Self-Delusion and the Lie of Lifestyle Activism (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

by: educationaction

Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 12:00

(As someone who spent years trying to make lifestyle politics a foundation for something more, I could not agree more with what this diary has to say.  A MUST read. - promoted by Paul Rosenberg)

[Title changed to fit with Part II]

On the door of my local co-op is a green sign that says:

It's easy to make a difference!

Then it tells how to recycle your batteries.

But, of course, the ecological impact of recycling one battery (or ten, or a hundred) is so miniscule as to make no discernable difference at all.  It literally DOES NOT MATTER whether I recycle a battery or not.

This is true for so many things that we are urged to do as our civic contribution to the world.  It is, in fact, NOT easy to make a difference.  

The lie of lifestyle activism is important in part because it bleeds off much of the energy that does exist in the world for social action.  It also reveals some of the ways we deceive ourselves about effective civic engagement.

More after the flip.

educationaction :: Self-Delusion and the Lie of Lifestyle Activism (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

"If Everybody Thought the Way You Do . . ."

"If everyone thought the way you do, we'd never be able to change anything."  This is the standard reply to questions like these.  

This answer is nonsensical.  People think the way they think.  You change the way they think by influencing them, somehow.  Whether I recycle a bottle, or drive less to work has no impact on what others do unless they can see me and I act as a model somehow.  In the privacy of my own space, lifestyle activism is essentially meaningless.

But what about "modeling."  If I do it, then other people might do it, and then we might have a revolution.  For example, if we are in the 1970s and I put a solar panel up on my roof, then other people will put one up too, and we'll have a wonderful solar world!

Oh, yeah, that didn't work so well , did it?

Okay, but if I buy a Prius, and other people see me buying a Prius, then it'll become a fad and everyone will buy a Prius, and that'll save the world.  See, when gas prices went up, other people saw how smart I was to buy a Prius and they were jealous. . .

Oh, yeah, that didn't work very well, did it?  People mostly went back to buying big cars when the gas price went down again . . . .

Okay, it's not Totally Useless

It is likely that in some cases, some forms of lifestyle activism have had some limited impact.  For example, people who recycled probably helped create the critical mass of people necessary to move towards laws and systems for recycling.  

A problem with recycling, however, is that it really isn't a highly effective way of reducing waste.  There are many other much more effective approaches.  In part because recycling fit into the kind of lifestyle activism we (middle-class) folks like to promote, that's what came to the top as a solution.  

In this way lifestyle activism approach can push us in the problematic directions favoring solutions that fit easily with the way we already live.

There is not a lot of evidence that, in the absence of new laws or incentives, lifestyle activists can make that much of a difference.  The 1970s solar debacle is a great example of this.  

Interlude:  Hospital Meat and the Carbon Footprint>

A few days ago, I heard an interview with a doctor who was spending a great deal of time trying to get his hospital to use less meat in its food.  While he was trying to improve hospital nutrition, his core aim was apparently to reduce global warming.

If patients in this hospital ate less meat, then there would be a few less cows in the world, and this would reduce the "carbon footprint" of the hospital.  For example, there would be fewer cow farts.  The report was quite celebratory about what a great project this was.

Identity, Activism, and Comfort Zones

There is a lot of evidence that people become activists because being an activist is a core part of their identity .  For example, studies of the 1960s found that activists were often raised by parents who were activists or who encouraged them to think of social engagement as a central aspect of their lives.  

The problem with this is that many people who see activism as central to "who" they are naturally engage in actions that integrate well with what they already do.  In other words, we look for forms of activism that fit with our current lives and cultural understandings.  

We want to be able to stay within our comfort zones and still feel like we are "making a difference."

The Uses of Self-Delusion

It serves our purposes well to lie to ourselves about the effects of lifestyle activism.  In actual fact, many of us recycle and buy priuses and go to marches that have no coherent strategic aims behind them (but that allow us to hang out with other people like ourselves) because they are part of our social life .  Buying a Prius, or biking to work instead of driving, or having a compost pile in our backyard are forms of cultural capital.  We can feel good about ourselves, and others will see how virtuous we are.  

If we told ourselves the truth about what we are doing, if we actually acknowledged that most of our "activism" is about us, and not really about trying to make a significant difference in the world or for people who really suffer, then it wouldn't serve its identity purpose anymore (this is an old anthropological argument).

Lifestyle activism only works if we maintain the lie that it is "activism" instead of a form of individual investment on the same level of buying a nice pair of shoes or getting a hip haircut.

Interlude:  Obama Better Watch Out!

A few weeks ago National Public Radio gave an extended report about a group of activists in a small upstate New York town who had been meeting at the same streetcorner together to shout at traffic and wave anti-war signs every Sunday since 9/11.  

This group had decided that because Obama had been elected president, they were willing to give him enough benefit of the doubt and discontinue their weekly protests.  "But if he starts backsliding," one of the lead protesters declared, "then we'll be back!"

The NPR reporter attended their last protest, where people sounded sad that they wouldn't be getting together with each other every week anymore.

Purity and Display

Most lifestyle activism seems to take the form it does because it allows (mostly middle-class professionals) to feel like they can make a difference in the world while at the same time purifying their lives .  Every deposit of old food into the compost pile is a re-enactment of "who" they are, of how their life maintains its wholeness in a complicated, dirty, seemingly uncontrollable world.

Conversely, not recycling that bottle can feel like a horrible, self- and other-polluting act.  Quite a lot of people feel real guilt if they actually throw a can in the trash.  

At the same time, lifestyle activism is often an opportunity for display.  Others can see your solar panel or wind turbine.  You can brag about your compost pile and educate others about how to create one.  Every time you drive your Prius around town, others can see how virtuous you are.  

(A key reason that Priuses sell better than hybrid Civics is that Priuses clearly display the fact they are hybrids.  A hybrid Civic may achieve the same purpose, but doesn't state that fact so clearly to others.)

Interlude: Washing Plastic Bags

At an activity I attended a few years ago, I sat behind two women who were talking excitedly about their ecologically sustainable kitchens.  

They literally spent more than fifteen minutes talking about how they washed their plastic bags, and how important that was, and what kind of racks they used to dry them, and etc. . . .

Lifestyle Action is About Privilege

Lifestyle activism assumes that you have the resources to make lifestyle choices.  You need money to be able to buy a Prius instead of a "beater" car.  You need money to eat organic every day.  You need leisure time to maintain a compost pile that you don't really need.  

Lifestyle activism is an expression of privilege.  It represents the capacity to spend time and resources doing things that don't actually matter in any direct way for you or your family in service of your own identity construction.  

If you work two jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over your head, you just don't have time for this.  

Lifestyle Activism is a Subtle Critique of Less Virtuous "Others"

People who eat crappy food and drive a polluting cars are more "dirty" and less "virtuous" than lifestyle activists.  They don't really "understand" what they are doing.  They don't "care" enough.  They don't really "understand" that they should be taking their time to create community gardens or joining a community farm co-op.

People who don't think it matters that much if they own a big car, or who throw away bottles are a key problem with our world.  We need to educate them to see the light.  And, not surprisingly, middle-class professional activists are often focused on "education" as the solution to social problems (and modeling for others, of course, is a good start).

In this way, lifestyle activism serves to separate "us" from the unwashed masses of "them."  

Interlude: Celebrating Ecological Balance

When I lived in Ann Arbor, the local paper ran a big spread in the "local" section on a couple who were part of a new ecological "balance" movement.  Instead of getting rid of all their cars, they had only one car.  They had a smaller house to reduce their energy use.  They used a hand mower instead of a gas one.  Etc.

I knew this couple through a friend.  Like many similar people, they carried with them a strong sense of their own virtuousness, and liked to talk about the importance of ecologically sound lives.

Control in an Uncontrollable World

The lie of lifestyle activism also allows people to believe they have control in an uncontrollable world .  Not only can they purify their own space and life, they can feel like they are contributing significantly to a purification of the larger world.  The horrors of environmental devastation and desperate poverty can seem less overwhelming if, every day, I can be doing something significant to act for change.

In fact, lifestyle activism allows people to feel individually more powerful.  They matter.  All by themselves.  Their lifestyle embodies of their capacity to make a difference, to do things to hold the horrors of the world outside my door at bay.  

An Industry to Support the Lie

Corporate America loves the lie of lifestyle activism, of course, and does everything it can do to support it.  The "greenwashing" trend is a perfect example.  The idea that you can help the world by buying the right brand of coffee, or the right dish soap feeds right in to what many people already want to believe.  That's why efforts to show the ecological sustainability of one's products work on us, even though we know on a more rational level that we are likely being lied to and that the whole thing is pretty rediculous.

It is utterly ridiculous to think that Chevron or Walmart actually cares much about or does much to support the environment, for example.  Many of little "green" companies (which are often owned by the larger not-green companies) aren't much better.  These are marketing strategies, not social change strategies.  And we know this, I think.  But the marketing strategies still work.  We are invested in maintaining the lie.

Social Change is About Structural Change

Real social change comes from a change in the systems that influence what people do, usually concrete incentives and disincentives, or direct regulation.  If you want people to drive more fuel efficient cars, you either mandate it, or you raise the gas tax.  Real social change also comes from changes in the distribution of concrete resources.  The easiest way to change inner-city areas would be to increase the earned income tax credit to $25,000 a family and discontinue the drug war.  The easiest way to get people to buy organic food is to convince them it's actually better for them.  

It does not come from "modeling" by more virtuous people.  It does NOT emerge out of the individual actions of people separated from each other except in very rare circumstances.

And structural social change comes from the generation of real power to bring these structural changes about.  

Community organizing, which this series has been talking about, is one avenue for this kind of action, but it is only one.  

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you want to make real social change, and you are a middle-class professional, you will almost inevitably need to get out of your comfort zone.  

It is likely that anything you actually want to do, anything that fits easily into your daily life, is not really worth much effort from a pragmatic point of view.

If you want to contribute to social change, you will need to face up to the fact that (unless you are very rich) what you do as an isolated individual DOES NOT MATTER.

You Can't Be a Saint

The point here is not about achieving sainthood, about suddenly changing your attitude and becoming a "real" social actor.  In fact, the point is the reverse.  

If you want to recycle, if you want to make sure you turn off the lights when you leave a room, if you want to create an elaborate compost system in your kitchen, go ahead.  But do it for yourself, be honest about that, and not because it's some deep contribution to the universe.

Of course, once you acknowledge that, you may find you don't want to do it anymore.  You may want to get a hip haircut instead.  

So, an assignment:

--throw out a can today
--leave the light on in a room overnight
--drive your car to work when you don't have to.

Don't feel guilt.  Your guilt is your own self-aggrandizement.  It is your own effort to make yourself matter.  Your guilt is about YOU.  

Maturity is about acknowledging the world, as Alinsky said, the way it is, not the way you wish it would be.  

- - - - - - - - - -

In my next diary, I look in more detail at the ways middle-class lifestyle activism can be destructive.  I look to the example of middle-class African Americans moving in to the inner city to "reclaim" these areas, drawn from Mary Patillo's recent book, Black on the Block.

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Great Diary! (4.00 / 4)
Beyond the self-evident importance of what you've got to say here, I've got three comments right off the bat.

First, I spent a good deal of time & energy in the food coop movement from the late 60s through around 1980.  I was never just interested in the lifestyle politics of it, but saw it as a potential foundation for something more.  However, while there were various ups and downs, and I worked in three different states, the overall trajectory was clear in retrospect: they started out much more connected to larger ambitions than they ended up--the exact opposite of the trajectory I had been hoping for.  And the reason for that, it seems pretty clear, is that they were started by folks who were organizing against the war, and maybe had a background in civil rights organizing as well.  As those more structually-oriented movements declined in strength, coops became increasingly unteethered from any larger long-term social change perspective that had any sort of action agenda connected to it.

Second, what you're describing not only sounds middle-class to me, but also post-materialist, in the sense that Ronal Inglehart has been discussing for several decades now.  While I still think that post-materialism is a good thing in lots of ways, it has a tendency towards individualism and quality of life issues that blinds it to the true nature of social change and transformation, making it harder to deal with the larger issues as long as bubbles of personal comfort zones can be maintained.  This is less problematic (though far from problem-free) in other countries which much stronger social democratic traditions.  But we're especially vulnerable to its most individualistic excesses.

Third, this reminds me of a discussion initiated several months back in diary by Daniel about the work of Jon Haidt, specifically that having to do with multiple moral factors.  Haidt's work suggested that there are five moral domains, of which only two--justice and care--are central to liberals.  But what you're writing about here points to echoes of some of the conservative concerns: ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.  The purity/sanctity connection is most obvious, of course.  But the formation of an ingroup--those who "really care"--is also fairly self-evident, and of course, there's also the undercurrent that lifestyle purists are the real authorities on how life should be lived, and thus are the ones worthy of respect.

So, in short, a lot to chew on here.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

It took me much longer (4.00 / 5)
to put this together than I thought. I was going to just bang out a post as usual, and then I realized it was much more complicated, sending me back to a range of material.

1) The co-op movement is interesting, because it seems to me that it still has potential for social change in the general idea, but not as long as it is linked to lifestyle politics.  Your discussion of the history is interesting--I don't actually know that much about it.  I do know the co-op movement was linked early on to populism and progressivism, linking to Emerson's nice post earlier.

2)  Yes, exactly, the post-materialist argument is key, here.  I don't know Inglehart well aside from your own posts (and a book on my shelves I haven't read yet).  

Beverly Skeggs, who I link to above, among others, argues that aspects of the post-materialist vision are really about middle-class privilege, about who can and cannot "choose," and about who really has the class background to take advantage of symbolic capital.  James Gee makes a distinction between "primary" and "secondary" discourses.  Your "primary" discourse, learned as a child in your familiy and community cannot ever be fully "overcome."  So working-class and poor folks will never be able to appropriate symbols in a fully adequate way that would allow them to equally participate in a post-materialist world.  Bourduieu's work is key here as well, and I would have pointed to him but Skeggs does a nice job.  

3)  I'll have to take a loot at haidt's work.  Looks interesting.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Co-ops (4.00 / 1)
I've recently become interested in co-ops as a means for the progressive movement to develop an independent economic base.    Were there ever any co-ops, in your experience, that remained tethered to a non-profit/social justice community?  Or did that all pretty much dry up when the anti-war movement did?  

[ Parent ]
There are thousands of intentional communities here and abroad (4.00 / 2)
that are based on the cooperative model. Go visit them as they are all different, emphasizing different aspects so they are working experiments in lifestyle changes.

East Wind in Tecumseh MO is just one example. Founded on the principles of BF Skinner in the 70's it has evolved far from that model and driven the original founders to other places. It also has a tradition of starting and enabling small businesses. Their nut butter business from the late 80's or early 90's kept doubling every year (no one expected this) and grew into a multi million enterprise giving them the money for buildings etc that they had never had before. Dancing Rabbit just north of Columbia in MO is centered on ecological issues.

All seem to grow their own food and have moved to organic, limit the use of cars which go into a pool, and BTW are extraordinary places for raising children. When and if you meet a person who grew up as a child in an intentional community, you will sense the difference in the consciousness of this individual. They are confident, respectful of authority without being at all in awe of it, and are individually motivated by internal concerns.

I tried to start one in my neon red town and it was almost a sure thing until one of our financial partners decided he could hijack it and make a profit. The building now is ruined as they started tearing out stuff and then saw it was futile for making money. so now it sits, ruined for them and ruined for us and ruined for the owner (greedy bitch) who was holding the mortgage. I am assuming they are walking (cutting their losses) at this point.

The mindset of the average person is still stuck in the 20th century. Our economic situation has changed and Americans are in denial.

Never underestimate the power of denial-Ricky Fitz in American Beauty

And yes I think you are correct in seeing coops as the means of bridging capitalism and socialism for our progressive future.

[ Parent ]
Elke Weber's work at CRED on "single action bias" (4.00 / 3)
is also relevant here- "people are likely to take only one action in order to reduce the worry they feel when perceiving a risk. For example, a family might replace the incandescent light bulbs in their home with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and, feeling that they are doing their part to reduce energy use, do little or nothing else, even with the numerous other ways to reduce energy use and carbon emissions: turning off lights when not in use, turning down the heat in the winter and the AC in the summer, carpooling to work, using public transportation, riding a bicycle instead of driving, etc."

Not sure if this is remotely of interest to anyone else here, but to satisfy my inner librarian, some of Elke Weber's work can be read at:  

[ Parent ]
Blame Thoreau (4.00 / 2)
I used to enrage my friends in Santa Barbara by telling them that what we needed was not a water moratorium, or a drilling moratorium, or a more comprehensive recycling center, but a steel mill which paid high enough wages so that the working class could have a shot at living in paradise.

Well, okay, I wasn't being entirely serious, but I've always taken a perverse pleasure in countering one form of hyperbole with another. Politics in America will never stray far from the morality play, it seems, and narcissism seems fated to remain our national pastime, if not our national disease, as far into the future as we can see.

I'd say that it's a valid evolution of the desire to escape the oppressions of family, religion, and conventions in general which is embedded in our history. I'd also say that it's badly in need of revision, and that the virtuous consumer/ascetic is not the way to accomplish that revision.

This links to my earlier post (4.00 / 6)
about the three progressivisms.  The branch of progressivism that dominates today (but is largely invisible in academic history) is what I call the "personalist" strand that, in fact, didn't really care much about social change.  They were most interested in individual actualization and authentic intimate relationships.

It is interesting to me how much most of these dichotomies are about separating the "clean" middle class from the "polluted" working class and poor.  And this clearly has an impact on our politics. The more we see ourselves as virtuous and others as unworthy, it lessens our tendency to try to help them.

A white middle class kid coming before a judge after stealing a car is a "troubled" youth who made a mistake.  A black kid (of any class, but especially a poor one) will get thrown in the slammer.  This dichotomy feeds this tendency.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Yes, I read it (4.00 / 2)
In fact, I read everything that appears above your handle. I look upon it as continuing education, and am very grateful that you take the trouble.

[ Parent ]
"perverse", right! (0.00 / 0)
Sry William, but imho countering one observed hyperbole with another is not leading to make the world a better place. And didn't it ever occur to you that what you see as hyperbole is actually only the symptom of an urgent desire for change? Such collective action, and the peer pressure that often comes from it, seems to violate your sense of individuality, ok. But that doesn't mean that those peoples' stances aren't more in line with the greater interests of mankind. Being a rebel doesn't come with a guarantee that you're right, you know.

[ Parent ]
Gray invokes the Birkenstock defense (4.00 / 1)
Gray, you've consistently -- I'd say willfully --  misunderstood educationaction's point. An urgent desire for change, as he says, doesn't necessarily correlate with the narrow sense of personal virtue which attends shopping at Whole Foods, or rinsing cans and putting them in the curbside recycling bins. In fact, it's often an expression of the exact opposite, just as he says it is. (I wonder if you still recycle, knowing that the contents of those bins, following the world-wide collapse of the scrap market, are quietly being sent to the usual landfills.)

You also appear to have no sense of humor. Do you know Santa Barbara? It really, really, needs a steel mill. I lived there 35 years. Trust me.

One final note: calling advanced forms of consumerism collective action is a self-congratulating middle-class piety which deserves condemnation, whether or not I consider myself the re-incarnation of James Dean.

[ Parent ]
Well, sry, imho you don't address my central point of criticism. (0.00 / 0)
And that is that Educationaction ridicules the actions of folks trying to act responsibly, without giving verfiable arguments about why they are doing more harm than good, and without showing up any better alternative. Quite to the contrary, he seems to have fun in deliberately making things worse. Come on, William, don't you think that his call to
--throw out a can today
--leave the light on in a room overnight
--drive your car to work when you don't have to.

is a crazy example of egocentrism disregarding all negative consequences of those actions? I understand that the impact of only Educationaction doing these is not measurable, but what about the consequences of more people following his suit? And what about the ethics behind such a foolish endeavor? Sry, but I honestly think such nonsense can't be simply excused as excentric.

What I am NOT adressing in my comments is the criticism of the Prius and Biofood lifestyle. While as a steadfst individual I don't endorse such fashions, I can't accept Educationaction's rdidiculing of those people because firstly, whatever their motives, their actions are overall helpful in fighting global warming, and secondly Ea has no standing to pillorize them because he doesn't show that he has any better ideas. All he does is monday morning quarterbacking from the sidelines. Really, that guy should care much more about the beam in his own eye than the motes in the eyes of those lifestyle people.

"You also appear to have no sense of humor."
Of course NOT! I'm German!!!
But regarding Santa Barbara, no, I don't know her, my favorite saint is St. Patrick.

One final note: I don't give a flying sh** about how people call their behaviour as long as it is helpful in fighting global warming.

[ Parent ]
The tone of this is troubling (4.00 / 3)
According to you, people who think like this:

People who eat crappy food and drive a polluting cars are more "dirty" and less "virtuous" than lifestyle activists.  They don't really "understand" what they are doing.  They don't "care" enough.  They don't really "understand" that they should be taking their time to create community gardens or joining a community farm co-op.

are a problem

But then why is it OK for you to make statements like this?

The Uses of Self-Delusion: It serves our purposes well to lie to ourselves about the effects of lifestyle activism. . . . Lifestyle activism only works if we maintain the lie that it is "activism" instead of a form of individual investment on the same level of buying a nice pair of shoes or getting a hip haircut.

Don't get me wrong, I think you're basically right about much of this. People want to stay in their comfort zones while simultaneously believe that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Both things are part of human nature.

And, as you rightly point out, educated types can be just as much subject to delusion and false consciousness as anybody else.

(I'm not sure that the middle class in this day and age has as much free time and spare resources as you seem to imply, though)

I just think it would be more helpful if you would take a little bit more of the attitude toward the educated middle class that you want them to take toward everybody else.

In a world in which the middle class (4.00 / 3)
already has all the benefits of privilege, I am inclined to focus on their (our) limitations.  

While I meant the tone to be a bit exaggerated, studies of middle class speech about working-class people actually do support the kind of language I'm using, above.  

And the issue of resources is one of relativity.  The middle class has an enormous amount of leisure time compared to home health care workers working two jobs.  And while poor people without jobs may have "time," they don't have all the other educational and material resources that make "recycling" make sense.  Nor, for many, is their base worldview one in which creating a compost pile in their back yard makes sense (although they may participate in a community garden if they can see how it would help).  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Equality of teh suck (4.00 / 2)
Now, see, I think this statement:

In a world in which the middle class already has all the benefits of privilege, I am inclined to focus on their (our) limitations.

Is just a little bit condescending, not just toward the middle class, but even somewhat toward the working class (working folks aren't capable of taking a little criticism?)

We should be willing and able to criticize our suckiness no matter what class the individual engaging in destructive modes of thought or behavior comes from.

And we should do so in a constructive way that acknowledges the deep sources within human nature that this behavior originates from. The fear of moving out of our comfort zones. The desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. The need for us to believe that we are good people, which (as you rightly note) too often degenerates into putting down others.

And, you're right, we probably all need to be more receptive to constructive criticism and willing to be more self-critical.

Thanks for a thought-provoking diary that gets us started down some of these roads. Hope to see more soon.

[ Parent ]
Again this is a tactics issue: (4.00 / 1)
what will get the people I'm talking about to listen?  I'm not sure of the answer.

I am perfectly willing to criticize working-class culture.  Working-class organizations have often struggled to support substantive democracy, for example.  But on this issue I think it's the middle-class that needs to be held to account.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Absolutely right -- its a question of rhetoric (4.00 / 2)
It's a question of how you pitch this message to get people to constructively act.

Joe Romm of Climate Progress recently posted a diary that looks at why climate change deniers are so successful at convincing people of something that's almost certainly wrong. He says:

. . . scientists are lousy at rhetoric, the art of persuasion. Significantly, rhetoric was discovered and developed by the Greeks and Romans in part to help them win debates, so it follows that modern debates are also won by those who are better at using the strategies and tactics of rhetoric.

He continues:

Scientists and progressives and Democratic politicians have historically lost debates because they made two fundamental mistakes: First, they have treated the debates as if they were high school or college debates, which are won primarily on the merits of the arguments and volume of evidence presented.

Second, relatedly, they seem to think that appearing smarter than your opponent is a winning strategy, whereas conservatives understand and have repeatedly demonstrated it is a losing strategy. This fact was very well understood by the masters of persuasive language from ancient Greece and Rome through Elizabethans like Shakespeare and by skilled debaters like Lincoln and Churchill, as we will see.

. . . As hard as it can be sometimes - and even I fall into the trap from time to time - it simply makes no sense whatsoever to attack your opponents as being stupid.

Of course, the middle class aren't our opponents here, but I think the general principle is valid. Nobody, regardless of what class they are in, likes to be called stupid. So let's be very careful to not seem like we are doing that.  

[ Parent ]
On second thought (4.00 / 1)
Romm says it's better to call people liars than to call them stupid, so maybe telling people how they are lying to themselves can be effective.

[ Parent ]
I think that was basically what I was trying to do (4.00 / 3)
was to help people understand that there is a logic behind what they are doing.  It's just not a nice logic.

The point that people are lying to themselves is not calling people stupid, exactly.  This is a cultural pattern that we are caught up in, and that serves real purposes for us.  And, as Marcel Mauss and a long line of other anthropologists have shown, this kind of misrecognition of the real impact of our actions is a classic issue across multiple cultures.

If people can recognize themselves in this pattern, then there is the potential for change.  A sudden recognition of oneself in a mirror that does not show what you would like the mirror to show.

How far we should push the rhetoric is still a good question.  But I'm not sure where the line is.  Probably we need to present it in multiple ways, to the extent it seems important.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Oops, meant to put the summary of an article about middle class (4.00 / 1)
speech here:

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Yes, The Tone IS Troubling (4.00 / 2)
That's sort of the point, as I take.  You're supposed to be troubled by it.

Lives untroubled by the world around us, living in bubbles of sanctity and righteousness.  That's the problem under examination.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Right, but (0.00 / 0)
if the tone of the diary makes its targets defensive, as I'm afraid it might, then it's not going to be as effective in changing people's thinking and behavior as it might be.

And as it should be -- there are a lot of important ideas here.

I think it's incumbent upon us to be just as careful in criticizing educated middle class folks as we want educated middle class people to be in criticizing working class thinking, values, and behavior.

[ Parent ]
This is a question of tactics (4.00 / 1)
which is well taken.  But whether your recommended approach is better or the one I chose is, I don't know.  I didn't think that deeply about it.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Both tactics must be used (4.00 / 2)
I agree with both ideas here. Recently I have run into trouble with a friend of the priviliged middle class mindset, a white male who is "proud of how liberal he is" in a way that grates on those around him without him really realizing it. He is not ill intentioned but is (I think) unaware of how his words are informed by race, sex and class privilege. My own personal style of speech leans towards the tactic that EduAc has been taking and Paul prefers (perhaps somewhat modeled after this tone, somewhat pervasive at OpenLeft I think).

After attempting to talk to him about what he was saying, it became apparent that my manner of speech he found personally offensive. Everything caused him to be defensive and take affront, which he then accused me of doing. I had not thought deeply about it as a tactic of communication, and the end result was that we talked right past each other. I couldn't figure out why it was happening - I was convinced of my own righteousness, and he was as well. It ended up that I lost an opportunity to educate my friend about important topics.

It goes to a split in educational theory between Dewey and the critical pedagogues like bell hooks - Dewey favored consensus in the classroom, but the critical theorists believe conflict creates room for growth. I am inclined to believe the latter. While my friend was particularly hostile to my statements, I have enjoyed more success with others.

It comes down to how people see you. If there is room already in a relationship for criticism and conflict, then it shouldn't be too much of an issue. But if one party perceives the other party to be an "other", not of their tribe, then it can cause people to shut down. This is the insidious power of the phrase "political correctness shuts down free speech" and that anti-intellectual line of bullshit fed most often to working and middle class whites. It actually closes off any acceptance of the power of privilege in their lives by giving whites a "right" that they are invested in. This I believe is what I ran into with my friend. While we must work to dismantle structures of privilege and domination, there will always be people invested in those systems. If people are made to feel powerful within a given system, they will not want to just give up that power, unless the downsides of that power are shown, or somehow made personal.

Just my 2cents on the subject anyway.

[ Parent ]
Well, adopting Paul's style of discussion isn't a good idea, if... (0.00 / 0) aren't as intelligent and educated as he is. And even Paul occasionally falls into the trap of acting too authoritative on fields that he isn't totally proficient in.

Not that my way of discussing is any better. Heavens, no...

Otherwise, good points, essaywhuman! Good to be sometimes reminded of meta-issues of human discourse.

[ Parent ]
I think we just expect more from the educated classes (0.00 / 0)
and don't think of them as needing help the way poverty classes need it. But I am seeing that they are every bit as needy as the poor. Just that they show it in different ways.

And not nearly as resourceful when the shit hits the fan.

Go to trash bins after hours to get an anthropological take on the lower classes. It is quite enlightening. We take turns at stuff, people who can climb in get stuff for those who can't, but the one in there gets first choice. There is lots of helping and I am generally encouraged. I have often told someone pulling up with children that this one has some nice toys in new condition. PetLand, PetCo and PetSmart throw excellent dog food out at the end of the month when the expiration date is reached. PetLand (they still buy puppy mill puppies instead of holding adoptions) slices the bags and/or dumps the stuff in the dumpster so no one can get it without great difficulty. I have told kids with dogs about this find and their eyes light up. Because it is expired they won't even give it to the shelters.

In our throwaway society these trash bins are really a disgrace. The DAV and Salvation Army thrifts are the biggest violaters. Instead of pricing stuff at 25 cents and putting it out, they throw it away after 3 weeks (2 of markdowns) and the smasher comes for it. And the SA has video cameras that call the police if it sees you even looking in. And you know who they give a hard time and who they tell to move on. I never buy at Salvation Army and I tell people this particular piece of nastiness when it fits in.  

[ Parent ]
They used to call it (4.00 / 1)
"Starvation Army" in the thirties. Their mission is more about promoting protestant Christianity than anything else, I think.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Yes and no (4.00 / 3)
another self-planting on the fencepost by sTiVo:

I agree completely, lifestyle activism is a farce.  Nonetheless, I take out the recycling every week and wouldn't not do it.  I don't particularly advertise it, but it's part of my routine.  Although it does little or nothing to bring about the kinds of changes we really need, it does no harm, and no particular good would be done by stopping.

I bought a Prius two years ago.  I suppose "showing off" was part of it, although I'd prefer not to think so.  I think the geek factor was more important.  I'd like to say it doesn't really matter what you drive, but then there are these assholes who get Hummers for no good reason, so it isn't nothing, but I agree with you, it ain't much.

On recycling batteries: until this week I'd been saving a stash of dead batteries to recycle them, one day, if I could ever find out where to take them.  Finally on Earth Day I was motivated to browse my local community's recycling center.  Their word on batteries: just throw them out.  Today's batteries are less toxic than the previous generation.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

Right (4.00 / 1)
It's a good thing to do.  The problem is when it is equated with some kind of activism, or seen as a substantial contribution to the state of the world.  And that's what we are doing on TV, in our schools, in our conversations with each other, etc. . . .

Why are the people who drive Hummers assholes? Aside from the fact that they are dangerous to littler cars (which is a substantive reason) the amount of extra gas a hummer uses is meaningless.  

Now getting people in general to stop getting hummers through some coordinated effort to change their attitudes, that might make a difference.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Because (4.00 / 4)
"if everyone drove Hummers" the amount of gas used would not be meaningless.  That plus the fact that they are carrying your point to an extreme that I'm sure you yourself would not.  Being "politically incorrect" is itself seen as a liberating act of non-conformity, when, in fact, it's nothing of the kind, any more than being a politically correct recycler is.  It's a lifestyle choice, and a retrogressive one.  Better to choose something that does a small amount of good and shut up about it than to ostentatiously give the finger to such concerns and do whatever you damn well please.

It's basically a libertarian "I can do whatever I want and who are you to tell me what to do" attitude.  Such people I'll call assholes whether they drive Priuses or Hummers.
But with a Hummer, you're wearing it on your sleeve.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
See this for a summary of a study about how (4.00 / 1)
middle class people talk about working class people:

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Class Matters (4.00 / 2)
The organization Class Matters has done a lot of work on class and organizing. They have a lot of examples of things middle-class organizers say about working class people that are destructive. They also offer workshops to help people behave better.

[ Parent ]
It's Like Doing The Chores (4.00 / 3)
As I see it, all this stuff is both moral and important, but in any everyday sense, like doing the chores, which you learn as a kid as part of growing up.  It matters, but a key part of that mattering is that it sets the pattern for things larger than itself.  If it's an end in itself, then it leads to all the ills that the diary discusses.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
But when the moral action (4.00 / 1)
is explicitly linked to "helping the world" is becomes problematic.  Think of all those kids learning to recycle in schools as their civic contribution to the world.  The line between moral action and self delusion is a thin one, especially when it is linked so tightly with privilege.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Well, Exactly (4.00 / 1)
If it's a foundation to build on it's one thing.

If personal recycling becomes a model for how all of society should be organized, then it leads, necessarily, to major restructuring via necessary regulatory regimes.

If it's an end in itself, it leads to cheap self-congratulation ala the "Moral Majority" and the rest of the "Christian right".

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Yes (4.00 / 2)
Actually, after I posted my response I realized you were basically making the same point in yours.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
The Problem Is (4.00 / 3)
We're not a society oriented toward learning.  The SciFi motto, "Ask the next question" is not honored in our land.  And so we get mindless imitation instead of thoughtful contemplation.  

Which is why "personal recycling becom[ing] a model for how all of society should be organized" is not the default consequence of kids learning to recycle, but only more recycling and self-congratulation.

This is what an anti-intellectual culture looks like.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Yes, absolutely, this is part of it (4.00 / 2)
But I'm also tired of all the critical theory/popular education people who have been saying the same thing for decades.  Yes, we need to teach critical thinking.  That is absolutely critical and what is happening now in the schools is an incredible tragedy.  (Okay, they didn't teach much critical thinking in the past, but now it's basically mandated off the curriculum.)

I generally ask one question of the critical theory/popular education/Freire folks:

"Do you learn how to fight by fighting, or do you learn how to fight by thinking about fighting?"

Now, most schools cannot teach kids how to fight collectively.  But a few can.  And even a small increase in the number of people who understood organizing skills, for example, would be a large % increase, since almost nobody knows.  

But that's just a dream of mine.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
I think so. Kids learn it in school and take that consciousness home with them (0.00 / 0)
And in changing consciousness the larger changes come. Too little to late I am afraid. Especially after what I read about the French beaches along the Atlantic coast is concerned. When it hits Atlantic City beaches and all along the CA and Jersey coast, people will be out of their denial state. It will just have to hurt them before they wake up. That's the way they learn. All stick and no book.

[ Parent ]
I long ago figured it was all "religion." (4.00 / 2)
Recycling containers by the front door are a kind of mezuzah. They advertise to everyone who comes through that "this is a righteous home." Ditto compost bins in the yard.

Having said that, I've got them, of course.  

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
It's not the doing that's the problem (4.00 / 1)
but the interpretation that comes with the doing, how it is integrated into the rest of one's life.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Difficult to make real change (4.00 / 2)
I completely agree with your basic thesis here that lifestyle changes usually have little impact on the world. And I agree that the administrative, collaborative, and personal progressivism that you outline in your other diary are also limited.

However, bringing about change in the political, economic, and foreign policy (military) realms is extremely difficult. So it is easy to see why people, faced with years of banging their heads against tall right-wing walls, turn to these easier modes. And sometimes they are quite successful. One of the most successful movements in the last 30 years has been the gay movement which has worked almost exclusively in the cultural realm with role models like Ellen DeGeneres. The feminist movement has also been extremely successful in changing the culture even though it has not been able to make equivalent changes in the economic circumstances of women.

I see a role for all of these many kinds of progressivism: personal, collaborative, administrative, and collective struggle. And we have to work for change in all different realms: personal, cultural, economic, and political.

It is important not to naively think that personal change is a big change, but for that individual it might be a big change and the first step towards working for political/economic/military change. But, as you say, it may also be a first step towards smug complacence. It depends on the individual and the organizing going on that may move that person to the next step or not.

If it was a step towards actual (4.00 / 2)
collective action then I'd be fine with it.  But I believe it is largely a dead end.  As such, it is destructive of collective power.

Many people buy the lie because they really can't see any other options for making change.  That's why community organizing, among other models, is so important.  It describes concrete avenues through which participation can create real change.  

The personalists were uninterested in politics.  That doesn't make their ideas bad or useless.  But they don't have much to do with the generation of power.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Yes you are right. It drains our energy. (4.00 / 1)
I forget which book, but it was about therapy between a Jungian shrink and a journalist in CA discussing the waste of all this time and money in therapy. That if we had used the money and time and energy to take on the corporations instead of demanding govt change we would be far better served.

I feel personally that all my recycling takes my energy. I sell used books on the internet and package in recycled boxes etc. It is so much more time consuming, and cluttering than a box of bought envelopes that you just stuff the book in and seal and mail. All the power sellers at ebay do it the fast way and the big used book sellers.

[ Parent ]
So stop using (4.00 / 1)
recycled envelopes, and use that time to do something that might actually make a difference (however small).

It's not about revolution, it's about something substantive.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
on consumer choices -- they aren't all necessarily as described -- it depends which ones, i'd say -- (4.00 / 2)
the choices a subset of consumers make can and do affect everyone and very often do make corporations change their behavior nationwide --

it's about the specific things, i'd say - and i think this subset of upper middle class people doing what may be self-affirming and "meaningless" actually have far more impact than other groups of consumers precisely because they do have money and leisure time -- and have shown themselves ready and willing to change their behavior and purchasing decisions -- so are more desirable to marketers and big companies.

i'd also say they're more amenable to adding and/or changing their decisions to things that do help more people too -- things with a focus on jobs and/or manufacturing, for instance.

and the punitive effects of the existing and possible decisions/changes are not really meaningless -- and could be even more meaningful.

retail and corps do change their products/packaging all the time to cater to consumer decisions and priorities -- that can be very impactful overall, and they can be made to change even more, depending on what these consumers do or don't do.

for instance -- the focus on local food and producers and organic stuff, etc -- that's important to this group and they should be amenable to making the same kinds of decisions in other areas -- i don't know why they're not heaily targeted to make all their consumer choices with the same criteria (local jobs, non-outsourcing companies, ethical, etc).

Why not have choose their phone/internet/banks/etc the same way they choose food and cars and clothes?

even big companies they don't patronize change to attract them -- (4.00 / 2)
McDonalds didn't add more chicken, tons of salads, and fruit to happy meals, etc, to get working-class consumers, for instance.

They changed their product line to attract parents that do make these conscious choices, and who do have more money than their existing customers. So even if this group never goes to McDonalds, they've affected the entire fast-food industry for the better.

[ Parent ]
I agree that they can have some impact (4.00 / 1)
as I noted before.  But much less than we think.  The organic movement may be an example.  Although I think people are doing it as much because they think its good for them as because because it's good for the world, which is the point I was making.  

They don't have as much impact with other choices likley because these other acts don't really have much to do with improving their own lives significantly.  When things acually improve one's life, it draws in more than just the lifestyle activists.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
i guess it's that i see them as consumers and not activists -- and i know their impact (4.00 / 2)
is far far greater than other groups (esp poorer groups) --

that just as DC listens to and changes things for the rich and powerful -- who are a tiny part of the population overall, product and service providers care about -- and cater to -- these consumers more than non-consciously consuming ones of the same class and income and below. And there are millions of these "activist" consumers -- but they focus only on a few limited things (for now).

the organic movement has changed the way all supermarkets sell produce which has changed factory farms, etc. Whole Foods (a classic example of companies explicitly catering to this one group) has changed the product mix all supermarkets carry. ...

just as Wal-Mart has changed all retail stores for the worse at every step of the manufacturing/sourcing/etc process.

[ Parent ]
Yes (4.00 / 1)
I agree that they've had an impact.

But probably not because of lifestyle activism.

They've had an impact because people have become convinced that eating organic is more healthy.  They have direct incentives to buy organic.  

In a sense, the organic movement makes my point.  It's not the modeling of lifestyle activists, its the work to convince other people that it will benefit them directly that made the change, IMHO.  I say this just on my gut impression, no real data.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
doesn't it also prove the wider impact too tho? (4.00 / 1)
why are we all more aware of all this stuff? and why are all consumers making decisions influenced by this one subgroup? and why are the choices available for all consumers so heavily influenced by this group so much more than others?

the other day King of the Hill had an episode about a food co-op -- how do these things become so commonly accepted that a Fox prime-time cartoon makes a whole episode about it -- and is overwhelmingly positive, too?

why does all media propagate what this group does -- and buys --more than others?


[ Parent ]
That's a pretty broad question (4.00 / 1)
and probably the answer is somewhat unique in each case.  But I doubt that significant change is "propogated" by individual, isolated action, except in unique cases (there are always unique cases).

Are they influenced by a subgroup?  Isn't it also tied into fears of industrial chemicals, etc.?  

And, right, the media loves to promote lifestyle activism stuff.  that's part of the problem.  Lifestyle activism is happy fuzzy action that doesn't threaten anyone and doesn't do much and also creates nice consumer groups to buy stuff they may not need (but not big enough groups to create entire industries, usually).  If it becomes a big fad it's often because it's picked up in the media.  And media action is an example of what I would call "real" action, as opposed to the kind of fantasy action of lifestyle politics.  But the media picks up on things that serve the media's purposes, which is not exactly equal to the interests of those who pay for it, but not that far away from these either.  

Real power would be the capacity to get the media to report on stuff that it doesn't already want to report on.  To throw a wrench in the go along to get along pattern.

And this will require collective power, or lots of $$, or both.  Not lifestyle activism and personal choice on an individual isolated scale.

Even if fads are picked up, the "fadders" cannot control how the message is propogated--they don't have collective power themselves.  They're just buying a Prius, they're not part of a coherent movement seeking to have a strategic impact as part of a strategic campaign to buy Priuses.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Yes and as Marcuse says so explicitly (4.00 / 2)
Capitalism incorporates everything in its digestive system. It is like Pacman in that respect. It has ingested the green movement and used it to its advantage.

During Carter's time I was rehabbing buildings. Solar was the big thing. At the alternative energy show in Philly in early 80 the big thing was the 40% rebate for all energy appliances, heating units etc. So all the corporations did was mark up their products to include that great selling point of a 40% rebate. same way with Pell grants and textbooks. The publishers change the editions by putting a few new pictures in, condensing or adding to a chapter and voila!a new edition. No passing on or reselling the old one as the Pell Grants only pay for the latest edition. so you can buy a former edition online for a couple of dollars but get the $150 new one for free. So what are you gonna do if you are a student who qualifies for the Pell Grant?

[ Parent ]
useful fads? (4.00 / 5)
While it is important to recognize the motivations and relative futility behind an individual's lifestyle politics, these don't render moot the cumulative benefits of this trend. Legislation may be the most effective way of getting people to act responsibly, but fads should not be totally discounted. "One person's actions can't make a difference" is the last meme I would attempt to spread at this point. Continuing the idea that one's actions do have an impact on the world as a whole and that he must take responsibility for them, though relatively fallacious, seems like a very useful misconception to perpetuate.

The problem I think you're really looking to illuminate is that people come to believe that lifestyle politics is "enough": that their recycle bins, Prii and organic shampoo satisfy some sort of cosmic responsibility they have as a member of the privileged classes. Instead of discouraging people from tending to their compost heaps, a harmless (and beneficial at a miniscule level?) action other than the psychological fulfillment and time used that may detract from more worthy pursuits, perhaps it would be better to strengthen the current trend by saying "That is not enough." People might not be doing it for the right reason, but I think you may be right when you say that if they realized their true motivations they might just go get a hip haircut.

Yes (4.00 / 2)
I think that is the key take-home message.  But, again, remember that what you do has no direct impact on what other people do unless you actually do something to influence them in some way.  Fads rarely lead to long term change--and that's what we need.  

I do think we need to spread something like this meme, although I'm not certain how to do it.  The point is not that one person's actions don't matter. The point that one person's isolated actions rarely matter.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
I added the word "isolated" (4.00 / 1)
to the sentence where I say what you do individually doesn't matter, above.  But I'm still not exactly how to spread this meme in a manner that doesn't misread it in the way you note.  Good point.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
I'll be off-line for a while. n/t (0.00 / 0)
What a lengthy excourse just to excuse your waste of energy and resources. (0.00 / 0)
And, yes, I have to admit I didn't read it through. After the first few paragraphs it was clear what you're doing - just producing an alibi why you don't want to change anything. And when you tried to debunk Kant's imperative in three sentences No need to waste time by reading all those hairsplitting arguments aimed at excusing your lazyness and stubborn desire not to change anything in your daily life.

Because there's a simple argument debunking everything you have written:
The average household energy consumption per capita in 2006 was about 1500 Kwh in Europe and 4500 Kwh in the US! Well, it's obvious that the lifestyles are not that much different to explain the consumption beeing three times as high in the US, so the explanation is that Americans are huge energy wasters and that any change of habots there culd have tremendous effects in saving energy.

Case closed. You lost.  

Alas, Your Idiot Streak Continues (0.00 / 1)
First defending the Afghanistan War, now this.

And, yes, I have to admit I didn't read it through.

Bit of a problem there.

Because there's a simple argument debunking everything you have written:
The average household energy consumption per capita in 2006 was about 1500 Kwh in Europe and 4500 Kwh in the US!

But that's not due to lifestyle choices!  It's due to the entire structure of the contrasting political economies.

Bob Dylan said it best: "Don't criticize what you can't understand."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
TRed for insult, Paul. And once again, your answer isn't convincing. (0.00 / 0)
"Bit of a problem there"
Maybe, but only if you can point out that the story isn't going into the direction I detected after reading the first few paragraphs.

"But that's not due to lifestyle choices!"
Excuse me pls, but of course it's a lifestyle choice if you don't want to engage in uncomfortable recycling, don't want to use energy saving bulbs because of a few inconveniences, don't want to invest money in solar panels and wind power, ridicule hybrid cars as a pure matter of fashion, etc etc. And that's evident in educationaction pilloring those support such choices as pure lifestyle afficionados. Well, if their decisions are only based on lifestyle issues, than he has to admit that his are, too. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Of course, he's wrong, but his arguments aren't even logically consistent because of the dishonest double standard he uses - different premises for his own actions and those of others.

"Don't criticize what you can't understand." Good advice, but thell this to educationnation who thinks he can debunk Kant in a single paragraph!

[ Parent ]
Well, I'm not "pilloring" anyone, exactly. (0.00 / 0)
I'm making an argument that's making you uncomfortable.  I am arguing that lifestyle activists are lying to themselves for a series of identifiable reasons.  If this is correct, it seems reasonable to point it out, no?  Wouldn't Kant agree?

Although, since you acknowledge that you haven't actually read the argument, there isn't much point in talking more, is there?

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Who cares if lifestyle activists lie to themselves... (0.00 / 0) long as the result of this self-deceiption is positive for makind? And after all, it's their lifes, why do you think their reasoning should matter to you? You're obviously adult enough to make your own decisions and create your own life-long illunsions (oh, and may I point out that this kind of self-deceiption is nicely rounded up in the German word "Lebensluege"? Feel free to use it, may become the next "Zeitgeist"!)!

I mean, ok, nothing dramatically wrong with pointing out self deceiption of others, after checking your own eyes for overlooked beams, of course. Dunno what Kant would have said about this, though, I really have to look this up. But if you don't really prove that they are deceipting themselves, and ridicule them based on unproven assumptions, that's something different. And the alternative you provide instead, to rebel against reasonable concerns about sustainability by not caring about consequences at all, even by deliberately wasting energy and resources, is red flag for anyone trying to raise awareness about global warming! Btw, I would really like to read about your thoughts regarding that urgent issue. You do not really think that Al Gore is just a clown, or do you?

Oh, and I dunno why you repeatedly blame me for not having read the whole story when our discussion here is actual evidence for this not seriously hampering the discourse? At least to me, it looks like I'm doing well with my arguments, raising lots of reasonable points, in spite of this small handicap!

[ Parent ]
Think Globally, Act Globally? (4.00 / 1)
Reminds me of the day I realized the kids who cut the alligators off of the Izod sweaters they got for Christmas were being just as needy of peer acceptance as those that wanted the sweaters in the first place.  The only difference was the peer group.

Nice diary.

Interesting example. But do you think that makes peer pressure ... (0.00 / 0)
..for acting in an energy- and resource saving way a negative influence? Do you generally think peer pressure is an evil think per se?

[ Parent ]
Making the Jump... (4.00 / 3)
As someone who spends my days trying to convince the "liberal" denizens of the Bay Area that their Prius won't solve all of our problems, I read this diary with some interest. And I'm actually surprised with my reaction, because I'm actually coming down more in opposition to your point than with it.

There is simply no question that the lifestyle thing gets over-utilized as an excuse for broad, structural change.  But it's horseshit to say some of these lifestyles issues are irrelevant, and loudly demonstrates a specific ignorance common to the world of community organizing, namely that the oppressor is ALWAYS someone else, and people have no control over the future of the world because the man has all the power.

I recycle batteries so kids in third world countries don't need to live next to toxic piles of them.  I turn the lights off so kids who live near the new coal-fired powerplant don't get asthma. I take the bus to work so they don't keep splitting our cities down the middle with freeways that wall off poor communities from middle-class ones.   And when I have kids, I'll make them recycle their coke-cans so they learn that they don't have an inalienable right to as many of the world's resources as they feel like using that day.  And maybe when they grow up, they'll think twice when it's not a coke-can but 20 years worth of oil from some far off country.  Or about why they deserve a bit less of a tax-break off so someone else can afford to go to school.

Ultimately, its about the public commons.  The problem you're talking about is that people over-estimate how their personal choices impact it.  But those choices are still tied in some way to  core value of shared prosperity.   We should cultivate and grow that, not dismiss it.  

Well, if you are not overestimating your impact (4.00 / 2)
then there's nothing wrong with it.

But, like I said, your act of recycling batteries has absolutely no impact on whether kids in the third world live next to toxic piles of them.

Only when you are able to collectively ensure that huge numbers of batteries are recycled, or ban toxic batteries, etc. . . will you have an impact.

This does not require a community organzing "us" vs "them" model.  I tend to think it's a very effective way to approach the problem, but I'd be the first to admit it is only one of a wide range of tools for social change.  

In fact, if organizing was so effective, how come almost nobody knows what it is.  How come organizing groups in most cities really don't have very much power?  

I think we need to separate the argument FOR organizing from the argument ABOUT lifestyle activism.  Agreeing with the latter does not necessarily point you towards the former.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Also (4.00 / 2)
if you could link lifestyle activism with a tendency to commitment to engage collectively with the larger commons, then I'd be all for it.

The problem is that lifestyle activism, IMHO, actually blocks wider participation, because it can be seen as sufficient.  Why engage in the dirty, complicated, often grumpy world of collective action when you can just create a compost pile and ride your bike to work  

You can even ride your bike together with other lifestyle activists and have so much fun doing it, maybe even giving the finger to people driving cars.  Cool!

(I'm being overly sarcastic, and your post doesn't deserve it, but I can't resist.  Sorry.)

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Lifestyle activism sucks (4.00 / 1)
Sure, I'll grant you that.  How do you propose to bring the regulatory changes you mentioned in your above posts?  How do you intend to pay your organizers?  Or perhaps I misread your point-- do you think that community organizing is ineffective?  

[ Parent ]
Well (4.00 / 1)
I'm just examining organizing in my series, but overall I don't have an answer (who does?).  

One way to move in the right way, it seems to me, however, is to get those with at least some interest in social change to stop doing stuff that is anti-effective social action, and to stop educating kids to move in the same direction.

Best I can do.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
There Tends To Be Less Of This Dichotomizing At Local Levels, I Think (4.00 / 1)
I think you can see a lot more tendency to do both at local levels, in part because (1) the forms of collective social action are often more apparent and approachable, and (2) the opposing forces are often less prohibitively difficult to fight.

At least it seems that the local activists I cover at Random Lengths News have a greater tendency to combine both fairly naturally.  There are also the pure lifestylers, of course.  But if we want to nurture a synergy, I think that the local battles are the place to start--if nothing else, to start looking for ideas about what might already be working.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Maybe. (4.00 / 1)
But you do live in the hotbed of activism out there.  It's a very unique place.  In my midwest non-Chicago neck of the woods, this dichotomy seems much more evident.  At least that's my general sense as someone who is not really deeply linked into the community networks of this city.

But I like this idea as the local as a place to nurture a synergy.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Oh, Don't Get Too Impressed (0.00 / 0)
It's still ridiculously difficult to make any real progress.   And it's not like I'm talking 10 or 20% of the population!

I just think folks are more able to keep their eyes on the prize when the battle is closer to home--and whatever the level of activism may be, I tend to think that would be true pretty much everywhere.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
You would be amazed at how dead (4.00 / 1)
it is around here.  When I hear folks from CA complaining about resources, they seem not to realize that their resources are an order of magnitude larger than ours.  

I saw a presentation by an organizing group in San Diego a week ago, and they were complaining about how few resources they had.  They have 5 full time organizers.  Plus significant relationships with local universities.  My congregational city-wide organization just lost its only organizer--our group currently has 0 FTE in the non-profit lingo, and we can't even afford to pay for our office space, although it seems like we will be able to hire someone at some point.  And there are only a handful of groups in the entire city doing any kind of organizing at all (although some of them are doing very impressive work with very little).

It's not about 10%.  Sure.  But here it's not even about .1%.

We have an economic holocaust going on and there are metaphorical tumbleweeds blowing through the streets.

Not that I am so great or active myself, but at least I see the tumbleweeds.

But you know your area better than I do.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Oh, I Know We Have More Resources (4.00 / 2)
The Liberty Hill Foundation alone has made a huge difference here over the last 30 years.

But all I'm saying is that change is still very hard to come by, and battles must be very hard fought.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
So then, there has to be a way to pay for it right [eom] (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
but why assume they would participate in other ways but are wasting their time w/this stuff? (4.00 / 1)
wouldn't they, you know, participate in other ways if they wanted to?

they have the free time, money, education, access, and power to do other collective actions and know it's an option -- it's an option that doesn't satisfy their needs/priorities/goals in their minds, no?

isn't the "meet them where they are" thing supposed to be vital? and acting on what a community themselves want done and not what you would have them do? ...

[ Parent ]
But part of my argument is that (4.00 / 4)
if they acknowledged the lie of lifestyle activism, they would need to do something else if they really wanted to do something.  

I'm willing to meet them where they are--although exactly how to do this is an open question.  But I don't want them to STAY where they are.  

And, like I said, part of the problem is they don't really see other options for effective action.  As a result the lie of lifestyle activism allows them to insulate themselves from a world they have no idea how to effect.  If we can introduce them to some effective ways, that would help as well.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
i think you might need marketing lessons -- your action/issues/etc need to be sold to them as (0.00 / 0)
superior and more ego-boosting and fulfilling as what they do now, no?

that's what they respond to, even while they don't recognize themselves doing it.

you're upset about the "what", but it's really the "how" and "why" that's attributed to the "what" -- and that makes them feel good -- that made their chosen "what"s such a success, no?

[ Parent ]
Maybe (0.00 / 0)
But the especially self-aggrandizing ones are probably the ones you are unlikely to reach, and that are unlikely to be particularly useful to you (e.g., willing to listen to other people enough to organize them).  

Maybe the kind of people I want are the kind of people that would hear this kind of argument?

Just an idea.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
nope-- all of them are responding most and most deeply to the aggrandizing elements and sales pitch, not the underlying issues -- (0.00 / 0)
it's about them and how what they buy/endorse/evangelize makes statements about their worth.

it's all self-aggrandizing-- as you made clear in your post.

insulting those who most value the self-aggrandizing and visible purchase and display of things is not how you take the tactics that appeal to them to get them onboard with you -- you're attacking the most important elements of why they do and buy what they do.

you're mocking their self-aggrandizing, when you could be trying to use those animating desires as the best way to get them to actually do more good in their communities.

on this group and Obama -- they bought in not because they deeply care about racial inequality and our history and want to work to end it -- but because he was a visible symbol and example of them not being racist -- and that there isn't racial inequality anymore (which they believed to begin with overwhelmingly before his candidacy), which always made them feel guilty, but not guilty enough to do anything about.


[ Parent ]
Agree 100% (0.00 / 0)
Very well said.

There wouldn't be an organic movement if it
wasn't for the thousands of people choosing
to pay more to encourage organic farming.

A lot of people argue that the only reason
people buy organic is because of concern about
personal health. I think this is wrong and buys
into the idea that all people are basically
completely self-centered.

educationaction argues that lifestyle choices
somehow take away from community organizing,
but I think he/she is exactly wrong. Generally,
the type of people who take the time to be
involved with their community, also take the
time to recycle, buy organic, etc.

[ Parent ]
You tone is just fine (4.00 / 3)
Frankly, I'm glad you're not tippy-toeing around the feelings of middle class (mostly) White people. Aren't their feelings catered to enough already? As for fears of making them "defensive", so what? What are they going to do, dig in their heels and redouble their recycling and composting efforts? Well, there's really no more downside to that than what most of them are already not doing -working toward real structural change.

And for the people who don't become defensive, well it might spur some genuine reflection on their attitudes and actions that doesn't have a totally self-centered outcome. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

This reminds me of when I was a freshman in college in 1982. There was a White student from South Africa who told me that boycotts against South Africa were a bad tactic because it would just make the White South Africans angry and cause them to treat the Black South Africans even worse.

I tend to agree, (4.00 / 3)
and this is nicely put.  But I think the tactical question is still relevant, and while I like my approach, I understand that it is possible that another approach might be more effective.  Again, we may need multiple approaches.

For example, in multicultural education classes, flat out telling white students who will be teachers that they are the embodiment of white racism isn't effective.  And since they are going to teach kids, I want them to understand, and I'm willing to try to figure out how to reach them, even if it involves a little tiptoeing.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
No argument from me on that (4.00 / 2)
I completely agree. There's plenty of room for sincere, honest discussion without trying to offend. It's just that some people are going to take offense no matter how gently things are stated. Those people can't be reached, and there's no sense wasting a lot of time trying worrying about how that group might feel.  

[ Parent ]
Also, what you say about multiple approaches (4.00 / 2)
is right on. Different people are reached and spurred to action in different ways.

Regarding the middle class, from what I've observed, there's a lot of them feeling like, "Well, what more can I do?" (they're recycling, buying locally grown produce, etc). Some of them are clearly satisfied with this, but others are feeling frustrated and powerless. Maybe one approach would be to not minimize or denigrate what they are doing, but present them with tangible options for taking it to the next level. Talking about structural or foundational change can seem overwhelming. But if people are given some concrete ideas about how to take those first steps, some of them are going to jump at it. The ones who don't, well, they were never that interested beyond their personal gratification in the first place.

[ Parent ]
And (0.00 / 0)
what I just said is pretty much just a re-statement of one of your above comments. Sorry.

[ Parent ]
It's what they may not do that worries me (0.00 / 0)
What are they going to do, dig in their heels and redouble their recycling and composting efforts?

Maybe they won't vote for you. Or they won't begin the other forms of collective action that are needed to make a dent in the problem.

What has the reaction of the working class been to perceptions that liberals and progressives are talking down to them?

It's not "tippy-toeing" around people's feelings. It's about how we are going to persuade people to take needed political or social action. In case you haven't noticed, our side has had some problems with that.

[ Parent ]
some questions -- on consumerism as lifestyle activism, and Obama, and meaning/results/impact, etc -- (0.00 / 0)
Obama explicitly sold himself and targeted this group (and their children) by presenting himself personally -- and voting for him -- as precisely affirming and fulfilling the exact same attributes/motives/selfishness/ease/validations/degradation/etc that this group uses all the time -- and values enormously.

Would he have done so if it was meaningless? Would he have used the same target marketing, and would he have presented himself as fulfilling the exact same desires, etc?

Was that "purchase" meaningless? Isn't it exhibit A of the enormous impact this stuff has overall?

Since our economy is 70% consumer spending, and every single American of all sorts shares only the fact that we're all consumers in common, and we all make purchasing decisions daily -- isn't it natural for us to have recognized and elevated that to "activism"?

And don't we all see and reap the results of being consumers immediately and get satisfaction too (as opposed to voting, and other possible actions -- activist or not?)

I'm not sure what you would prefer this group do, i guess. Or other groups, either. Should they not purchase these things? Should they not make these decisions based on their values and needs and desires? ...

Their concerns and priorities are expressed with their choices and money -- in ways that have been sold to all as healthier and smarter and beneficial as well.

Shouldn't the ubiquity and power of consumerism and its commonality and impact and perceived value be used instead of denigrated?

Different classes and groups and sub-groups have always expressed and demonstrated and displayed their identities/belonging by the specific things they buy and don't -- and do or don't do. Isn't it inherently meaningful and important simply because it's so evidently a marker of all this and so valued by everyone at all levels -- and by our govt and laws and policies too?


Yes (4.00 / 1)
we should use the power of consumerism.  But using it will require collective action.

The fact that Obama may have gotten these people out to vote for him again seems to make my point.  They didn't move until a collective group got to them.  And if Obama hadn't been so organized, a lot of them would have stayed home or voted for Nader (voting their "principles").  

I believe that these folks honestly care about the world and want it to change.  That's why I think this problem is important.  They are a potential resource that is blocked by a misunderstanding/misrecognition of the reality of social change.  People who don't care at all I'm less concerned about, frankly.

Exactly how to do it?  Like I said above, I don't have a broad answer to that.  But what they are doing isn't working.  And there are other strategies that are much more effective (like Obama's, for example).

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
i'm not so sure they want the social changes you might want or i might want -- (0.00 / 0)
and i'm absolutely sure they are using collective action -- in the ways they see working every day everywhere, and see the govt always responding to as well.

that they wholeheartedly identify and display their worth and superiority, etc, with the things they buy -- and have even invested these things alone with the power to save the planet -- and that the mere purchase of them makes them the savior -- kinda tells you their priorities and values, no?  

[ Parent ]
I don't know (4.00 / 1)
but what they are doing certainly isn't helping much.  While isolated individuals don't do much, a fairly small number of people committed to building coherent power and strategically recruiting others and acting can make a difference.  

I want to peel off some of them.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
so set up a booth at their farmer's markets, and reel them in...or just always be there talking to them ... (0.00 / 0)
go to their food co-ops and leave flyers and action items all the time...

use their focus on purchasing to get funds for your work ...


[ Parent ]
one more -- isn't every call to donate to this or that pol the same thing, really? (0.00 / 0)
isn't the overwhelming power corporate interests have on our govt officials and priorities and policies the same thing too?  

[ Parent ]
Yeah, yeah , yeah, whatever (4.00 / 2)
I remember those damn Christians sitting around the catacombs with their little fish symbols and such, thinking they were so special. "Me, me, me", it seemed to to cry out - just why did they think they were so special? Lifestyle politics. No fish on fridays, all that ecstatic praying and such. Never catch on, not in a million years. Who'd be arrogant enough to believe that changing your personal habits would change the world.

Three little words someone taught me to make it all better:

                      JUST GIVE UP

There, feels good, don't it? Nothing is possible, everything loses, just go with the flow, all fish in the stream, take me to the river, drown me in the ocean, washing it down, washing it down.

What a sucky diary. Okay, perhaps worthwhile in getting some people to remember real reasons they do things, and that we're not in general going to be invited on Letterman just because we recycle. But yes, there's now a market for CFC's, in Europe there's a market for recycled materials, Whole Foods has successfully rolled out healthier foods, and yes, alternative cars are now being taken seriously, and the DFH's and others who purchased these in all futility and self-glamorization seem to actually have made a difference. Al Gore's book/movie made a difference. CAFE standards made a difference (we can actually look back nostalgically to see something that was effective). Sure, you can laugh and poke fun at people who do their part ineffectively, but critical mass is reached through their help - not because of the debunked "100th monkey" theory, but because of practical marketing department calculations of how many consumers. Now, does that mean the ice caps are restored, that vitamin-depleted foods are vanquished, that most people will still get their calories from potato chips, that we as a nation won't continue to waste many of our resources? Not a chance, but the consensus and movement over the last 50 years has been significant, despite the best efforts of the Fox crowd and their mainstream media followers to dismiss any efforts on the left as irrelevant and self-delusional. I don't believe in Obama. I believe in people who actually pay attention day to day and try to get a few little things right. It's taken 8 years to get some of our anti-torture sanity back, and all these other things take time too. But they're worth it, just in case you were doubting.

Doing more with less, hurting less with more (0.00 / 0)
It's quite possible we won't completely break through our energy impasse in the near future, that we'll keep kicking the football downfield for the next couple hundred years. Which is perfectly fine, like many of our problems - if we can lower the toxicity of the planet to tolerable, if we can make incremental improvements in efficiency, if we can bring a lot of things into play, life goes on and improves. Most of this happens through little steady improvements.

Some people live for the home runs rather than singles and walks. Ken Kesey used to ask what Superman did between phone booths. Those little acts of kindness, little acts of awareness, little acts of trying to help do add up. It is now tolerated to be vegetarian, to be gay, to be black. It is now normal to eat less fatty foods or to drive a small car even if many or most don't. Society does change, and only a small part of it depends on huge public campaigns. Most of it is interpersonal, one-on-one or small groups. Which happens much easier with internet by the way, reaching outside your circle, even if we also tend to cluster in hives.

[ Parent ]
That's the argument on the other side (4.00 / 2)
I don't buy it.  I don't think lifestyle politics does make incremental improvements.  It's collective power that makes incremental improvements.

But it doesn't make me totally depressed.  It makes me hopeful that we might be able to reach some of these people actually looking (however unconsciously) for something more effective.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
So then (4.00 / 1)
the Civil Rights movement is just a few blockbuster court cases and marches and white guys coming down from Boston, and not say 100 years of individual and collective actions, with highs and lows.

It's not an either-or equation. You can't come in and legislate change without existing inclination at the base. Personal lifestyle approaches eventually hit the power structure and there's some kind of reaction.

Again, the Christianity thing - how did that work? Did early Christians go to corporate boardrooms and preach their message there? I guess the Council of Nicea in 300AD was the turning point, when all the legislation was rewritten with them in mind, but what was the process in the preceding 260 years? Wasn't Acts, Romans, Corinthians and Ecclesiastes all about personal lifestyle and ground-based activism? Did it work? Or did something else happen?

[ Parent ]
Actually, Alinsky talked a lot about this. (0.00 / 0)
My favorite Quote (by my faulty memory) from him.

"Now Paul, Paul was an organizer!  Without Paul, Jesus would have just been another guy hanging on a cross."
--Saul Alinsky

No, it didn't just happen.  People worked hard collectively to make it happen and to hold each other accountable.  It was a movement, not simply a collection of isolated actions.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
No (4.00 / 1)
It was both a movement and a collection of isolated actions. Not everyone with a rosary was hitting the streets with pamphlets. You can act like the ones who mostly participated privately had no effect, but that's not a slam-dunk theory by any means.

[ Parent ]
Sure, there were isolated actions (4.00 / 1)
but the actions that spread it were group actions, not necessarily under the organizing model in particular.  The early Christian tradition of having a meal together and inviting a wide range of folks was also crucial.  The individual praying certainly helped them maintain their commitment and spirituality, but it was the group effort that generated change.

The problem with lifestyle activism is that it maintains an individual commitment to something mostly unlinked to any kind of collective effort.  And when it does get linked to others, it is generally a lifestyle kind of non-strategic "protesting" of the kind I described, or it distorts the reality of what needs to be done to serve the identity needs of lifestyle activists, as recycling did.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Of course the Activist Class (4.00 / 1)
will attribute the success of social movements to their brand of organizing. The rest of us are just so many sheep, milling around in the pasture pursuing a "lifestyle". Your position (with which I tend to agree) requires no small dose of humility. A humility that is almost completely lacking in the main diary. The humility to realize that the actions one has taken and will take within their own life and community may not be the only or the best way to solve the problems that we all seems to agree plague our civilization.

Even the strawman the diarist created - the "lifestyle activist" that believes that they can "change the world" by recycling batteries, or driving one partiular brand of vehicle offered up by the global industrial complex - lacks any sense of humility. It is quite conceited to believe that one person, acting in isolation, could change the course of human events. Just as it is a conceit to disparage the individual act of justice, peace. love, or ecological stewardship as "useless".

I admit that I do not know if I am powerful enough to change the world. In fact, sometimes, I wonder if I even know enough to conclude that the world needs to be changed. After all, most of this "green" movement stuff is aimed at preserving an environment that allows humans to live the kind of "lifestyles" so roundly rejected on this thread. Personally, I'm willing to admit that Life on the planet we call Earth is not wholly defined by Humanity. We may pass on, whether by suicide or disease, but Life will continue.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Couple of thoughts (4.00 / 3)
I started doing electoral activism a few years ago because I realized that much of the activism I was doing (writing letters to congresspeople to "save the wetlands" for example) was not effective and was really only about me feeling like I was "doing something."

I think a lot of people want to feel like they are "doing something" and so if you show them that there is something else they could be doing -- and it certainly could be in addition to the lifestyle stuff, as oppposed to in place of it -- it would still fit into their core belief that they are someone that "does good things."  So it doesn't have to about calling them stupid or liars, just about re-directing an impulse/need they already have.

One way to get started might be through numbers.  For example, contrasting the ammount of green-house gasses you save by lifestyle choices, versus the ammount you would save by getting your town to NOT build a new coal-fired power plant.

Of course, the rub there is how to you give someone a meaningful way to do the larger action?  Something they can do within the confines of all the other demands of life, but that will make a real difference? This is the point I am finding myself stuck at.  I am a community organizer of sorts via DFA. Through them I have built a fairly decent sized grass-roots group that is dedicated to local and national electoral politics -- which IMHO is one of the biggest game-changing and power-changing tools in our current political system.  But though we have a certain amount of muscle, we really aren't yet big enough to be able to really change the game. And this is after several years of me bascially putting other elements of my life on hold to do the organizing that has got us to this point.  The only thing that would take us to the next level, and perhaps simultaneously give me a chance to have some of my life back, would be some kind of major infusion of resources -- but where would that come from? The people who have the kinds of resources we need are, in large part, the very people we are trying to challenge.  

It gets back to what I think is the crux of your post which is that we want to be doing something that is actually meaningful but after years of organizing work I don't know that we have actually accomplished that.  So then what? Is it just as futile to organize without the resources to actually do anything as it is to recycle a battery? Or am I being too hard on myself and is what we are doing actually making a difference? Or am I kidding myself as much as a person who is washing out plastic bags?  Of course you don't know my specific situation, but it is something I am really questioning right now.

I really don't have great answers (0.00 / 0)
to this one.  I've been working with local groups to try to pull together a city-wide collaboration between organizing groups.  That seems to have potential.  

The resources issue is a terrible challenge.  Post election and post economic crash the spigot has just turned off.  How we help the election folks understand organizing is a real and different challenge.

But this post isn't really an answer to that.  Part of the answer is finding better strategies and new resources for collective action.  Another part of the answer is helping a large number of people rethink what civic engagement means.

I think the two are connected.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Keep up the good work! (4.00 / 2)
What you are doing is great, essential work. I don't think you are kidding yourself. I don't know exactly what you have done, but I suspect that you are actually having a big impact.

It is hard that we don't have the resources that we need to bring about necessary change the way we would like. But we do have an impact and things do change: slavery and Jim Crow are no longer legal, women are no longer barred from jobs other than nurse and teacher, our waterways are much cleaner than they were 40 years ago, most successful revolutions are now fought with nonviolent action instead of guns, etc. etc. etc.

It is important to remember that not only does the corporate media tell us all that recycling is enough, but the media also tells us that anything else we do is futile. They do a very good job of ignoring and mocking everything we do. This is part of the propaganda effort to make us all feel like our efforts are worthless.

[ Parent ]
Geez (4.00 / 2)
I was waiting to read a comment that acknowledged what I should have thought was pretty obvious (maybe I missed it, though):

1. the Obama movement, in its core, is essentially composed of lifestyle activists (remember Chris Bowers' endless, and self-revealingly un-ironic, discussion of "the Creative Class" as being Obama's base within a base?)

2. the effect of that movement has turned out to be perfectly awful, because so much of it is unmoored in firm principle, allowing Obama movement to do all kinds of things destructive to progressive policy (which I won't bother to recount here)

The absolutely worst aspect of Obama's appeal as a politician is that he has anesthetized the left by being in his own personal characteristics the perfect lifestyle candidate. People who once upon a time were die-hard, virulent critics of revolting policies -- such as the Bush policies on state secrets, due process, and torture -- simply won't utter a peep on those policies until Obama himself shows the way he intends to go. Whether his views are consistent with what they once held seems altogether irrelevant; they know a priori that it must be right and just.

Come on (4.00 / 1)
100 days and there's lots of Obama criticism. Not everyone spins 180 or does philosophical donuts, but I see tons of blogs and followers that acknowledge huge flaws in Obama's approaches from even before the get-go, including this one. Then there are people who are trying not to criticize yet, whatever the time limit is that it's not allowed.

How would his campaign being based on "lifestyle activists" not be "moored on firm principles"? It's much more likely the excitement-crowd/time-for-our-Woodstock-too bunch would be the least perceptive, not the ones who actually care about issues and do something about them.

And what exactly makes Obama an example of lifestyle politics? A few years of paid-for activism and a not-very activist career? Does he even recycle? Does he have an energy-efficient vehicle? It doesn't seem like he gives to activist causes.  

[ Parent ]
I think this is a little too dire (4.00 / 1)
but there is some key truth to it.

There is a related challenge, which was the failure of people to understand what I argued in a different post (which really repeated what others were saying) between campaign and community organizing.

People building collective power seek issues not candidates.  You want candidates sympathetic enough that you can at least influence them to do the right thing.  (For example, we have Sensenbrenner next door.  Forget influencing him much.)

But electoral politics is just the beginning.

One key problem with what Obama did is that he let people think that electing him was the same as the kind of power building involved in community organizing efforts.  So he has a big group that he basically controls (in the sense that he sends info, etc, and coordinates--not that they are lemmings) and no independent base is built to pressure him from outside.

See these two diaries if you are interested:

The Crucial Difference Between Electoral Politics and Movement Building :


Obama and the Crucial Difference Between Campaign and Community Organizing:

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
It does not matter, in charts (4.00 / 3)
Kevin Drum had a related post the other day with this chart:

A single law that would reduce industrial waste by just a few percentage points would do more than all the household recycling combined, even if 100% of all domestic trash were recycled.

Thank you so much (4.00 / 1)
for this graph! This is the kind of thing I was talking about -- you can see right there though yes, getting rid of that 2.5% would be awesome, it pales in comparison to what can't be done with lifestyle.

[ Parent ]
Same for global warming (4.00 / 1)
Most global warming comes from the sun. Human contribution is mostly insignificant, a few percentage points. Why bother?

The graph ignores say the number of acres of forest consumer efforts can save. It ignores the pressure that consumer recycling places on companies to recycle too (some companies even use recycled paper, but more importantly, if a company exec is recycling at home, being energy efficient, etc., his/her decisions at work are likely to be a bit more green).

The Kevin Drum article references a larger article at

While consumer action isn't a large part of the total, it's visible, it's countable, and it's a way of the public voting, that it cares. If a community is recycling heavily, companies know pretty damn well they're not going to passively tolerate a huge toxic dump nearby, and that other eco-calculations will rise to the top. Of course "shop yourself to environmental health" was a pipe dream, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a positive economic message that influences in a number of ways. Even the long article notes that companies are making some major efforts in efficiency and waste. And those companies are made of people like you and me. Little bits do help, little bits do add up.

Buckminster Fuller noted that people change in times of crisis, not during good times, so he aimed to have the right technologies ready for when people reached the point of critical decisions.  

[ Parent ]
Collective consumer action (4.00 / 1)
would be one thing.  Individual people saving cans is self-delusion

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
As if (4.00 / 2)
individual actions didn't frequently lead to better organizational patterns as they get more common and frequent.

[ Parent ]
1 million individuals saving cans is collective action! (4.00 / 1)
Every movement boils down to individuals doing the same thing because of shared values and convictions. Your argument doesn't hold water.

[ Parent ]
Slight variation (4.00 / 1)
A movement can be a collection of people/groups doing things for different sets of values and convictions as long as they think they're reaching their own goals. Allies of convenience in other words.

But yes, ignoring mass collective action just because it doesn't have a logo or .org on the end is a bit silly.

[ Parent ]
These graphs are what people in my neon red town know about in their gut (0.00 / 0)
And when I see the aluminum cans in the park and all around because it doesn't bother any of them (unless they pick them up for money) I know it's because they think it won't matter in the long run. And it won't. It is busy work. Like cleaning your house all day and ironing shirts used to be for a housewife. You really can spend all day doing errands and feel tired at the end of the say. Like you have worked very hard.

Personal recycling is a way to further immobilize us. It has been co-opted by powerful interests. And see how we can spend a few hours disagreeing with each other about it. More fun than bread and circuses?

[ Parent ]
Right, but the PC Lifestyle Activists (4.00 / 2)
use this attitude (however unconsciously) as a yardstick to evaluate how caring you are about the planet.  You non-recyclers are simply not as virtuous as they.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Well, people who don't care about waste at home, don't do it at work, too. (0.00 / 0)
And if you do endorse Mark's graph, industry is the leading producer of waste. How do you think you can raise awareness about this in a culture where people don't care about energy and resource wasting because of lazyness? But if people invest time and efforts in reducing their carbon footprint, they'll demand the same from industry. So, why should this be regarded as a bad thing?

[ Parent ]
A Single Law That Would Outlaw All Charts (4.00 / 1)
would do more to take care of troublemakers like you than you'd ever care to imagine.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Exactly!! (4.00 / 1)
Thanks for pulling this together!

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Well, every single percent of reduction helps, and so... (0.00 / 0)
..your argument isn't really persuasive, as long as you don't convincingly demonstrate that an effort to reduce domestic trash would raise more problems than solving them. And, btw, where do you think industrial waste comes from? Dontcha think it's primarily a "byproduct" of the consumer goods industry? So, reducing unnecessary consumption may be an answer to this.

[ Parent ]
Here's what it is (4.00 / 1)
 -- if the fact that you are recycling makes you feel like the environmental stuff is under control so you can go ahead and vote for George Bush because he will "keep us safe" then yes, you might as well not recycle.  I am thinking specifically about Republican co-workers of mine who are really into recycling. Or if your recycling makes you think you don't need to be involved in decisions about who is in your state in local government, then yes, you are fooling yourself about one big area that could, if left to the control of bad people, totally negate anything you might do personally or even collectively.  

I think the problem here is not so much that recycling, for example, isn't good or doesn't help, but that the people who hold the larger decision making power can, and often do, promote actions like that as a way to lull people into not challenging them on the bigger, harder stuff.

Right (4.00 / 1)
That's part of what I'm trying to say.  

But the fact that we buy this argument, the fact that some of the most educated and otherwise thoughtful people lap it up like cats to milk says something about us.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Reminds me... (4.00 / 2)
Your coworkers reminded me of a situation back in 1982 I found very odd: thousands of activists blockading the Lawrence Livermore Labs as part of the campaign to get the Lab to stop lobbying for and building nuclear weapons, and some of the workers blocked from entering riding up to the gates on their bicycles. Did they really think that riding a bicycle would save the world even though they were building weapons that could destroy the world? This seemed like a clear case of lifestyle politics challenged byt collective action.

[ Parent ]
And they almost certainly didn' t get the irony. (4.00 / 1)
What would happen if the lifestyle people had to face the irony more directly?  Would it matter?  I guess that's a key underlying question of my post.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Who says recycling will make us safe? It's just a start, that's all! (0.00 / 0)
And you are advocating to not even start doing something. Well, excuse me pls, but how do you think mankind will then be able to stop global warming? If you ridicule those who at least try to change their habits for a more sustainable way of life, even if its still not enough, you ought to have an alternative plan! What you engage in is nothing other than putting your head in the sand while at the same time pointing the finger at the politicians who allegedly are misusing the issue for their own purposes. That's a ridiculous view, and it sure isn't leading to any changes.  

[ Parent ]
I want to start something (0.00 / 0)
I just want to start things that generate the kind of power necessary to make real change.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
There isn't one simple way to create real change! (0.00 / 0)
There are only countless small endeavors that all contribute to the larger goal. Simply ridiculing those small endeavors is not helpful. If you disagree with some initiatives, fine, investigate the data and educate people about preferrable ways to reduce the negative impact on our ecosphere. But you didn't do this here, and just spread prejudices and questioned more responsible acting people's motives (as if the motives were important, the results are important!). So, sry, I can only conclude that you may want to start something, but your efforts are totally counterproductive so far.  

[ Parent ]
But there are things that don't work very well. (0.00 / 0)
And it makes sense to make distinctions about things that do and don't work very well.

Countless isolated actions may have some impact.  Or they may not.  But the isolated people don't have much influence on what their actions do.

In any case, you don't seem to actually be reading my argument.  

Feel free to argue with yourself, however.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Then show WHY they don't work very well, and provide alternatives! (4.00 / 1)
All you do instead is posting some unbased assumptions, and use these to ridicule people who at least try to behave responsible. Sry, but this stance is utterly unconvincing.

And thx for somewhat admitting that countless isolated actions have an impact. Yes, they do! Only, of course, if those isolated actions are all the same. If they are outweighed by other actions that contradict them, then the overall impact is nil, of course. So, what's important is to show people the right kind of actions, in order to get to positive results. It's not so much important what means are used on that way, be it peer pressure, the media, legislation or soemthing else (preferrably all possible means that don't violate people's rights), what counts are the results!

[ Parent ]
Shorter educationaction: Do what you like. Let the earth go to hell. (4.00 / 1)
As proven by these revealing sentences.

So, an assignment:
   --throw out a can today
   --leave the light on in a room overnight
   --drive your car to work when you don't have to.

Don't feel guilt.  Your guilt is your own self-aggrandizement.  It is your own effort to make yourself matter.  Your guilt is about YOU.  

If only one person, educationaction, would behave this way this would only be a miniscule problem, in that he's right. But when he promotes this nonsense as acceptable behaviour, without warning about the negative impact if too many follow his bad example, that's dangerous spin. He told us it took long time and much fact gathjering for him to write this article. Well, he should have read about the Categorical Imperative, too, and generally about the individual responisbility for the welfare of all. Maybe then he would have recognized that his stance doesn't only show questionable ethics, but isn't even rational, regarding the consequences in the loing run!

Educationaction, I recommend reading this article:
However, be aware that it will totally ruin the premise on which your story is based...

What's weird (4.00 / 1)
Is that it's a completely "just give up", fill your own pockets, live your own life, don't even organize at higher levels because that's futile line of reasoning.

Unless it's a rout like Attila the Hun through Asia, don't even bother. Global warming? Most is sun, fuhgiddaboudit.

Dick Cheney would be pleased, the progressives are eating their tail. If it were one voice, I'd ignore it, but all the follow-ons saying "great post". Strange.

[ Parent ]
Well (0.00 / 0)
If you think that individual cans matter that much, or that this diary will influence that many people, then you have a point.

But as Mark Matson pointed out above, the million cans actually don't matter that much.  

And this diary won't influence that many people.

But if it does influence a significant amount of people to do something more strategic and power related, that would likely accomplish a lot more than collecting cans.

The point of the assignment, of course, is not so much to keep people from collecting cans, but to help people understand at a visceral level how they are fooling themselves about their impact, and encourage them to do something more useful.  

If you want to run the world based on Kant, you are going to be in real trouble :)  Citing Kant as a response to an empirical argument doesn't really get you anywhere, as far as I can tell.

You apparently want me to tell you that your collecting cans does matter.  That if all your friends collect cans matters.  

Sorry to burst your bubble.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
It's the way of thinking that has to be fought! (4.00 / 1)
The way of thinking you advocate here, that the impact of any individual's actions is unmeasurable. That's right, of course, if you look only at one individual. But you can't. The US consists of about 307 million individuals, and the world of around 6.7 billions, and if all would think like you do, or just a large part of them, we're doomed. Only a large majority of human beings doing the responsible thing will give us a chance in fighting global warming. And, excuse me pls, but since a believe that "business as usual" is the rood to doom, I can only do my best to fight dangerous precendents like yours.

And if you're intent was really to encourage people to do something more useful (as if recycling was useless, when done by a majority of the people!), you haven't pointed out a single issue that would have a positive impact on earth. What you instead called people to do was:

--throw out a can today
--leave the light on in a room overnight
--drive your car to work when you don't have to.

And, honestly, excuse me pls, but I think this is borderline crazy! Deliberately producing more waste and wasting energy just in order to show that you're an independent thinking person who is above feeling guilt for their actions? Really, sry, but to me this is narcism to the extreme, and the blatant disregard for the long term consequences of ones actions is terrifying!

As for Kant: That empirics show that the majority of mankind right now doesn't follow his rational isn't an argument against the indisputable possibility that the world would be a better place if they did. So, do you want to argue that its not worth trying to get people to engage in a preferrable, sustainable way of living just because that would be a difficult endeavour? What happened to "We choose to go...not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to measure and organize the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."? That's too 20th century for you?

[ Parent ]
Okay. For fun let's try Kant (0.00 / 0)
The "Categorical Imperative":  

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Already we can see an implied problematic assumption, here, of influence.  That one's actions actually have some impact on others.  

But let's try it:

Act as if everyone should engage in lifestyle activism.


Act as if everyone should try to generate collective power.

Which is better?

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
You're framing the argument. Those choices don't make sense. (0.00 / 0)
The point isn't that anybody should engge in lifestyle activism. A lifestyle that puts a priority on recycling and saving energy is preferable regarding fighting global warming, of course, but any individual can find his own mix of reasonable choices without having to follow any lifestyle precedents.

And if everyone would try to generate collective pwoer, wouldn't that lead to a cacophony of voices? Wouldn't it be better if there is a division of labor, everybody providing to the common goal on the field he is best at? Some trying to generate collective power, aka organizing, some investigating alternative ways to reduce energy and resource consumption, some researching and developing new techniques and products, etc?

Well, imho the categorical question raised here is clear:
If all people would act like you, would this be helpful in reducing global warming? Well, obviously, NO.
If all people would behave the way like the lifestyle folks you criticize, would this be helpful in fighting global warming? Apparently, YES. Sure not enough for a total turnaround, but a step into the right direction.  

[ Parent ]
Some other questions I like to ask: (0.00 / 0)
Do you think that ridiculous, overblown advertising is a foolproof indicator that the "advertised product" is useless?

Do you generally believe that a lifestyle endorsed by a large group of people is necessarily a bad thing?

Do you think that "you can't be a saint" is a sufficient argument for not even trying to be as "saintly" as you can?

Do you believe that positive changes can only achieved by a law?

Is the world really uncontrollable, or can control be achieved through a majority of people acting reasonably in their own sphere of influence?

Those are some questions whose answers are provided as a premise in this article. Imho, the answers and the premises are mostly wrong, and that's the big problem with educationaction's conclusions based on them. So, don't take these conclusions at face value, check if the foundation on which they stand is solid, pls!

Oh, hey, you actually read it to the end! (0.00 / 0)
Now read the rest of the dialogue and actually try to make an effort to see what I'm arguing.  Then we can talk.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
I don't really care if you're answering, I will post my arguments anyway! (0.00 / 0)

(and, between both of us, I just jumped to the end. Sadly, no surprise, just what I expected after the first paragraphs.)  

[ Parent ]
Fascinating (0.00 / 0)
So you actually think you can argue with people without making a real effort to figure out what they think?

How does that fit with your categorical imperative?

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
Yes, if people write articles that are so consequential in their argument. (0.00 / 0)
Remember, in my very first comment in this thread I was totally forthcoming about my lack of enthusiasm about reading all your arguments adter concluding that your wholepremise is wrong. You had lots of opportunities to show if I misunderstood you in any way, if the story took a totally different turn after the first ten paragraphs or so. But you didn't. Well, after looking into more of your story, I only find more of the same. So, you can accuse me of being lazy, of course, but I didn't get your arguments wrong. Going further, I would even admit that your meta point about Community Organizing is a serious and important issue. But still, the examples you used to prove your point aren't standing up to scrutiny, and the practical conclusions you deduced from would have horrible consequences for fighting global warming. But I guess I'm repeating myself, sry.

[ Parent ]
On second thought, the mocking tone of my other comment isn't helpful, sry! (0.00 / 0)
Well, let's me pls try to show the major problem I have with your story in another way:

The point is, your advice can be used by everybody who is too lazy to care about reducing his energy and resource consumption as an alibi! Is this a consequence you intended? If it is not, isn't it reasonable to argue that an important point in your erguments is missing?

And imho the problem isn't your stance against a lifestyle putting emphasis on sustainable behaviour per se. Of course, you don't have to drive a Prius, or a Honda hybrid, to act responsible! Using public trasport, or riding a bike, is even better! So, the individual has countless alternatives to create his own, personal lifestyle. He/she should just take into account the consequences of his actions, and try not to engage in behaviour that would bring doom to the earth if conducted by a large group of people. Or see it from another angle: If you engage in a energy and resource wasting lifestyle, you undo the efforts of a responsible acting guy who invests time and efforts in reducing his footprints. If the number of irresponsible people outweighs those who at reasonable, than there will be negative consequences for all (hmm, thinking about this, von Neuman's theory of games may apply here, to).

Ok, and the problem with your reasoning is, you don't account for the results coming from a large group of people acting responsible. You only look at the individual, not covering the fact that billions of individuals acting in a similar, "bad" way of course will have a measurable impact. You even dismiss this clear cut rational in passing, as if the work of own of the most renowned philosophers is just a joke for you. I understand that you invested lots of time and effort into this article, but you still used some shortcuts that wreck the foundation of your reasoning.

Well, I'm all for individualism, and am not at all a "follow the leader" guy, but I really can't support advocating a policy that encourages individuals to disregard the consequences of their actions on a bigger scale. So, sry, but in this regard we stand on different sides.

[ Parent ]

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