Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rebel with a Self-Perpetuating Cause

In these parts, everyone's got a cause. Whether it's immigration, keeping immigrants out, world peace, taking over the world, stopping global warming, disputing global warming, gay rights, "traditional family values," preserving Lake Tahoe, developing Lake Tahoe, keeping sex ed in schools, keeping sex ed in the home, gun control, the right to bear arms, multiculturalism, hegemony, keeping God in the Pledge of Allegiance, removing God from the Pledge of Allegiance, eco-sustainable-green-whatever, NIMBYism... well, let's just say James Dean wouldn't have stood a chance in the rebellion department.

I guess if you want to be an agent for social change, the Bay Area is a good place to be. After all, this was the hotbed of radicalism in the 1960s. (Some people seem to believe that it's still the 1960s, but that's another story). It's said that if you throw a rock in Manhattan, you will hit either a psychoanalyst or a person who's currently in psychoanalysis. Around here, I think that if you throw a rock, you hit a social change organization. And the funny thing is that there are hundreds of tiny organizations working toward the same goal--but not always together. Sometimes they don't even know that their comrades exist; other times they just don't want to cooperate, often for reasons of personality politics.

(To wit: I once was asked in an interview how I would increase the organization's visibility to queer youth of color. I said that I would find out first which other organizations were already successfully providing services and activities for this demographic--of which there are many--and then see if we could co-sponsor some of their programming. The interviewers' collective response was one of stunned silence. I'm still not sure whether mine was just such a novel idea, or completely the wrong answer. Whichever, I didn't get the job.)

Now, I'm all for social change. The status quo is certainly better than it used to be, but it's not as good as it could be. What saddens me is that I see a lot of pushing for too much, too soon. Let me be clear that I don't think we should just hang around until public opinion changes, and then move in and re-work the system. I'd love it if, overnight, marriage equality were a reality across the US. But realistically, that's not going to happen. Eight years ago, there was not a single state in the US which offered any official sort of recognition of same-sex relationships. Now, seven states and the District of Columbia offer at least some rights to same-sex couples. Yes, there are still those who think that Massachusetts is going to slide into the Atlantic on account of marriage equality (come on, it's been over four years! so where's the sliding already?) but I think there are also those who've figured out that two chicks getting married isn't actually all that bad.

Simply put, every one of us is afraid of change; and so if we try too hard to change, there's going to be backlash. Even changing for the better is scary. In fact, fear of change has been hypothesized to be a sort of "allegiance to the self"--when you change, even for the better, in a sense you lose the person you were before. I think this happens on a societal level too. The more a small group of people yells, "THIS HAS GOTTA CHANGE!" the more the rest of society girds its loins.

But then we have another problem, which is that the more the agents of change are told to sit down and shut up, the more frustrated they get, the louder they yell... and the more they are told to sit down and shut up. If they are wise, they will take a moment and re-evaluate their tactics. But throwing tantrums is human nature; and it takes a lot of mental and emotional wherewithal to decide to take things slow when you want what you want and you want it yesterday. So in many caes, nothing gets accomplished--

--except that as long as the status quo remains, there's something to try to change. Not changing tactics is a very self-protective mechanism for those who are oriented toward fomenting social change. For once you've completely accomplished your goal, your choices are either sit back on your laurels or find some other cause to champion. And sitting back on one's laurels is pretty antithetical to the personalities of those who work toward change.

So there you have it: Change, and the world changes with you. Keep doing the same thing over and over, louder and louder each time, and you might find yourself the chronic kvetcher amongst a whole lot of pissed-off sticks-in-the-mud.

1 comment:

Mother Jones RN said...

Well said!