|Posted on June 14, 2017 at 4:10 PM|
By Dennis Stone
How’s that for a provocative title? If this were a mainstream site with actual readership that title would imply clickbait, a shameless attempt to entice readers to check out the story. Alas, I’m so far off the media map that the term “clickbait” has no meaning. This is a serious piece, and those four groups share an important trait that tells us a lot about human nature. The most basic question one can ask is this: what is the meaning of life? Feeding into that question is the concept of identity. Who am I? What purpose do I serve?
Some people dealing with those questions turn to religion or spirituality of some type. Others adopt family and social relationships as the defining purpose of their lives. Some become consumed with career. Some focus on their membership in an identity group - gay, black, feminist, etc. - that provides purpose and camaraderie. Life circumstances force some into an almost one dimensional struggle to simply survive.
And then there are those who adopt a cause and become crusaders - warriors for a noble struggle against an identifiable and demonized enemy. The battle defines their lives and provides the meaning and purpose that make life worth living.
Several years ago I read a profile of an African freedom fighter who had been fighting for several years for the liberation of his country. He was interviewed shortly after the victory of his movement and the installation of the populist government for which he had so long been struggling. I expected him to feel ecstatic and fulfilled, and to go back to a “normal” life with his family. However, I was surprised by his expression of aimlessness and emptiness. He said he was planning to go to another African country and join an insurrection movement there. He was a freedom fighter, a warrior. That was his identity, that was what gave his life meaning. Without the struggle he was lost.
That dynamic is what unites the disparate groups listed in the title of this piece. The movements for which they fight give their lives meaning, and determine, both for good and ill, how they conduct themselves and how they interact with their fellow humans. There is something admirable about commitment to a cause, about looking past one’s selfish desires to what one sees as a greater good. And for those groups with whose goals we essentially agree, such as gay activists, we can appreciate and admire their successes, the improvements to the world they are able to achieve.
However, in most cases it is my opinion that the negative aspects of the commitment to a crusade outweigh the positive. This is obvious to most of us when we consider groups such as ISIS, whose members murder the innocent and generate fear and terror in their pursuit of what they consider the ideal world. But it’s also true of most crusaders.
Consider a couple of traits that are common to the groups listed in my title, and to crusaders of all stripes. First, there is a self-righteousness and arrogance that won’t allow consideration of contrary points of view. In fact, in many if not most cases the world becomes an arena of “us vs. them,” good guys vs. bad guys.
Second, independent thought becomes a casualty of the war being fought. I’ve referred to the “little black book” of proper gay or proper liberal thought. Each crusade has its own little black book that lays out how the crusaders should think about each issue. Related to that is the lack of nuance, the inability to see the world as anything but black and white. Simplicity over complexity, when the reality is that most things in life are complex. Third, for many the fight is an unchanging commitment, immune to a changing world, as with the African fighter I mentioned.
I reflected on all of this recently when I was reading about the LGBT activists in Washington, DC, who protested and blocked the Capital Pride parade, resulting in a major delay and re-routing. They had a multitude of grievances, including the presence of police, the presence of corporations, a planning board made up of too many rich white guys, etc.
As I read their comments and perused their website it seemed to me that they are suffering from the crusader mentality I have described in this piece. Their lives are defined by fighting the “good fight,” and that fight can never be won. There must always be enemies. Most queers consider it a good thing when the police seek to be allies and march in solidarity, or when corporations that have installed strict LGBT protections want to be our friends. Those are distinct signs of our “war” being increasingly won, but crusaders don’t really want the war to be won, they want - and need - to fight.
I mentioned simplicity as a trait of the true believers. There’s little more simplistic than “police are bad,” or “corporations just want our money” or “rich white people are evil.” And don’t even think about trying to engage true believers in intelligent conversation, or having a back and forth exchange of ideas. Either you see things their way, or you’re a sellout or a “tool of the establishment.”
I am not saying that people like the DC activists don’t have legitimate points to make that should be considered. There may be value in their contentions. Or there may not be. But we accomplish nothing - and, in fact, can go backward - when we have an inflexible perception that being queer demands that we incessantly seek out enemies to fight. Think of it this way. Fighting against police and corporations who WANT to be part of our Pride isn’t quite the same thing as fighting against indifference to AIDS, or lack of marriage equality, or all the other things we fought for and against in the past.
I am emphatically not saying we should become complacent, or that fighting for what we believe in should be abandoned. But we shouldn't seek out enemies because our identity is “fighter” or “activist,” and because we feel empty without the crusade. Reasoning is a good thing. Nuance is a good thing. Looking at all sides of an issue is a good thing. Let's not sacrifice those good things to fulfill a desperate need for relevance or purpose.