Having Been Human
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Tue Oct 30 08:54:38 2012
Casus Belltower

I've been getting some traction on this small point, so I'll share it here; I draw a distinction between causes and movements, and hold them far enough apart that I can judge them independently.

A cause is generally a notion of a way to improve society; eliminating a harm or introducing some new sort of goodness.

A movement is a gathering of people who are trying to advance one or more causes.

Movements rarely last very long; it's rare they go more than a year or so. Causes, being more abstract, tend to inspire people for longer.

When people are inspired by a movement, it might easily be for bad reasons; insubstantial arguments, personal traits of leaders, knowing they dislike people or traits of some "opposite", need for community that is met by the community of the cause, and so on. Because of this sort of attachment, if people sour on the movement for some reason (leadership proves corrupt, culture gets too far from mainstream and rots, misc scandal), often they give up on the cause as well.

I believe that people generally either hold onto a cause tightly and are pragmatic about movements, or they hold onto a movement tightly and are pragmatic about the cause. I believe the latter is unfortunately much more common, and that this amounts to raising culture over philosophy.

Sometimes more than one movement is trying to address the same cause; occasionally this means the movements can cooperate, particularly if it's more of a chance overlap, but sometimes they will act as (possibly friendly) rivals and still contend with each other for members (or push their distinguishing characteristics in discourse). In sufficiently large causes (environment, economic justice, social justice, etc) this is fairly common; trotsyites and anarchosocialists may have fairly similar causes (it is rare that full congruence of cause is seen), but their methods and analyses and activism are different enough that collaboration is more provisional than anything else. Likewise many anti-racist and feminist movements see similar struggles.

I would like to see people become advocates of causes first and movements second, to remain skeptical of movements (even though they are necessary), to be particularly wary of discourse and culture that stem from movements, and if one must leave a movement, to think of that as separate from giving up on the cause. Too many people have abandoned the secular, socialist, feminist, anti-racist, and other worthy causes because some leader did something stupid or their particular movement became rotten; I hold that in such a case one should either fight to clean up that movement, start a new movement that's tackling the same cause, swap to another movement that's already doing that (if it exists), or just continue to value the cause but do so alone until a suitable movement arises again.