Speaking of activism, I have some comments from the other side (sort of).
Recently I came across this video about the chemicals used to make the clothes some (many?) of us wear, and what a toll they are supposedly wreaking on the environment.
I was watching the video, trying to remain skeptical. At the end, it turned out the video was made by GreenPeace (I was watching it on another site so this wasn’t obvious).
If the video is true – and I believe it’s probably at least somewhat true, though also possibly exaggerated and sensationalized – then it’s certainly worth taking heed of.
But what I want to say separate from the video, and on the topic of activism and activist groups, I have noticed a trend (which also happens to exist in the news world). Whoever is first to the microphone tends to end up leading any given cause. Similarly – the first reporter to cover a news story and get mass media coverage, whatever they report – or don’t report – is what most people remember. No matter how many corrections or retractions come after.
Let me explain the idea I’m getting at:
1. GreenPeace – I don’t know if they were first, but they’re definitely one of the most well known. I’m very pro-environment. I sold my last car 4 years ago and have been biking and taking public transit since. I recycle and compost. I’d get a solar panel for my apartment if that was a possibility at the building I live in. I feel guilty every time I’m forced to buy bottled water. That all said, I don’t fully support GreenPeace. Why? Well, partly because of their tactics. Same reason I like religious people who don’t preach or chase you around with pamphlets. You shouldn’t have to do that if you have a legitimate message. Yes, public demonstrations and public activism is necessary, but publicity stunts and PR campaigns can be done wrong. And being sensationalist about a legitimate message will turn a lot of people off who would have otherwise agreed with you and taken heed of your idea. If you have to make a big deal, you may have a less legitimate message. The person who screams loudest gets the most attention, regardless of what they are saying.
2. PETA – same deal. I’m pro animals, I believe animals should be treated ethically, we shouldn’t wear them as fashion (just for the sake of it), and in an ideal world, we would eat much less meat, but not none. I would ideally follow a model like what cave men and natives did – hunt for food, for clothing, to make tools out of bones, use every part of the animal possible to pay respect to it for giving its life to sustain ours. Cave men and natives did it, we in modern society just industrialized and commercialized it.
PETA is too aggressive about their cause (and as a result, their supporters tend to be as well), and often it seems that they rely on sensationalist, polarizing, even patronizing ads. I’ve heard the argument made, and I agree, militant vegans may actually do more harm to their cause than good. Just as it’s hard to convince someone to go from not exercising at all (or being a frequent consumer of meat, to finish the metaphor), to running 7 days a week and lifting weights 7 days a week, you have to ease into a transition out of an established dietary pattern. And making people feel guilty or ashamed for their lifestyle isn’t helping anyone. Positive changes come only when people want the change, not when they’re forced or guilted into it. Offer a solution, offer simple baby step suggestions towards the desired outcome. As people if they would like to make a change, if they say yes, offer your help, if they say no, leave them alone – you’ll only waste both of your time/energy and theirs.
Again, I think the current situation with animals, factory farming, leather coats and barbequeing being practically a religion in some places, it’s not so good, I’d love to see it change, but I can’t get behind PETA because they’re just pushing too hard, using a blunt force marketing style (they could really stand to have some young creative social media type savvy). In fact, one of their ads says “Whips and chains belong in the bedroom, not in the circus”, and the internet of course comically responded with “PETA – because apparently you should respect animals, but not women”. I’m all for a healthy, liberated sex life, but come on, you can do better PETA. I look at their ads sometimes and I sigh or groan. It sometimes feels patronizing. It’s all or nothing, there’s no room for compromise. This is rarely a good strategy because it serves to create friction and people either dig in or they tune out completely because they don’t want to get dragged into the fray and not be able to get out.
3. Autism Speaks – The more I read about this organization, the more I dislike them. They started out innocently enough, wanting to help families affected by the difficulties that come with Autism. But at some point, possibly during the whole charade of the “Vaccines cause Autism!” debacle (which turned out to be bunk), their “goal” seemed to switch to finding a “cure” for Autism (arguably that would help the families, but is Autism something that needs to be cured? Myself and many others don’t think so). This organization brings in a lot of donation money, both from corporate sponsors as well as desperate families, but their mission is arguably completely misguided.
Temple Grandin, a famous “Autist” has been arguing that Autism is a matter of how the brain is actually wired on the neurological level, not a “disorder” as it has been classified for so long. Autism Speaks seems to be ignoring this, and anyone who fails to do their research will likely stumble upon Autism Speaks first, and end up supporting their cause, which I’d argue is actually to the detriment of Autism at this point. I’ve seen their email newsletters, they persisted in hammering on the fear aspect, claiming a rising Autism epidemic, making a “cure” more important than ever. But Autism doesn’t need to be cured any more than Dyslexia (a very similar neurological setup) or ADD. The people with these brains (and their families) simply need to learn how to think around the difference, learn to harness the unique power their minds possess. I have plans to do a more complete writeup of Autism later (I’ve done a lot of reading about).
Point being – just because an organization is the most well-known public face of a cause that you believe in, doesn’t mean you should automatically support them. I don’t say I’m a PETA supporter, I’m an “animal rights” supporter. I’m an “environmental advocate”. Few organizations get everything right. The same thing can also apply to politics, religion and many other issues. You want to figure things out on a case by case basis. Don’t just pick one side because it’s easy. Think about it, make an educated decision. It’s not good to blindly follow any cause, and just because one group got to the front first doesn’t mean they’re legit.