RationalWiki's 2019 Fundraiser

There is no RationalWiki without you. We are a small non-profit with no staff – we are hundreds of volunteers who document pseudoscience and crankery around the world every day. We will never allow ads because we must remain independent. We cannot rely on big donors with corresponding big agendas. We are not the largest website around, but we believe we play an important role in defending truth and objectivity.

If everyone who saw this today donated $5, we would meet our goal for 2020.

Fighting pseudoscience isn't free.
We are 100% user-supported! Help and donate $5, $20 or whatever you can today with PayPal Logo.png!

Donations so far: $2200Goal: $3000

Essay talk:The Scandal of the Activist Mind

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

"Yes, all activism's bad."

Erm... no? Consider what activism is. You wouldn't condemn all civil rights activists or human rights activists, would you? On one side of the divide we have PETA, on the other side we have Martin Luther King Jr.. Really, I think you're generalizing too much. Nullahnung (talk) 04:05, 18 September 2013 (UTC)

Part of the point is that I reserve the right to condemn some "civil rights activists" and "human rights activists". (We are outraged by your Native American sports mascot! But we'll go away for a cash settlement.)
But the bigger point is that even the best types of activism aren't really good for you, and the cause doesn't matter. Every last one of them encourages an us vs. them mentality. There are costs in human goodwill and social capital attached to every such movement. Every activist will say that these costs are worth paying. But you get to decide whether the activist proposal is worth it or not; and you don't become a bad person by taking those costs into account. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 04:48, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
Yes, there are problems to deal with in various forms of activism. But it's different in every case, so every case needs its own considerations. You can't just generalize for all types of activism. How would we have stopped SOPA/PIPA without internet activism from the likes of Wikipedia and Google? I don't know and it's even hard to say whether we have achieved anything significant at all, with such legislation popping up again and again in lower profile ways. What I do know is that passivity would have helped even less and so you can't really condemn the activism behind it. See what I mean? Nullahnung (talk) 05:07, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
Again, it isn't about the merits of any activist cause; it's about what activism does to the activist. (Which is why it grieves me that you bring up Martin Luther King.) - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 05:15, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
What did activism do to MLK, then? It got him assassinated, is that what you're getting at? What would you have had him do? Stop preaching and go lead a quiet life? Nullahnung (talk) 05:27, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
Let me put it this way. How often do you think he got a good night's sleep? - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 05:45, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
Even if we accept the premise that activism is generally harmful to one's wellbeing (which I don't, and you're going to have to do better than picking Jack Effing Thompson as your representation of an activist if you're going to try to convince me otherwise), I think anyone who is willing to give of themselves to help their community is morally praiseworthy. I find your opposition to this to be frankly bizarre. Wehpudicabok [話] [変] 08:53, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
I heard recently that Terrie Hall had passed away, so I gave her and her advertisements a section. Activism seems to have done the mind of Jack Thompson no good, and that may well be an extreme case. But activism has also done the minds of a fairly large number of people at the US Center for Disease Control no good at all either; and I see no significant difference between their anti-smoking campaign and the carryings-on of the Westboro Baptists. And my own outrage over their evil campaign probably isn't good for my blood pressure. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 15:42, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
"I see no significant difference between their anti-smoking campaign and the carryings-on of the Westboro Baptists." Really? Honestly. You see no difference there? Does the WBC not make you want to punch a hole in the nearest wall? Or perhaps the CDC also makes your blood boil the same way? Wehpudicabok [話] [変] 03:53, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
My reading comprehension stinks. I don't want to argue with you whenever I'm on RW, Smerdis. I just don't understand your point of view. For one thing, with all of the anti-smoking advertising I myself have seen, I have never felt anger toward a smoker, or that smokers were morally wrong, or that I should ostracize my friends just because they smoke. The parallel that you want to strike here seems to me like an awfully taut stretch. You could just as easily argue that any person taking any position is implicitly ostracizing everyone who disagrees with that position, and at that point you have officially destroyed the very concept of debate. Wehpudicabok [話] [変] 03:59, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
Your whole 'step-1-step-2-step-3-step-4' thing you wrote at the end of your Terrie Hall section just reeks of slippery slope.
'People will be openly attacking smokers as subhumans. State violence will be carried out in a Smoker Holocaust.' Blatant slippery slope fallacy, ignoring any and all mitigating factors (like people actually being reasonable enough not to go apeshit) and only looking at the trends that support your pessimism. Nullahnung (talk) 04:09, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
It simply strikes me that the CDC is going places that it shouldn't go with that campaign, and that no government should do anything like that to its citizens. It's mostly the extremism that seems obvious there that bugs me. I hope we do step back a bit and don't go that far: but the pretty much universal drive to segregate smokers isn't a good sign. But let's face it: some people at the CDC thought that making and showing those ads was a good idea. That in itself suggests that there's something in their moral framework that's not quite right. People who are fanatical enough to think that was a good idea may well be fanatical enough to make concentration camps for smokers. I at least wouldn't trust them not to. Whoever's responsible for those ought to be sacked. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 04:34, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
Wait, guys, wouldn't it be more convenient, for a clearer expression of the general sentiment towards activism in this article, to compare activism to Warfare and the activist to the Warrior? After all, neither are healthy to the mind, society, and it's participants and, according to the author, it is a matter of judgement to consider whether the cause you are engaged in is good enough to be worthy of sacrifices for.108.41.190.141 (talk) 23:03, 24 September 2015 (UTC)

"Ideal republic" and policemen[edit]

Why would the ideal republic have a policeman on the corner in the first place? It seems to me that achieving an "ideal republic" requires a number of things (some of which probably entail violating the second law of thermodynamics); among those things are "a population composed entirely of ideal citizens" and "no existing non-ideal polity with sufficient technological development to be able to harm your citizens".

At which point, there is no crime or civil disorder, so why do you have police (or, indeed, government)? — Unsigned, by: Hydrogen and Time / talk / contribs

I'd define "ideal republic" somewhat less idealistically; an ideal republic is one whose laws are compatible with the lives actually led by most of its inoffensive citizens, do not discriminate against anyone without good reason, and where law is not used to try and force the citizens to change their behavior to conform to some notion of the greater good. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 16:37, 18 September 2013 (UTC)


"I'd define "ideal republic" somewhat less idealistically" - In which case you don't understand the concept of 'ideal'. The whole point of having 'law' is to force all citizens to behave in a particular way; 'a ruling which concerns the behaviour of the citizenry' could be a dictionary definition of a law.

I agree...[edit]

Fuck da abolitionists, 'mirite?! Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 04:02, 19 September 2013 (UTC)

Given the collapse of Reconstruction and the return of Jim Crow, how much of the end result that cost 700,000 lives was worth it? Would things have turned out far different if the war had not been fought? It may have delayed the conversion of slavery into serfdom by fifteen, maybe even twenty years. I'm not sure it was worth it, especially given the abiding ill will it stirred up. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 04:33, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
How exactly would slavery have ended were it not for abolitionists? There was an enormous amount of inertia (economic, social, political, you name it) in southern slavery. How could it have ended without activists? Do you suppose the South would have just given up their slaves willingly? I should hope not. You of all people are familiar with our evolved human nature. Wehpudicabok [話] [変] 04:53, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
The European (and African) US population was expanding into deserts, mountains, and prairies: territory that's hostile to the extension of plantation slavery, for fairly obvious reasons. The high water mark of the slave power had already passed. This also assumes that U.S. slavery doesn't eventually become some kind of international scandal; if nothing else, slave labor easily justifies a tariff on your exports. I do think that comparable results could have been achieved without warfare. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 05:21, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
Slavery already was an international scandal at the time - the British Empire had already abolished it in 1833Wikipedia's W.svg and were using it as propaganda.
Read up on your Civil War history, will you? We were dealing with a set of states that were willing to separate the moment any man who uttered "abolition" would be elected to the White House. (And you seriously think they'd reform in 20 years? The South is still trying to exploit the VRA.) Osaka Sun (talk) 06:03, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
That wasn't what I was saying. I asked whether it could have been achieved without activism. That was, after all, the original point of this essay. And for crying out loud, do you honestly think the South would ever, ever go down without a fight? These people drink melted bullets, for Christ's sake. (Interpret that last clause as you see fit.) Wehpudicabok [話] [変] 06:29, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
It may well have been that slavery would not have been abolished formally but for abolitionism. It likely would have continued to evolve, and eventually turn into some form of serfdom not terribly unlike the Jim Crow regimes of the post-reconstruction South, with a little less "separate but equal" hypocrisy. I still think it likely that slavery would be abolished in the fullness of time. As a political bloc, the South's days were numbered by westward expansion into territory hostile to chattel slavery.
So the questions are: first, whether Jim Crow "freedom" is so preferable to slavery that it justified the deaths of 700,000 people; and second, whether activists, by their overheated and moralistic reactions, and blind or uncaring about the reactions their program invited, caused an avoidable war. The first strikes me as reasonably debatable. The second, which is the point that relates to the essay itself, seems incontrovertibly true to me. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 14:54, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
So you think the Civil War could have been avoided, and that it was the abolitionists who pushed the rest of the country into it? Wehpudicabok [話] [変] 22:20, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
"...whether Jim Crow "freedom" is so preferable to slavery that it justified the deaths of 700,000 people; and second, whether activists, by their overheated and moralistic reactions, and blind or uncaring about the reactions their program invited, caused an avoidable war" Ok, now you've gone from clueless to sick.
I'll guess: you also think that the South was the equivalent of Axis Japan pre-Hiroshima? Osaka Sun (talk) 22:36, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
I suspect that more could have been done to avoid the Civil War. The abolitionists were, at minimum, not peacemakers; and their moralistic attacks on slavery caused an equally righteous-minded defense of slavery, which certainly helped solidify racism as a belief system. I'm not sure what your point is about Japan.
What is it I'm supposed to say? That 150 years ago, an activist cause might have done more good than harm? I suppose stranger things have happened. That the 700,000 lives lost in the struggle that exchanged slavery for Jim Crow were not sacrificed in vain? That's a judgment call. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 02:56, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
"The abolitionists were, at minimum, not peacemakers; and their moralistic attacks on slavery caused an equally righteous-minded defense of slavery, which certainly helped solidify racism as a belief system." The United States was the last industrialized nation of its time to abolish slavery, and the only one that needed to do so through war. You're not even wrong if you think that the "moralistic" abolitionists were at fault here. Take a history course. Please. Osaka Sun (talk) 00:23, 22 September 2013 (UTC)

Great essay! Having experienced it myself, your commentary on cigarette smoking is "dead on balls accurate". Really enjoyed reading your essay. Slings and Arrows (talk) 07:09, 4 January 2015 (UTC)

I disagree[edit]

First of all, I should say that I only think I disagree because you never define "activist," except with a vague description of their behavior. You might be using the word in a sense that I would consider "extremist activist" or "violent activist" or something, and so it's hard to say whether I'm just talking past you. But, assuming you mean "activist" to refer to any person who actively attempts to spread or enact an ideal...

I disagree.

You provide almost solely negative examples: the RNC, rabid anti-smokers, Westboro Baptist, and Hitler. While it's not exactly a straw-man, you have nonetheless picked examples that obscure the point, because most people (or at least, most people on RW) are going to agree that the activism by those groups is a bad thing - but that makes it harder, not easier, to prove that activism itself is a bad thing. Others have mentioned admired activists, above, but if you really want to convince people that activism is a bad thing, you should include what are commonly regarded as negative examples, neutral examples, and positive examples of activism, and demonstrate why each of them are actually evidence that activism is bad. Until you do, your argument will never be convincing, because it's too easily - if unfairly - dismissed thanks to your examples.

The actual substance of your argument is a little haphazard. As near as I can make it, you argue:

  • Activism tends to strongly encourage a feedback loop that produces extremists and paranoiacs from most activists. You restate this later in the essay when you say that activism produces an "ethical blind spot."
  • Activists keep trying to change the world, even when they can't, which forces other people to be vigilant against them all the time.
  • Activism leads to a slippery slope in two ways: if it succeeds, it encourages more activism, and the methods by which it operates become increasingly oppressive.

Before I explain why I disagree, could you tell me if I have unfairly summarized you in any way?--ADtalkModerator 12:27, 21 September 2013 (UTC)

I tend to view activism fairly broadly, but obviously there's some kind of scale of commitment; it starts with writing your Congressman, then you seek out and join organizations that are part of the activism industry; then through moral blackmail (boycotts, sit-ins, frauds of exposure, hunger strikes, etc.) all the way to political violence. I would add the points that:
  • Activism is specifically bad for the activist. It's bad for the mind; it induces inappropriate social behavior in even its mildest and most accepted forms, like the Democrats and Republicans constantly dunning the faithful with cynical fundraising alarms. No, not every activist goes as far off the deep end as Jack Thompson, but most activists are quite capable of being bores on their favorite causes.
  • Activism is bad for activists because it makes them easier prey to cognitive biases. This relates directly to the dynamic within activism that seeks to deepen zeal, cultivate outrage, and take more extreme positions.
  • Activism hardens hearts, hardens opposition, and generates contrary activist movements in return.
  • The bad aspects of activism are entirely independent of the merits of any activist cause. Belief that some activist cause achieved something actually worth doing is a side issue. Even in any activist movements you happen to admire, you will note tendencies towards more extreme positions and actions.
  • I myself am not immune to the bad feedback loops caused by political outrage.
I probably ought to add to the essay that activism is indeed an industry, creating institutions that must pay the iron price. Success at initial goals doesn't make activism or activist institutions go away; instead, they demand something further, and go looking for something else to complain about. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 18:29, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
Okay, I think I understand your position. Incidentally, you might want to consider structuring your essays ahead of time, so someone like me doesn't have to deduce thesis statements. Google "five paragraph essay" for some good examples that enable better discussion and consideration.
Anyway, some points of disagreement:
You have mentioned several possibilities that can result from activism, but in such a way that they are presented as either probabilities or even certainties. These statements thus appear true, but when considered in this light, just don't seem likely and would require considerable proof.
These sorts of statements include: your assertion that activism is bad for an activist and produces extremism and paranoia, and your assertion that activism inevitably leads to more inappropriate activism and unethical behavior in the name of the cause.
Virtually no one would dispute that this sometimes may occur. But it's a far leap from sometimes to usually or always, and the latter just doesn't seem true. If I surveyed Greenpeace volunteers, I bet that a very small percentage of them would be paranoid, and only a somewhat larger minority of them would be "extreme" (assuming extremity means extraordinary levels of deviation from the a culture's average view, as opposed to merely ordinary levels). Nor, I imagine, would you find that the longer a Greenpeace member had been a volunteer, the more they were prone to violence or outrage tactics. Instead, I bet that this is only true for a small set of highly-motivated volunteers, as well as (perhaps, since this is just based on stereotype) young activists. That is to say, I bet most volunteers become more complacent and eventually stop volunteering, moving on with their lives or diminishing their involvement.
This, however, does suggest that you could prove your point empirically. There are probably numerous studies out there on the behaviors of nonprofit volunteers over time, since there are a lot of organizations with a lot invested in that behavior. Bring the numbers, bring the noise.
This is not to say that there is not a lot of extreme behavior out there from activists, but this is a result of statistics: there are a lot of activists out there. With our broad definition of activism, there must be at least 30 million activists in America, when you consider the big numbers that have been put up: 8 million for Obama's 2008 campaign, 5 million in a couple of Tea Party organizations (unlikely to overlap with the former!), 10 million hardcore evangelicals in associated baptist recruitment groups, and so on. You might reasonably dispute estimates of how many there are (or you may even say it's likely higher!) but the point is that the first world is filled with activists. So by sheer amount, you're going to have a lot of nutjob activists... just like there are a lot of nutjob soldiers and a lot of nutjob teachers, because once you get a membership of millions then the odds favor more than a few crazies slipping into the mix.
To turn to historical examples, you have pointed to MLK as proof that being an activist is bad for your health. And we might think of Malcolm X and Gandhi as similar examples. But this is the availability heuristic: the names of famous assassinated civil rights leaders come to mind very easily. But that's just because of a self-reinforcing duo of reasons: they were assassinated because they were the hugely prominent representatives of the movement, and they became hugely prominent because they were assassinated martyrs of their causes. To put it simply: how many names do you know of other civil rights leaders of 1960s African-Americans? The other members of the Big Six, after all, include John Lewis, James Farmer, Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young. Lewis is currently the only one alive - and a sitting United States Senator - but the others died happy, virtuous, and peacefully. And while you might identify Gandhi as the independence-era martyr, how about Jawaharlal Nehru, who was just as prominent and influential, and who died after leading the country with such skill that he is much more highly regarded by actual Indians?
Casually, none of the numbers seem to be in your favor, and your judgment seems to reflect understandable biases rather than reality.--ADtalkModerator 19:17, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
This 2008 paper, and this newer paper by sociologist David Horton Smith, who I understand is one of the leading lights on research into non-profit groups, is basically a call for further research into what he calls the "dark side" of non-profit groups. He defines that very broadly, as any sort of "deviance and misconduct". I think that the 'deviance and misconduct' takes some predictable forms. Part of the problem, as Smith seems to suggest, is that most study in the sociology of nonprofit groups is undertaken on behalf of insiders, who have no real stake in identifying a 'dark side'. Insiders might not even perceive the constant dunning for contributions, issuance of alarms and calls to action, and the sale of membership data to similar organizations as standard operating procedure, neither deviance nor misconduct, and certainly not as punishing their supporters for their support. And there's always Eric Hoffer's classic The True Believer (wp, which is difficult to summarize, but basically says that most movements of the kind I criticize are ways for people to purge themselves of unwanted rooted identities by claiming allegiance to a holy cause. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 20:20, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
I take it, though, that you agree that these are matters that empirical research could greatly illuminate?
It might be interesting, then, to pause to consider why you haven't looked into that sort of thing at all, to investigate whether or not your beliefs are true. I don't mean to scold you, because - frankly - such a failure it perfectly reasonable. It wouldn't have occurred to me, either, unless someone challenged me (ah, the benefits of discussion!). And yet it should probably have been our first instinct: once we have a big theory like this, we should try to work out what is testable about it, and then see if it's been tested. I'm bad about that, and should be better.
Anyway, a first few searches and abstracts on Google Scholar seems to indicate that almost all the research on activist volunteers focuses on how to keep them interested and motivated ([1],[2], and [3]). I don't stand by any examples, but I sure haven't come up with anything that runs contrary to that impression: organizations are concerned about how to keep their activists motivated and present, not with discouraging them from becoming radicalized. Now, I suppose that might indicate that the organizations themselves don't care, but surely some social scientist would have realized that volunteers tend to become paranoid over time as they continue their activism, volunteering for the rights of the elderly or whatever, right? Yet anecdotally and in the research, overwhelmingly no one at all seems worried about this or suggests that this is a problem, at all.
The research you indicate seems to strongly support my contention that such behavior is in the extraordinary minority of total activists, and in fact the second Mitchell paper credits extremist behavior with a whole lot of really good and nice things in society and he doesn't seem to really condemn it anyway. The True Believer sounds like an analysis of extremists, which isn't pertinent (we both already agree they exist, we just disagree on their prevalence).--ADtalkModerator 20:52, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
My experience is somewhat different. U.S. politics and the ineffectiveness of its legislative and other political institutions is the world's wonder and scorn; this of course has many causes, but I firmly believe that the "activist mind" is one of 'em. The perennial need to "motivate the base" encourages extremist stances that are only partially concealed by code language that fools nobody. At various points in my lifetime both Democrats and Republicans have been pulled into positions the voters weren't ready to endorse by activist bases.
The need to keep activists on board builds political hypocrisy into the system. One reason we were spared President Mitt Romney is that he was caught by an activist from the other side, telling his own activists that he shared their activist mindset, and that message was not meant for the general public. (Everybody seems to look past the betrayal of trust by a bartender. Again, political commitments seem to reliably distort ordinary moral judgment.)
Over and over again, from Prohibition to the mostly male mothers of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, you see this pattern where political success yields another round of more extreme demands. Even in the holy and untouchable civil rights movement, after they got the end of Jim Crow, desegregation of public accommodations, and voting rights, the next step was a demand for reparations for slavery. Give me a break.
I do think I see a pattern here; and, as you note, research into activist motives is largely driven by the institutions in the activism industry, who are very interested in learning about how to keep volunteers committed and motivated, and not interested at all in learning how their institutions or their followers tend to drift towards extremism. (One of your papers seemed to be about volunteers at a food coop, which may or may not even be activism.) - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 00:09, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
"The next step was a demand for reparations for slavery. Give me a break." I'm pretty much convinced that this entire essay is your mind on confirmation bias. Would you have opposed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988? Osaka Sun (talk) 00:55, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
You might be right; but it does seem pretty easy to find confirming material. No, I would not have opposed war reparations to the Japanese internees. But any reparations due to the slaves were paid in full with 700,000 lives. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 03:57, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
Well, that sure is some more rhetoric. But there's not much argument in it, or sense. You don't seem to present anything to contradict the many flaws I've already pointed out. I mean, I already pointed out that the Big Six were all happy, virtuous, and successful. None of them demanded reparations. The NAACP supported the idea for a few years, but has officially moved on ([4]). In fact, last I heard about reparations, President Obama was rejecting the idea, explicitly. It's not a big movement. Are you honestly trying to convince me that the civil rights movement has been insatiably moved to currently demand it, because they were corrupted by their past activism? For that matter, is it even fair to ascribe to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s the sins of a later generation of activists?
Here's an idea: what would it take to convince you that activism was a good thing? You're slinging a lot of bad thinking and hand-waving, and all the research we've seen has been on the other side of the argument. So why don't you tell me what it would take to change your mind, and we can see if that's even a reasonable - even a possible - goal. We'll set terms, that way your standard can't fluidly shift higher every time I raise the level of proof higher.--ADtalkModerator 04:01, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
What would it take to convince me that activism was a good thing? Given the variety of activist causes, many of which are (IMO) quite wrongheaded, I'm not sure that it's either possible or reasonable to expect anyone to conclude that all activism, in general, is a good thing. I've tried to keep the relative merits of activist causes out of this. So it needs to be something that any group of whatever tendency can satisfy.
OK. Show me an activist group that doesn't make enemies lists. One that is an actual social activist cause seeking political or cultural change, and not a charity. Show me one that does not demonize those who disagree with or obstruct its goals, or suggest directly or indirectly that people who decline to subscribe to its agenda are greedy, selfish, wrong-headed, or in the way, and I will admit that such an activist group might do more good than harm. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 18:11, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
No, wait. You have listed a variety of attributes that might distinguish one group as doing more good than harm. You say that such a group must not make an enemies list, must not demonize at all, must not interpret its opponents as anything negative up to an including "wrong-headed," and which is a social activist cause seeking political or cultural change but not a charity. And of course many of these standards are so fluid themselves that they can be met by a huge number of things. An "enemies list," for example, can be interpreted so broadly that it includes a list of prominent companies that support a cause opposed by the movement, for the purposes of boycotts, or a list of congresspeople to be contacted.
And that's just for one charity, which would still allow you to ascribe to almost every single one an overall negative impact.
This isn't a way to prove you wrong, it's an impossibly high standard that still wouldn't convince you that activism itself is not a negative influence.
You are entitled to this opinion, of course, but you've clearly constructed a scenario in which discussion is not productive, because there are no means by which you could be reasonably convinced. You don't name a study scenario, survey, or anything like that, but instead a loose conglomeration of wide-ranging and amorphous traits that would distinguish a single activist group as virtuous - no, sorry, that's the wrong word - that would distinguish a group as downright saintly, never having taken a single action that you could spin into something villainous.
I think you are making a mistake - not in the matter of your beliefs about activism, which are trivial, but in your whole approach to constructing beliefs. You might want to reconsider.--ADtalkModerator 18:50, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
My basic issue with all of these groups, including the ones we're told to admire, is that they stir up ill will by making devils out of some of their neighbors. Of course, I did doubt you can come up with any that don't do this; it seems to be necessary for all of these groups to have an enemy to unite around. But if you had, I would have acknowledged: here is an activist group that is not a part of the activist problem, and therefore not all activism is bad. Of course, your "rhetorical" claim that the standard is "impossibly high" does not lead you to the conclusion that all activism does, in fact, stir up ill will against an identified Other. My opinion is that all activism poses a moral problem for that reason alone, and creates problems for the activists as well as their communities. I think we agree that no activist group will ever meet this standard. The question then becomes, how many rounds of Hate Your Neighbor are we obliged to play? My answer is "none". - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 21:20, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
Any significant group that is holding any opinion at all is going to stir up ill will against those who oppose said opinion. You might call that the 'group opinion problem', just as you have coined the term 'activist problem'. Just because you say it is a problem doesn't mean it actually stands out as one. As long as most people in the group are reasonable, it should turn out without much trouble. Of course you're always going to find extremists in any significant group to play along with your confirmation bias. See what I mean? My point is that you're not likely to be making any sort of good case without some solid statistics to back you up. That's what AD has been trying to get you to do. To go out and look at statistics. Nullahnung (talk) 21:39, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
I'm sure you would acknowledge the saintly organization, if I found it. But your standard is unreasonable, because the essential flaw in your logic is that you propose that it is always "bad" to point out a problem. You phrase this in various ways like "stir up ill will," but that's all you're talking about: identifying problems.
Now, sometimes activists do that for bad reasons, like when an activist lies about the data for that problem just because it hurts a political opponent. Sometimes they do it for good reasons, like when an activist sacrifices their comfort and life in order to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. Sometimes they do it for bad reasons that work towards a good reason, like when an activist works to advance their own career in their sector so that they can earn more money, and in the process creates a heartbreaking presentation to persuade a room of the wealthy to fund medical research.
Sometimes people are a part of the problem - and this can be true or it can be false, depending on the cause and the activist and their virtue and their abilities - and so identifying the problem means pointing out the people. This can be done responsibly, or it can be done irresponsibly.
Sometimes activists are driven by their frustration or by their success to push even further, and sometimes to become increasingly more extreme. Sometimes activists do things they never would have done without their cause. Sometimes that means marching endless miles across the dust to a salty shore, to defy an empire. Sometimes that means bullying a conference room in Wannsee, full of men of mixed beliefs, into agreeing on a final solution.
Sometimes the worst happens when earnest people do too much or when villainous people are allowed to do a little.
But problems never get fixed if they are never found. And they are never found unless someone is looking.
On the cold streets of Boston tonight, where a heavy mist will descend with the nighttime chill, there's a grimy old convenience story staffed by a crew of two. There's a big sticky spot on the ground in front of the counter, where soda has dried and the mark of black shoe tracks has become visible. One of the two men may point this out, and he is identifying the problem. One of the two men may blame the other, rightly or wrongly, for making the mess. One of the men might profit from this blame, and the other might be unfairly castigated. Or maybe they'll work together and all will go well.
But it's damn sure that if no one says anything and no one points it out and no one cares about fixing the problem, then that rind of dried sugar will stay there forever.
The world isn't perfect. It's getting better, in fits and starts, though agony abounds in our indifferent universe. But nothing will ever get better, be it slavery or sticky spot, unless someone cares enough to identify the problem. And talk about how to fix it. And even to point out the cause.
There's a gap in your logic. There are gaps in the world. Someone needs to fix them, but before that can happen: someone else needs to care.--ADtalkModerator 21:50, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
My quite unscientific opinion is that significant portions of the political culture of the United States shows signs of being locked into some kind of death spiral of extremism. There's open talk of disloyalty to Washington, secession, nullification, and political murder. A large portion of the problem, in my opinion, is that we have too many people pointing fingers at each other and shouting. We've simply had too much of naming, shaming, and blaming. I still don't think this is an unreasonable conclusion. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 03:36, 23 September 2013 (UTC)
My unsupported grandstanding is so much better than yours.--ADtalkModerator 03:43, 23 September 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── That's a matter of opinion, I guess. FWIW, I am slowly finding more research on radicalization and the genesis of extremism, and added some of the bits I found helpful. Much of it is focused on Muslims or American right wingers, rather than a general perspective. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 16:30, 23 September 2013 (UTC)

Well, I wish you'd taken on more from this conversation than the idea that you just need to find research. You are doing exactly the wrong thing, in almost a cliched way. When I point out the need to have a falsifiable model backed by research, your response appears to have been to pluck out a dozen studies that you think support your claim.
If you actually think you are right, the first thing you do is to decide how you might be able to tell you are right, not how you might prove it. If you're actually interested in finding out the truth, rather than turning your arguments into soldiers, then think about the differences that might exist between the two worlds: one in which activism is a positive/neutral force, and one in which it is a negative force. What about that is measurable? What would be the indicators?
How about we do it together? We'll decide on some metrics that we think would be a good indicator of whether or not activism is a good thing for the world or for individuals, and then we'll find the data. And whichever way it goes, then we'll be closer to the actual truth.--ADtalkModerator 02:22, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
That's the wonderful thing about life, isn't it? All your clichéa ultimately come true in the end.
That sounds reasonable -- but, from my perspective, it has to be about what they'd do to their enemies. Whom do they want their government to punish? What do they propose to do with them? Tax them, fine them, name and shame them, imprison them, burn them at the stake, and so forth. This seems measurable, and discernible from public statements. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 02:59, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
What, are you going to try and verify every activist organization and its virtue? Actually pause for a moment and think about that.
Okay, now let's have some suggestions that wouldn't take the rest of our lives to complete.
We already worked out your key ideas. I see a couple of things there that would be immediately testable: your prediction that activism encourages more activism and your prediction that activism encourages greater extremism over time. Those not only seem to be key tenets of your belief here, but also will be something that I bet we can work out some metrics on. There are all kinds of longitudinal studies out there for things like this. How about that? And remember: if you cheat and check to find the answers now before you commit, you're not really interested in the truth.--ADtalkModerator 03:28, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
Well, let me know.--ADtalkModerator 19:12, 27 September 2013 (UTC)
I'm currently working through Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature, which I think shows some promising leads about this; but it's quite long and I'm nowhere near finished. :D - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 18:36, 28 September 2013 (UTC)
That was not responsive, unfortunately.--ADtalkModerator 01:14, 29 September 2013 (UTC)

How could we forget?[edit]

Politics is the mind killer! Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 21:08, 22 September 2013 (UTC)

I find that reasonably insightful, and think I'd read a slightly different version some time ago; even if it takes evolutionary psychology a few steps further than I would have taken it. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 03:38, 23 September 2013 (UTC)

But.. what if your neighbors really are devils?[edit]

You also seem to imply that inaction (non-activism) is not capable of causing harm to an individual or group. --Inquisitor (talk) 18:33, 24 September 2013 (UTC)

Actually, I rather expect my neighbors to be devils; but really they're just dangerous wild animals. Be cautious, give them space, and don't do anything to rile or spook them, because they're unpredictable when injured or angry.
The choice is always between the known harm of the status quo, and the harms that will befall agitating to change it. Those latter harms are likely both to take unforeseen forms, and to be underestimated by those who dislike the status quo. Inaction's always an option; and it's likely to be the one most of your neighbors choose as well. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 19:10, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Ah. I think you may want to tighten up your essay a bit, and more clearly define your terms. It seems your argument is based upon a position of either indifference or inaction. Sort of a philosophical extension of the old idiom "Better the devil you know, than the devil you don't." At first blush, it's a position that I would tentatively disagree with, but I am interested to see if you can more clearly articulate your viewpoint. --Inquisitor (talk) 21:32, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Will try to do that. We probably do need an article on moral aggression, though I may not be the ideal person to write it; and that probably deserves a whole section. Looking for similar research has been helpful. I'm especially taken with the bit about "the moral dimension of a compromising disposition, which is our ultimate protection against stupidity and cruelty." A contrary hypothesis that it's just identity politics, with its impossibly frustrating demands (e.g. you can't stop being a racist just by intentionally rejecting racist ideas) needs to be ruled out, but that's easier; AFAIAC, the most annoying activists are the anti-abortion movement and the animal rightsers. They have very little to do with identity politics. What annoys about them is their aggressive attempts to recruit empathy for dubious targets, and the implied demonization of those who will not comply. The point ultimately needs to be, that's no way to treat your neighbor. - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 01:26, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
What "annoys" you? You're stepping dangerously close to self-defeating argument territory. You are advocating a position, that others should not advocate for their own position, because it may annoy others. --Inquisitor (talk) 02:13, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
Sometimes the harms caused by the status quo are unforeseen -- global warming is a case-in-point here. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 04:03, 25 September 2013 (UTC)

I agree![edit]

Bloody activists! Here's another example - at one time before we had cars, well before we had roads anyway, you could drive on any side of the damn road you pleased. Then, one fine day, along comes some boldly "activist" concerned about some recently invented "public safety" or some such thing and tells us which side of the damn road we should drive on!

Next thing you know the local policeman is your enemy and he's taking you to jail because of this stupid activist-inspired law. And it's not as if a universal law either. Did you know that some countries drive on the other side of the road to you? Where were your activists then? Eh? Eh?

Or at least one set of these do-gooding, interfering activists must have been WRONG! So activists - you obviously don't have the slightest idea what you are doing and I commend the writer of this article for his sanity in pointing this out. We need more activists like him who are prepared to speak out!--Coffee (talk) 16:17, 25 September 2013 (UTC)

I try to get along with everybody. That's why I drive in the middle! - Smerdis of Tlön (talk) 16:53, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
Why not drive above the lane! http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/china-plans-big-bus-drive-over-cars
Always look for possible solutions outside the box, my friend. ;) Nullahnung (talk) 19:03, 25 September 2013 (UTC)

Metric system[edit]

I can agree with a lot said in this essay, but your dislike for the metric system is clearly irrational. 141.134.75.236 (talk) 06:52, 11 January 2015 (UTC)

Perhaps; it's no less intense for that. It's another of those things that looks better on paper than in practice; and worse, the sheer officiousness of its cheerleaders proclaiming its superior rationality tends to backfire. It turns the metric system into a resented imposition. - Smerdis of Tlön, A ⇒ ¬A. 05:37, 12 January 2015 (UTC)
Resented by whom? Outside of the US, Burma and Liberia the metric system has been adopted everywhere. --MtDNotorious Sodomite 05:54, 12 January 2015 (UTC)
Here in the USA, the metric system tends to be viewed mostly with mild annoyance. There hasn't been any serious attempt to shove it down our throats since the late 1970s, and the system has something of the stink of government sponsored nutrition campaigns about it. - Smerdis of Tlön, A ⇒ ¬A. 15:33, 12 January 2015 (UTC)
Which is why you crash spacecraft. Doxys Midnight Runner (talk) 16:55, 12 January 2015 (UTC)
Without survey data showing what fraction of US folk smell mildly annoying government sponsorship in the metric system, that is one individual's subjective view, just as valid as any other. In fact, for things like measurement and interoperability standards, an argumentum ad populum is most appropriate. As the proud mom watching the parade said, "They're all out of step but my Johnny!"
Let's all go back to perches, firkins, and unequal hours, counted from various daily events, and see how far that gets us. To me, metric resistors carry a whiff of reactionary aestheticism, the kind of peeps who long for a return to what B.F. Skinner called "the goat and the loom." Alec Sanderson (talk) 17:20, 12 January 2015 (UTC)
Before continuing this conversation, I suggest looking at Talk:Metric system.--ZooGuard (talk) 17:26, 12 January 2015 (UTC)

A relevant passage from It Can't Happen Here[edit]

I have no strong opinions one way or the other, but I was reading It Can't Happen Here and came across this, which I thought you might be interested in.

"Well, gentlemen, I have listened to all your Solutions, and I now inform you that I, and I alone, except perhaps for Walt Trowbridge and the ghost of Pareto, have the perfect, the inevitable, the only Solution, and that is: There is no Solution! There will never be a state of society anything like perfect!

"There never will be a time when there won't be a large proportion of people who feel poor no matter how much they have, and envy their neighbors who know how to wear cheap clothes showily, and envy neighbors who can dance or make love or digest better."

Doremus suspected that, with the most scientific state, it would be impossible for iron deposits always to find themselves at exactly the rate decided upon two years before by the National Technocratic Minerals Commission, no matter how elevated and fraternal and Utopian the principles of the commissioners.

His Solution, Doremus pointed out, was the only one that did not flee before the thought that a thousand years from now human beings would probably continue to die of cancer and earthquake and such clownish mishaps as slipping in bathtubs. It presumed that mankind would continue to be burdened with eyes that grow weak, feet that grow tired, noses that itch, intestines vulnerable to bacilli, and generative organs that are nervous until the age of virtue and senility. It seemed to him unidealistically probable, for all the "contemporary furniture" of the 1930's, that most people would continue, at least for a few hundred years, to sit in chairs, eat from dishes upon tables, read books--no matter how many cunning phonographic substitutes might be invented, wear shoes or sandals, sleep in beds, write with some sort of pens, and in general spend twenty or twenty-two hours a day much as they had spent them in 1930, in 1630. He suspected that tornadoes, floods, droughts, lightning, and mosquitoes would remain, along with the homicidal tendency known in the best of citizens when their sweethearts go dancing off with other men.

And, most fatally and abysmally, his Solution guessed that men of superior cunning, of slyer foxiness, whether they might be called Comrades, Brethren, Commissars, Kings, Patriots, Little Brothers of the Poor, or any other rosy name, would continue to have more influence than slower-witted men, however worthy.

All the warring Solutions--except his, Doremus chuckled--were ferociously propagated by the Fanatics, the "Nuts."

He recalled an article in which Neil Carothers asserted that the "rabble-rousers" of America in the mid-'thirties had a long and dishonorable ancestry of prophets who had felt called upon to stir up the masses to save the world, and save it in the prophets' own way, and do it right now, and most violently: Peter the Hermit, the ragged, mad, and stinking monk who, to rescue the (unidentified) tomb of the Savior from undefined "outrages by the pagans," led out on the Crusades some hundreds of thousands of European peasants, to die on the way of starvation, after burning, raping, and murdering fellow peasants in foreign villages all along the road.

There was John Ball who "in 1381 was a share-the-wealth advocate; he preached equality of wealth, the abolition of class distinctions, and what would now be called communism," and whose follower, Wat Tyler, looted London, with the final gratifying result that afterward Labor was by the frightened government more oppressed than ever. And nearly three hundred years later, Cromwell's methods of expounding the sweet winsomeness of Purity and Liberty were shooting, slashing, clubbing, starving, and burning people, and after him the workers paid for the spree of bloody righteousness with blood.

Brooding about it, fishing in the muddy slew of recollection which most Americans have in place of a clear pool of history, Doremus was able to add other names of well-meaning rabble-rousers:

Murat and Danton and Robespierre, who helped shift the control of France from the moldy aristocrats to the stuffy, centime-pinching shopkeepers. Lenin and Trotzky who gave to the illiterate Russian peasants the privileges of punching a time clock and of being as learned, gay, and dignified as the factory hands in Detroit; and Lenin's man, Borodin, who extended this boon to China. And that William Randolph Hearst who in 1898 was the Lenin of Cuba and switched the mastery of the golden isle from the cruel Spaniards to the peaceful, unarmed, brotherly-loving Cuban politicians of today.

The American Moses, Dowie, and his theocracy at Zion City, Illinois, where the only results of the direct leadership of God--as directed and encouraged by Mr. Dowie and by his even more spirited successor, Mr. Voliva--were that the holy denizens were deprived of oysters and cigarettes and cursing, and died without the aid of doctors instead of with it, and that the stretch of road through Zion City incessantly caused the breakage of springs on the cars of citizens from Evanston, Wilmette, and Winnetka, which may or not have been a desirable Good Deed.

Cecil Rhodes, his vision of making South Africa a British paradise, and the actuality of making it a graveyard for British soldiers.

All the Utopias--Brook Farm, Robert Owen's sanctuary of chatter, Upton Sinclair's Helicon Hall--and their regulation end in scandal, feuds, poverty, griminess, disillusion.

All the leaders of Prohibition, so certain that their cause was world-regenerating that for it they were willing to shoot down violators.

It seemed to Doremus that the only rabble-rouser to build permanently had been Brigham Young, with his bearded Mormon captains, who not only turned the Utah desert into an Eden but made it pay and kept it up.

Pondered Doremus: Blessed be they who are not Patriots and Idealists, and who do not feel they must dash right in and Do Something About It, something so immediately important that all doubters must be liquidated--tortured--slaughtered! Good old murder, that since the slaying of Abel by Cain has always been the new device by which all oligarchies and dictators have, for all future ages to come, removed opposition!


In this acid mood Doremus doubted the efficacy of all revolutions; dared even a little to doubt our two American revolutions--against England in 1776, and the Civil War.

For a New England editor to contemplate even the smallest criticism of these wars was what it would have been for a Southern Baptist fundamentalist preacher to question Immortality, the Inspiration of the Bible, and the ethical value of shouting Hallelujah. Yet had it, Doremus queried nervously, been necessary to have four years of inconceivably murderous Civil War, followed by twenty years of commercial oppression of the South, in order to preserve the Union, free the slaves, and establish the equality of Industry with Agriculture? Had it been just to the Negroes themselves to throw them so suddenly, with so little preparation, into full citizenship, that the Southern states, in what they considered self-defense, disqualified them at the polls and lynched them and lashed them? Could they not, as Lincoln at first desired and planned, have been freed without the vote, then gradually and competently educated, under federal guardianship, so that by 1890 they might, without too much enmity, have been able to enter fully into all the activities of the land?

A generation and a half (Doremus meditated) of the sturdiest and most gallant killed or crippled in the Civil War or, perhaps worst of all, becoming garrulous professional heroes and satellites of the politicians who in return for their solid vote made all lazy jobs safe for the G.A.R. The most valorous, it was they who suffered the most, for while the John D. Rockefellers, the J. P. Morgans, the Vanderbilts, Astors, Goulds, and all their nimble financial comrades of the South, did not enlist, but stayed in the warm, dry counting-house, drawing the fortune of the country into their webs, it was Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Nathaniel Lyon, Pat Cleburne, and the knightly James B. McPherson who were killed . . . and with them Abraham Lincoln.

So, with the hundreds of thousands who should have been the progenitors of new American generations drained away, we could show the world, which from 1780 to 1860 had so admired men like Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, the Adamses, Webster, only such salvages as McKinley, Benjamin Harrison, William Jennings Bryan, Harding . . . and Senator Berzelius Windrip and his rivals.

Slavery had been a cancer, and in that day was known no remedy save bloody cutting. There had been no X-rays of wisdom and tolerance. Yet to sentimentalize this cutting, to justify and rejoice in it, was an altogether evil thing, a national superstition that was later to lead to other Unavoidable Wars--wars to free Cubans, to free Filipinos who didn't want our brand of freedom, to End All Wars.

Let us, thought Doremus, not throb again to the bugles of the Civil War, nor find diverting the gallantry of Sherman's dashing Yankee boys in burning the houses of lone women, nor particularly admire the calmness of General Lee as he watched thousands writhe in the mud.

He even wondered if, necessarily, it had been such a desirable thing for the Thirteen Colonies to have cut themselves off from Great Britain. Had the United States remained in the British Empire, possibly there would have evolved a confederation that could have enforced World Peace, instead of talking about it. Boys and girls from Western ranches and Southern plantations and Northern maple groves might have added Oxford and York Minster and Devonshire villages to their own domain. Englishmen, and even virtuous Englishwomen, might have learned that persons who lack the accent of a Kentish rectory or of a Yorkshire textile village may yet in many ways be literate; and that astonishing numbers of persons in the world cannot be persuaded that their chief aim in life ought to be to increase British exports on behalf of the stock-holdings of the Better Classes.

It is commonly asserted, Doremus remembered, that without complete political independence the United States could not have developed its own peculiar virtues. Yet it was not apparent to him that America was any more individual than Canada or Australia; that Pittsburgh and Kansas City were to be preferred before Montreal and Melbourne, Sydney and Vancouver.

No questioning of the eventual wisdom of the "radicals" who had first advocated these two American revolutions, Doremus warned himself, should be allowed to give any comfort to that eternal enemy: the conservative manipulators of privilege who damn as "dangerous agitators" any man who menaces their fortunes; who jump in their chairs at the sting of a gnat like Debs, and blandly swallow a camel like Windrip.

Between the rabble-rousers--chiefly to be detected by desire for their own personal power and notoriety--and the un-self-seeking fighters against tyranny, between William Walker or Danton, and John Howard or William Lloyd Garrison, Doremus saw, there was the difference between a noisy gang of thieves and an honest man noisily defending himself against thieves. He had been brought up to revere the Abolitionists: Lovejoy, Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Harriet Beecher Stowe--though his father had considered John Brown insane and a menace, and had thrown sly mud at the marble statues of Henry Ward Beecher, the apostle in the fancy vest. And Doremus could not do otherwise than revere the Abolitionists now, though he wondered a little if Stephen Douglas and Thaddeus Stephens and Lincoln, more cautious and less romantic men, might not have done the job better.

"Is it just possible," he sighed, "that the most vigorous and boldest idealists have been the worst enemies of human progress instead of its greatest creators? Possible that plain men with the humble trait of minding their own business will rank higher in the heavenly hierarchy than all the plumed souls who have shoved their way in among the masses and insisted on saving them?"

--Кřěĵ (ṫåɬк) 09:37, 19 October 2016 (UTC)