No, Really, What Are You Fighting For?

Allan Mott asks this question: How would you feel and what would you do if tomorrow the world suddenly became the place you’ve always wanted to live in?

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It was just one of those random arguments that are an unfortunately de rigueur part of online life. In the comments section of a post about wage disparity I had made the mistake of mentioning my experience as a short man and the impact physical size can have on a person’s lifetime earnings (I quoted figures brought up by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller Blink that suggest a man a foot taller than me—which would make him 6’ 2”—could expect to earn as much as $400,000 more than I did over the course of a 40 year career, doing the exact same job).

This upset several of the other commenters, because they felt that as a white male I had no right to insert myself into this kind of narrative. One of them even went so far as to accuse me of being a troll, which I took issue with since this discussion was occurring on a website I actually contributed to, not just commented on. When I asked my accuser why she was so upset by my comment, considering I made it in support of her own stated goal—ending all forms of unfair wage disparity—she answered back by saying that so long as I felt the way I did, she didn’t want me on her side.

It’s a sentiment I’ve seen expressed before, but it’s one that never fails to make me feel as confused as a caveman tasked to permanently delete Internet Explorer from a computer running Windows. Inevitably I just sit there, looking stunned and trying to avoid the temptation to just smash the evil spirits out the magic box with my bone club.

The reason for my confusion is this: If a person is truly dedicated to their cause, then shouldn’t they want EVERYONE to be on their side? Why would you reject the support of someone with the same stated goal, just because you don’t agree 100% over the fine print? If your position is so extreme that you refuse to recognize anyone who even slightly deviates from it, then how are you any better than those you’re working so hard to overthrow? Aren’t you just trying to replace the present tyranny with a new one that better suits your interests?

Before anyone accuses me of attacking feminism (which is not my intention at all), it’s important to note that this kind of uncompromising zealotry can be found amongst acolytes of every conceivable political, religious or cultural stripe. Examples similar to what I experienced can be found in every comment section devoted to virtually any subject—wherever you go, you’re bound to find an argument occurring between two people who essentially agree on nearly everything regarding the subject they’re discussing, yet fight bitterly and angrily over one or two points.

In terms of activism, this fault of human nature can become a major impediment towards creating the kind of action necessary to enact real change. Instead of a large group of dedicated individuals coming together to fight for the one common goal they all agree must happen for the world to become a better, fairer place, everyone breaks apart into smaller and less effective factions who frequently spend more time arguing with each other than battling against their common enemy.

In popular culture, Monty Python satirized this sad reality better than anyone else in their classic 1979 comedy, Life of Brian. Most people assume the film’s biggest target is organized religion—largely because its title character ends up being crucified after briefly being mistaken for the messiah—but the group saves their sharpest barbs for the film’s anti-Roman revolutionaries, who admit to hating the city’s other anti-Roman revolutionary groups only slightly less than the Romans.

The people involved in these disagreements will most certainly insist that the differences they are arguing about are not trivial at all and represent genuine philosophical conflicts that truly matter in the long run. In many cases this could be true, but the result is almost always the same—no one wins and everyone is completely unsatisfied. By compromising just a little, though, everyone has a better chance of getting the one major thing they want, leaving them time to bicker about the details afterwards.

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But in today’s intellectual marketplace, compromise has become a dirty word. It’s not uncommon for present day politicians to proudly boast that they would sooner destroy the country than support the other party’s initiatives (even if their party might have originally came up with those initiatives in the first place). This all-or-nothing approach has become so omnipresent it suggests the possibility that many activists—of all different causes—aren’t actually in the game to foment genuine change, but for the thrill of the battle that comes with it.

This makes sense because the folks most resistant to compromise are most likely the fundamentalists of their cause. These are folks who are so passionately engaged in their specific view of the injustices of the world that their fight against it has become the all-encompassing reason for their existence. Without that fight their life would be meaningless.

And if you are someone whose life is almost wholly defined by the cause you are fighting for, then—at the very least subconsciously—you might actually be just a little terrified of the day your side wins. As wonderful as the thought of living in a world made in your image may seem, there also has to be the nagging fear of what you might do once your services are no longer needed.

In essence, every activist is fighting for their own obsolescence and while I believe the majority of them accept this with grace, my observations suggest there are some who—again subconsciously—work to self-sabotage their efforts to ensure the battle continues and their relevance never fades away.

There’s a simple question everyone can ask themselves to figure out whether or not they are fighting for the main goal of their cause or for the fight itself: How would I feel and what would I do if tomorrow the world suddenly became the place I’ve always wanted to live in?

Of course, to truly answer this question requires a level of self-awareness and honesty a lot of us don’t have. I’m sure 99% of the people I’m talking about in this post will insist that they’ll be overjoyed and live the rest of their lives in peace, when the truth is many of them would feel abandoned and bereft. It seems inevitably that not within too long they would find new injustices in the Utopia they fought for and start fighting all over again.

There is nothing wrong with believing fiercely in your cause, but like nearly everything it can become dangerous when you abandon tolerance and reason. By refusing to accept any compromise or the support of those who disagree on obscure details, you risk doing more harm than good. Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself, “If I’m not willing to do everything I can to at least try and get everyone on my side, then what exactly am I really fighting for?”

 

Image courtesy of Flickr/kevin dooley

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About Allan Mott

Allan Mott was once accused of being a narcissistic goth lesbian by a disgruntled Amazon reviewer. That pretty much sums up his writing career (which includes 12 and 1/2 books and frequent contributions to such sites as XOJane, XOJaneUK, Canuxploitation, Bookgasm and Flick Attack,). His most personal writing can be found at VanityFear.com, where he uses the subject of B-Movies to mostly talk about boobs and stuff. Tweet him on the Twitter at @HouseofGlib.

Comments

  1. Is it weird that this post made me think about Batman?

    In all seriousness, I agree completely. I think in a lot of cases it boils down to control – people that think of themselves as doing a lot for their cause feel like they have some degree of control over the direction that the cause is going. When someone else shares that cause closely but not completely, there’s a feeling that that control will be lessened or lost, and so it becomes almost competitive.

  2. I clicked on the article you wrote (I didn’t read the comments) and one thing that I didn’t like was how you framed the parallels between women’s experience and your experience as a short man. I don’t think that we ARE fighting the same battle – inequality as experienced by women is different from that experienced by a short man. It is kind of insulting to hear you compare the two in your article as if they are the same.

    • I laid out my case and you are entirely free to reject it (although I would urge you to read the comments–I think you would be surprised by the positive response it received from a majority female audience), but I do question how what I did is insulting. I merely described my experience and compared it to what many women went through. I never negated the discrimination they faced, only suggested it was similar to what I’ve gone through myself. Sadly, I think your comment illustrates the problem described in this post–we’re too concerned about comparing the degree of our oppression to actually focus on how to properly change it.

      • Sadly, I think your comment illustrates the problem described in this post–we’re too concerned about comparing the degree of our oppression to actually focus on how to properly change it.
        Maybe my inner cynic has taken over but to me these days going on about how one oppression doesn’t compare to another has become a proxy for what people really want to say. Sure “x doesn’t compare to y” is what they say but with the way they say it and the way some defend there x so fiercely I think they are saying those words but truly mean, “y has it worse than x”. But since that would trigger the Oppression Olympics too overtly it’s been changed to talking about comparisons.

        In short for example with this case I wonder if Lala is really just trying to say they are different things or trying to admonish you for your comparison because women really do have it worse than short men.

        • I have no problem with her feeling my comparison is mistaken–it’s based on my personal experience and observations, but since she hasn’t lived in my shoes I can understood why she would choose to dismiss what has happened to me as not equivalent. Where I take issue is her insistence that by making this comparison I am insulting women. Nowhere in my post do I suggest that women aren’t oppressed, merely that I have experienced discrimination myself. There is no insult there. I am not taking anything away from anyone. I am just describing what has happened to me and remarking upon the similarities to the experiences of many women I have known and heard from.


          • Where I take issue is her insistence that by making this comparison I am insulting women.

            Which is what I’m trying to get at. Why exactly is this comparison considered an insult to women? I’m offering my thoughts (as speculative as they may be) on it and I think it’s because Lala is coming from a place of “women have it worse”.

            Like I said in my comment above if Lala was just trying to say they are different it would be one thing (as you seem to agree). But if this “insult” is based on ‘but women have it worse, always” then I’m not sure I agree.

    • Mr Supertypo says:

      oh god, why is that insulting Lala?

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Allan.
    Two points: One is that if your–anybody’s–oppression is extraordinarily important to you, the idea that anybody else is oppressed reduces the portion of guilt which can be laid on the oppressor. Zero sum.

    I once talked to a clergyman involved in anti-racism work, maybe twenty years ago. He’d done some marching back in the day, but mostly he wrote and preached. He was unguarded enough to say he loved the fight, or words to that effect. What that meant was he couldn’t acknowledge any improvement in race relations because…where would he be? This required him to accuse huge numbers of innocent people of a vile moral crime on a regular basis. That they objected only proved his point, so he was happy.

  4. “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” -Napoleon, Animal Farm

    (… pretty sure I nailed that.)

  5. “I hate Mondays” – Garfield the Cat, Garfield

    (I think he technically stole this from that woman The Boomtown Rats wrote that song about.)

  6. Very thought-provoking, Allan! I am often afraid to speak up about stuff like this because I just don’t have thick enough skin.

    I often wonder what a world without racism or sexism would look like but I’m afraid I can’t even picture it. :/

  7. I have a place picked out on an island – and I would be there in 12 hours.

    Even if nothing changes – I have a place picked out on an island – and I aim to retire there and on the appointed to day to be there in 12 hours.

    Either way, I’ll end up with people who I wish to spend time with and not be bothered with what has gone before or other people who have drifted across my reality – even the nasty – Cyber Stalking and Netopathic one’s .

    The reason for my confusion is this: If a person is truly dedicated to their cause, then shouldn’t they want EVERYONE to be on their side?

    Because for people to see others as equal it means giving up part of themselves. When people have spent so much times making themselves unique in their own eyes … oh you have a better chance of removing a gazelle carcass from a ravening tiger by hand and with no safety systems, than getting an average Joe Or Joanna to give up their own enforced barriers to allow Equality.

    Show me a person who fails to deal with and grasp a basic equality argument and I will show you an Intellectual and emotional miser and pinchfist who you have more chance of getting to land on the moon by flapping a smilie’s angel wings, than getting them to voluntarily remove their personal barriers and walls that make the average bank vault look like a paper bag. !

    I find the Net Fascinating, because in so many ways it’s making people honest and for the first time ever. It’s uncovering so much social psychology to peeps hate to consider they are part off. What is so comical is how the net allows you to see people from so many different angles – how many faces they have in the Social Networking Spheres – and that reveals so much about the barriers that people use to defend the indefensible and their supposed joy at equality … but not their own.

    It’s making it so much easier to have a friends list for that island – which of course aint getting twittered about as I am not interested in the #ObeseSparrowCult.

  8. excellent piece, some people just love to fight for fightings sake

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