Diary of a Domestic Extremist: Why I hate activism

What does it really mean to be an "activist"? Are activists deluding themselves about being agents of radical change? In an impassioned polemic, Mikhail Goldman argues that today's activist movements, far from being the creative, truly revolutionary wave they purport to be, risk becoming, themselves, agents of bigotry, sexism, and elitism.

Diary of a Domestic Extremist, Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 2:00 - 49 Comments

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“Now the activist might be just as likely to engage in symbolic acts with the aim of pressuring some authority or other to change its policy.”

By Mikhail Goldman

I hope that readers of this article will be aware of what I mean by activism. It is the work of that particular sect, “the activists”, who have taken it upon themselves to rid the world of evil. Whilst their peers pursue careers, raise families or lose themselves in hedonism, the activists minimise their commitments to the conventional world, putting their hearts and souls into the furtherance of whatever ideals they hold dear. Inevitably, to some extent, through “dropping out” of the mainstream, the activist seeks solace in doing good deeds. She considers this to be a life more enriched and rewarding than the materialism of those who surround her.

OK – I exaggerate. Not every activist is a modern day nun or monk. That said, the parallels made between activism and religiosity are deliberate and are intended to demonstrate the limitations of the former. Indeed, the adoption of activism as a role or a lifestyle is a significant obstacle to progress towards genuine and far-reaching social and political change. The inflexibility that results from the adoption of an activist role hinders the ability of the activist to adapt to change and remain effective. It also encourages the emergence of “experts” of social change and the formation of hierarchies that impede spontaneous action. Meanwhile, the tendency to associate activism with a particular lifestyle can lead to the estrangement of activists from the general population and the dilution of radical politics.

One of the most influential critiques of activism as a role was the anonymous article Give up Activism, which appeared in the aftermath of the June 18th 1999 anti-globalisation protests in London (J18). Drawing heavily on the work of situationist writer Raoul Vaneigem, the piece emphasised the limitations of activism and even suggested that it was a counter-revolutionary ideology.

Taking on the role of activist, the authors suggested, was to become a jealous guardian of the secrets of revolution. The activist relies on a niche provided by capitalist social relations in order to have relevance and it is thus in his interest to maintain that situation. Whilst I would question whether this tendency is, in itself, sufficient to nullify the activist’s desire to overcome oppressive social relations, it is clear that the activist role sets up a situation in which there is competition between an individual’s status as an “expert” of revolution and the revolutionary change itself. This is particularly true when the former is so much easier to achieve and maintain than the latter.

There is certainly a tendency for ‘activist’ to turn into shorthand for ‘expert in bringing about radical social change’. Even in movements and groups that claim to be against hierarchical social relations there is an unstated assumption that it is the ‘superactivists’ that are best positioned to lead the revolution. This assumption results in the pursuit of getting as many people into activism as possible, with the aim of achieving a critical mass that can then lead the charge against capital/climate change/whatever.

However, this assumes that the activists are a vanguard and thus, somehow, superior to the masses. This theory is certainly not borne out by the evidence of actual insurrections, in which the ‘specialists’ of revolution usually play a rather peripheral role. Even if it were probable that activists could lead such a revolt, the formation of an informal leadership class would ensure the reproduction of hierarchical social values. To form a leadership group within a so-called revolutionary movement is to sow the seeds of counter-revolution.

Another phenomenon that seems to be associated with the adoption of the activist role is an inflexibility around strategy and tactics. Because activism inevitably means perpetuating action, there is often little opportunity for reflection and adaptation within the milieu. An ideology of constant attack is part and parcel of the role and is favoured, even when patience might be more effective.

In addition, the fetishisation of particular tactics results in their mass reproduction, often without regard for the limited period during which they are novel, when no defence against them had yet been formulated. For example, the past decades have seen activists around the western world lock themselves to various things with zeal, because it is what activists do – not, necessarily, because they have determined that it is the most appropriate action to take. By clinging to a heritage limited by culture and geography, the activist reproduces the same routine over and over, without apparent regard to its effects.

It is this culture of activism that is, perhaps, neglected by Give up Activism. The adoption of activism as a lifestyle rather than a medium for bringing about social change serves to alienate those who do not identify with its idiosyncratic culture. The unspoken rules of what hairstyles, clothing, diet and lifestyle choices are and aren’t acceptable in the activist ghetto are major barriers to those who are interested in the same revolutionary aims but don’t share the lifestyle.

The activist subculture is derived from subsections of punk, hippy and other predominantly white subcultures which inevitably makes it harder for non-white people to fit into them. Without being part of the social scene around activism, with its drinking rituals (vegan organic beer only, of course) and crusty clothing choices, the outsider can only get so involved in the movement.

This results in a limbo situation for such people who cannot fit in. Most end up giving up on a scene that they feel they can never be fully part of.

Aside from the obvious cultural bias in activist circles towards whiteness, the disproportionate dominance of student politics (as well as those who have come through the university system) means that those from working class backgrounds often feel a similar alienation from activism. The intellectuals of the movement love to communicate in lengthy theses on this or that particular issue, often lacking direct connections to those on the front line.

Unsurprisingly, there is often a lack of understanding of the harsh realities poor people experience, which can lead to a lifestyle of poverty being fetishised (see, for example, criticisms of CrimethInc). Certain prevalent activist lifestyle choices e.g. clothing, diet, not flying, etc. are easier to adopt for the middle class activist who, after a childhood of luxury, sees these choices as a rejection of materialism. This denial of material wealth is a less comfortable choice to make for the person who has grown up associating such denials with a lack of opportunity.

Last but not least, the culture of activism is often a macho culture. The emphasis on having the best ideas or doing the most daring actions can encourage a competitive atmosphere where those with the loudest voices (usually men) get heard and others (often women) stay silent. Just as in the case in society at large, the speakers are often male and those who are expected to support them are often female. This reproduction of gender roles in activist culture is further evidence that it is not, at present, a revolutionary culture.

The lack of diversity and acceptance, in the activist subculture, of people who are different, is obviously a problem. However, the one area where there does appear to be genuine diversity is also a problem: activism has long been associated with anarchist politics due to the traditional association of direct action with those ideas. However, with the emergence of liberal direct-action movements, particularly around climate change, the political ideals of activism have become muddied and less focussed.

Whilst you might once have associated the activist with the revolutionary politics of anarchism or socialism, now the activist might be just as likely to engage in symbolic acts with the aim of pressuring some authority or other to change its policy. This divergence of political positions around a common lifestyle seems to be the opposite of what is required to bring about wide reaching social change.

Activism, then, is a deeply problematic identity which throws a number of obstacles in the path to radical social change. This inevitably leads to the question of what can be done by those who are committed to that radical change and, out of the lack of alternatives, end up defining ourselves as activists?

One of the most important things is to get over ourselves. Just because we are consciously committed to trying to revolt doesn’t make us the most capable of doing it. We are going to need a lot of friends and allies before we are able to do anything. When spaces open up for the kind of change we wish to see we won’t be the ones leading it because there won’t be any leaders. We can spread useful ideas and skills amongst people who are sympathetic but in the end spontaneity will be vital.

Because we need a massive range of people from all backgrounds to adopt radical ideas before meaningful change becomes possible we need to constantly be aware of the limited diversity of the circles we move in. It is only when these are genuinely open to and supportive of a wide range of active participants that we will grow in any meaningful sense. That means rejecting the white, middle-class, male claim on radicalism that is prevalent at the moment.

It means accepting people who have different lifestyles and different ideas about eating meat, shopping in supermarkets and using fossil fuels to those prevalent in the subculture. There is a need to be open to and welcoming of everyone who is sick of the system of domination.

Whilst there’s a lot to be said for and against that colourful character of an anarchist, Ian Bone, his Bash the Rich book makes excellent reading. In one chapter, he recounts how he and his Class War comrades participated in the Brixton riot of 1981. They saw the riot as an opportunity to engage in the struggle against their class enemies. Rather than trying to set themselves up as some elite group with authority over what was going in, they saw the riot as a moment in the struggle that, with their street fighting experiences, they could contribute to, along with other unknown militants.

As far as I’m concerned activists should be just that – unknown militants who lend their efforts and their solidarity to struggles wherever they find the opportunity.

Mikhail Goldman, (a.k.a. The Domestic Extremist) currently focusses his trouble-making and incitement in the Midlands area. His favourite activities are bringing down the system and enjoying a good cup of tea.

His column appears every Wednesday.

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W
Oct 6, 2010 13:46

Brilliant article, have often had conversations with activists which were as closed minded as some conversations I’ve had with racists. Good call on discussing the middle class white thing too, I only ever seen it get mentioned briefly, i.e. in one sentence.

Really good anyway, echoed many of my thoughts and in fact is one of the reasons why I’ve never chosen to get fully involved in activism. It seemed as if I would always have to defend myself on issues like eating meat, despite the fact that I’ve only flown on a plane 3 times in my life etc. . Very good call on fetishisation of poverty also. It also seems like it’s a holiday for some activists now, between the ages of 21-25 they’ll live the ‘hard’ life, and then get their masters (paid for by parents naturally) and start on 15k a year somewhere.

I don’t think the activism at the moment should be removed or disbanded but it really needs an injection of rational self-consciousness, in themselves, their antecedents and their aims.

Alex
Oct 6, 2010 17:25

I agree with a good deal of this. In particular the activism as sub-culture aspect, as manifested in clothing, music and life style choices. I find this most irritating, and attempt to deliberately go against these aspects as much as possible (partly simply because I don’t care for them aesthetically, which is a valid reason) to the point at which people suspect me because I like to dress smartly and not in hemp. Fetishisation of direct action should be dropped for a focus on tactics that actually cause the changes that are desired, including negotiation with existing powers, letter writing, politically lobby and so on. I also feel, like many activists if you actually talk to them, that the issue of class is screaming at anyone who has spent more than five minutes in activist circles.

One issue absent from your discussion that I find very frustrating and counter-productive in activist circles is the snobbishness and often ignorance of mainstream politics. Certainly, a large part, likely most, of mainstream politics is terminally compromised with the interests of capital, yet the government of this country do in fact have a material effect on huge numbers of people, positively and most often, negatively. This is particularly the case now, with huge cuts to public services on the way. Like it or not, there is a material difference between a radical neoliberal cutting Conservative government and a social democratic alternative (though one does not currently exist) in terms of the suffering caused or alleviated. Activist sub-culture seems unconcerned with these issues, preferring to adopt the attitude of the quasi-religious beautiful souls you define well in your article, which is small minded and often selfish. Not only does this distance them further from the lives of ordinary people, but it also distances them from important struggles that if won would make a real difference from those oppressed.

Name Required
Oct 6, 2010 22:00

I also agree with the article but am not convinced that waiting for riots (the last good example of which happened 30 years ago) is the best, most efficient way for us to move forward. For those of us who believe that catastrophic climate change is potentially threatening 95% of life on earth, time is kinda of the essence.

Sara
Oct 6, 2010 22:44

Mike- a lot of what you write rings true- how activism can be exclusionary, hierachical, patriachal and develop more of a moral critique of the working classes than a politics of solidarity and social change, in many ways mirroring those very power relations those involved seek to challenge and transform.

Yet activist communities are oh so much more complex, complicated and contradictory- to label in such a universal manner is to silence, invsibilise and deny the creativity, imgination and humanism within activist communities and groups. Is this not to create a representation that reinforces the very hierarchy of ways of seeing and thinking that you seek to challenge.?

The polemic has its uses sure, but how useful is it against potential allies; how productive is it? what methodology of critique do you in this polemic develop if not the posturing patriachal weapon of erasure of complexity, multpicity, subjectivity and desire? And does not the postulation of sponteneity as an anecdote to contemporary activism not also slip through the backdoor that reification of patriachal values of power and politics; rupture, performance and power over not power to?

What might it look like to develop a critique in solidarity? what might it look like not to speak as the knowing subject but rather as a subject seeking openess to others and ways of thinking through together the so important links that are needed to be made between activist communities and working class communities? What might it mean to reflect upon our own complicity and to find the cracks in that as a way of seeing not merely complicity in activist communities but creativity and in this way opening up the possibilities of hybrid ways of being, seeing, making, loving social and political change?

Andy
Oct 6, 2010 23:43

Activists, in general, are not simply seeking action against an external world but also seek to create autonomy in terms of autonomous spaces and lived practices. I think we’re a far more diverse bunch than this article suggests. There are problems with hierarchies in the wider society creeping into autonomous groups in spite of themselves, but not on the scale of the vicious exclusions in the wider society. I’ve become involved in the activist scene as neurodiverse, and I have not found the closure suggested here, in terms of ‘lack of diversity and acceptance’. There are certainly problems in this regard, but far less than in ‘straight’ society. There is no single activist ‘lifestyle’. Activists constantly work with others who don’t share their particular lifestyle. For instance there’s a range of distinct subcultural ‘scenes’ overlapping with activism – hippy/New Age, punk, Goth and so on. Some activists are vegans, some aren’t. Some are pacifist, some are militant. The ability to work together in spite of these big differences is proof of a certain openness to difference. The difficulty is that being open to mainstream ideas/lifestyles creates a danger of the disappearance of the other differences which are excluded from the mainstream.

On the question of ‘experts’. Historically, people had all kinds of knowledges about power-relations on which dissident movements could draw. In a massified society, however, most people are not seeking radical social change and so have not formulated knowledges to this end. In order for radical change to be a possibility in such a society, it is necessary for such knowledges to be recomposed – which automatically creates a distinction between those involved in the recomposition and others. I don’t think this creates an expert vanguard, any more than workers’ tacit knowledge or indigenous peoples’ knowledge makes them vanguards. An “expert” in the critical sense has knowledge which is jealously guarded against outsiders. I don’t think activists jealously guard their local knowledges. We could and should be more proactive in forming wider connections, but most of the activist knowledges are only a web search or a skillshare away.

I’m not sure it’s useful today to think in terms of a rebellion of the overwhelming majority; it’s more useful to think about little bits falling off the edifice until the whole thing collapses. We need more numbers, but not by drawing in a ‘mass’ which remains a ‘mass’ – rather, the question is recomposition of solidarities across differences. There’s nothing wrong with dropping out – why should one want to be part of the mainstream? Especially today, as the mainstream is becoming increasingly exclusionary and closing down marginal niches inside itself. In addition, many people start by being excluded against their will, and end up valorising otherness retrospectively – a valid alternative to identifying with negative stigma. Further, dropping out in principle puts one closer to people who are excluded against their will than one would be if living a middle- or included working-class life. I also think there’s an implicit privileging here of a certain sense of who the unmarked, unspecified, non-vanguard ‘mass’ are. There are plenty of instances of activists working closely with refugees, with groups threatened by racists, with youth subcultures and so on, but it’s inclined to happen margin to margin rather than margin to mass.

The language of vanguard vs masses is inappropriate when dealing with horizontal activisms, even when the latter have distinct lifestyles and ethical callings. The danger here is inverse snobbery – valorising the masses simply because they are masses. The underpinning here is the assumption that the masses (or workers?) have some special revolutionary significance simply because they are masses (or workers). I doubt this is true, because a lot of the people who would fall into this category are downright reactionary and uncritical.Sara is right that we need to be open to others and not cut ourselves off in reactive identities. The difficulty however, is responding to a context where others are not open to who we are (as particular people or as micro-communities). I think it’s less useful today to think about the community as a whole in revolt than to think about people first experiencing a subjective break, and then forming new communities with those who have also made such a break.

I also think the orientation of activism to personalised ethics, including changes in everyday life, is absolutely necessary. What is rejected in post-68 activism (including Vaneigem) is the view that certain practices should be naturalised as beyond critique because they are widespread and taken-for-granted. Everything we do in everyday life has ethical content and is open to critique. This means there is no good reason to do something just because the bosses order us to or because everyone else is doing it. If this makes one a ‘beautiful soul’ then so be it – why cringe before anathemas invented by statist compromisers to slander their enemies? The alternative is to identify with the ‘masses’, do what they do (according to our imaginary reconstruction of them), and ultimately end up back at the level of ‘material interests’ and the negation of critique in the Third Way (bigger cages, longer chains). Then, instead of there being autonomous spaces (however problematic) for people who want or are forced to live differently, there is just the system and its mirror-image with a human face. The politics of ‘material interests’ is a dead-end because ultimately, the bosses have the power to materially reward those who do what they want – so ultimately this strategy leads to conformity (think of China’s ‘success’ for example). But because such compromises are part of a race to the bottom, ultimately the gains they provide are rendered smaller and smaller over time (which is why social-democracy has disappeared).

Alex
Oct 6, 2010 23:43

Sara,

Sure, yes, there are a multiplicity of activist communities. But to accuse commentary that actually seems to chime with the reality of the situation of somehow being oppressive strikes me as an exaggeration of what is occurring, and, rather paradoxically, is itself an attempt to silence voices, since it claims that no possible commentary could ever seemingly do justice to the complexities described. A similar move could be made for almost every political or social reality.

More importantly, these are not external critiques of activism but critiques from those who have been deeply involved in activist politics, and who are concerned with radical social change. Such critiques are already therefore critiques in solidarity, a discussion of what is appropriate to cause radical social change. One shouldn’t be offended by them, but seek to use them to an opportunity to reflect on our complicity in what they claim. What you see as attack is in fact a passionate desire for reconstruction.

Alex
Oct 7, 2010 1:38

Andy,

While perhaps not as seasoned as you, I am afraid to say that there is a definite activist lifestyle, even if this is circumscribed to only the UK geographically for the sake of argument. I’ll agree that such communities are significantly, even vastly more accepting than mainstream society, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a lifestyle attached to them. I don’t actually have to pick out the cultural tropes to make this point, but I can if you like, and it is best sumarised by “dreadlocks and bikelocks” – don’t get me wrong, I love these people, they are some of my closest friends and comrades, but to deny it exists and push diversity to an extreme seems to an odd position. As for their ability to collaborate, this has not always been my experience, particularly between all the differences you highlight.

“What is rejected in post-68 activism (including Vaneigem) is the view that certain practices should be naturalised as beyond critique because they are widespread and taken-for-granted. Everything we do in everyday life has ethical content and is open to critique. If this makes one a ‘beautiful soul’ then so be it – why cringe before anathemas invented by statist compromisers to slander their enemies?”

Sure, completely agree with this, Zizek who has popularised this beautiful soul line swings between state affirmation and hatred. However, the point is none of us here have really ‘dropped out’ or are even closing in on having our hands clean – a few of us work within a university closely associated with leading arms manufacturers, and in proximity to particular statist regimes. We are all compromised, but try to do the best we can. And this is where we must start, rather than another race to the bottom not of material interests but of who can be purest, which is what one observes often in activist cultures.

At least we should be talking about these things, it can only strengthen ideas and movements for change to do so.

Kareem
Oct 7, 2010 7:22

I read this article and the ensuing comments with much interest. The article immediately struck a chord with me because I have often experienced, and sometimes remarked on, the ‘lifestyle activism’ described in this piece. And though I think Andy and Sara make important qualifications, in my view the article’s key claims stand uncorrected. Speaking simply from experience, it is not easy for someone with a background in the Global South, especially if they also come from a working class (or even lower middle class) background, to adjust to a lifestyle and become accepted within the activist communities referred to in the piece. This is not to valourise either black and brown people, or people from a non-elite class background, except to say that if such people feel automatically alienated from activist groups – and I think many do – it is difficult to think of how such groups will bring about lasting, progressive social change.

On the discussion of lifestyle: yes, it is inevitable that political choices bring about changes in personal behaviour. Yet Goldman makes a key point in this article which I don’t think was addressed by his critics – such changes often seem to be: a) de rigeur, b) arising out of a particular (elite) class and cultural background, c) questions of aesthetic sensibility rather than political choice.

For example, the fetishisation of worn-out clothes, fashionably bedraggled appearances, and much of the entire concept of ‘vintage’, is quite closely linked in my view to the freedom some people have – who come from a particular, elite class background – to choose not to buy things they could easily afford, to choose not to dress smartly when it would be easy to do so, and so on. Those from the Global South and working class backgrounds are well aware that in their communities, such appearances would not signify political choice, but would be the result of sheer poverty and exclusion – a shivering warning to others not to fall under the breadline. When real poverty and real exclusion is not a threat, it is easy to fetishise a reconstructed idea of poverty and self-exclusion – it carries no real risks, after all.

I should say that I have found almost everyone that I have described (and unfortunately generalised about) here remarkable and admirable, and offer these comments in the constructive spirit of this discussion.

Mik
Oct 7, 2010 16:16

Thanks for all your comments. I’ll try to reply to all the points raised.

W:
“I don’t think the activism at the moment should be removed or disbanded but it really needs an injection of rational self-consciousness, in themselves, their antecedents and their aims.”

That’s really what I was trying to say. The anti-activist title was just posturing really.

Alex:
“One issue absent from your discussion that I find very frustrating and counter-productive in activist circles is the snobbishness and often ignorance of mainstream politics.”

Very true, and it is often a result of activists being removed from everyday life. People are starting to take up the anti-cuts pro-services angle now though so watch this space.

Name Required :
“I also agree with the article but am not convinced that waiting for riots (the last good example of which happened 30 years ago) is the best, most efficient way for us to move forward. For those of us who believe that catastrophic climate change is potentially threatening 95% of life on earth, time is kinda of the essence.”

I wasn’t really arguing for waiting for riots – perhaps my use of Ian Bone as an example wasn’t the best pick! I’m more interested in agitating for as well as then participating in all kinds of struggle, including, of course, the struggle for ecological sanity. My issue is with activists who think they’re going to be at the forefront of that struggle because they’ve got the best ideas about how to do it.

Sara:
“Yet activist communities are oh so much more complex, complicated and contradictory- to label in such a universal manner is to silence, invsibilise and deny the creativity, imgination and humanism within activist communities and groups. Is this not to create a representation that reinforces the very hierarchy of ways of seeing and thinking that you seek to challenge.?”

I don’t really see how what I’ve written silences or invisibilises anyone. Perhaps I’ve not been clear in stating that I do think great things have come about through activism and will continue to and that there are very many wonderful people who, for good or bad, identify as activists. That doesn’t excuse the Activist Movement (in the UK and Europe, which is where I draw my experiences from) its structural biases and hierarchies. When something’s racist you call it racist; you don’t sit on your hands and say well it’s so complex and contradictory I don’t think I should really speak out against it. When there are widespread and systematic systems of domination they need to be called and dealt with, not let off the hook.

The use of “but it’s so complex” to avoid dealing with racism is lampooned with great style in the latest issue of Race Revolt (http://www.racerevolt.org.uk), a zine that it well worth checking out.

“The polemic has its uses sure, but how useful is it against potential allies; how productive is it?”

Well some of the commenters on this piece have already confirmed the exclusionary nature of activism. I think it helps by demonstrating that not everyone who has taken on, however uneasily, the label of activist is unaware of the problems and do want to broaden the movement. It starts a conversation about how to deal with our shit and stop perpetuating it. Being aware of the problems is the first step towards rectifying them.

“what methodology of critique do you in this polemic develop if not the posturing patriachal weapon of erasure of complexity, multpicity, subjectivity and desire?”

I fail to understand how this article has brought about “erasure of complexity, multiplicity, subjectivity and desire?” What methodology of critique do you have to offer other than the European, middle-class weapon of academic jargon? If you aren’t suggesting that no one should criticise activists then what are you suggesting?

“And does not the postulation of sponteneity as an anecdote to contemporary activism not also slip through the backdoor that reification of patriachal values of power and politics; rupture, performance and power over not power to?”

I’m not really sure why spontaneity would be patriarchal. I also don’t postulate spontaneity as an anecdote to contemporary activism. I think it would be a good way of breaking out of the activist role though.

“What might it look like to develop a critique in solidarity? what might it look like not to speak as the knowing subject but rather as a subject seeking openess to others and ways of thinking through together the so important links that are needed to be made between activist communities and working class communities? What might it mean to reflect upon our own complicity and to find the cracks in that as a way of seeing not merely complicity in activist communities but creativity and in this way opening up the possibilities of hybrid ways of being, seeing, making, loving social and political change?”

Perhaps I should explain where my critique is coming from. It comes from countless conversations with people who have felt alienated and excluded from the activist scene through the elitist and inward looking attitudes I have described. It is in solidarity with those people, not the included activist heroes and academics. It is precisely through “seeking openness” that I criticise the status quo.

What might it mean for elite academics to stop patronising the people they see as their intellectual inferiors and get on and do something useful with their lives? What possibilities for practical solidarity and new ways of seeing might that open up?

Andy:
“I’ve become involved in the activist scene as neurodiverse, and I have not found the closure suggested here, in terms of ‘lack of diversity and acceptance’.”

Perhaps you would have if your difference was one of ethnicity or class.

“There are certainly problems in this regard, but far less than in ‘straight’ society.”

Again, I think it depends on the particular prejudice.

“For instance there’s a range of distinct subcultural ‘scenes’ overlapping with activism – hippy/New Age, punk, Goth and so on. Some activists are vegans, some aren’t. Some are pacifist, some are militant. The ability to work together in spite of these big differences is proof of a certain openness to difference.”

The subcultures you list are not, ultimately, that different from one another, when compared to the wide range of cultural practices found in society at large. The propensity of activists to form sectarian cliques around veganism, militancy and pacifism should be an indicator that the ability to work together is not universal. Certainly norms of lifestyle arise and find niches for themselves within particular flavours of activism.

“An “expert” in the critical sense has knowledge which is jealously guarded against outsiders. I don’t think activists jealously guard their local knowledges. We could and should be more proactive in forming wider connections, but most of the activist knowledges are only a web search or a skillshare away.”

I agree with you. However, I think I was referring more to the attitude held by certain activists that they know the right way to live and those who disagree are somehow less radical, or less enlightened than them. Those who refuse to join in with any struggle unless their ethics align 100% with that movement which of course never happens and gives them the perfect excuse to not do anything. I’m exaggerating a little here, but I think there’s a tendency towards this purist mindset in most activist scenes.

“I’m not sure it’s useful today to think in terms of a rebellion of the overwhelming majority; it’s more useful to think about little bits falling off the edifice until the whole thing collapses.”

I’m sorry – that’s my clumsy use of words. I kept wanting to use a term for significant and meaningful change (on any level) and only coming up with revolution or social change which don’t really fit what I’m after. But certainly I don’t think that the current tiny and insignificant number of activists can achieve very much and there needs to be a bigger movement.

“There’s nothing wrong with dropping out – why should one want to be part of the mainstream? Especially today, as the mainstream is becoming increasingly exclusionary and closing down marginal niches inside itself.”

Of course. But let’s not fetishise that process as a prerequisite for being informed and effective.

“I also think there’s an implicit privileging here of a certain sense of who the unmarked, unspecified, non-vanguard ‘mass’ are. There are plenty of instances of activists working closely with refugees, with groups threatened by racists, with youth subcultures and so on, but it’s inclined to happen margin to margin rather than margin to mass.”
In my experience it usually happens as privileged, included activists looking down with suspicion or being patronising to excluded groups. Just the other day I was in a meeting with so-called anti-racist activists who only wanted to find other white activists to rally with rather than youth of colour whose agenda they were suspicious of. This is a common experience for me. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have found a more enlightened group of activists than me.

“The danger here is inverse snobbery – valorising the masses simply because they are masses.”

If I used the term masses it was inaccurate. What I really wanted was a term for people who are different to the vast majority of activists who, despite their stated values, seem to only want to hang out with and value other people just like them.

“The difficulty however, is responding to a context where others are not open to who we are (as particular people or as micro-communities).”

That is the perspective I am writing from – someone who feels excluded from the activist milieu because of who I am. The activist milieu is not open to difference.

“I also think the orientation of activism to personalised ethics, including changes in everyday life, is absolutely necessary.”

Yes. But it shouldn’t be a precondition to joining a particular group. People need the opportunity to make those changes for themselves, not simply adopt them in order to join the gang. We need to be aware that there are some people who care about animals but still eat meat, however contradictory that might seem. That there are people who care about workers rights and still like wearing sweatshop clothing, etc. To cast them out as not radical enough is stupid and counterproductive.

Alex:
“While perhaps not as seasoned as you, I am afraid to say that there is a definite activist lifestyle, even if this is circumscribed to only the UK geographically for the sake of argument. I’ll agree that such communities are significantly, even vastly more accepting than mainstream society, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a lifestyle attached to them.”

Again, I’d say this depends on the issue. I think racism and classism are as entrenched in activists as they are in the mainstream, perhaps more so because the mainsteam is actually more diverse than the activist scene.

“However, the point is none of us here have really ‘dropped out’ or are even closing in on having our hands clean – a few of us work within a university closely associated with leading arms manufacturers, and in proximity to particular statist regimes. We are all compromised, but try to do the best we can. And this is where we must start, rather than another race to the bottom not of material interests but of who can be purest, which is what one observes often in activist cultures.”

Yes – exactly.

“At least we should be talking about these things, it can only strengthen ideas and movements for change to do so.”

And that is what the point of this article was – to get people talking. I certainly didn’t expect to have used the perfect language and ironed out every issue, but I wanted to force activists to face up to the much less than perfect scene that we, however grudgingly, call our own.

Kareem:
“I should say that I have found almost everyone that I have described (and unfortunately generalised about) here remarkable and admirable, and offer these comments in the constructive spirit of this discussion.”

Thanks Kareem. I would add that that is also how I view activists but I am frequently deeply frustrated by particular blindspots such as those you mention. I feel like discussion of these problems needs to be had throughout the milieu as a first step towards addressing the exclusion that results from them.

Sara
Oct 7, 2010 21:22

Alex
‘But to accuse commentary that actually seems to chime with the reality of the situation of somehow being oppressive strikes me as an exaggeration of what is occurring, and, rather paradoxically, is itself an attempt to silence voices, since it claims that no possible commentary could ever seemingly do justice to the complexities described. A similar move could be made for almost every political or social reality’
To clarify I don’t mean that we can’t talk about the contradictions and problematics that are exclusionary in activist communities nor that the very act of talking about this is oppressive. What I’m trying to put my finger on, and it is hard to articulate, is that there are perhaps more productive ways of engaging with these problematics than representation of dynamics in the polemical form of a written commentary
(which for me in this form reproduces many of the flaws of representational, hierchical and polemical forms of constructing political community and resistances).
Some of the potential ways that I would suggest could be more productive and in the ethos of horizontalism could be; write from the I, place the self and experiences at the heart of discussing the complicity and rupture with dominant ways of being and thinking that co-exist in activist communities. In this the politics of solidarity become clear as the writer is at the heart of the critical reflection as opposed to seemingly positioned outside of that space, those experiences and desires. Another way that I think has a lot of mileage and that I’ve worked with in different activist and community politics spaces is to begin to try and open up spaces of critical reflection and dialogue within the community. Some of the methodologies and pedagogies of popular education can be brilliant in this respect as they don’t just enable deeper collective understanding of structures of power ‘out there’ but also those in here.
So as I said in many ways I recognise and have experienced these exclusions and hierachical forms of power within activist communities but my questions and reflections are coming from a space of if we want to build autonomous communities with other ways of being, living, producing, loving and thinking that are inclusive then how are the best means of going about this.
The commentary wasn’t another polemic, although granted elements might look like this, it was rather trying to raise questions from the passionate desire for reconstruction and policisation outside of the ghetto of activism. There is a lot left to clarify I realise but it’s a start.

Sara
Oct 7, 2010 22:07

Mik
‘It starts a conversation about how to deal with our shit and stop perpetuating it. Being aware of the problems is the first step towards rectifying them.’

Hopefully some of the comments to Alex clarified that I am not saying don’t engage with contradictions and exclusions in activism in the UK. So yes I am really interested in starting and deepening already open conversations with my friends and communities I belong to and struggle with about how to engage with some of the exclusionary power dynamics within activist communities, practices and cultures. I just think that these processes need to be developed collectively from those of us who have experienced these exclusions and also are complicit in ways with these exclusions – begin from recognition individually and collectively of our contradictions.

This might be by creating other types of political community in our communities when faced with school closures, police brutality against our youth, sell offs of our homes which start from different places. It might also be opening up spaces which make explicit these power relationships and exclusions within the activist community as it currently exists in the UK and in Nottingham; projects and practices that are already happening.

This is why I think that perhaps the representational polemic way of engaging with these problematics can be counter-productive. You tell a child it’s bad and that it should stop what it’s doing and they tell you ( or at least think) piss off and carry on doing whatever it is you said to stop and demonised even more. So I am talking about orientations and the ways in which we can open up spaces to think through and beyond these dynamics.

Representational polemic ( and hey you use enough academic and theoretical jargon) disarms and is disempowering; it speaks over, speaks at as opposed to engaging with and opening up a conversation, a dialogue in which all parties are vulnerable and put themselves on the line, and learn to trust each other to be able to begin to deal with the difficult complicities and contradictions in many of our political actions and relationships amongst ourselves and the wider community.

‘Perhaps I should explain where my critique is coming from. It comes from countless conversations with people who have felt alienated and excluded from the activist scene through the elitist and inward looking attitudes I have described’.

I’d have like to have heard more of where this critique comes from in terms of your emotions, experiences, relationships and political desires. That for me would have shifted it perhaps from what could easily appear an attack as opposed to a critique in solidarity and an attack in its form and tone which does silence that complexity as it separates you in any meaningful way from what you criticise and doesn’t present those contradictions. Perhaps even reflections from activists about these problematics would be productive and raise questions and ways forward. This already happens both informally and in more formal groups and is opening up spaces to be able to challenge some of these gendered, raced and classed hierarchies in the spaces that we work politically.

‘What might it mean for elite academics to stop patronising the people they see as their intellectual inferiors and get on and do something useful with their lives? What possibilities for practical solidarity and new ways of seeing might that open up?’

Patriarchy seeks to produce power over others, invisibilises the histories, experiences, struggles, pain and reality of those that problematise patriarchal ways of being, thinking, writing and engaging with others. Radical feminist anti-capitalist practice seeks to recognise others, listen, ask questions not make assumptions, not erase other voices and nor claim to speak from a higher (moral or political) ground. So fuck hierarchies wherever they might occur.

I’d really like to hear more of your voice and I hope that you can start listening to mine.

Alex
Oct 7, 2010 23:46

“Some of the potential ways that I would suggest could be more productive and in the ethos of horizontalism could be; write from the I, place the self and experiences at the heart of discussing the complicity and rupture with dominant ways of being and thinking that co-exist in activist communities.”

and then:

“I’d have like to have heard more of where this critique comes from in terms of your emotions, experiences, relationships and political desires. That for me would have shifted it perhaps from what could easily appear an attack as opposed to a critique in solidarity and an attack in its form and tone which does silence that complexity as it separates you in any meaningful way from what you criticise and doesn’t present those contradictions.”

I think you are mistaking issues of style and tone for issues of substance. One might be able to soft-pedal the critique presented here by talking a little more about individual experiences, and that might make the presentation of certain uncomfortable facts more easy to swallow. But would it this either communicate the issues as clearly and accurately, which are general as well as being specific, and open a discussion? Sure, I could back up plenty of my agreements with much of the argument presented here with a variety of personal anecdotes, some of which are very personal and were situations which really hurt me and made me think the whole culture was flawed, but would it add anything? Would it engineer solutions and experiments which could be tried? The problems would be the same by using this form of dialogues, I would have just fleshed them out a little more and we would be still having the same discussion. Rather than looking at the way this argument is presented, maybe we could start talking about the substance of them and what might be done. Seriously, how do activists get people from different backgrounds involved? I hear many many activists saying this is a problem and needs to be addressed, but I never hear any actual suggestions. Throw something out there! How is it possible? What can be done?

It feels difficult for this to feel like an attack when everyone here is on board with certain defaults and respects and I think Mik has made clear his personal commitment to radical politics. I think one can have a comradely discussion about this sort of stuff even on this medium.

“In this the politics of solidarity become clear as the writer is at the heart of the critical reflection as opposed to seemingly positioned outside of that space, those experiences and desires. Another way that I think has a lot of mileage and that I’ve worked with in different activist and community politics spaces is to begin to try and open up spaces of critical reflection and dialogue within the community.”

But Mik is committed to social change, as am I and as is everyone else commenting, and those who have made similar arguments elsewhere. We are intimately within the space, within that wider community, regardless if we are writing on the internet or being in a meeting. I don’t see why rational and critical reflection is not as important as other also important, no, vital techniques with regard to story telling and so on. Particularly on this medium. I hope I’ve expressed this well enough, I don’t want to seem a dick, I just think one should be addressing what is raised rather than how it is raised.

Andy
Oct 8, 2010 0:50

There are problems with persistent hierarchies in activism – I would say especially, that there are a few unreconstructed alpha-males around, activist men don’t always appreciate gender issues, and the level of critical literacy is lower than it needs to be for effective regular intercultural communication – but in general, all the right orientations are there, everyone is in principle anti-racist and anti-sexist, so the basis is there to deepen such dynamics. On the other hand, what worries me about Mik’s position, and some of the responses, is that people seem to be objecting that a large number of activists adopt certain forms of social action or ‘lifestyle choices’ which are different from those of the majority (or of other minorities), and as a result, are ‘alienating’ people or failing to be inclusive or are somehow discriminating against those who don’t happen to do these things, simply by doing these things (or by doing them in groups). This worries me for two reasons: it sounds like a backdoor demand for conformity to majority culture (or some specific culture), and hence rather intolerant; and it resonates for me with Stalinist/Maoist “to-the-people” tropes, where ‘revolutionaries’ are urged to throw away their own desires and personality and fuse into the mass by being just like everyone else. I feel very strongly that if someone wants to wear nothing but purple ninja costumes and say prayers to a lightbulb, as long as they aren’t proactively harming anyone, nobody should complain or discriminate against them. And therefore, I’m worried that the accusation “vegans/punks/hippies are excluding us” is actually a sideways way of saying “vegans/punks/hippies shouldn’t exist” (we should all be like the majority) – i.e. the excluder accusing the excluded of excluding. I’ve heard the same kind of arguments that Muslims for example are insular or exclusionary or hostile because some of them dress differently or want respect for particular customs, that Muslims (not white racists) are the ones being intolerant whenever a cultural recognition issue arises, which is most definitely a sideways way of being racist about Muslims.

I think there is often a misunderstanding of how difference is articulated in activist networks. Firstly, I think that when activism is doing what it should be doing, it shouldn’t have concentrated informal, concentrated formal, or diffuse formal sanctions in operation – these kinds of power operate against horizontalism. This still leaves the question of how diffuse informal sanctions operate, as this then becomes the residual means through which whatever boundaries exist are constructed. The preference for diffuse informal sanctions is an attempt to minimise power over others, and hence the abuse of power; it is still possible that power can be misused, but the impact of its misuse is minimised compared to the other types. Hence as well as the need for this selection, there is also a need for critical literacy, and an orientation to tolerance and enablement of difference (of course these orientations can themselves only be encouraged through diffuse informal sanctions).

On the other hand, it is impossible, in the context of a horizontal movement, to force people to associated. People tend to associate with others with whom they feel particular affinity, and this leads to the affinity-group as the base-unit of social action (though I’d expect that most people have affinities cross-cutting various groups). The model of affinity-groups is much misunderstood, it doesn’t mean that everyone automatically belongs everywhere, as people are all different and have particular orientations. It means people form small groups with others on the basis of very dense resonances and affinities (often meaning a shared ‘lifestyle’ or a very specific ethico-political orientation), but also that the entire network remains open, and does not impose the path of a particular affinity-group, but rather seeks a kind of coexistence sufficient for certain kinds of mutual aid and networked action. The context should be inclusive, space should be made for people who don’t fit in existing groups, and there should be as much dialogue as possible between groups, but thinking in terms of a single entity (the scene imagined as a party-substitute) with inclusive or exclusive rules is probably a misguided sense of how networks (as opposed to hierarchies) operate – it is mixing up the scene as a whole with particular affinity-groups. Perhaps we need to think of inclusion more in terms of small nodes which are densely networked and have strong personal connections, and a broader movement which should aspire to articulate the nodes horizontally and create an enabling space for them all.

If people are going to feel ‘excluded’ or ‘alienated’ every time another group of people live a way that is different from their own, it strikes me that there’s no way they’re going to avoid feeling ‘excluded’ and ‘alienated’ except by everyone else being forced to live according to whatever particular cultural model they feel included by, which usually means – lives the same way they do. If people feel existing activism does not resonate with their particular ethnic or class culture, maybe instead of complaining about others living their own way (which after all, isn’t doing you any harm and very often is also socially taboo or dissident), these people should form their own affinity-groups with people who share their culture, and network these affinity-groups into the network. Actually I daresay many of these people already do this, hence why for instance there’s always an Asian youth contingent on anti-EDL demos, but maybe the articulation of the network is being undermined by the assumption that the nodes must share your lifestyle. I think the basic way of ‘doing’ activism is right, but failures are happening at one of several levels. Either people who could be forming nodes are failing to do so because they confuse the network with an organisation and feel excluded by the lack of an existing node to their particular taste; or the ‘wrong’ kinds of sanctions (probably concentrated informal sanctions) are sneaking into the network through the backdoor; or the orientation to critical literacy and tolerance/enablement is insufficiently expanded. I suspect all three may be happening, that the first and third are playing off one another in a vicious circle, and that the second is operating to conceal the others – but this is just a guess.

Alex, my point is not that activists don’t have lifestyles, but that there is not an activist lifestyle in the singular. There are a wide range of activist lifestyles each with its own micro-scene or groups (I think there’s at least half a dozen different nodes in Nottingham with a different subcultural emphasis). But people often move in several of these circles, there are powerful ‘weak links’ across them, and in spite of the conflicts (and there are very significant animosities), people do manage to work together across them (not always, but a lot of the time).

Kareem, point taken – other people have said similar things to me, and I’ve never quite been able to pin down why people feel judged or excluded. I suspect it may come from a translation problem between contexts, rather than any desire to exclude.

Actually the terminology here (activists = white and middle-class) is misleading, because people involved in refugee campaigns, Palestine solidarity, anti-war and anti-fascism should be considered ‘activists’, and all these campaigns are strongly multiracial – I’d be interested to know how the tensions play out in these cases (e.g. the university occupation) – why do black, Asian, or majority-world people not feel excluded from these campaigns? Or do they feel excluded, but get involved anyway? Does it make a difference if members of particular groups are involved in organising a particular action, or if there’s more than a certain percentage of participants from a particular group, or if they’re organised autonomously as people from a particular background?

I can see why you’d think that activists “fetishise a reconstructed idea of poverty and self-exclusion”, there is certainly a choice of exclusion which is very different from being forcibly excluded (though is sometimes a retrospective revaluation of it). However, a lot of the people I know in activism are genuinely rather poor, some of them extremely poor. This does include some with rich parents (who might, however, have disowned them, or be very reluctant to support them financially), but there’s also a number of people from poor backgrounds, a lot who are borderline-unemployable because of psychological problems, and more than you’d expect who come from ethnic minorities of one variety or another. Whatever their origins, I’d say their current class position is nearly always that of ‘freeters’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeter ), and hence arise from a very specific class/exclusion phenomenon which is more about marginality than privilege (even if survival strategies within this stratum seek to leverage privilege). So we really need rid of these unhelpful stereotypes. Also, it’s unfair in this day and age to say that activism carries ‘no real risks’, given the prevalence of crap arrests and corresponding mistreatment, the danger of long jail terms for minor (or invented) deviance, and the pervasive surveillance and recording which put people at risk in the future. Even looking a bit different carries risks of being denied jobs, thrown off benefits, or given extra attention by the horde of uniformed goons on the streets.

The global South is in a different conjuncture in many ways (and is also immensely diverse and complex), but I’d frame the relationship to consumerism rather differently: I think the fantasy of consumerism is seductive when it is absent, but dissipates rapidly when realised. There are large anarcho-punk ‘lifestyle’ scenes in parts of Southeast Asia nowadays, and they appeared precisely when people realised that getting rich didn’t solve all the problems… There are also entire indigenous societies in the global South – and close to us, most notably the Roma (though I’m also thinking of a number of Andean, Amazonian and Arctic groups) – who systematically refuse crucial aspects of the dominant system, to the point of living much more marginally than they would have done otherwise, and sometimes suffering much lower life expectancies and so on. These groups also tend to articulate their resistance in terms of lifestyle and culture, and fear the loss of culture far more than other effects of incorporation – if they had a critique of the activist scene it would probably be for too little lifestylism! Although I suppose nobody would try to argue that these groups are also culturally inclusive. Another big thing they have, which the activist scene doesn’t come close to having, is kinship continuity – perhaps worth thinking about, I wonder if this is actually one of the Achilles’ heels at the moment, that the movement does not sustain family life well enough and as a result loses intergenerational reproduction.

Sara, I think you’re completely right, that in these kinds of settings it is important to try to create a space for dialogue. There isn’t going to be a dialogue if people straw-man each other’s positions and try to dismiss something which is actually quite diverse on the basis of its worst traits.

Ultimately, if we’re seeking to overcome capitalism and patriarchy and oppressive relations of various kinds, we need to find ways to built, create, ‘socially weave’ an autonomous space from ‘lines of flight’, from tendencies which are partially challenging these kinds of relations already, but might not be completely there. Those of us criticising are not completely there either though, or at least we can’t be sure we are, there might always be other silencings we haven’t recognised yet (and there always might be I suspect, even in a ‘liberated’ society we still need the dimension of openness that liberation might be incomplete). Where are we going to start in constructing another world? I think it’s best to start with the people who at least have an orientation to creating another world, even if they don’t always realise it. If you’re trying to build a house, is your first response to yell at every one of the masons and carpenters that they’re not a proper builder whenever they make a mistake, even though you’re making mistakes too – so in the end the house doesn’t get built? Or is it to try to learn from each other, to figure out why the mistakes are being made and how they can be avoided in future? You would find, also, that these issues are being discussed within the activist scene, you are not the first person to have mentioned them, nor the first person to tell people to go read ‘Give Up Activism’, so conversations could be had… but aren’t going to be here, because of the adversarial tone. Which is unfortunate, because the conversations need to be had.

Mik: firstly, is that hostile tone really necessary? You don’t know everything about other people who are posting, your assumptions are therefore guesses, and you might end up hurting people needlessly, given how these kinds of labels are connected to discourses of exclusion in the wider society, and are in turn contributing to real violences (there were people tortured in the Genoa police HQ because someone thought they were pointless middle-class activists). We’re all vulnerable to these discourses, no doubt you also seem a pointless middle-class activist and/or loony-left twit to Daily Mail readers or whoever doesn’t like your politics, but it really isn’t helpful to get into these slanging matches amongst ourselves if we’re trying to have a constructive discussion.

“What might it mean for elite academics to stop patronising the people they see as their intellectual inferiors and get on and do something useful with their lives?”

Round us up and send us to work in the countryside like Mao did, perhaps?

Oh, don’t worry. I think the Tories are going to do the job for you, and sack us all, thus forcing us to do something ‘useful’, or in their terms, to ‘contribute to the economy’. Perhaps you should be welcoming the cuts programme after all, it might make some of those dole-scrounging lifestyle activists get a job too.

“European, middle-class weapon of academic jargon”

I find academic language useful in thinking through complex issues, and I’m always open to explaining concepts if someone doesn’t understand. It’s not how I’d approach a working-class person I didn’t know in the street, but in a forum such as this, I don’t see how it’s a problem – definitions are just a Google search away. ‘Give Up Activism’ comes from a reading of Vaneigem by the way, who uses phrases like: “power is the sum of alienated and alienating mediations’, so better cross that off your to-cite list.

I wonder if you think we should all restrict our statements to the frame of some version of language you take as common. If so, that isn’t helpful. There isn’t really a common language – if you were trying to form links with groups of youths, or some working-class or minority communities, you’d also find they speak their own ‘local’ language (in terms of slang, dialect, bilingualism, patois and so on), and you’d somehow have to negotiate a way to understand them and be understood (assuming they had any interest in talking to you of course). The danger is that a certain image of proper language – whether Queen’s English or tabloid English – is taken to be truly universal when it isn’t. If you want to communicate with people who are different from you in any way however slight, you’re going to have to negotiate language and meanings.

Incidentally, in my experience, people with no academic background are quite capable of understanding critical-theoretical concepts in those cases where the concepts are both relevant to their lives and carefully explained. On the other hand, I could spend all day explaining them to Tory boys and get nowhere. Comprehension is much more about resonance than difficulty.

“it is often a result of activists being removed from everyday life.”

Activists are not ‘removed from everyday life’, if they were, they would be dead. I’m worried by your assumption that a certain subset of people have a monopoly on ‘everyday life’, it indicates a limited frame of reference. Also, you live in the global North, doesn’t that make you ‘removed from everyday life’ as experienced by the overwhelming majority in the world?

Activists are very much aware of mainstream politics – there is a lot of concern about whether squatting will be banned, about ID cards, CCTV, a whole range of civil liberties issues, as well as issues like benefit cuts which affect autonomy, and issues such as the Heathrow expansion, the fox hunting ban, road building and so on. The thing is, though, that the main parties look very similar to most activists, and when they don’t (as with the Greens), there is a strong suspicion they’ll sell-out. Also, the orientation is not to selling our souls for a few more beans, but to maintaining spaces for autonomous action and addressing pervasive oppressions. If for instance, ‘everyday life’ means caring how well the nearest fortress-like, exam-obsessed, lifestyle-regulated school is funded and not about whether the children there are being scarred for life by constant surveillance, arbitrary power, deindividuation and cut-throat competition – I want no part of its perspective!

“The subcultures you list are not, ultimately, that different from one another”

Really? Punks and hippies? Heavy drug users and straight-edgers? Catholic Worker, Quakers, militant atheists and neo-pagans? I wonder what bigger differences you can come up with.

“Those who refuse to join in with any struggle unless their ethics align 100% with that movement”

I’ve never met a single person who takes that attitude, nor have I ever found it in an activist movement text. There’s a reluctance to be involved with struggles led by political parties, and some scepticism about those led by other vertical organisations, because of an aspiration to relate to others horizontally and not to be used by elites as a stepping-stone into power. This doesn’t preclude being involved in all kinds of ‘partial’ struggles against aspects of capitalism, including solidarity with workers (see http://www.schnews.org.uk/monopresist/monopoliseresistance/index.htm for a sense of how this works).

“gives them the perfect excuse to not do anything”

Logical contradiction here? “For example, the past decades have seen activists around the western world lock themselves to various things with zeal”… so they’re locking onto things with zeal while also not doing anything?

“But it shouldn’t be a precondition to joining a particular group. People need the opportunity to make those changes for themselves, not simply adopt them in order to join the gang”

I agree, up to a point – though I wonder how segmentations between subgroups could be maintained with no such defining features at all (even informal diffuse ones) – this would make it rather difficult to have a Straight Edge squat or a vegan intentional community for example. Aside from these kinds of special cases, I’m not sure how widespread it actually is that someone would have to adopt a particular practice to have friends in the activist scene – I’ve come across plenty of co-housing arrangements with dietary differences for example. I’m not sure how you feel people are being driven out – the food at activist events is often vegan, but this doesn’t preclude non-vegans attending, and nobody’s putting a tracking device on you to see if you’re off to McDonald’s when they aren’t looking.

I wonder if this doesn’t come down to cultural unfamiliarity though. If someone’s disconcerted simply by being exposed to veganism and reminded that it exists, they would feel excluded. And if someone is a highly-assertive alpha-male meat-eater who objects on principle to veganism and makes a point of picking fights about it, he could expect a fair few lively discussions about factory farming and the like.

“I think racism and classism are as entrenched in activists as they are in the mainstream,”

Really? The people involved in refugee support and anti-EDL protests are as racist as the 95% of people who think the 600 billion illegal immigrants need to be deported to the gas chambers? (I exaggerate but you get my point…)
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article614362.ece

bw
Andy

Why I hate activism | Cautiously pessimistic
Oct 8, 2010 13:18

[…] Interesting piece. Definitely worth a look. This entry was posted in activism. Bookmark the permalink. ← Party like it’s 1999 – Why I’m not going to the “CPC Convergence”. […]

Alex
Oct 8, 2010 13:41

I think the people responding to the article in the negative are trapped on the horns of a kind of performance contradiction, which is quite difficult for me to tease out. The instant reaction to a critique is to say you aren’t part of the circle talking about this kind of stuff (don’t you know critiques like this are already going on?) and should address critiques within in it and that you should use a different way of speaking in order to make your points. But at the same time, people are doing so in the name of diversity and so forth are saying a) people are excluded from the circle so can’t speak and b) you can only speak if you speak in a particular way.

“On the other hand, what worries me about Mik’s position, and some of the responses, is that people seem to be objecting that a large number of activists adopt certain forms of social action or ‘lifestyle choices’ which are different from those of the majority (or of other minorities), and as a result, are ‘alienating’ people or failing to be inclusive or are somehow discriminating against those who don’t happen to do these things, simply by doing these things (or by doing them in groups). This worries me for two reasons: it sounds like a backdoor demand for conformity to majority culture (or some specific culture), and hence rather intolerant; and it resonates for me with Stalinist/Maoist “to-the-people” tropes, where ‘revolutionaries’ are urged to throw away their own desires and personality and fuse into the mass by being just like everyone else.”

The point is entirely the opposite. I personally don’t give a damn how people dress, what music they listen to and what spiritual and sexual practices they are involved with if they are on board with radical politics, the problem isn’t the life-style they lead in this manner and I would want to leave it well alone. The problem is this is not the approach that many feel actually existing activists take, where there are dominant social codes and signals, style of dress and so on, which would be absolutely fine if they adopted the attitude I and you try to take (these are issues of minor aesthetics not of substance), if there was a not a snobbishness directed to those who choose not to adopt these social codes even though they are on board with many substantial issues. The entire point that Mik is making is the problem with activist groups is that they requires one to precisely to conform to “some specific culture”. And this is the problem, what you detect as the problem with the article is the problem Mik is trying to identity in general. The thing is even the kind of practices in activism seem to tend towards what might be called a logic of identity. In affinity groups you don’t do actions with others, who you might either have to simply rub along with while disagreeing or accept substantial differences with, but you work with people who significantly agree with you! Equally in consensus, if you don’t come to agreement a whole group, all of which are defined by their disagreement with the issue at hand are welcome and encouraged to split with the group! So all the people remaining in the group will be of one mind rather than trying to persuade others, or the minority group accepting the decision in the good of the collective as a whole – better to destroy the collective under lines which look a lot like exclusion.

Now, I want to move this to something more concrete, because the discussion remains stuck at ‘meta’. Watch this video from Climate Camp – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex8365dPciI – what do we do about the points that this guy raises, which chime with the issues raised in this piece – that he felt excluded, linguistically and so on. People responding to the article admit it sometimes has a point, if so where? And how do we sort it?

Alex
Oct 8, 2010 13:43

PS Importantly, he felt unwelcome and that people suspected he was a cop. And so on.

Mik
Oct 8, 2010 14:39

It is a shame that people seem to have felt personally attacked by what I’ve written. My intention was never to make people who *do* care about eradicating the scene of this shit feel under fire. If my tone is antagonistic it is because I am very angry about these things and especially angry when I feel like people are trying to shut me out by using (to me) incomprehensible theory to defend what looks like inaction. When I turned around Sara’s phrasing by substituting my concerns for hers I was trying to illustrate how her own language appeared to me: Rather than being open and showing solidarity, a silencing and pacifying tactic. I certainly felt that her post was an attempt to exert her authority as someone who knew better (ironically, given its content).

But I probably haven’t been self-critical enough. I was deliberately provocative and probably quite sloppy in my original piece in not being specific enough about what exactly I was pissed off with. I have to take responsibility for what I write. I stand by much of what I said and I continue to hope that people take the criticisms seriously and that we can work together to make activism something that actually does live up to the lofty claims it makes. These problems are real for many people as indicated by the positive responses to this article. I will be the first to admit that this article is not the best articulation of them but take it in the spirit it was intended – a challenge to all of us who claim to be activists to live up to our ideals and to constantly reflect on and challenge the milieu in which we find ourselves.

It is precisely because people like myself and others feel that we have no forum to express these views that articles like this get written. We cannot raise issues of exclusion in activist circles because people don’t want to talk about it. They are so used to having the moral high ground that they are unprepared for being called out. Any challenge is met with uneasy silence (hoping that the topic will soon change to something else) or being told that it’s really much more complex than that (i.e. we don’t really understand the bigger picture which is that nothing needs to change thank you very much). Perhaps this context might explain my anger at some of the responses this article has received.

I will answer more specifically to the new points raised when I have time. For now I just wanted to pick up on Andy’s discussion of affinity. The example of groups of Asian youths on anti-EDL demos is actually a perfect illustration of my criticisms of activism. In my experience these groups don’t consider themselves to be activists and there is very little communication between them and the predominantly white anti-fascists although there obviously *should* be considerable affinity around the issue. I suspect that a lot of this is due to the mainstream activist movement’s inadequacies when it comes to adopting a genuine anti-racist position. Yes there are affinity groups and networks but I’m talking about who is and who isn’t part of the network. Why does the culture of some affinity groups come to dominate the network rather than it being a reflection of the network’s diversity? Why does that culture often come to look much like the dominant culture with a few lifestyle changes bolted on?

Looking forward to working with you all 🙂

Andy
Oct 8, 2010 21:22

Alex:
“The problem is this is not the approach that many feel actually existing activists take, where there are dominant social codes and signals, style of dress and so on, which would be absolutely fine if they adopted the attitude I and you try to take (these are issues of minor aesthetics not of substance), if there was a not a snobbishness directed to those who choose not to adopt these social codes even though they are on board with many substantial issues.”

I’ve always found this kind of discussion rather anomalous, mainly for the reason that I’ve never felt excluded in this way, and by the hypothesis of the critics, I should do, because I don’t adopt any of the lifestyle traits of the scene. On the other hand, I do feel very systematically excluded from many public spaces and mainstream social networks (and ‘old left’ kinds of spaces), in ways I can put my finger on exactly: overt hostility to my specific claims or to my way of speaking, spatial closure and intimidation with implied judgement of difference as risk, being unable to speak in group settings, overt animosity and so on. Now, it’s quite possible that there are more subtle forms of sanctions at work which I’m not picking up, but if so, I’m interested to know what they are. It’s also possible as Mik argues they’re making allowances for me because I’m not a class or racial other, though this is completely the opposite of the explicit discourse on these matters, and I haven’t seen anyone else treated differently (I’ve heard about some awful situations, which seem to come down to personal animosities but with a difference/exclusion component, and very often involve the small minority of alpha-males I mentioned before). I think it might, however, relate to how one relates to being different from others – that maybe I resonate with the way difference is articulated in activist networks in ways that others don’t. I’m always in a minority wherever I go, so I don’t react to being different from the rest of the group. Also I’m quite assertive about my difference and what particular needs I have, and will proactively explain why I can’t do things which I might otherwise do, which I think makes it easier for others to make allowances than if one simply assumes others will figure out the effects of a particular situation.

It worries me a bit that the ‘exclusion’ effect might actually be the jolt of cultural difference: a white tourist arrives in Africa and is shocked to be the only white face in the crowd; a Mail reader walks down a high street in a mainly Asian community, notices all the unfamiliar products in the shops, and thinks “this isn’t my country anymore”… they aren’t really being excluded (though they probably think they are), they’re being unconsciously racist, and unhappy at being in a minority – but they project this onto the other, inferring the other’s desire to exclude from their own discomfort. If this is happening in activist communities on direct class or ethnic grounds (someone’s uncomfortable at being the only black person or working-class person in the room), it’s pretty much self-reinforcing – if they don’t come back, the next black or working-class person will also be the only one in the room, no matter how inclusive activists’ practices are; if it’s happening by way of lifestyle (being the only non-subculturally-dressed person in the room), then it is equally unavoidable unless people take the stance of altering their lifestyle simply to look more like others, so they would feel more at home – which is why I had the suspicion the underlying accusation was that people shouldn’t manifest these kinds of differences (there is a real history of this btw: left sects ordering their members to fake working-class accents, to get jobs in certain target sectors, to dress a certain way, to give up being vegetarian and so on).

Another possibility: what might be happening more concretely, is a kind of insensitivity to people’s particular needs, which comes from three sources I think: the strong emphasis on action, the ‘hyperactive’ cycle of activist organising, and the force of habit (especially in established groups). This insensitivity leads to doing things which can be exclusionary – for example, there’s a tendency to call meetings or events at a few days’ notice, at times which might be convenient for the people who send out the call, but without considering whether it’s accessible for people with daytime jobs, whether childcare can be arranged at such short notice and so on; it might not be advertised properly, or only by certain means (e.g. only by email, only at one social centre), and people who don’t hear about it and find out later wonder if it’s because they’re not in a certain social circle or because they’ve been singled out for exclusion from the information cycle. (It also has the non-discriminatory but very frustrating effect of low attendance, and a degree of unpredictability of turnout and persistence which makes it very hard to rely on activist organising – which in turn, probably impedes the extent to which people will take risks in confidence that the movement will support them; it also makes it difficult to exercise power in conflict, because the adversary can simply wait for the movement to fizzle). Personally I think the movement/scene would be better trying to organise fewer things, but more thoroughly, and that we could learn a lot from the practices of prolonged consultations and deliberation which are common in Southern social movements. But I can see how this is difficult to do because there’s very few activists and a lot of problems.

Alex, you also seem to dislike the affinity-group and consensus models. These approaches exist for a reason: to avoid the concentration of power by some groups over others. The effect is to keep the network inclusive even if the nodes become very specific. The alternatives seem to be rather limited: either everyone joins a mass organisation, which then has power over all the members, and some kind of hierarchy necessarily emerges; or the group uses something like democratic centralism, there’s free debate and then a vote, but after the vote everyone toes the line – which creates a de facto divide between majority and minority factions, and the minority are likely to get irritated and split anyway (not to mention the logic of self-sacrifice for the abstract collective has been introduced). Point taken, the affinity model doesn’t in and of itself encourage dialogue. Consensus is meant to, but it takes time to do it properly. And ultimately, there is no abstract unity of the community of those who happen to be discussing an issue, guaranteeing that they would be able to reach an agreement even after prolonged discussion. Ultimately both consensus and affinity operate to ward off concentrated power, and hence ensure far greater articulation of difference than the alternatives. There’s also a need for dialogue, but I’m not so sure as political group-formation is the best context for it. There also has to be a context for dialogue, meaning a safe space and an other who will listen. This is why activists tend to disconnect from conformists: it’s a gesture of being-for-themselves rather than being for the gaze of the other. It stems from the fact that the dominant other does not currently accept radical difference to a sufficient extent for the conditions for dialogue to be met. It is possible to argue that all of one’s activity should nevertheless be directed towards pedagogy, propaganda and persuasion directed at the majority, for strategic or moral reasons (effectiveness, democracy). The danger is that minorities become focused on the unmarked/majority term to such a degree that their singularity is reduced to ‘relative’ difference. The minority loses its own voice by becoming simply a critical conscience of the mainstream (as in Critchley). I think there are ways to increase the quality of dialogue in spite of this, for instance through critical literacy initiatives such as OSDE. The main difficulty I’ve found is a lack of interest in such initiatives. Whether this is a side-effect of the ‘low turnout’ problem, a failure to understand their value, or a more sinister rejection of dialogue is pretty much unknowable – my suspicion is mainly the first.

Alex again: your video link: well, his initial reaction seems to be prejudice, there are too many posh people and they ‘seem’ (on what evidence?) to just be playing games inbetween university classes. Now, short of people who might seem ‘posh’ to him (probably anyone from the Home Counties) staying away from protests – in other words, replacing one homogeneity with another) – this seems unavoidable – the only way it would be rectified would be if more working-class people were involved, but if the reason they aren’t is ‘too many posh people’, it’s a vicious circle. Notice also that he later realised that his presuppositions were wrong, that the people there were ‘passionate’ and active all year round not only for the one event, and his attitude changed. He said he felt excluded but again didn’t say why (except that they were different) – I think this is a clear case of the ‘white tourist in Africa’ problem. The one concrete example was that he was suspected at some point of being an undercover cop. Do we know why? This is usually triggered by lack of security culture or by asking suspicious questions. It’s unfortunate if people make these accusations too readily, but at the same time, it’s not exactly an everyday occurrence, and infiltration is a serious risk. This one point aside, the lesson from this is that he felt excluded because he came with presuppositions he later realised were false, and he felt excluded simply because others there were not like him. Neither of which really points to a significant problem with activism.

He also makes various other points which I think are rather poorly informed – not really his fault, since the interviewer has interpellated him as native informant for the exotic working-class other, and a great many of these opinions are extracted by the interviewer. He doesn’t relate so much to the bigger concepts involved, and thinks people might be showing-off – that’s another stereotype I think, maybe he hasn’t picked up the distinctiveness of the referents, and the limits of everyday language. “Talk normally”… meaning, talk like him… well, everyone could say the same, it doesn’t actually make dumbed-down language ‘inclusive’, let alone conceptually adequate, and it doesn’t get over the problem that what’s “normally” for him might stand out to others – including working-class people in other areas. (Let’s remember here that working-class people also constantly create their own dialects and slang terms, which are far more impenetrable to outsiders). Don’t do anything that the mainstream might be offended by… well, we all know where that leads. This guy was obviously being led onto these topics by the interviewer (it was she, not he, who made his gaze the centre of attention), but ultimately, people need to realise that these kinds of protests are not being performed for their gaze, protesters are not seeking the approval of newswatchers in opinion polls, and the legitimacy of what is done is not at all a matter of whether the news-viewing equivalent of the Big Brother vote like it. This is not a popularity contest.

Another problem here is that, while working-class people with little experience of activism may be hostile to images of ‘violence’ on the TV, they are also most likely the first to get angry when subjected to police mistreatment on a protest (remember Steve’s first impulse was to take the opportunity to punch a cop). There’s structural reasons for this double-standard (it comes from the media’s misrepresentation of the causes of ‘violence’ on protests), but it does serve to make such people very hard to please (they’re ‘excluded’ if there’s ‘violence’, but they’re ‘excluded’ if there isn’t).

He was most impressed by personal experiences – hard to tell if this is personal to him or an effect of working-class perspectives, which stereotypically are focused on the concrete and humanly relatable. The danger is that playing to these assumed dispositions can seem manipulative, and certainly is open to manipulation (have a look at Hoggart’s “Uses of Literacy”). He thinks most people don’t know enough about these issues – indeed, but hardly from a lack of effort by activists (not to mention leftist paper-sellers) – there’s an entire structural effect here, that the media insulates people on the inside from awareness of the wider world, and breaking down the systematic barrier, when it’s reinforced in the news several times a day and among peer groups and families, is often like banging your head on a wall. And he is very naïve thinking mass protest will change anything – remember the Iraq war?

Mik:
“especially angry when I feel like people are trying to shut me out by using (to me) incomprehensible theory”
You need to realise that this is very rarely why people use what sound to you like theoretical concepts. Perhaps the lesson here is that what is incomprehensible and what is normal speech varies between people and contexts. Some other people would no doubt find “fetishisation”, “subculture”, “counter-revolutionary ideology” to be theoretical and incomprehensible. On the other hand, some people use working-class slang, aphorisms, cultural references and jokes to make others feel excluded (I’ve seen it, and been on the receiving end of it – and of course it also affects other excluded minorities, ethnic minorities for instance, or even working-class people from the next city over). I disapprove of it being used in this way, but I have nothing against people having slang and so on, and I don’t complain of being excluded whenever other people use slang; similarly, I disapprove of theory being used deliberately in this way, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use theory. Ultimately we need to accept that we all speak slightly different languages, that dialogue is always translation, and that there is not – and should not be – any unmarked ‘normal’ language to which the others should be subordinated.

Also worth thinking about: if we’re developing a cross-subcultural speech-code, this speech-code is going to need to be independent from assumed referents (since these are not shared across groups), which means it’s going to have to be an ‘elaborated’ rather than a ‘restricted’ speech code (see Bernstein), and therefore more similar to middle-class than working-class speech – even if the sole purpose is to communicate between working-class groups with different assumed referents (and greater elaboration of expression would seem to be one of the effects of Freirean critical approaches). I think the differences in language have systemic underpinnings – middle-class people need elaborated speech to remain cosmopolitan and mobile, whereas the system wants working-class people to stay in one place. On the other hand, working-class language-use might be more open to situated knowledge, and is certainly the medium through which tacit knowledge is most often transmitted. The trick, however, is remaining conscious of situatedness, and not just naturalising it as how ‘normal people’ speak/think – and this is where elaboration is needed.

“Why does that culture often come to look much like the dominant culture with a few lifestyle changes bolted on?”

That I think is rather unfair – being constantly involved in direct action and not having a full-time job (two of the characteristics listed in the original article) are not exactly small lifestyle changes. It’s also problematic to be criticising both for being too distinct and separated from other people, being ‘outside everyday life’ as you said before, and for reproducing the dominant culture – surely it’s one or the other?

These things become quite complex, because cultural insides and outsides are also very blurry. One of the more continuous traits would be the role of drinking in some activist subcultures (again remembering this is some, not all). While problematic in terms of connections to Muslims, this is also in strong continuity with working-class (and not middle-class) culture. So what is this? A trait of dominant culture which is problematically exclusionary? A trait of dissident working-class culture which is maintained by activists in the face of its corrosion through massification? Conformity to youth/student norms? Rebellion against work-centric austerity? Or simply a personal preference? It could be any or all of these, depending how it’s framed.

“Why does the culture of some affinity groups come to dominate the network rather than it being a reflection of the network’s diversity?”

Hmm, yes, that’s a big problem, if it’s happening – it would amount to a quiet return of hegemony. The question might then be: what mechanisms are needed within the network to prevent this from happening? My current thoughts for hypotheses of the problem would be: a current lack of bridging ties; limited critical literacy; too much overlap between certain affinity-groups and bridging/organising functions, lack of sufficient rotation of agency among groups; or a ‘reactive’ limitation of the network, i.e. a refusal to form bridges without a prior strong level of affinity. Possible responses: for some people, with links to different groups, to take on the task of developing bridging ties; further encouragement of critical literacy training; more conscious rotation of organising functions; a less restrictive stance on strategic alliances.

Alex
Oct 8, 2010 23:37

I’ll reply to the rest of what you said Andy in due, course, because I think a lot of it is correct. But I just wanted to pick up on: “you seem to dislike affinity-group and consensus models”. Actually, on the contrary, I am very much in favour of consensus: hell, I made this suggestion during a Trot led anti-cuts meeting only a few weeks back (a group that has its own frustrating internal culture that anarchist or autonomist is absolutely streets ahead in this regard!). I agree that consensus takes time, is sometimes tough, but is neccessary to make the collective democracy, horizontal, and bound more strongly together. I do think that affinity groups, as I understand it, are predicated on identity logic which I find troubling, but recognise that in general the small affinity group on a day of action is often tactical, and more efficient. But as you say, it doesn’t outside action encourage dialogue and in this space I object to it. I understand what you are saying about the majority gaze, but would be far more inclined than you to think the pedagogy and so on was not merely necessary but vital, particularly morally. This all said, I am aware of the limits and problems in consensus decision making and this was what I was pointing to, just as I am pointing to problems in order to strengthen the movement by agreeing with this article.

Andy
Oct 9, 2010 19:10

OK, fair enough Alex, apologies for misreading what you meant 🙂

I wonder if part of the reason consensus isn’t being reached is that things are often too rushed at present, and too focused on the next coming action? I’ve been reading Virilio recently, and he seems to think speedup is a capitalist/statist effect, which might mean that counter-power involves slowing things down a bit.

Tim
Oct 11, 2010 6:29

“This worries me for two reasons: it sounds like a backdoor demand for conformity to majority culture (or some specific culture), and hence rather intolerant; and it resonates for me with Stalinist/Maoist “to-the-people” tropes, where ‘revolutionaries’ are urged to throw away their own desires and personality and fuse into the mass by being just like everyone else. “

Amen to that.

I think in general activists are much more self-critical and reflective than your average member of society. Take this article and discussion as a good example! Maybe that’s how many activists come to reject the social norms of the mainstream in the first place. The mainstream view of ‘activists’ is that they are all anti-social, holier-than-thou, cult-like, set in their ways and just generally sinister. This kind of unjustified stigma is often perpetuated ideologically and culturally (in mainstream films this is the way that activists are often portrayed for example, see ‘children of men’) by the powers that be. I would argue that it is the false image of activism rather than the problems that exist in reality that prevents the vast majority of people from getting involved in causes and struggles. Just the word ‘activist’ is enough to make many people react with irrational cringing, “I’m never going to be like one of those naive, foolish ‘activists’”. In general, I would prefer to see people critique this ‘tarring and feathering’ of activists, and raising some questions and suggestions about what can be done about it (how can we beat the negative PR offensive), rather than echoing it.

Another issue which I believe is at play, is that activism can serve as a kind of mirror which can make non-activists take a good hard look at themselves and their lives, and they don’t always like what they see. Many people, deep down, feel downright insecure that their lives are so materialistic, apathetic and/or shallow. The ensuing psychological defence of aversion to the thing that has made the self feel so insecure, is a barrier which people create for themselves; not something tangible that exists as a structural problem in activist communities. I personally experienced this kind of feeling before; and ultimately after grappling with it for a time, felt compelled to confront it and get involved in some activism. Not everyone would react in that way. But what can you do.

I’ve been involved in various activist groups at different times and have always found the environment and culture welcoming and refreshingly open in the way that it challenges the norms and assumptions of straight society. It seems this isn’t everyone’s experience. Maybe the ease with which I could integrate into such groups is down to my white, lower middle-class background; though I believe it’s more down to the aversion I feel towards mainstream values and a desire to critique things that most people want to leave be. I personally know plenty of non-white and working class folk who have also successfully gotten involved in activist groups.

This is not to say that problems dont exist, these have already been discussed extensively here, but lets not blow things out of proportion. I really feel that the claim that domination and exclusion of diversity are as bad in activist circles as in the rest of society, is very far from the truth.

“It means accepting people who have different lifestyles and different ideas about eating meat, shopping in supermarkets and using fossil fuels to those prevalent in the subculture. There is a need to be open to and welcoming of everyone who is sick of the system of domination.”

Not too sure about this. At the risk of opening myself up to accusations of being a closed-minded puritan: Isn’t this just the case that those people who still eat meat and fly regularly usually haven’t thought about it very much? Why should vegans and environmentalists compromise on ethical values backed-up by rational and well researched arguments? Simply so meat eaters and petrol heads will feel that they can ‘enter the activist scene’ without being challenged or challenging themselves or the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to? Why compromise with something if you don’t deem it to be sane and rational/acceptable? That’s not to say vegans can’t work with people who eat meat; but if meat-eaters feel uncomfortable with their meat eating when in a majority-vegan environment, there’s probably a good reason for that and so be it. Before I met activists and got exposed to ideas like veganism and environmentalism, I was happy to eat meat and fly regularly. Not because I’d thought long and hard about it and come to my own conclusions, but rather because I hadn’t. I was in a state of blissful ignorance regarding the meat and fossil fuel issues. I went through the uncomfortable experience of challenging and changing myself, and it would be a shame if I hadn’t. No doubt there will be more changes. 🙂

Ceasefire Magazine – This week in Ceasefire
Oct 11, 2010 8:41

[…] Why I hate activism […]

Alex
Oct 11, 2010 10:51

Tim,

What a remarkable post! Let me boil down your response: the problem is people who criticise activism. They are either closet Stalinists, unreflective and morally stunted and the reasons for them criticising is their unconscious desire for conformity to mainstream culture – the reason why they criticise is this unconscious desire or the fact they can’t take a long hard long at themselves and realise they are projecting due to their myriad sins.

But then you go on to say.

“This is not to say that problems dont exist, these have already been discussed extensively here, but lets not blow things out of proportion.”

Well why did you say the huge preceding paragraph? Fine, but why acknowledge it without even giving a hint of how we might solve it? Who is blowing things out of proportion when a hint of criticism makes all those criticised morally vapid materialists sipping their Starbucks while they choke the nearest poor person?

Tim
Oct 11, 2010 14:48

A very poetic summary Alex, but you’ve totally distorted and misrepresented my meaning.

I was simply pointing out that there’s a good deal of un-called-for mud that is slung at activists. A lot of the stereotyping and vilification is totally unjustified and without basis. I stand by what I said about a false image of activism which permeates much of mainstream society and does as much to put people off of activism as anything else (just look at the way the mainstream media covers protests). I feel that the article should have acknowledged or mentioned this factor. I also felt that aspects of the article and discussion since have actually towed the line of that kind of unfair stereotyping (“Without being part of the social scene around activism, with its drinking rituals (vegan organic beer only, of course) and crusty clothing choices, the outsider can only get so involved in the movement.” Etc etc). I don’t have any personal experiences or insights to contribute, re exclusion and dissatisfaction, which was probably pretty obvious. I’m aware of the problem of white middle-class male predominance etc, which is why I stated that I believe there is some validity in what Mik is saying; but again I don’t have any additional suggestions about how these problems can be addressed, to contribute at this time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that Mik wrote that article and initiated the discussion. It certainly got me thinking. Just felt that the general tone and aspects of the criticism are unduly exadurated and serve to cast the entire multifaceted activist scene in a negative light that it hasn’t really earned. Sorry if it was too long, obviously I don’t write as succinctly as you Alex. If you would be so kind, do please forgive me this inadequacy.

Alex
Oct 11, 2010 15:27

If you think I have distorted your meaning, please allow me to quote what you actually argued.

Another issue which I believe is at play, is that activism can serve as a kind of mirror which can make non-activists take a good hard look at themselves and their lives, and they don’t always like what they see. Many people, deep down, feel downright insecure that their lives are so materialistic, apathetic and/or shallow. The ensuing psychological defence of aversion to the thing that has made the self feel so insecure, is a barrier which people create for themselves; not something tangible that exists as a structural problem in activist communities. I personally experienced this kind of feeling before; and ultimately after grappling with it for a time, felt compelled to confront it and get involved in some activism. Not everyone would react in that way. But what can you do.

I highlight the appropriate bit. I don’t think it is at all unfair to summarise that what you are saying that one of the reasons one might make a critique of activism is because the person is materialistic, apathetic and shallow and therefore through psychological defense they imagine problems within activism. Read what you have written.

I have vast quantities of time for activists and activism and defend them tirelessly against the slings and arrows of mainstream media portrayal. You have conflated the attacks on activists from the outside, external mainstream media with this piece which is in many ways a sympathetic and external critique in the name of social change, the social change that a mainstream opposes axiomatically. Such a conflation seems to me out of place. Indeed, there is little to suggest they are similar or that Mik is making this conection. Moreover, why should an article mention a media narrative when it is false and space is limited?

Alex
Oct 11, 2010 15:29

second bit should be internal critique obviously.

angus
Oct 11, 2010 16:05

yeah but this whole ‘activists are male white and middle class’ seems more and more like a male white middle class critique…. like what about all the black and working class activists around the world? is this article being purely European in it’s critique? in which case the question is: what is peculiar to the global north that stops grass roots activism? or is it simply stuck within the clique it itself is trying to distance itself from? that is, the author him/herself has not sought out other groups taking political action outside of the series student/counter-summit/ lock-ons…

It also ignores, once more, the road protest scene. It amazes me that one of the most powerful grass roots movements in europe over the last 30yrs is ignored in preference to a couple of mini middle class riots that happened at the turn of the millennium and really created nothing but broken heads and hyperbole. the road protest scene though majoratively white, was made up of every class within the country and possessed a strong feminist undercurrent. the zine quoted really says it all, ‘give up activism’ was a text almost exclusively talking to itself.

to give a parallex view. every activist, that is every person who opposes themselves both physically and mentally against exploitation and oppression places themselves not infront of some fantasised object of control, but within the very corporeal points of that oppression, be it at the nodal point of the lock on, the riot, the autonomous space; or the slow and agonising process of actually going through the system. either way and whatever the technique the result is the same: you have in some way been attacked and vilified by state, and non state oppression. trauma results from this as does a certain withdrawl. in any case a little cliqueness is to be expected….

another perspective I’ve been thinking about is that considering the shit that non-white, non-middle class people get for doing anything outside of the strict prescriptions of the state ( the Gaza demo for example) it makes sense to use middle class white people as cannon fodder.

Tim
Oct 11, 2010 16:41

In essence Mik’s article seems to argue that the activist scene is too small to bring about meaningful social change, and the reason it is small is because activists are cliquey, dominating people who have a cult-like subculture which is inaccessible to anyone not already ‘on the inside’. I argued that there are other (in my view more significant) reasons why the activist scene is small and not as diverse and inclusive as it should be/we would like it to be; not least of which being the widely perpetuated negative image which mainstream society tars every activist with. Also, yes, I believe that some people have personal psychological stumbling blocks which resonate with the negative stereotype of activists and deter them from ever getting involved. Maybe that seems like a very arrogant thing for me to suggest, probably infact. Maybe I’m just an awful human being, or maybe that’s true in some cases. Do you really believe that there are no people in the world with apathetic and materialistic personalities?

“You have conflated the attacks on activists from the outside, external mainstream media with this piece which is in many ways a sympathetic and external critique in the name of social change, the social change that a mainstream opposes axiomatically.”

As explained, I find some (not all) of the criticisms in the article and discussion uncomfortably similar to the kind of arbitrary and unjustified attacks that come from the mainstream. If you think my points simply serve to muddy the water and are irrelevant to the discussion Alex, fair enough, keep your stubborn opinion. I feel entitled to contribute my thoughts freely regardless of whether you deem them appropriate or not.

Alex
Oct 11, 2010 16:55

“I feel entitled to contribute my thoughts freely regardless of whether you deem them appropriate or not.”

Sure, but equally expect a robust response when you are claiming that the reason why they hold a particular position is because they are immoral and underlying supporters of positions they reject.

“Do you really believe that there are no people in the world with apathetic and materialistic personalities?”

Of course I don’t, it would be absurd to claim this. But I don’t think that attacking the author and those who agree with his perspective with a mixture of claiming they are immoral or pathological is at all helpful. If you want to call out a mainstream way of proceeding in argument, I can’t think of a better example. Its a pretty cheap move, something that is made all the more obvious by the fact it is easily reversible: you can’t accept the premises of this argument because you are too attached to the cultural dynamics and status quo in the activist scene it identifies and criticises. Therefore you react strongly by suspecting your opponents of some failing, moral or political. I’m not arguing this, but showing that your argument isn’t a good way of going forward.

But I don’t want to make this about discussing me versus you. You stated earlier that there was some of this article you agree with. If so what, and what can be done about it?

Tim
Oct 12, 2010 4:05

Alex:

“But I don’t think that attacking the author and those who agree with his perspective with a mixture of claiming they are immoral or pathological is at all helpful.”

This was not my intension at all! I think we’ve got some wires crossed here. Probably my fault for not making myself clear. I am sure that Mik wrote this article with the very best of intensions. But I feel some of the sweeping criticisms of activist subculture, group dynamics, radical academics, veganism, etc etc… that various people have made in this discussion are not helpful and not based in an accurate portrayal of the reality.

You made me feel quite guilty about the second point I made. But I don’t know why I should be really. I think it’s pretty true. The only thing I can really add to what I’ve already said, is to share some personal experience by way of Illustration.

When talking about activism with some of my non-activist friends, I often found that they come out with many unfair prejudices and misconceptions about the nature of activist communities. Some of them actually seemed to believe that all activist groups operate like the Judean People’s Front (or is it People’s front of Judea?) from Monty Python! When such stereotypes were rebutted, I found that they weren’t really convinced about the negative stereotypes, nor that they had a developed and rational critique of activism from which they made an informed decision not to participate. In fact often they knew very little at all and certainly had no personal experiences to draw on. The real issue is that they just don’t fancy it. It sounds too much like hard work and they might find themselves way outside of their comfort zones. To tell you that these kinds of attitudes don’t make me a little frustrated would be to avoid the truth somewhat.

So, let’s not hoodwink ourselves into believing that we just need to perfect our internal shit, and then everyone is going to start working for radical social change and the revolution is nigh. There are huge swathes of society who will never get involved in any kind of activism (in the absence of some seriously catastrophic events), regardless of how much time and effort we expend reforming ourselves, because when all is said and done, they just don’t want to. I am not against critique and reform of our internal processes, cultures and networks etc… But as stated, I don’t have any bright ideas to contribute right now, and in terms of increasing the effectiveness of movements for radical social change, I suspect that there may be bigger birds to shoot (like counter-acting popular negative stereotyping, some of which has found it’s way into this discussion).

Mik
Oct 12, 2010 18:19

I’ve been overrun by the comments so I don’t think I’m going to be able to respond to everything here but I’ll try to address one or two issues.

I think a major flaw in the original article that has been picked up by many of the criticisms in the comments was my failure to specify what activisms I was speaking about. I am talking about the particular subcultures that label themselves activist in the UK and Europe. Of those I would say the scene that is associated with social centres, the anarchist movement, and multi-issue as opposed to single-issue campaigns. However, within that definition there are a number of different groups that I would identify and associate with different criticisms, which is why the article at times seems contradictory.

I would say that problems of racial bias afflict all of these, to some extent. There are different attitudes towards class, with some groups emphasising working class culture (e.g. Class War, Antifa) and others dominated by middle class cultural norms. I would also identify a group of hangers-on – people who adopt some aspects of the lifestyle of direct actionists without doing the action. It as at them that I direct criticisms of activism as lifestyle choice.

Andy, I think your analysis of the exclusion of certain groups as being due to a “white man in Africa” effect is misplaced and serves to blame the victims of exclusion. The argument ignorest issues of power dynamics. The white man in Africa has considerably more to comfort him than the African in England. It ignores the effects of white supremacy, economic status and cultural snobbery. The reason your Mail reader would be derided by those with a more critical analysis is because s/he probably has a higher social/economic status than her/his neighbours, not having to worry about issues of racism, poverty and feelings of cultural inferiority and inadequacy. To translate this to a common activist situation, the activist of colour gets tired of, insulted by and/or humiliated by the assumptions of European cultural norms as superior and the othering of her/himself as an exotic species. There are power dynamics relating to white supremacy and the legacy of colonialism that make this a much more negative experience for the non-white than the white.

Re: dialect as more exclusionary than academic language. I’m afraid this simply isn’t true for similar reasons to the white man in Africa example. I think Andy is assuming an equal status of working class dialects and academic language, which simply isn’t the case. The language of the academy evolved from the language of the elite who were, traditionally, the only people who could go to university. It is the language of the middle classes expanded to include specialist terminology. Of course middle class people have an advantage using this language as it is the language of their home lives as well as the language of officialdom.

Dialects are suppressed as not ‘proper’ English, despite their richness and incorporation of terms for experiences that may not be adequately described by official English. Much like the languages of indigenous peoples, these dialects are suppressed out of an urge to homogenise and eradicate difference, through assertion of dominant modes of expression.

I think rather than denigrate regional dialects as exclusionary it would be better to adopt elements that are useful into common usage, much as we do when we find terms from other languages that they are no equivalents for in English. Certainly we should seek to avoid valuing academic English above other uses of it and, thereby, excluding those who aren’t fluent in it, which often reinforces class divides.

Hannah
Oct 19, 2010 17:18

I don’t really feel up to reading the big debate that’s clearly going on in the comments (might have a proper look later) but I just wanted to say that I appreciated the article. A really well-thought out piece that very much chimed with a lot of my experiences of ‘activists’ as well as my studies in the history of the environmental movement.

I don’t want activists to end up crippled by self-hating self-awareness like much feminism seems to be, but activists really could do with taking a more critical stance on their own position. For instance, I often feel like people assume I can’t participate in a debate about ‘serious’ topics or can possibly be sufficiently ‘committed’ to the cause because I enjoy clothes and dressing smartly. It goes without saying that this judgementalism is pretty hypocritical and sexist.

Thanks again for the article. I found it through the link on The F Word.

Lara
Oct 20, 2010 1:17

I would like to second Hannah’s comments – this piece really resonated with me. Where I went to university I encountered a large number of lifestyle activists who seemed to believe that if you weren’t part of their activist subculture you couldn’t be serious about activism at all. There were some events and marches and talks that I would have liked to have gone to, but I didn’t feel like I would be welcome, because I didn’t want to and couldn’t devote my life to travelling around going to protests and conferences and the rest. When I did attend events based at my uni I got a lot of funny looks and nobody really bothered to talk to me, people seemed to think I was stupid because I didn’t fit in, it’s hard to describe, but I felt like they viewed me as a child a lot of the time! Eventually I stopped trying to join in, by third year I’d pretty much dropped out of all the political societies because it made me too anxious. I felt like I was at school again, with people whispering behind my back and making judgements about me when none of them tried to actually get to know me at all. I can only say this now, looking back, at the time I wondered what was wrong with me and why they wouldn’t let me get more involved.

The university I went to was more ethnically diverse and female-populated than your average institution, and this was reflected somewhat in the lifestyle activist group, but they all seemed really middle-class. I’m semi-middle class myself, working-class background but I was brought up with more privileges, but I am the first person in my family to go to a traditional university, and my education was always my priority, unlike the lifestyle activists who were either comfortably intellectual enough to not have to worry about their results, or comfortably funded by their parents/otherwise privileged enough not to value getting good results or making the most out of the opportunities for learning.

Kay
Oct 20, 2010 23:01

‘It worries me a bit that the ‘exclusion’ effect might actually be the jolt of cultural difference: a white tourist arrives in Africa and is shocked to be the only white face in the crowd; a Mail reader walks down a high street in a mainly Asian community, notices all the unfamiliar products in the shops, and thinks “this isn’t my country anymore”… they aren’t really being excluded (though they probably think they are), they’re being unconsciously racist, and unhappy at being in a minority – but they project this onto the other, inferring the other’s desire to exclude from their own discomfort.’

I think basically Andy and Tim intellectually conquered this argument! Those arguing for activists = scum sort of became incomprehensible intellectually after a while, to the point no one now understands what their arguments are (always a sign of a lost argument). If you hate the fact you don’t feel at home wearing a mini skirt and lippie in an activist crowd, don’t blame the activists for basically your own dress conformity to popular culture! Not that you’re to blame, but it’s not a *scummy* activists fault you feel uncomfortable in their *scummy* environment. Unless someone is pointing a finger and hitting you to wear dungarees – I think there’s like this social hierarchy you have to consider when ever you call yourself an oppressed figure. Activists are sort of at the bottom, ridiculed by the majority; those who *just conform dammit!!* are a bit higher.

I think a common silencing tactic used against activists is making them feel guilty. I’ve noticed this a lot in feminism and it’s probably abundant with other groups. The angry attack at those attempting a good cause in the form of a guilt trip happens so often I have to giggle – whether the people behind the computer screens buy it I dunno.

I also love how Tim and Andy very politely explaining how activists are not scum are seen to be ‘attacking’ those who originally said they hate activists!

I’d say I dress fashionably, yet, hm I dunno, I still don’t see the need to attack ‘i hate activists’ those who are in the minority and struggling against a tidal wave for a good cause. Lame.

Kay
Oct 20, 2010 23:12

Sorry Lara, but that last paragraph is yet another uncalled slight on activists! We don’t ‘work hard enough’ at uni cos we’re conceited lazy arses apparently?

I’m working class, an intelligent lass at uni who calls it like it is. Sorry my non-conformity as an activist upsets you.

And it is just non- conformity the article was criticising – those lazy ass hippy punks who havent checked into reality 2010 yet!

If you’re upsetting the masses, you’re doing something right – why there’s always a need for activism, for non- conformity and freedom.

Mik
Oct 21, 2010 16:21

Kay:
“Those arguing for activists = scum sort of became incomprehensible intellectually after a while, to the point no one now understands what their arguments are”

At what point was it argued that activists are scum in the original argument? I think you are pushing a strawman argument here.

A considerable number of commenters clearly have not only understood the argument but felt that it rang true with their own experiences as well.

“I think there’s like this social hierarchy you have to consider when ever you call yourself an oppressed figure. Activists are sort of at the bottom, ridiculed by the majority; those who *just conform dammit!!* are a bit higher.”

I wouldn’t really say the kind of activists I’m talking about are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. What about migrants, young kids from inner city estates, Muslims and so on. Activists don’t have to be labelled illegal just for living here, they don’t get stopped and searched every time they leave their front doors and they don’t get suspected of involvement in terrorism every time they board a plane or go paintballing. As I said in my article, most of the people I’ve met who call themselves are activists are white and middle class – not really bottom of the pile.

You’re right that conforming to mainstream dress codes, etc is not good but neither is conforming to activist dress codes.

Elena
Oct 21, 2010 19:34

Lara’s comments resonated a lot with me; I had a similar experience when at university in the early 90s. It was not just a fish-out-of-water effect; I recall being actively talked down to and patronised. I have had the same experience since since in some (but by no means all, or even a majority) of interactions with self-described activists. For example, I found that leftist politics, or at least some of the bits I encountered, could be a very macho environment in which I felt very uncomfortable. Unfortunately it can only take a few bad experiences when someone is first dipping their toe in the water to put a curious progressive person off for life.

There are plenty of us who do some kind of activism in our own way, however small this might seem to those who make it a full-time job, but who would not call ourselves activists. I got involved in my trade union and I write to my MP and AMs about issues that concern me. I don’t buy certain products and I tell people why. I am a member of a couple of organisations and contribute towards them financially in a small way.

Ultimately it is self-defeating to exclude people like me; I might not be hard core, but there are a heck of a lot more of us. What might I – or Lara – have achieved and contributed had our early experiences been different?

Alex
Oct 22, 2010 0:46

No one here has argued that activists = scum, but that there are serious deficiencies in activist culture, while being utterly committed to radical change. Mik’s title is probably the worst thing about this piece, but, hey, he already said as much no? I wonder if this was the main thing that annoyed you about this. No one actually hates activists, and many of us will have taken that mantle from time to time!

“If you hate the fact you don’t feel at home wearing a mini skirt and lippie in an activist crowd, don’t blame the activists for basically your own dress conformity to popular culture!”

I would hope that activists wouldn’t judge a person based on their appearance so much to exclude them, which apparently appears to be what people are reporting here. Are we egalitarians or not? Do we consider appearances or issues in depth?

“If you’re upsetting the masses, you’re doing something right”

I hate to say it but freaking out the squares does not a social movement or radical change make. The sooner people get that the clothes you wear and the music you listen to is not rebellion in itself the better it will be for politics.

ANiN
Oct 24, 2010 15:18

If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him

Dialectical neo -anarchism replete with situationist nonsense and zen koan being a nonactivist activist how is it possible to get up in the morning?
How about giving up politics and taking up crocheting tea cosies but dont become an expert
or try blogging without writing

angus
Oct 30, 2010 14:48

hmmmm, me thinks the term Activist is difficult to define…. there is a whole lot of difference between my friends who squat buildings, put on parties and dress funny, and my friends that spend all day on the phone talking to lawyers and asylum seekers and the authorities trying to stop people getting deported/ kept in detention… I could validate the latter as more meaningful, but for me the change we need to see is as much a hydra as the problems we need to overcome. now, we could split activists into another dichotomy: arrogant self satisfied activists (scummy or not) and dedicated humble activists… for me this is much better for cutting through the bullshit you come across as you walk the line… check out this text to see that this is a continuous problem… http://libcom.org/history/auguste-blanqui

Switch
Nov 9, 2010 4:14

https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/features/ideas/diary-of-a-domestic-extremist-on-activism/ « Switch Reacts
Nov 10, 2010 1:12

links for 2011-03-01 « Embololalia
Mar 1, 2011 19:03

[…] Diary of a Domestic Extremist: Why I hate activism – Ceasefire Magazine Aside from the obvious cultural bias in activist circles towards whiteness, the disproportionate dominance of student politics (as well as those who have come through the university system) means that those from working class backgrounds often feel a similar alienation from activism. The intellectuals of the movement love to communicate in lengthy theses on this or that particular issue, often lacking direct connections to those on the front line. Unsurprisingly, there is often a lack of understanding of the harsh realities poor people experience, which can lead to a lifestyle of poverty being fetishised (see, for example, criticisms of CrimethInc). Certain prevalent activist lifestyle choices e.g. clothing, diet, not flying, etc. are easier to adopt for the middle class activist who, after a childhood of luxury, sees these choices as a rejection of materialism.  (tags: activism class) LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

narrative writing examples
Oct 20, 2011 6:15

narrative writing examples…

[…]Diary of a Domestic Extremist: Why I hate activism | Ceasefire Magazine[…]…

Charles Xavier
Oct 21, 2011 7:43

I’m an activist, big whoop wanna fight about it?

Tom Price
Oct 24, 2011 21:17

I got tired of all this early on. It reeks of university lecturer/essay burbling, with a large dose of self-promoting pontification thrown in. Fair enough — enjoy your smart-arse hobby. I am off to welcome and support the refreshing activism of the kids on the Jarrow march for jobs!

hobby
Nov 14, 2011 7:47

hobby…

[…]Diary of a Domestic Extremist: Why I hate activism | Ceasefire Magazine[…]…

AB
Jun 8, 2012 19:53

Good, and funny, that CF just reposted this on the social media feeds. its an interesting read (and discussion below) if you have patience for it.

One remark I would make on the discussion above is that its interesting how many of those I have worked with over the last few years on campaigns and social movement research, and more broadly in the UK have changed in their use of the ‘activism’ tag, and now use placeholders (like ‘campaigns’ or ‘social movement research’). Indeed I would agree with much of the spirit of this article, though I remember being a bit more averse when it was first published and indeed much of it is stuff i still dont get on with (the stuff about student politics is a bit more complicated- especially given what was just about to happen when this article was written! ).

Theres a couple of reasons i could speculatively give for this. One was certainly the end of an ‘activism’ that was forged before 2008, before austerity kicked in- in my view this downplayed class issues and economic factors, because it didnt see them as rhetorical strong points at the time. Instead it emphasised a sense of ‘community’ and justice (one which has now been reincorporated into some right wing agendas as a response to economic crisis)- and i think this informed aesthetics as well.
Another might be simply that ‘activism’- protest, direct action, etc appeared in media more as it became more popular. A mirror of a certain kind was held up to social movements: I remember ‘Just Do it’, the documentary about climate camp, got an absolute hammering from almost everyone I know because they found the people in it unlikeable- in one case “loathsome”- largely for reasons this article touches on.

Thats not to say that this problem has gone away in any meaningful sense, though (as Occupy and UKUncut demonstrate) – the issues here are still on the table- no doubt why CF posted this again.

Rachel
Oct 17, 2012 16:53

Mik, I totally agree with everything you have said in this article and in your responses. That has been my personal experience of activists that I have encountered myself. And some of the respondents here have sounded extremely defensive. I have a university education in arts and social sciences and understand what they are getting at despite all that jargon which obviously deters anyone who hasn’t had at least a degree level education from even contemplating what they are trying to say. It is not my preference to communicate like that. I will write a thesis in that language just to gain my qualification and that is it. Ugh. Thank God. There is no need to complexify everything. Life is as simple and complex as you make it.

To the person who said that it may be helpful to establish links between nodes by forging links with appropriate reps who can convey these messages in a form that is easily understood by different groups of people (with different life experiences and levels of education) – well good luck with that. Someone who believes strongly in communicating in that way with jargon and all is very unlikely to attract someone who believes in that, and is able to communicate in plain english to others not on the same education level. So you will remain disconnected, different nodes unable to connect or form any meaningful and successful alliances. There is a lot of reverse snobbery around – the ones who are well off are scornful of those who are not – the ones who were rejected are scornful of those whom they felt rejected by.

People forget or have never experienced being the odd one out. When you are the dominant race/group and someone “different” is trying to engage or join in with you, it is then up to the dominant race/group to try and welcome that “different” person into their clique. It is not enough for the dominant group just to sit back and speak your own language (academic language or whatnot), do whatever it is you are so used to doing, to and with each other and leave that “different” person to sink or swim in your company. That is what puts “different” people off from joining in after their first experience or two. A bit of humility will help you connect with others who appear “different”. Find common ground. We all share the same fears to some extent. It doesn’t matter what lofty ideals we each hold and aspire to. We all come into the world alone and will leave it alone. If some activists can’t see the point of this, then let them be. They won’t get very far.

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