Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Blanker Than Thou

(This post was edited several times. For now, this is the final version).

For the record, I recyle, or at least I separate paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum, so stop hatin':

I love my former roommate, and we are good friends still, but I love living alone even more. One of our contentious areas was her environmentalism. I am all on board with reducing my carbon footprint, even if that is hard to measure (and yet easy to confuse science with morality). Our apartment was miserably cold due to the thin, single-paned windows and cement flooring, but it was made worse because she never let me turn on the heat. At one point, I had to tell her to stop reminding me that doing X was bad for the environment and that I should be doing Y, just because it was getting on my nerves. And in my head, though I never told her and never will, all the nagging made me want to tell her to stop moralizing and instead stop driving her car, and that such nagging made me less sympathetic to the environment and made me want to burn plastic bags on the front lawn. Yes, I am a bad person.

What is it about proselytizing, for whatever cause, that makes it so annoying on an individual basis and relatively redeemable on a group-level basis? I like studying social movements and believe in grass roots activism, but on an individual basis, activists can be sometimes annoying. It's like that "I love humanity, but I hate people" thing--my misanthropy can tolerate the abstract idea of a group of people, but get really annoyed with them on an individual basis. Religious demagogues--hate them. People with faith: not my cup of tea, but to each their own, and enjoy your God. Activists: good on a group-level, generally irritating on the individual level.

Well, it depends on the activist, I suppose. I am quite liberal, and one of my best friends (The Sociologist) is an ecofeminist activist. But she is not a proselytizer/alienator/judger/hater. She is very open and sharing about her beliefs, without ramming them down my throat. Suffice it to say, that she is vegan, and she has never made my meat eating an issue that would break up our friendship, and she has never judged me morally for my consumption. Yes, she is a good friend, and a wonderful person. Because of her open-mindedness, she makes me more open to her positions. I try to eat meat that is raised as humanely as possible, and I avoid "cruel" food like foie gras and veal. Her lack of reflexive judgment makes it so that I am not reflexively contrarian.

Contrast that to how most people try to get their message across. They are _____ than thou! You are bad because you are not ______! They would rather burn shit down than change hearts and minds through reasoned, civil discourse!

Movements/-isms/etc. are tricky. You have to achieve a certain critical mass, and you have to ensure that your message is strong, cohesive, and coherent, but not so alienating that you immediately create an opposition, particularly in people who are likely to be sympathetic to your cause. What's odd is that my participation in activist organizations is what makes me really get so easily irritated with most of them. It's part of why I tend to just send checks or write articles rather than get caught up in organizational politics. Never, ever again, will I run for an officer position in some organization, no matter how lofty I think the goals of the organization are. Because the organization's goals can be different from the goals of its members. And again, I can love the organization, and hate most of its members. Which I did.

Man, my 2L year sucked. I was nearly impeached as a co-chair of an ethnic student org, because I focused on the social justice/clinic part of the organization, and skipped out on bowling night and karaoke night. I was not "committed" enough as a chair, because I did not join the club just to hang out with more Asians. My participation in that organization has turned me off of identity politics and representational politics FOREVER. Contrast this to my generally positive experience with feminist organizations in college, when I was never judged or devalued for not being able to do stuff because I went along with my strict Asian father's prescriptions against staying out late, so I didn't get to stay to the end of the Take Back the Night vigil. I will always be grateful to my co-feminists for letting me participate in the ways that I could, without judgment, and for letting me define the parameters of my beliefs and activism. To me, that is the best kind of social movements organization: all for the group, but permissive of individuality and variations in participation and ideological commitment.

I should take a social movements class. Or at least read some of the literature. It is so resolved.

Believe it or not, this was a post to announce that I had joined one of those car share things for two months, never used my account (I walk/bus/train EVERYWHERE, except when TD takes me somewhere interesting that is off the public transit lines), and thus cancelled the thing. It is possible to live green but not actively make it a part of your identity. I don't have a car up here, and I don't want or need one, but I don't consider it a moral issue per se, or a real choice. It is what it is, although I cannot imagine living without a car in Orange County. I would have written it up as a post on "things/services you think you need but you don't" kind of consumer reports review, but then I realized that most would have read it as an environmental choice to go with or without car.

I realized that no matter what I do, people on either side will view it as some sort of choice for or against their cause. This is the problem with causes, movements, -isms. They ignore the fact that most people act in their rational self-interest, without any thought to what is "right" or "wrong" by the standards of either side, and just are. This is why it's hard to change people's minds. Most people don't even think about what you're concerned with, and it's just as hard to change an unformed mind as it is to convert someone to your side from the other.

In any case, I do think about the environment (though less than I think about social justice and gender equality, although they are all related and should not be thought of as discrete categories) and do try to do my part to help, but my reflexive dislike of proselytizers and message-crammers makes it so that I will probably not listen to most of the loudest people out there, which explains why my RSS feeds tend to track middle-of-the-road or general interest, left-leaning-but-not-left-shouting blogs and news sources. This is why I sound so lukewarm on my blog about most issues, except for social justice and racial and gender equality (but avoiding identity politics! avoid!).

Most of my work is committed to anti-discirmination principles, and my identity is bound in my work, yes, but for the most part, not every single minute or every interaction is suffused with the rhetoric and strident ideology. I think that this is why I'm generally tolerable and why I have friends of so many different political stripes and why I can put down the gauntlet every once in a while and just relax. It is one thing to have constant vigilance about the issues one cares about, and be aware that there is never rest for those who make it their entire life to combat whatever -ism (liberalism, racism, sexism, anti-environmentalism, etc.), but then again, to make your entire life about that isn't much of a life either.

I am SO going to get a lot of hate for this post.


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