There Are No Allies Without Alliances

This article makes some good points, but in doing so it misses a larger point.

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know
by Jamie Utt

The following are my thoughts on the matter

* * * *

I would particularly add something to the sixth point: You Can’t Be an Ally in Isolation.

Being an ally is a two-way street. There is no such thing as an isolated ally. Allies can only exist in a mutual alliance (of interests, of worldviews, of values, of respect, of understanding, of compassion). If you seek to be an ally with someone who doesn’t want to be an ally with you, then there is no alliance. You can only ally with those who ally with you.

If you seek to emphasize even the smallest of differences instead of even greater similarities/commonalities in order to attack potential allies, then you suffer what Freud called the “narcissism of small differences.” This is a failure of so many militant and adversarial activists who undermine rather than strengthen alliances, and so undermine rather than strengthen their own activism.

It is self-destructive behavior typically fueled by dogmatic righteousness where being right (at least in their own mind) becomes more important than promoting what is right. Such dogmatic righteousness just leads to becoming isolated in self-certain arrogance and lockstep groupthink.

Allies work together. They don’t attack each other. This requires an attitude of caring and understanding, the only worthy motivation of any activism.

* * * *

If you find yourself regularly attacking potential allies, you might want to see if you are the problem. 

If you find yourself constantly attacking people and looking for what’s wrong with them, you might want to consider that you are likely at best being nitpicky and at worse projecting. 

If you constantly wait for people to ally with you while not extending yourself to ally with others, you might want to rethink this behavior when it undermines your activism.

Remember, activism isn’t about you. It isn’t about being right. What it is or should be about is making the world a better place for all involved.

* * * *

I’m making a larger political point. 

There are no isolated issues and problems. There are diverse areas of marginalization, victimization, oppression, suffering, etc. I see it as disempowering when people separate their issues and problems from everyone else’s issues and problems. Everyone wants people to ally with them, but not enough people are willing to go to the effort of allying with others. This is the failure of so much advocacy and activism.

Most of us are ‘victims’ of some kind of marginalization/oppression or other, for those who hold most of the power in this world are few. The lack of functioning democracy in most countries, the US included, doesn’t only impact minorities or other small demographics. If everyone fights for their separate identity politics and sees themselves in competition with everyone else, then divide and conquer will always win.

My point is that the article is missing a larger point that too often is ignored, forgotten, or misunderstood. I’m talking about the practical methods of actually making the world a better place, not just about winning rhetorical battles but real victories in the real world.

* * * *

There is a problem that has faced humanity for a long time.

The problem is less the overt issues and problems we focus on, but rather our inability to cooperatively and collectively deal with such issues and problems. If we were able to solve our problems, we wouldn’t have problems. The first problem to face is our (with emphasis on ‘our’) inability to find and implement effective solutions.

Such a simple, yet empowering, insight.

When we fight with one another instead of allying with one another, we create a world of conflict, divisiveness, and violence. How we act toward others is the world we create. The means is as important as the ends for the means is the foundation upon which the desired ends is built.

* * * *

The ten points in the article can be generalized and universalized to apply to all moral, constructive behavior for all humans. By doing so, they become more important and meaningful, touching upon wisdom that applies to all of us, not just the other  person.

So, let me rephrase them:

1. Being a Human is About Listening (and Hearing and Understanding)
2. Stop Thinking of ‘Ally’ as a Noun that Only applies to Others
3. ‘Victim’ is Not (or Should Not Be) a Self-Proclaimed Identity
4. Two-Way Aliances Don’t Take Breaks on Either End
5. Moral and Humble People Educate Themselves Constantly
6. You Can’t Be an Ally in Isolation and Without Mutual Support, Respect, and Understanding
7. Allies, Advocates, and Activists Don’t Need to Be in the Spotlight
8. Those Seeking Alliances Focus on Those Who Share Their Identity
9. When Criticized or Called Out, Moral and Compassionate People Listen, Apologize, Act Accountably, and Act Differently Going Forward
10. Humble People Never Monopolize the Emotional Energy When They Prioritize What is Right Over Being Right

Now, that’s an improvement.

* * * *

My viewpoint is exemplified by Martin Luther King.

He didn’t just seek allies, but sought to ally with others. He didn’t see himself as a victim who had to wait for people with more power to save him, to help and assist him, to advocate for him. No, he sought out a vision of shared humanity and proactively took the steps to manifest that vision. 

He wasn’t just fighting for the civil rights of his group, but for all people. The movement he most wanted to form was a movement to fight for the poor of all races/ethnicities, not just blacks, not just minorities, but everyone working together to make the world a better place and solving practical problems.

When you see yourself as a powerless victim, then your only recourse is to demand that others ally with you. But if you see yourself as a powerful agent of change, you realize you have the power to choose to create alliances that are greater than just your personal problems, issues, and interests. 

The highest form of power comes from relationships of equality. A one-way ally with power and influence to offer help is good and necessary sometimes, but an alliance of mutually-reinforcing power and equality is even better.

34 thoughts on “There Are No Allies Without Alliances

  1. I thought of a good way to think about this.

    Being an ally isn’t simply being an advocate. You can be an advocate without an alliance, but you can’t be an ally without an alliance. The very act of attempting to bean ally requires the building of an alliance. This attempt is a failure if no alliance reesults.

    This is even true for the most powerless of victims. Take abused children example. Anyone can easily advocate for abused children, in millions of different ways, mmajor ways and minor ways. Being an ally for abused children, however, is an entirely higher level of activism. It requires that you reach out to actively help abused children in a very direct manner and it requires the child reach back in return with trust. If a child in fear refuses to admit to ongoing abuse, there isa often nothing that can be done, at least legally.

    Being an ally requires a relationship between at least two people, usually many more. Relationships are hard to build, but all of activismis about this building of relationships. This is why an alliance of allies is such a step beyond mere advocacy. This is the ‘social’ in social activism. There is no activism that isn’t social activism, that isn’t about relationships and alliances.

    If you forget or never comprehend this simple truth of the social nature of human beings, your activism will be as limited as your understanding of humanity. If you don’t understand the power of human connection and community, you understand nothing that matters in this world.

  2. This post is a contination of what I wrote a couple posts back. It is in a post titled “Communication Failure, Again”.

    I was writing about a Facebook ‘discussion’ I had on a post by a guy who goes by Ajax Unruled. This guy also posted the above article on Facebook. The article expresses his views and gives hint at the reason for his lack of ability and/or desire to communicate well and play well with others.

    This demand for allies without alliance is a demand for power over, rather than power with. It is the perspective of those who feel they have been in an inferior position and now want to be in a superior position. An alliance of equals isn’t enough for them.

    They don’t want to work together with others. They don’t want to cooperated and for damn sure they don’t want to compromise. They’d rather righteously lose in a win/lose battle than pragmatically concede to a win/win scenario.

    They want everyone to either join them in defense of their groupthink or else submit to not questioning. Disagreement or difference of opinion is not allowed. You’re either with them or against them. Submit or be vanquished by their righteous cause. Even potential allies aren’t free to speak their minds. These advocates of righteous causes aren’t offering freedom to those who will follow them into battle. Or rather the ‘freedom’ they offer is that of lockstep political correctness, of the hive mentality.

    What is demanded of their ‘allies’ is for them to bend their knees to the rightful king, the new self-proclaimed boss in town. What is demanded is for one to listen when spoken to, yet not to speak in return except to repeat what one has been told. Just passively listen and follow orders. This is activism done in the style of an army preparing for war. Dissent will not be tolerated because absolute unity of will is what is deemed necessary.

    This is not a political movement seeking individual freedom among equals.

    I’m describing a particular kind of activist here, not all activists of course. I’m describing what happens when the points in the article are taken to their most dogmatic extreme. The points are worthy to keep in mind when they are kept in perspective of other important points and in perspective of a larger context of understanding. But as dogmatic rules that close down open debate and free thought, they are very dangerous toward democratic goals and moral ends.

    Be wary when insights and suggestions become rules and demands. Every movement risks turning into its opposite, becoming what its supporters claim to be fighting against. One of the greatest dangers in life is projection and the only safeguard against it is self-awareness and humility. The moment a person seeks to place themselves above others is the precise moment you should mistrust their motives and agenda, no matter how righteous their cause may seem.

  3. I suppose you will not be surprised that I find both the source article and your response to it somewhat problematic. The source article is in a relatively new tradition of identity-liberalism/leftism (the conflation is because I am unclear of the category exactly, not that it is both). You are more classically liberal in that you see this as an source in the enlightenment tradition whereas allies about about equality and universal polity. I reject both traditions for reason you problem know from my writings at Disloyal, but am more sympathetic to yours even though I think your view misses the point of “identity politics” itself.

    Given the point of view with Mia McKenzie is largely based on standpoint epistemology and intersection politics–two 80s/90s academic buzzwords which the blogosphere have rendered somewhat nebulous–it is impossible to actually have relationship of equity according to that theory of operations. The privileges and standpoint positions of a member of a category render it impossible according to standpoint theory for such a relationship of respect to emerge because the difference itself necessitates both othering and a Carl Schmittian state-of-exception for the othered identity. (It is a inversion of the “dominant” identity us/them dynamic). This rejects classical liberal idealism and the idea of formal equity or respect as important, but also reject “old left” beliefs that such problems could be eliminated through material equity because distorted consciousness makes it impossible.

    Therefore an ally in this form of polity is a person who concedes the validity of a perspective and reduces any claim but to solidarity. I suppose you see the problem with this standpoint theory of political identity is that in makes individual and social problems both a problem of consciousness which cannot be transcended, only accepted. (If you are familiar with leftist theory, this is a strange mixture of Lukac’s ideas about class consciousness being “intersectionally” applied to race and gender but mixed with liberal concern for self-validation and even some literally fascist jurisprudence about states of exception and the other). Most of the people in this dialogue do not know the history and development of the paradigm of politics they are using, but I find that this way of looking at politics is entirely problematic: it cannot end the “othering” because it accepts a form of consciousness as unbridgeable and privilege, and that there can be no dialogue or criticism as the standpoint privilege renders that a breech of solidarity because of said privilege.

    Notice this actually essentializes identity claims while claiming to do the opposite.

    You cannot correct this with liberal appeals to universality and universal equity because it was designed, explicitly, to reject that notion, nor can it be attacked on the grounds of material solidarity in practical or revolutionary politics because this is rejected too as privilege as seen as the categorical deal breaker.

    Now, I think this has infected both left-wing and liberal thinking together, and is dangerous. The fact that Carl Schmitt’s theories were added to it in the 1980s should be suspect as are the fact that there is literally not way to make outside critiques. I am not denying privilege or representation when I do this, but I see this as a dangerous way of thinking that renders the left merely a bunch of competing lifestyle claims which can be intersectionally mapped but also have built an even better confirmation bias mechanism into the works rendering them unable to adjust or deal with practical politics. You will notice this is the politics of writers about activist, activists with narrow interests, and not of practical or enactable politiy (even revolutionary polity–the problems of privilege are categorical and cannot be overcome).

    Now, to be honest about my frustration here, is that I think you are basically trying to combat something with appeals to a kind of politics it essentially rejects.

    You appeals to the “social nature of human beings” out be answered with the “status seeking nature of human beings” and the “social nature of in-group/out-group relations” by both the conservative and the identity “liberal”/”leftist.” Furthermore, I think the issue is that you focus on human relations in a way that see the social nature of humans as essentially a positive whereas I think it is much more of a mixed bag. The impulse to form communities is often based on excluding something or someone from that community as a bond–even in Geek culture and in political culture, the identity is often defined negatively as positively: what is conservatism, that which regrets contemporary liberalism… what is an atheist, that which requires G-d.. etc. I find this to be almost universal, and if it can be transcended, it must be transcended with the realization of the double-edged sword of being a social mammal.

    In that case, looking at what this standpoint theory of what an ally is, do you really think it is something we can build towards universality towards? Towards equality? In a formal or literal sense? I doubt it, and I don’t think it is designed too. Hence why corporations are totally okay with this form of “radicalism.”

    That said, rarely do I complain of someone taking claims on too much “good faith.” I wish that were still a common trait among liberal idealists. Often I think this is mostly about shooting down on the class ladder while claiming to shoot up: focusing on rednecks, lower middle class church goers, and not stock-holders, who may fund the rednecks, but live like NYC liberals by and large. So good on you for being the kind of liberal who I think actually is honest and consistent in their beliefs, even if it may lead to you taking claims a bit too much in good faith.

    • “I suppose you will not be surprised that I find both the source article and your response to it somewhat problematic.”

      Not surprised at all. Lots of things are problematic in life, my own views included. I’ll be the first to admit that.

      I have all kinds of personal issues and my knowledge and experience is limited in so many ways. But I try to respond from the heart, from who I am, from what I understand, imperfect as that is. And I try to understand where others are coming from, as best as I’m able.

      I guess I’m classically liberal. I do take my ideals seriously. Useful or not, I really have a hard time shaking the ideal of equality, most of all. It is bred in my bones. I grew up among people who actually believed all that crap to an extreme level and it’s become part of who I am.

      “This rejects classical liberal idealism and the idea of formal equity or respect as important, but also reject “old left” beliefs that such problems could be eliminated through material equity because distorted consciousness makes it impossible.”

      Interesting. That helps me understand better where this ideology/worldview is coming from.

      “Therefore an ally in this form of polity is a person who concedes the validity of a perspective and reduces any claim but to solidarity.”

      This concept of an ‘ally’ is completely foreign to my experience and sense of social reality. That doesn’t seem like an ally at all, rather a subordinate whose role is submission to the cause and to the leaders of the cause. It’s definitely an inferior position of power, control, and action.

      If they want solidarity as unquestioning obedience, why don’t they just say so? Why all this Orwellian doublespeak?

      “it cannot end the “othering” because it accepts a form of consciousness as unbridgeable and privilege, and that there can be no dialogue or criticism as the standpoint privilege renders that a breech of solidarity because of said privilege.”

      It is cynical.

      From this perspective, there seems to be no way to resolve problems or end oppression. All that can be done is that these issues are shifted to a different set of relationships of power. Instead of men or whites or whatever, those in traditionally inferior positions seek to be in the superior position where they get to cause the problems and control the oppression of others.

      This is is a reversal of privilege, but not an ending of the social order that justifies privilege. The table is turned, and yet it is the same table and we are served up the same old slop.

      I’m not sure I fully understand, but I get the gist of it.

      “Notice this actually essentializes identity claims while claiming to do the opposite.”

      I was intuitively sensing that.

      The role of ‘victim’ or ‘ally’ or ‘minority’ is an absolute identity, even as this article denies that such is the case. If you’re an ‘ally’, you must submit to the role of ‘ally’ and this role disallows the possibility of freedom of thought or action. If you refuse let such an oppressive role be forced upon you, then you are in wrong according to the role and you get placed in the category of ‘enemy’ of the cause.

      Once in a role, you are that role and you can be nothing else. Worse still, you don’t get to choose your role. It’s an inflexible hierarchy of roles where you are given a role by those above you, rather than being allowed to choose a role an autonomous individual.

      It really is no different than any other similar rigid social order, whether a racial social order or class social order. Everyone in their place and everyone with a place.

      “You cannot correct this with liberal appeals to universality and universal equity because it was designed, explicitly, to reject that notion, nor can it be attacked on the grounds of material solidarity in practical or revolutionary politics because this is rejected too as privilege as seen as the categorical deal breaker.”

      Well, gee golly. Ain’t that a humdinger! It is so self-contained that it is unassailable. It simply denies the legitimacy of anything that might bring questions or doubts to its fortress of righteous certainty.

      “a dangerous way of thinking that renders the left merely a bunch of competing lifestyle claims which can be intersectionally mapped but also have built an even better confirmation bias mechanism into the works rendering them unable to adjust or deal with practical politics.”

      Yes. That was my sense.

      “Now, to be honest about my frustration here, is that I think you are basically trying to combat something with appeals to a kind of politics it essentially rejects.”

      But I like tilting at windmills. I’m good at it. And there is a certain pleasure in such activity.

      “You appeals to the “social nature of human beings” out be answered with the “status seeking nature of human beings” and the “social nature of in-group/out-group relations” by both the conservative and the identity “liberal”/”leftist.””

      I would never deny there are many aspects to human psychology/sociology. But it isn’t just what potential social behaviors are contained within human nature. It is how that potential might be expressed. Potential is about probability, not fatalism. We have immense potential for greater equality, both in terms of decreasing the “status seeking nature of human beings” and expanding the the “social nature of in-group/out-group relations”.

      Or so my idealistic worldview tells me. I’d rather be a fool for a positive vision of humanity than a fool for dark vision of depravity and cynicism, of power-mongering and Social Darwinism. But, yes, humans are a mixed bag. Still, what we emphasize, I’d argue, will lead to which possibilities we tend to manifest, will lead to which aspects of our mixed potential we will express.

      “The impulse to form communities is often based on excluding something or someone from that community as a bond”

      This is why, as Ronald Reagan understood, we need a space alien invasion to unite all humans on planet earth. We need a larger out-group to create a larger in-group. Bring on the space aliens, I say in all seriousness.

      “In that case, looking at what this standpoint theory of what an ally is, do you really think it is something we can build towards universality towards? Towards equality? In a formal or literal sense? I doubt it, and I don’t think it is designed too. Hence why corporations are totally okay with this form of “radicalism.””

      Good questions.

      I tend to see ideals such as ‘equality’ in a relative sense, something we measure against where relationships can be more or less equal compared to some other set of relationships. Everything in this world is relative, in that everything is in relation to other things. We exist in a reality of relationships. There is no perfect ‘equality’ that stands alone like a Platonic archetype in the heavens.

      But maybe even this relative ‘equality’ seems too utopian for your taste.

      “So good on you for being the kind of liberal who I think actually is honest and consistent in their beliefs, even if it may lead to you taking claims a bit too much in good faith.”

      There is a practical side to my ideals. I hold to “good faith” because outside it lies the darkness of despair. I know the darkness of despair all too well and all too intimately. If I let myself go there, I might not come back. Severe depression keeps me on the straight and narrow.

      I understand the criticisms of taking such claims a bit too much in good faith. I understand because I’m capable of making such criticisms myself. I fully understand and yet still I hold to my “good faith” as a flickering candle in the cold, unforgiving darkness.

      I’m overly dramatic as well. It keeps me entertained.

      • Yeah, you do see the problems with this notion of thinking: the worse part, conservatives have realized this mode of thinking actually benefits them because when you reduce liberating identity forms to subordinate roles depending on relative privilege, poor people and lower middle class people are basically going to go: “if I have to feel bad for privileges and be an ally who cannot enter an actual relationship due to those privileges.. fuck you.” And hence I think you see a reversal of a lot of a gain made in these relationships.

        Anyway, I think “radical liberalism” has basically become fundamentally illiberal, even more than I am, which is surprising.

        • Nice observation about the conservative response. I hadn’t thought about that.

          Considering all that you have said, I’m not sure where it leaves someone like me. I so much want to hold to the faith of liberalism, but I just don’t know how to deal with this variety of illiberal “radical liberalism”. It leaves me utterly perplexed.

          If we let go of liberalism, what would replace it? Where do we go from here?

          • We have no idea. I tend towards a communitarianism that is inclusive on race, gender, and sexuality based on a shared identity beyond that. I suppose that is of a modified and somewhat skeptical of universalism form of old liberalism or early leftism.

    • Skepoet – I have a question for you, assuming you are still following the comments here. Do you know of any articles or books that explain in greater detail what you explained in your above comment?

      I’d like to learn more about the ideological background of this particular view of the social role of an ally in movement activism. It is entirely new to me and this incident has made me curious about it all.

      I’m good at doing research, but I’m not sure where to even begin with this topic. I don’t know any of it well enough to know which terms to use for a search on the web or on a book site. Is there a common label for this kind of political view?

      • I can give you the primary sources if you like, but it is hard to trace. The books where the term were used were written originally by Patricia Hill Collins and Dorothy Smith.

        The easiest reading is Harding, Sandra (2004) ‘Introduction: Standpoint Theory as a Site of Political, Philosophic and Scientific Debate’ in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies, S. Harding (ed.), New York: Routledge.

        Also the original theory was developed by applying Lukacs to feminist theory, the Lukacs text was Lukács, Georg, 1971, “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat”, in History and Class Consciousness, Rodney Livingstone (trans.), Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

      • All of these writers were originally considered Marxists, but they developed differently. You can also see some articles written on the topic at the North Star, because while this does have Marxist origins, Marxists critical circles debate it more.

        • Thanks for all of that! It looks like I have my work cut out for me. It makes me feel overwhelmed, but in a good way. There is a lot I don’t know, along these lines.

          That interaction and the use of ‘ally’ just plain blindsided me. I had no way of getting my bearings in the discussion. I was being attacked according to an ideological view that I had no clue about. I didn’t know why I was being attacked or what it meant.

          My trying to use the common meaning of words obviously wasn’t helpful. And obviously the person I was interacting with couldn’t have cared less about my attempts to understand or be understood. I was out of my depth. I was a lost little liberal in the dark woods of radical politics.

          My friend who has known both Ajax and I (for decades) was amused by the whole incident. She saw it from both of our perspectives and she could see why, at least on a personal level, we were bashing heads together. I was having a more difficult time finding the amusement in it all.

          But that friend of mine wasn’t any more familiar with the background of Ajax’s ideology than I was. She is also more of a ‘liberal’ like me who has wandered off the straight and narrow path.

          It is now time to educate myself on such matters. I won’t be able to give it my full attention at the immediate moment, but I have plenty time off right now and in the near future. I’ll keep digging at it and try to wrap my mind around it.

          Thanks again! I like knowing people who know more than I about particular subjects. It can be quite helpful at times. I would still be largely clueless and frustrated about this incident, if you hadn’t helped enlighten me a bit.

          As said at the end of GI Joe: “And knowing is half the Battle.”

          • Ajax is actually unlikely to the history of the ideological turn. The relationship with Marxism and the general Marxist rejection of this kind of deep academic thinking. In the last ten years, this terms were used by sociologists and general journalists, who have embedded the epistemological assumptions, but not explained them. They have been used in activist circles, but again only with a cursory defining and they are taken as given.

          • I definitely got the sense that it all was being taken as given. I suspect that anyone who questioned their ideology, including someone like you, would be seen as an opponent to be attacked.

            I got the notion that the type of activism that this was all about had more to do with action than thought, not to say there is anything wrong with action. Activism, of course, should involve action. But thought is good too.

            A part of the reason I interact with people like him is because he is involved in local activism. I want to surround myself by people who are actively involved in politics and the community. Now, action combined with thought to form thoughtful action, that is best of all.

        • I was just now perusing what you linked. I also checked out an article someone linked in a comment to your article, and then looked at the comments there. Another person made a comment about the issue of “social constructs”.

          That is something I’ve given some thought to, in relation to my studies about race and racism. In terms of genetics, many scientists argue that race simply is not a scientific category and that it is a social construct instead. I was wondering how this relates to the area of identity politics that you are mentioning.

          In your original comment, you wrote:

          “Notice this actually essentializes identity claims while claiming to do the opposite.”

          That seems to directly touch upon identity claims as social constructs. I’m trying to find a way to hook into this material and find an entry point. The issue of social constructs looks like it might be a good way to contextualize the topic for my understanding.

          • The idea of social constructs is key to identity theory, but if you take that claim seriously, then regulating people to ally without alliance stance does reify that construct. Meaning while acknowledging that the identity is socially constructed, the framework actually is dependent on that very construction. In Marxist land, we call this a contradiction.

            Now I have long since cut ways with politicized forms of Marxism, but this is my background. The problem here is that is no dealing with relationships within the social construction, the assumption is that once the social is constructed, then basically it is structurally imposed.

            This comes from a very particular reading of the base-superstructure analysis in Marx, but given a liberal gloss to remove the socialist context.

          • I’m still trying to fully grasp what you are explaining here. The base-superstructure analysis loses me, as that isn’t terminology I’m familiar with. But I get the general idea of the rest of what you’re saying here.

            The reifying part is what interests me, because it is something that is actively done. The construct is just a concept, until it is reified. And when that reification becomes institutionalized, the real fun begins with structurally imposing it.

            I’m most interested in the social mechanisms of all this. It is amazing how social constructs persist over such long periods of time, centuries even. The institutionalization wouldn’t mean much, if not for something going on in how people think, perceive, and relate.

            Maybe thinking about this ideology angle will help me in my long-term project about race and racism.

          • Yes, although my personal view on social constructs is that they are relational and thus constantly changing even as they are being imposed on you. Think of it as various filters of processing and forms of social interaction that one cannot escape, but are dependent on social and linguistic imposition of all involved.

          • Side note though: social construct theory is not just a niche left wing theory. It is a pretty heavy debate in both analytic and continental philosophy:

            THis is one of my disagreements with Haidt and the neurological politics people: while I think they are right about dispositions, they fail to account for the fact that their categories are historically and socially constructed.

            But I take a very different reading of social construction than the kinds of activists you are dealing with>

          • This is one of the areas where over time I’ve been leaning more in a direction that is more in agreement with your position. I’ve become more aware and better informed about how categories are historically and socially constructed. It’s not that I haven’t known this for a long time, but I’ve begun to take it ever more seriously.

            My education has largely come from my studies of race and genetics. I’ve really dug down into the books on that topic like I’ve done with very few topics before. It’s taken a lot of effort for me to get at the core issues and what they mean.

            Race is a great lense to study many of these issues. It involves a lot of historical, institutional, and scientific factors. What is important is how it all comes together to form a truly powerful social construct. Many people seem to underestimate the power of social constructs. They are powerful because, being structurally in the background, they form our sense of reality.

            I haven’t dealt yet with the philosophical side of social construction, but I’m sure it would be edifying.

          • Yeah, I think race is a social construct while genetic drift in population is biological. Both are “real” in that they effect identity. But race is a kinship proxy based on morphology, but often has no real ties to genentic phenotype. For example, there is more genetic diversity between black Africans than there is between Europeans and Asians. We filter that in terms of “races” because we see morphological and cultural traits. I can say though most of the cultures I have lived in don’t view race the same way. Mexico has the idea of the cosmic race, La Raza, but it is not tied to a skin color but to cultural mix. La Raza is a deliberate mixing of color. In Korea, minjuk means race, but they see Korean as a race with almost no relationship to other “Asians.” Which is more similar to the idea of a “German” race than the idea of the “white-causasian” race, and there is no native work for “Asian” in most “Asian” languages. Conversely still, in the earliest interactions with East Asians and South Asians by Europeans, they were seen as “white like us” or “black.” Only in the 17th century the idea of the “yellow” race exist. You can see the social construction in all this, yet there are genetic traits unique to certain isolated biological populations, but the proxy to race is actually much rougher than many people think. (My disagreements with “race realists” are based on this, and the fact I think about half of them are out and out racists).

  4. The incident with Ajax Ruled has, in the end, been a good thing. It has forced me to consider more deeply a number of things. It also has helped me understand more clearly where someone like Ajax is coming from. I’m a little less confused and frustrated than I was before.

    It helped that I know someone well who knows him well.

    He seems to be a person who hides his personal side. To meet someone like him online is to not know who you are dealing with. On his facebook page, he presents himself entirely as his online persona.

    I know from my close friend that he has a life beyond activism (and she even thinks that I’ve met him before at her house, though I don’t recall). She says that family life actually has softened him. I guess I should be glad I never met before he had kids. As for online, you wouldn’t know about his family, you wouldn’t know any of his struggles or sufferings, wouldn’t know anything personal about him at all. Online, he is not a mere mortal human. He is Ajax Unruled.

    I’m a different sort of person. If you know me online, then you basically know who I am, whether or not you’ve ever met me offline. I’m about as open about my life with anyone I meet, no matter where I meet them, as long as I reasonably like the person. I don’t force my personal life onto others, especially not my personal problems, but neither do I try to hide them.

    To me, all of life is personal. There is no way to separate my online life from my offline life. There is no way to separate my private life from my politics. Ajax, however, sees someone like me as being self-centered, and I know this because he told me so. From his ideological perspective, the personal individual identity should be sublimated to the cause, the movement, the activism. If any remnant of your personal life peeks through the role you play, then you are being self-centered.

    What Ajax doesn’t understand is that he isn’t being any less self-centered by identifying his self with his cause. That is merely self-centeredness writ large. He is his cause and his cause is him. This likely explains my sense that he is projecting his personal issues onto others. Maybe it is only in battling his perceived enemies that he knows how to battle his own inner demons. His activism is very personal, even as he hides the personal from public view.

    The cause he is ultimately fighting for is the right for everyone to have a role just as he has a role. It is a certain way of seeking order. Life is so much easier when you have a well-defined role with a well-defined place in a particular social order. For Ajax, the political movement he is a part of is his life or the reason for his life, so it seems, at least as he presents himself online; and, going by what my friend tells me, he is as serious about his activism offline as well.

    On his Facebook page, he never posts anything that doesn’t have to do with his activism. His every moment appears to be dedicated to the cause. His focus doesn’t appear to waiver. He is regularly posting stuff to his Facebook page, but he never posts about himself in almost any way. I’ve noticed nothing about his family, about his work, about fun activities he does in his free time, about his past, etc. Even his post about a tv show he apparently watches (Game of Thrones) was turned into yet another ideological battle for the cause.

    Hearing skepoet’s explanation of the ideology from the article has offered a lense of interpretation. When I was initially interacting with Ajax, I completely did not understand where he was coming from. I couldn’t put the pieces together. It just didn’t make sense, because I was trying to make sense within my worldview of someone who comes from a different worldview.

    Understanding some of Ajax’s personal background is supported by my now also understanding some of what seems to be his ideological background. With understanding, I feel more sympathetic and less frustrated. I’m able to peek past his the armor of his online persona and see the person behind it in a slightly more holistic fashion.

    This understanding came despite what Ajax wanted out of our discussion. I wanted mutual understanding, but I now realize that is probably the complete opposite of what he wanted. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t want to be understood for maybe the same reasons he doesn’t want to understand others. The personal is dangerous territory. It is, after all, where one’s personal weaknesses reside. To know someone personally is to also know their Achille’s Heel. That doesn’t bother me so much, but it obviously does bother Ajax.

    I get the idea, from my friend, that Ajax had a rough time growing up. That is probably what fuels his activism. It his secret. One might even call it his secret power. I don’t know much about his past and it doesn’t matter, but it makes me feel more sympathetic knowing that he is a normal person with typical secret hurts he is carrying around. It personalizes him and his activism.

    I’d rather deal with a person than an online persona. I’d rather deal with a person than someone playing a role for the cause. A person I can understand. I can be more accepting of and forgiving to the person hidden than I could ever be toward Ajax Unruled, the righteous adversarial activist who blindly lashes out at enemies he sees everywhere. The actual person helps me understand the motivation behind the ideology.

    • I wanted to clarify a point.

      I don’t think Ajax is more self-centered than most people. My point is that I see no evidence that he is less self-centered than average. He is an activist for what I consider noble causes such as women’s rights, but lots of people are involved in activism. I don’t see anything special and unique about Ajax, anything that makes him better than everyone he seeks to judge as inferior.

      Behind his online persona and ideological role, he is a human like the rest of us. I certainly don’t mean that as an insult or criticism. I think being a normal human being with a personal life is a perfectly fine thing.

      Ajax apparently sees the personal as a weakness or something like that. Somehow admitting to the personal, acknowledging it and talking about it, is deemed unworthy for the life of an activist. When he called me self-centered for mentioning personal experience relevant to the discussion, he was judging that as a moral failure. I transgressed some hidden boundary, broke some unstated taboo.

      I mentioned my personal experiece as an invitation to speak more openly and honestly, as an act of trust and friendship. It was a plea for mutual respect and understanding. By opening myself up like that, I was making myself vulnerable. I specifically opened myself to potentially being attacked on a personal level and that is precisely what Ajax chose to do. He saw the personal as weakness and my opening myself as the act of a weak person. He took it as blood in the water and took it as an opportunity attack me as an enemy.

      I’m sure Ajax, if he read this, would see my comments here as a personal attack on him. He would see it that way because that seems to be the motivation he would have in my place. I’ve glimpsed some of Ajax’s personal life. To his mind, this would now make him vulnerable to attack.

      From my perspective, though, humanizing Ajax as an actual person doesn’t make me want to attack him. Quite the opposite. Ajax Unruled, as an online persona playing an ideological role, is not someone I want to know and is not someone I respect. But the person behind all of this who suffers and struggles, who wants to make the world a better place for himself, for his family, for his community, for society. Now, that real human being is someone I can respect, warts and all.

      On that personal level, I realize he is doing the best he can for where he is at, just like the rest of us. His personal fight for justice and goodness in this world might even be inspiring, if he would allow it to ever show.

      He doesn’t realize that it is his desire to hide the personal that is his weakness and is what undermines his activism. If he were to let down his guard, he might discover the world isn’t as dangerous of a place as he thought. He might discover that most people make better friends and allies than enemies, that most people are good people just like him, that most people want to live in a better world.

      To form an alliance requires a certain amount of vulnerability. But to refuse to reach out in trust and friendship, to deny the possibility of common cause among equals, to give into fear and hatred, all of that would be a worse fate. We can’t hope for a better world without taking personal risk.

      I don’t say this as someone who claims to have it all figured out. My point is people working together are more likely to find greater solutions than those who don’t work together. Both Ajax and I would be better people in alliance with one another than we are as enemies.

      • In case anyone was wondering, the above comment is why I am ultimately a pansy liberal. I care about actual people more than about dogmatic ideologies and lockstep movements.

        Open-mindedness, respect, understanding, compassion, caring, kindness, etc. I actually believe humans have the capacity for good. Oh, what a silly liberal I am!

        Maybe I’d be happier or less frustrated if I wasn’t a pansy liberal, but I think it might be too later for me. I’m not sure I’m capable of being anything else at this point. Pansy liberalism has seeped too far down into my psyche.

        • Indeed. I like that way of framing ideology. Identity does seem key to understanding so much about humans, individually and collectively.

          But how does identity become ideology? What is the process? And who controls that process and how?

          You don’t need to answer those questions, unless you want to. I’m just pondering out loud.

          • I realize you use ‘ideology’ in a particular way. I use different words for that, but that isn’t important. Anyway, it doesn’t matter too much to me which comes first. What is important, in my understanding, is how closely they are tied together.

          • Well, your identity is your narrative framework for your life. It is partially a social creation and partially a self-creation, but it is very important to realize that the materials that make that up are biological and environmental interactions which one processes subconsciousness. I think ideology is the sort of the blueprint one uses for narrativization of one’s life.

  5. The online persona issue went totally over my head when I was interacting with Ajax Unruled. Many people use online personas, but for most people it doesn’t mean much. It’s just a fun way of having an alternative identity.

    It’s not that I didn’t realize that online personas could and were used for greater purposes. Anonymity is often important in activism, but Ajax Unruled didn’t seem to be worried about anonymity. It wasn’t hard to figure out who he is in real life.

    I was treating him as if he were a person like any other person I might meet in normal life. It didn’t occur to me to treat him as an online persona that represented an ideological role. It was only after the conflict that I even gave it much thought about what his online persona was symbolic of, that I considered who ‘Ajax’ was mythologically and why he was ‘Unruled’.

    The ideology of roles isn’t something I’ve thought too much about. I’ve thought about social roles in general, but not specifically ideological roles. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the notion of being an ‘ally’ as a defined and constrained role instead of as an alliance of individuals, as a relationship between people.

    This makes sense of our conflict. I was trying to treat Ajax as a person instead of as a role. And he was trying to treat me as a role instead of as a person. In my refusal to accept the role demanded of me, there was no way for me to constructively interact with someone who had become entirely identified with a role.

    How could there be mutual understanding or a common ground of any sort?

    • Of course, we all identify with roles of various sorts. But there is a difference when one overtly attempts to create rigid roles that are more imposed than chosen. It’s more complex than this, I realize. There is an important difference in attitude or emphasis.

      He wanted to impose a role on me. And I didn’t want to accept that role being imposed on me. But at the same time I had a framework of roles that I saw as more important. It’s just that I wanted him to freely choose the role of an equal. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t freely choose this role and it isn’t the type of role that can be overtly imposed, beyond a general sense of social norm.

      We were both refusing each other’s expected roles. And neither of us could understand why the other wouldn’t play by the rules of the game we were offering. It’s not just that the rules were different, but the games altogether were different.

      It was a strange experience. I have more sense of understanding when I interact with the typical American conservative or libertarian. This radical liberal identity politics was genuinely foreign territory for me.

  6. Let me thank you again, skepoet. I appreciate all the effort you put into your comments here. They really are helpful. My ignorance and confusion is now the lesser for it.

    I promise you that I will spend the time this material deserves. But for now I need to do some genealogical research. I’ve been having a hell of a time focusing on genealogy and I have a trip coming up where I need to have my ducks in a row for doing local research in county records and such.

    The topic of this post will have to wait for the time being.

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