Friday, October 22, 2010

A path between houses

Mikhail Goldman, via Feminisnt:

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

This results in a limbo situation for such people who cannot fit in. Most end up giving up on a scene that they feel they can never be fully part of.
Aside from the obvious cultural bias in activist circles towards whiteness, the disproportionate dominance of student politics (as well as those who have come through the university system) means that those from working class backgrounds often feel a similar alienation from activism. The intellectuals of the movement love to communicate in lengthy theses on this or that particular issue, often lacking direct connections to those on the front line.

Walking into a subculture is kind of like walking into somebody's home. It tells us something about who someone is at a particular point in their life. It might represent who they are or who they are trying to be. You're not going to know much about it unless you spend some time there, because it's not your home. When you are in someone else's home you try to be respectful.

A home is fundamentally an enclosure from what is happening outside. Some people have wonderful homes that you never want to leave. But if we want to engage with the world outside, eventually we are going to have to leave the house.

It is revealing to me how often I can be critical of other people's homes while very rarely leaving my own. I really like my home. And have you seen what is going on outside lately? F that!

We can't expect that other people are going to rearrange their furniture on the basis of our preferences. However, it is important to try to make other people comfortable in our home, particularly if we want them to stay; and to visit others from time to time, if we want to know who they are.


Anonymous said...

Nice angle. Not too many people discuss the subtle forms of tribalism, and they are quite powerful. True, they are a holdover from cliques in youth, but a great many humans never really graduate from the cliques-as-essential-social-structure perspective. Hence, country clubs... Elks Clubs... Jaycees... Loyal Order of Moose... all the way up to the Dining Clubs of the Ivies, and Bohemian Grove.

You might guess --and correctly so if this is what you guess-- that I pick on Marx because the vast majority of Marxists I've encountered were tribalist in the extreme, dogmatic and insular, and seeking to elevate themselves via Marxist dogma. This is the point where I get my hackles up, because what was important (if anything) about Karl Marx was that he said a few things that some people need to hear. But his possession of the ideas that he shared, it was not exclusive to him. My live proves that point. I arrived where he did without ever reading him or any of his followers. Anyone can arrive there, without reading Glossy Karl. They only need to examine things from a mew perspective.

Tribes prevent new perspective outside that of the shared tribal cause. For this reason they are alienating to many. The subtler cues of dress, manner of speech, choice of food/drink... they are part of the picture too.

One Q I have: what is an "activist lifestyle"?

Anonymous said...

Please excuse the typos above (live instead of life, mew instead of new).

JRB said...

One Q I have: what is an "activist lifestyle"?

Charles, I think that works really well as a rhetorical question. Well said.