Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Those who do, and those who learn

I was chatting with some folks last night about Ukraine and the current events there.  One of them talked about how they were unfamiliar with the whole thing and talked about they had something of an obligation to find out in order to decide on advocacy positions.  It is an easy position to empathize with, after all being informed about world events is the first step to knowing what to support and what to do to make things a better place.  Unfortunately it isn't true that we can simply learn all the things before acting.  No matter how much I read, no matter what I learn, there will always be a crisis somewhere I am completely ignorant of.  The goal is not to learn all the things but rather to learn enough to figure out what the best course of action is.

We all have things to bring to the world and those things vary greatly with our talents, our positions in the world, the resources we have, and more.  I feel that it is very important we not insist that everyone do the perfect thing nor that they learn everything there is to learn.  At some point we must stop and pick something to do.  Fundamentally the goal is not to learn all the things and then keel over dead, it is to learn enough that we know how we can contribute effectively and then to put that knowledge into action.  The critical thing is maximizing the total net benefit, not the size of the effectiveness term in the equation.

For example, I could try to campaign very heavily to make sure Toronto gets the best possible mayor.  People could rightly point out that Torontonians are hardly a disadvantaged group and that it is pretty tough to imagine that me doing this is actually helping those that need it the most.  There has got to be something even better I could do if I just did the research to find out precisely what that is.  While that may be true there is still plenty of reason to think that trying to get a mayor better than Rob Ford is a worthwhile endeavour.  It isn't necessarily the best thing but it is a good thing.

This sort of struggle is something often seen in social movements.  Some people just want to pick a simple thing and fix it - for example, marriage equality for queer folks.  This is clearly an upgrade from our current situation but there really are more important things we could be tackling like the systemic violence and marginalization of non-cis people.  Those two groups are often lumped together under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella but there isn't a whole lot of agreement over exactly what the priorities should be for advocacy for those who claim to speak for the whole group.

My position is that we should try ourselves to push for the greatest possible change but we should not spend our time denigrating those who push for changes we deem inefficient if well intentioned.  There are plenty of fights that are worth fighting and 'you are doing a good thing but not The Best thing' isn't one of them.

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