Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Welcoming to a Movement

One of the things I've been thinking about recently is the difference between causes and the (often many, overlapping) movements that aim to meet them. Longtime readers will probably recall my sometimes-troublesome-and-usually-distant relations with many organised communist or broader groups. I still do consider myself a socialist, more specifically a communist, but a non-Marxian communist. That said, I am not part of any particular existing movement (except in the metaphorical sense that there's a giant, almost formless movement; you'll sometimes find me talking that way, but it really is meant as metaphor there), sometimes because I disagree with some ends of movements I've found, more often because I disagree with some means, and most often because I disagree with the theory and discourse those groups use.

I'm an atheist too, but I'm not presently attending any secular groups because I haven't found any with enough people I'd actually like to hang out with. At times in the past I've felt a bit alienated by being a heterodox thinkier (although moving from being a libertarian atheist to a secular-socialist atheist made it much easier to get along with secular humanists).

And then there's feminism, where a lot of existing groups have irritated me to no end, but there have also been groups which included a feminist element where I felt I fit pretty well. Still, at times I've felt pretty alienated (particularly because I expect my thoughts on "trans" are liable to put people off; I'm not ashamed of my stances, and am not actually hostile to trans people, but I don't validate/recognise such transformation, even though nowadays I'll use whichever-between he-she someone wants. I'm comfortable and willing to defend my stance, but mainly as a reasonable one).

Being-a-philosopher is another thing I believe in. Like the rest of the above, I think everyone should be somewhat philosophically engaged, and trying to maintain the traditions and standards I think characterise philosophical discourse. Unlike the above, I am unaware of a philosophic-living movement, because philosophy is generally considered a calling. I would rather it be considered more than that.

With any of these things, recognising that the causes and the movements are different things, I wonder how I might suggest someone go down the path of committing. I do believe that causes are more intellectually-precious than movements, but movements tend to move the world considerably more. I lean towards philosophy, because I believe that movements tend to rot because of bad leadership, groupthink, and similar; it's very hard to keep a movement sane and effective, and a few bad eggs can lead people to (mistakenly) blame a philosophy for the unrelated failures of its leaders. Also, movements are often narrower than causes, and it's hard to maintain the broadness of thought when one also needs to get things done; one sheds members or forces them to conform when discussion gets too difficult. My solitary tendencies might not be great at effecting change in the world though, and even if one were to choose a cause over its movements, there's still two very different approaches:

  • Find a great writer on the topic, consider their writings authoritative, and use their theory to help provide depth to your notion of the cause (when I was younger, on the topic of feminism I did this with Gloria Steinem, and despite disagreeing with her strongly on pornography, I still find myself mostly aligned with her on other topics in feminism (particularly transexuality); Trotsky filled the same role for me in socialism, but I've since broken entirely with him and the Marxian tradition)
  • Speculate on the cause independently and either build your own theory or come to an understanding of what elements of the cause are most important and work from there. I went back and did this with socialism when I found myself beyond the marxian pale, and with atheism I did this first on my own (inspired by a month in preparing for Methodist Confirmation when I realised and expressed that I could not say that I believed in the Christian deity) and only later came to understand and articulate why.
I am generally very skeptical of movements and artefacts of causes. I would like people in general to recognise them as necessary, but never confuse them with the important causes themselves nor forget that whatever framings they use for events are not the only ones worth considering. Having only one lens to analyse an event or issue is a very dangerous thing (even if, as is the case with looking at the power relations between social classes, having the lens itself is a great thing). Most importantly, I want people to have commitments to many causes, ideally ones that conflict a bit, so they're used to nuance and reasonable disagreement. Not every point is worth shouting over, but it might be worth at least trying to convince people around one of the most important parts of one's causes. Likewise, we all have to come to a reasonable balance of fidelity to our values and living reasonably decent lives with a variety of people surrounding us. Fighting everything all of the time will make us neurotic and insufferable, but being sufficiently afraid of conflict would make us moral cowards (even if we might be reasonably popular for never judging anyone or anything around us).

I remain uncertain then, were I to want to nudge people to explore one of those I've described above, or the other causes to which I have commitments (like environmentalism), or causes in general, how I might introduce them to the causes and movements in the best way; I know some might say "explain everything", but I'm sure:

  • I would not be with them for the rest of their life
  • Sometimes this nudging would not be something they'd directly see so much as a casual (but planned) book recommendation or arranging for them to meet someone
  • The framing I put on things is not the only worthwhile framing, and there are other worthwhile perspectives they should at least consider.
In the end, I would like to see people be knowledgable, independent, non-dogmatic, and thoughtful in their positions and understandings of things.

And .. as a good contrarian, I think it's important to mess with movements every now and then in order to help them shake off groupthought and remind people that the cause is a better thing to be loyal to than any expression of the cause.

Tags: feminism, philosophy

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