Posts Tagged ‘how to sabotage your cause’

Are you a ‘true’ environmentalist / vegan / feminist?

Well, looks like I’m not a ‘true’ environmentalist. I still have a car, I still don’t buy 100% organic, I haven’t eaten the carbon-intensive blind cat, I’m still on the grid, and yep, there’s even still a roll of paper towels (recycled) in my kitchen — mostly for said cat’s occasional hairball.

I have a bone to pick with the word ‘true.’ I’ve seen it slapped on a bunch of different labels recently, and a certain pattern is emerging. I’m not a ‘true’ feminist because I have reservations about Slut Walk as an expression of equality and a demand for respect. Bill Clinton, who chooses not to eat animal products for health reasons, is not a ‘true’ vegan. Hell, I’m not even a ‘true’ vegetarian because I have clam chowder once or twice a year.

Let’s decode this. Can I suggest that, in each of these cases, by ‘true’ the speaker simply means conforming to beliefs s/he personally holds, things that s/he already does? By implication, anyone we don’t consider a ‘true’ [insert label here] is, well, lame. I won’t deny that there are different levels of commitment. There are. But using ‘true’ to describe difference isn’t about one’s own commitment to a set of values. It’s about stepping on other people in order to feel superior and exclusive.

Worst of all, it doesn’t help anything.  Instead of encouraging the people who are most receptive to learning and perhaps committing more to a cause, it alienates. Making people defensive is a terrible way to promote your cause. Instead of reaching out, it closes off. And worst of all, people are more likely to judge an entire cause as being preachy, intolerant, and close-minded after even a few bad encounters.

I’ve been on both sides of this problem. I used to scoff at buying organic because most of the people I knew who did so were self-righteous Whole Foods shoppers. After an unpleasant encounter with vegans on my college campus, I chowed down on a hamburger. At the same time, I’m pretty darn judgmental myself.  I judge the people in my condo who don’t recycle their plastic water bottles, people with lots of kids in tow, people who accept a plastic bag when buying a single item, people who still think they can somehow shop their way into sustainability.  Not judging, not labeling — now that’s hard. But shouldn’t we try?

Labels are convenient, but they present the appearance of unity without acknowledging that one person’s idea of being an environmentalist or vegan or whatever will not totally coincide with anyone else’s. (And that’s good, because adopting a label does not give you the right to stop thinking for yourself.)  Deeming a ‘true’ anything is completely subjective and particularly unhelpful. Let’s cut it out already.

Have you ever used ‘true’ with a label you identified with? What did you really mean by it?

How to sabotage your cause

I overheard an older couple in the grocery store the other day. The woman picked up a bottle of organic V8, to which the man grumbled, “If it’s organic, I don’t want it.” Clearly the word ‘organic’ meant something different to him than what it means to me — grown without synthetic pesticides with [hopefully] more sustainable farming practices. At a guess, ‘organic’ meant to him what it used to mean to me: something that only snooty, yoga-practicing, more-sustainable-than-thou, upper middleclass white women bought.

We can blame some of this bad rap on mainstream media. They’re a wonderfully convenient scapegoat for both left and right. However, I think we also need to take responsibility for our own PR problems. They’re not unique to us; every movement has them. Inevitably, passion and enthusiasm lead us to do things that impact how we are perceived and effectively limit our ability to promote our cause.

Well, hell. Might as well make a guide out of it. Here’s the slightly tongue-in-cheek Not Easy to Be Green guide to sabotaging your own cause. Go on, fill the people around you with a murderous rage to take your cause and stamp on it.

OK. Start with a generous heaping of intolerance. Intolerance for people who don’t share your cause, who don’t see how obvious it is that you’re right and they’re wrong, who even think there could be any room for uncertainty or doubt. Call them stupid, selfish, ignorant, or brainwashed. Exclude anyone who doesn’t share 100% of your views on the subject.

Next, stir in a few fistfuls of impatience. Disregard the fact that people respond to different things at different rates. Jump on friends for continuing to buy factory farmed chicken, for exploiting bees, or for not switching to a composting toilet already. Even if they’ve made some strides to support your cause, belittle their efforts as meaningless and ineffectual in the face of what they should be doing.

Now toss in some self-righteousness, because nothing wins people over to your cause so quickly as being told how much better you are and how much you do for your cause. Judge everyone who doesn’t come up to your standards (slackers). Ignore everyone who goes further than you (overachievers). 

Finally, pick a fight with other people who, for all intents and purposes, also support your cause. Nothing shows how wonderfully mindful, compassionate, and admirable your cause is like a whole lot of petty in-fighting. Come to blows over whether CFLs or LEDs are better choices. Quarrel over who is harming fewer animals. Quibble over motivation. And best all of, form divisions within your cause. Because that whole ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ thing? It’s insignificant rubbish compared to your cause to eradicate the evils of toilet paper on the Earth.

Include all four elements in every conversation you strike up, and you will no doubt end up having a net negative impact on your cause. Note: I am not liable if you get punched, ostracised, or otherwise negatively impacted by following this guide.

Did I miss any? Do you see this happening in the causes you support? Do you ever find yourself doing any of these? (Obviously, I am susceptible to the intolerance part. Sigh.)

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