (This is one of the many ways that religion is used as a manipulative tool.)

Exhorting individuals to practice conservation (often unnecessarily time-consuming and even counterproductive[3]) in while simultaneously taking some other action which undoes those efforts makes those individual efforts a form of distractivism, since better results could have been obtained by simply not taking the other action. For example: if a municipal government on the one hand encourages individuals to place bricks in their toilets and to take shorter showers, while on the other pursues expansionist policies which result in far greater water consumption, then the individual efforts at conservation are serving only to distract attention away from the real source of the water shortage (i.e. the municipal expansion).


  • bans on restaurants serving water as a default: how much usage does this actually save?
  • advocating for restaurants not to serve straws by default: how much difference does this actually make?


  1. 2017-02-02 [https://getpocket.com/explore/item/against-willpower Against Willpower
  2. This story comes from our family history -- are there any other sources? --Woozle 15:01, 9 May 2011 (EDT)
  3. 2015-08-12 Let's Rate the Dumbest Solutions to California's Drought: silly water-conservation ideas] (via comment here)