Saturday, December 11, 2004

Activists in America, Part the Third: About Issues

So, when we last left our hero, not that we really have one, we were wondering if some issues are actually more important than others. I recall a conversation I had with MB from high school when he and I were puppeteering for a show together, the summer after my first year of college. He said that he felt all activists had to acknowledge that some issues were just more important than others--that at this point in time, gay rights had nothing on the environment, for example. Basically, issues that ostensibly have an effect on everyone, rather than issues that effect only a select group, should obviously be the priority of all activists. Thus spake MB.

This may also go back to what L was saying about abortion being such a non-issue compared with environmental concerns, the latter of which were given just this side of no voice in the recent election. (Inauguration fast approacheth . . . gah.) I'll admit that my understanding of environmental activism is somewhat limited/unsophisticated in comparison to my understanding of "women's issues" (I really kind of loathe that as a subcategory), civil rights issues, etc. It's true that environmental issues have a wider, and in some ways larger, direct impact on all of humanity than has the issue of abortion. A much smaller percentage of humanity directly wants and needs to have abortions or gay rights than the percentage of humanity directly effected by, say, the polar ice caps melting, or higher mercury levels in fresh water. But to call that direct is assuming that *how* we live is less important than *that* we live, I think. And to be crude, direct and extraordinarily annoying, if we all die we won't know the difference. It will be horrible, certainly, it already is horrible, that we have treated our environment like that, but it's not fair to say it's any more or less horrible than people being denied their basic human rights because of what they look like or who they love. (And let's state here, for the record, that I don't think marriage is a human right, contrary to popular postering. Whether it's on the Universal Declaration o' Human Rights or not, I think the notion is absurd, Eurocentric [which word itself is questionable, since "Euro-" there refers only to dominant Western European cultures, oy] and belittling of things that are actually human rights. A civil right, yes, and civil rights are their own battle and I think can be and are being fought for and about appropriately. But the idea that a lack of marriage means a lack of basic human sustenance or dignity is silly.) The proportions amount to the same--as in, if you were to distribute the sufferings of a select population from denials of human rights in the same way that environmental damage is distributed (and yes, I do know that environmental damage is often inflicted way more strongly on certain groups, carcinogenic factories in poor black neighborhoods and so forth, which I might get to later, but let's just say I'm talking about the ozone layer for now) to the entire population of the world, it probably works out to the same.

In that sense, it's really, really hard to prioritize issues that involve humans leading a decent life. Which abortion, whatever your stance on it, definitely involves. And environmental issues, and human rights and civil rights, and warfare. I'm willing to say that legalizing marijuana, for example, may fall in a slightly lower-priority category, although I suppose there's a roundabout argument to be made that punishing recreational marijuana use, which really does no one besides the individual user any harm, often ends up with unjustly severe penalties inflicted on the user which could be seen as a civil rights issue, but then we also get into drug trafficking from third-world countries and I don't even want to start because I really don't know enough. But I think issues that involve the macrocosm of human life are as important as issues which only pertain *directly* (yes, I did emphasize that) to certain microcosms.

So, if all the issues, or a substantial percentage of The Issues, are equally important, then what's the problem with activists talking about all of them at once? Or being active about them all at once? First of all, I guess, is the fact that very very few and far between in the world are people who can know enough about every single issue to be a really good, effective activist. Until and unless that person comes along, the issues might be better off having their own experts, who can and should collaborate sometimes, of course, but overall there is something to be said for a specialized base of knowledge. Which is not to say limited, because all these issues do feed into one another (some would say in Christ, but I ain't one of them), but you know more about some things than others and might as well accept that.

Also, there's form. We've gotten used to certain formats for political action, often left over from the '60s and not necessarily having the same impact they did then, because a lot of said impact was due to the novelty. Form should be related to content--a march to legalize marijuana, for example, may not be the most effective way of spreading your message, because the presence of a million pot smokers is not necessarily what's going to change a lot of minds, whereas the presence of, say, a million black men or a million mothers could. Form is related to content. Too few people deal with that, in both art and politics.

I think there's a third, but I don't remember what it is. That seems awfully reductivist. Any thoughts to help me avoid reducing so much?


Post a Comment

<< Home