All over political movements, particularly on the left, there’s a call for “allies”, which is to say people who are not of the particular movement’s core demographic (blacks, say, or LGBTs, or natives or feminists or whatever) but who are onside with the cause, supportive of the activities of the group.
I am not one of these.
Yes, it is true that I’m a believer in many causes. Most of them are “leftist” by American standards (but of course these days Francisco Franco would be “leftist” by American standards…). I believe in racial equality, for example, and think the current situation with blacks in the USA (or natives in Canada (or Turks in Germany (or …))) is a scandal of epic proportions. I believe in gender equality. I believe in spreading the wealth around so that we don’t have 99.9% of the populace owning less than 10% of the wealth. There are numerous causes that I’m sympathetic to, and again most of them are, I stress, “leftist”.
I am, and never will be, however, an “ally” to any of them. You will never see me participating in slacktivist “awareness-raising” of any of these things. You will never see me “signal boosting” anything from these camps. You will never see me in a virtue-signalling dogpile on Twitter or Facebook. My politics are, to those who can read, pretty clear if you take a look at my social media presence. I’m not a member of anything, though.
There is, of course, a reason for this: the toxicity of these groups. Even with the best of intentions, social activist groups will and do, over time, become venomous caricatures of themselves. Any hope that these will accomplish anything positive then dies.
Before I go into my guess as to the reasons for this, allow me to show some examples.
Consider, for example, a left/right-neutral topic like atheism. Atheism is a pretty simple concept: “I don’t believe in supernatural entities” (gods). I have to stress a lot these days, however, that I’m a small-a atheist, not a big-A Atheist because atheism as a notion has been hijacked. What started off as a pretty simple, basic concept (there are no gods) has become a hugely obnoxious movement of smug assholes who think by virtue of being infidels they are intrinsically more logical and smarter than those who believe. (The fact that this belief is a perfect example of a non sequitur fallacy is the only redeeming feature of these twits, largely because I enjoy watching unintentional irony in action.)
For another example, look at various feminist groups. Why “various”? Because the movement has fragmented so quickly since the relatively simple statement that women and men should be socially equal that there is no longer a single meaningful definition for what a “feminist” is. Seemingly every year I see another schism developing as feminists turn in on themselves and tear each other to shreds over minor differences instead of focusing on what they have in common in a huge battle they have yet to win.
Let’s talk social justice now. A perfect example is the “Black Lives Matter” movement who recently, in Canada, disrupted a Gay Pride event because they felt they weren’t being given enough attention. Twice. Here are two groups that have a similar shared history of oppression and violence (at least in the USA) and instead of working together one of them grandstands at the expense of the other (and, naturally, calls anybody who thought it was in poor taste “racists”).
Even mostly civilized web sites like The Good Men Project are showing signs of this disease. A web site that has the tagline “The Conversation No One Else is Having” has a recently-republished article that tells a huge swathe of society to, and I quote, “shut up”. How, precisely, do they think you have meaningful conversations after you’ve told people to shut up? Does anybody out there who isn’t a deranged jackass think that this is how conversations actually work?
The entire political activist world, on both the left and the right, is replete with this kind of pointless, poisonous poppycock and, in my opinion, it undermines any cause these people purport to promote. I used to actually participate in these kinds of groups and movements, but stopped after observing that they always go bad, sometimes in astonishingly short times.
There are several reasons for this inevitable trend toward rancor and spite, I think. These include:
- Holier than thou.
- Unrealistic expectation.
Holier than thou
This is the obvious one. Human beings, even those who consider themselves “enlightened” like most political activists (again, left or right!) do, are intensely competitive. If I believe that women should be given a fair shake in society, inevitably someone else will have to prove they’re more pure in their politics than me and say that not only should women be given a fair shake, they should be given a boost because of past mistreatment. Then another imbecile will up the stakes more and yet another will raise them again until we get to the bizarre fringes of feminism where people seriously postulate that men should be preemptively jailed because they commit 90% of crime.
Every movement seemingly undergoes this transition. What starts off as a relatively moderate (and sane) movement with large membership gets more and more extreme (and insane) over time, shedding the “dead weight” that won’t play the one-upmanship games. Eventually the movement becomes an echo chamber resistant to any external mitigating influence and then really starts going into the deep end.
Human beings are tribal primates. We like, as a whole, belonging to things “bigger” than ourselves. We also like to make it clear that the things we belong to are different from the things someone else belongs to.
Let’s say we have two groups of atheists. Both groups are very similar in makeup and in beliefs. They have, naturally, by virtue of being human institutions, minor differences between them. One, for instance, believes that we should demonstrate the superiority of the atheist lifestyle by being good examples of it. The other believes that religious people need to be actively guided to atheism.
With these two groups being so similar, and with humans being so tribal and seeking to differentiate, it is inevitable that a schism will arise between these two groups. The one that believes in the superiority of the atheist lifestyle, for example, may choose to start harping on and on about how superior they are to the religious. The other group will, in a bid to be seen as different, start employing ambush tactics to abuse the religious in a misguided attempt to get them to “see the light”. Both get pushed into more extreme directions on the small areas of non-intersecting belief simply because of our need to be different.
This is where that BLM Canada thing against the Gay Pride parade falls into. Aside from the fact that BLM Canada is an utterly ludicrous movement to begin with, they’re also incredibly narcissistic. How dare anybody pay attention to any group other than them for a single day? Of course they had to grandstand and ruin the parade. That was the only way to make sure that eyes were on them instead of another group.
You can see similar things in groups ranging as far as Greenpeace or, from the other side of the political spectrum, the witless “War on Christmas” types, not to mention the Men’s Rights Weenies complaining that they actually have to treat women with dignity these days.
This is more a disease of youth than it is of political activism. It’s just that the stridently political tend to be young so it shows up in the political world most visibly. Unrealistic expectations of things like “all racial disharmony will vanish tomorrow because we did such a good job of raising awareness” turn into dismay and bitterness when tomorrow comes and not much has changed.
See in the real world cultures change very slowly. We have this bizarre belief in the west that our culture is changing rapidly because superficial changes tend to dominate our thinking and our reportage. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because our technology is changing like crazy, and with it the way we communicate (or fail to) that our culture must be changing equally as rapidly.
Of course if you have a slightly broader perspective on life, you’ll note that there are elements of, say, Chinese culture which have remained largely unchanged since about 3000B.C.E. Or if you visit Europe, where historic things that are over a thousand years old litter the landscape around you, you’ll see just how much sheer cultural inertia there is.
Most young people, however, lack this perspective and as a result, when faced with dispiriting lack of visible change in the society around them, turn to ever more extreme ways of expressing their political will.
(This is probably the part where I bring up that old canard about how the perfect is the enemy of the good.)
So what does this have to do with being an ally?
At issue is that most political activist groups don’t want allies. They want useful idiots. I see, for example, in Twitter, a lot of groups–LGBT to name one at random–who are constantly calling for non-member “allies” to “signal boost” their tweets. These “allies” are welcome so long as they do absolutely nothing but pass along whatever message the “real“membership wants to transmit.
If, as an “ally” you dare to engage in conversation that isn’t purest “yes man” stuff, be prepared to be excoriated or even eviscerated for daring to “undermine” the movement. You will be shouted down. And if you refuse to be shouted down you will be shunned, demonized, and dogpiled upon. You will, by refusing to be the useful idiot, be turned into the enemy. You will be doxxed. You will be harassed. You will, eventually, be evicted from a movement you believe in because you dared, as a person who wasn’t a core member, to have an opinion of your own. (You’ll be DOUBLY damned if you’re actually right!)
What do you do instead?
Me? I work on individuals. I find someone potentially receptive to a message like “you know, there’s no reason to think Muslims are Satan Incarnate”. If it looks like the seeds are falling into fertile soil, I ramp it up a bit. If it looks like the person is just not going to take up the message I move on. If I see an activist group operating in the same place, I leave. I leave because I know where it’s going to go (nowhere good) and I have better things to do with my time than to fight with deaf and/or illiterate zealots.
Yes, my work on these causes isn’t as splashy as the huge grandstanding efforts of the politically strident, but I allow myself the conceit that in the long term it’s more effective. And I can look at myself in the mirror without wondering what I’ve become.
An ally’s life is simply not for me.