My Activism Can Beat Up Your Activism!

I fail to understand the narrow-sightedness of some self-proclaimed activists.  We all choose causes to support that are close to us in some way.  There is no shortage of worthwhile causes to choose from- equal rights, lack of clean water, starvation, homelessness, cancer, heart disease, malaria, addiction, racism, sexism, various other -isms, poverty, child abuse, elder abuse, animal abuse, oligarchy, pollution, deforestation, etc.  You could easily devote your entire life and all your resources to any one of these causes.  The reality is that we each have limited resources, whether it’s time, energy, or money.  So we have to choose.

What baffles me is when someone takes the approach of, “If you don’t support my pet cause as adamantly as I do, you’re a horrible person.”  This lacks a basic understanding: The person they’re insulting may be fighting really hard for a different cause which is just as worthy of support.  Not everyone brags about their activism; some quietly work behind closed doors to make things better.  You don’t know unless you talk with them.

How lousy would it be for researchers to argue, “Heart disease kills more people than cancer, so I’m going to make fun of cancer patients and their caregivers”?  Or, “Deforestation is a huge issue, but pollution is such a minor problem, so I’m going to treat you horribly if you waste your time working against pollution”?  Yet we see this all the time with activism.  People don’t seem to get that the world is larger than their little bubble.

If you’re working to make the world better by any means, why not join forces with those doing the same rather than engaging in counterproductive infighting?  “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

One Response to “My Activism Can Beat Up Your Activism!”

  1. Joe Says:

    Where people often lock horns is when one group or the other sees the opposing viewpoint as being a red herring, instead of an earnestly held perspective. That is, a feeling that the opposition doesn’t ‘really’ hold the belief that they advance, but rather, simply advances it in order to distract from or obfuscate the ‘real’ issue.

    So, for example, in the area of carbon emissions and global warming, there was a big push about a decade ago to invest in hydrogen fuel as an alternative to gasoline. Hydrogen fuel cells are an interesting technology, and there are certainly plenty of bright people who are earnest in their desire to see it realized. However, hydrogen fuel cells were, and continue to be, a very immature technology that requires a lot more time and effort before it can produce practical results. So, even while conceding that hydrogen fuel was a potentially cool tech, many environmentalists objected because it looked as though many of hydrogen’s proponents were trying to use this pie-in-the-sky technology to distract attention away from currently realizable things like electric cars and solar power, in order to preserve the status quo.

    Of course, there’s plenty of situations where committed activists believe this about each other, leading to all sorts of nastiness over nothing at all. That said, I think that you have to forgive some activists for developing a slightly paranoid mindset, if only because this sort of bait-and-switch approach has been used fairly frequently. Work for any sufficiently contentious cause, and you’ll probably see it show up sooner or later.

    There’s also the issue that activists – especially professional activists – often compete for a limited amount of attention and funding. There are only so many dollars given to charity, and so many public or private grants. If the ‘other guys’ soak up a lot of the available funding, it potentially means that there’s less for you. Combine this with the real commitment many activists feel for the cause, and its easy to see where resentment can build. It’s easy to get angry when ‘your’ cause goes without, while some ‘sexier’, but (in your eyes) less deserving area seems to soak up all the funding and media coverage.

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