Precision v. Aggression in Activism
by Ethan Glover, Sun, May 17, 2015 - (Edited) Wed, Jan 10, 2018
If a group of people were to get together, study on, and decide what activism is useful and what isn't, I'd wager they'd find that most activism is actually harmful to the movements said activism claims to represent. The idea of a board or group controlling activism is an obscene one, but it's a good way to begin to think about the backwards incentive system of trying to make a change.
In the 290th episode of Common Sense, Dan Carlin puts it beautifully (as he puts most things):
"This is the most perverse dynamic you've ever seen isn't it? Do what we suggest you do, go through all the trouble and do the peaceful protest and nobody's going to notice. But do what we tell you not to do -- that nobody wants you to do -- that actually hurts the very communities these folks are protesting in... oh you might be rewarded with a lot of air time, and your cause being debated, and maybe a little legislative action... that's perverse."
To some people, attention from what they call the "mainstream media" is more important than the thoughts and opinions of the people watching that media. For example, when it came to situations like the Colbert Report in Keene, and ambushing Maggie Hassan, Ian Freeman has claimed that even if 1,000 people hate what he's doing, if one person "researches" what's presented, the job is well done.
He ignores the important point that 999 of 1,000 is negative attention that has the potential to exponentially grow into a permanent hatred for the people associated with the movement; and thus, the movement itself. What Ian Freeman and Rich Paul showed to the world (not to me, or their fans) in the Maggie Hassan video is that they're a couple of douchebags who like yelling at other people.
I compared them to a group of drunk kids. They're dancing, having a good time, and they think they look awesome. In reality, it's a gaggle of idiots falling over one another. Totally unaware of the outside world.
I don't speak here from a place of anger, frustration, or cynicism. I find Rich and Ian to be good people who have done a lot of good. They've made more mistakes than me in their activism because they've done more. As a result of those mistakes (at least the ones they've recognized), they know more about what they're doing.
I speak here with a feeling of justice that says I've got something to say and I've got friends who need to hear it.
There will always be something of a balance between types of activism. People often compare Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, referring to them as having a Yin and Yang dynamic. I am aware that my rejection of the Malcolm X/aggressive style may be evidence of my falling into the trap of thinking, "If only we did it MY way!"
However, with that I mind, I believe a precise, data-driven approach to changing things for the better can only be beneficial. I don't aim to tell anyone what to do. I only aim to present some generalities and theories applicable to your own style of doing good for the world.
We'll start with the easiest of examples, arguing with strangers on the internet. A precise, data-driven approach online is easy. If you're in the habit of trying to explain your political ideas to people online, take note of who is really paying attention.
What are the results of talking to communists on groups like "Still Laughing at 'Anarcho'-Capitalism" or liberals on "Being Liberal?"Often times I see others hoping to jump into a ring with a dozen hungry lions and expect to tame them all at once. When they find they've bitten off more than they can chew and get frustrated, they turn to aggressive language and call it "trolling" as a joke. Instead of recognizing a failure, they move the goal posts to something useless and stubbornly continue the wasteful behavior.
When they report back to their friends, laughing about how they "trolled" the "enemy," and pointing out responses that they know their friends will disagree with, they are participating in what I call, "clique-baiting." After failing to make a positive difference, these people run back to their own isolated communities and joke about how stupid everyone else is.
It's like a 12 year old boy getting rejected by a girl and then going back to his friends to call her a slut. The end result is a group of boys and girls hating one another because of some artificially created drama. Instead of getting laid, the boy expends his remaining energy and time on blaming his failures on the girls.
Clique-baiting is when one refuses to improve themselves and isolates themselves into groups that accept his or her failures in light of what they see as the failures or ignorance of other groups. This practice does nothing but create tension between two groups.
Here's the most important part. If only one group participates in clique-baiting, and the other refrains from retaliating, it is the other that wins public opinion. When Ian Freeman yells at Maggie Hassan, and Hassan never publicly responds, it is only the obnoxious behavior of Ian that the public sees. The context doesn't matter when there is no reply.
If, say, there were a debate between Freeman and Hassan, and both parties kept their cool, points on both sides would be considered by most listeners. Granted, the likelihood of this happening, even ignoring Ians recent actions towards Hassan, are slim. A sit down interview is possible, but the value gained from it is most likely negligible without perfectly crafted questions and perfect calm on the side of the interviewee.
The point is, Hassan is not a good target. Changing her mind on an issue, or making her feel bad for winning a majority election to become the governor of New Hampshire is a task too difficult to bother with. It's like digging for diamonds in a gold mine.
To find the gold in the situation that could have better been dug, we'll continue looking at our example of arguing on the internet. Instead of jumping into a pit of lions, we can head to the pet store and choose the cutest, most well-behaved puppy from the lot.
That is to say, finding groups of people who are open to discussion, communicating with them, and making friends with those closest to your own ideals. To use the first example that comes to mind, consider that the personality type INTJ (Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging) seems to be the most common among libertarian circles.
With this revelation, you may find it personally beneficial as well as beneficial to the movement, to join an INTJ forum. Act as a regular member, put your voice out there on different issues, and be honest about yourself. In time, you'll find people who are willing to debate with you, and agree with you.
So long as you're not a "pusher" for liberty, but rather a representative of your own mind, you will find beneficial conversation in which people will honestly consider what you have to say and move down the path of liberty. If you make yourself available to everyone and known as someone who helps anyone with their inquiries and curiosity, you will find people who are "ready to convert" coming to you.
In the case of The Colbert Report on Robin Hooding I noted that business outreach would ultimately be more beneficial than filling parking meters. It wouldn't get media attention, and maybe no attention at all. That's the issue so eloquently described by Dan Carlin at the beginning of this article. But it would make a difference. It would create discussion that matters more, but on a smaller scale. It may even create the better end result of local businesses aiming to buy the parking meters or even streets from the City of Keene.
This is what I refer to as a more precise approach because it targets and gets support from the people who can benefit from your ideas. The more aggressive approach fights anyone who gets in your way.
Realistically, the precise approach I support has a low-volatility, low-yield. It is a safer investment that can better snowball into a consistent high-yield in the future. On the other hand, the aggressive approach that I condemn is high-volatility and high-yield. The high-yield is more often than not canceled out by the high-volatility.
To put it in other words, precision is one step forward, zero steps back. Aggression is two steps forward, one and a half steps back. Aggression is deceptively more exciting and only works if there is a more effective Martin Luther King to complement the less effective Malcolm X. (Otherwise, it is pure failure.)
Looking once again at the Maggie Hassan video, there is a huge elephant in the room. A large crowd of young, politically interested, and more often than not, open-minded individuals have gathered in one place to celebrate the beginning of a new life. And Ian wants to yell at a politician who has been in the game long enough to know how to stand her ground against critics. He uses aggression rather than precision.
The only man I think deserves the second place award for "Confirmed Conversions," just underneath Ron Paul (who also never acted disrespectfully to his political enemies), is Adam Kokesh. His level-headed, respectful, but direct, man-on-the-street interviews legitimately change peoples minds.
- Showing People Who Obama Really Is
- Convincing a Group of Conspiracy Theorists where Priorities are Better Laid
- Helping a Young Woman to Realize the Naivety of "Supporting the Police."
Is it so unbelievable that in hindsight Ian and Rich's time could have better been spent talking to college students about politics in light of the arrival of New Hampshire's governor? Who do you think would've given more thought to Hassan's hypocrisy in opposing a marijuana legalization bill? Hassan, or the college students?
And maybe more importantly, which video would've made the bigger impact? A discussion between a liberty veteran and a young student? Or one person yelling, and the other person ignoring them?
I've heard both Ian and Rich talk to people who are curious about libertarianism on the radio. They're very talented at doing so in a respectful, and coherent way. Why can't this extend into the real world? Especially in the local area that they hope to concentrate on as the best place for change?
When Mark Edge told me that he thinks voting can be done in self-defense, I made the comparison of dropping a nuclear bomb in self-defense. A political vote is an action on all. That vote not only fights back against people who vote against you, but it fights against all those who are neutral or have no ties to the situation.
Yelling at Hassan may provide some minor level of pleasure, but it negatively effects those who have no bone to pick in the fight and see nothing but rude behavior. Talking to students, and moving neutral opinion in your favor, ultimately harms Hassan and helps the pro-drug movement to a much greater degree.
I would argue that a "precision based" approach would create a more popular video in this case, but it'd be an anomaly. For the most part, you do lose a viral factor by ditching aggressive approaches. But we are talking about a long-term investment that can be accelerated by modern marketing.
Despite part of the liberty movements hatred for all things "mainstream" it is surprisingly easy to gain interviews and news appearances on shows that disagree with your own beliefs given a certain level of base reputation. Ian and Mark, I would guess, would refuse to be on a most mainstream channels, or participate in mainstream interviews, no matter the context or setting.
I won't get into the world of reputation based marketing and outreach. It's not relevant just yet. However, I'll leave you with a few parting thoughts.
Personally, I see all beliefs as competing forces. In the US, Democrats and Republicans have risen to the top, not only because of their long history and support, but because they sell themselves. This is mostly done in political campaigns, but it's not necessary for a movement to gain attention on the presidential debate stage.
We can learn from the campaigns that work hard to get every media appearance possible, to talk to exactly the right demographics, and to maintain a reputation that isn't based on aggressive demonstrations, but rather on what we have to offer to our supporters.
Anarchy, as a philosophy that allows people to build the societies they want while agreeing to the rules they want, should have few enemies and much more support. Even some statists can be anarchists given the right pitch. But no one will ever hear the pitch you give them if you're too busy speaking to walls and choirs to find real discussion.
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