Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Yes You've Got Trouble

There is a lot to see in this article from the Intercept by a long-time progressive activist who is troubled by what he currently sees in progressive organisations. He sees a great deal, and sees it accurately. But what struck me the most were the assumptions he makes that are still unquestioned, even now, that prevent him from understanding. He worries about adopting the framing of criticism from the right, he worries about appearing to give credence to that criticism, he worries about progressives looking like the stereotype of leftist infighting like the Judean People's Front. (Or the Guerrilla Shrews in Redwall.) He is unable to consider that just perhaps, there was something to that to begin with. Do they really think the Audubon Society has a culture of retaliation, fear, and antagonism to women and people of color?

For years, recruiting young people into the movement felt like a win-win, he said: new energy for the movement and the chance to give a person a lease on a newly liberated life, dedicated to the pursuit of justice. But that’s no longer the case. “I got to a point like three years ago where I had a crisis of faith, like, I don’t even know, most of these spaces on the left are just not — they’re not healthy. Like all these people are just not — they’re not doing well,” he said. “The dynamic, the toxic dynamic of whatever you want to call it — callout culture, cancel culture, whatever — is creating this really intense thing, and no one is able to acknowledge it, no one’s able to talk about it, no one’s able to say how bad it is.”

Or, he is unable to consider that there does not seem to be progress on some of these goals now that Democrats have the trifecta because they are not, in fact, all that popular, the offered solutions not all that likely to work, and the injustices both the internal and external conflicts focus on not quite as real as assumed. 

Another leader said the strife has become so destructive that it feels like an op. “I’m not saying it’s a right-wing plot, because we are incredibly good at doing ourselves in, but — if you tried — you couldn’t conceive of a better right-wing plot to paralyze progressive leaders by catalyzing the existing culture where internal turmoil and microcampaigns are mistaken for strategic advancement of social impact for the millions of people depending on these organizations to stave off the crushing injustices coming our way,”

Some of what he is seeing is the coming-of-age of those born after the mid 90s that Haidt and Lukianoff identify, and their highly personalised or even narcissistic approach to their causes - which he sees and wrestles with.  But some of it is the natural decay of bureaucracies into uselessness, which he seems to only partially grasp. Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy again. No wonder the radicals want to burn it down. 

The reliance of so many organizations on foundation funding rather than member donations is central to the upheavals the groups have seen in recent years, one group leader said, because the groups aren’t accountable to the public for failing to accomplish anything, as long as the foundation flows continue. “Unlike labor unions, church groups, membership organizations, or even business lobbies, large foundations and grant-funded nonprofits aren’t accountable to the people whose interests they claim to represent and have no concrete incentive to win elections or secure policy gains,” they said. “The fundamental disconnect of organizations to the communities they purport to serve has led to endless ‘strategic refreshes’ and ‘organizational resets’ that have even further disconnected movements from the actual goals.”

It's Trump's fault, of course.  I should have mentioned that at the outset. Everyone was just so upset.

I just put this up for the title.  I don't think there is any further connection to the topic.  If you see one, let me know.  I might edit this and take credit for it. 

There were a dozen roads I could go down in commenting here, but I want you to choose your own.


james said...

If Satan drives out Satan...

dmoelling said...

One of my friends has done a lot of business in Africa and swears he will write an expose of the NGO's he's run into. I doubt he will get around to the writing but he is correct. The modern NGO is not the original Red Cross or Albert Schweitzer. Most of the staff are well meaning but they are not working for meager wages. The NGO world is a well paying career path and they live on government grants more than donations. People who think their children taking cute degrees from Smith College or other universities won't get good pay are not correct if their kids aim for the big foundations and NGOs for jobs.

james said...

What does he think of "The Road to Hell" by Michael Maren? I reviewed it a few years ago.