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Accessed on August 22, 2017 - 12:51:44

The Ethical Activist

Kate Whittaker Cousino, Feb 08, 2017

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I've been mulling over the evolution of modern activism, the assumption that different activist groups using the same ideological terminology and basis SHOULD be natural allies, and the reality that they very rarely seem to be. The organization of last month's Woman's March was plagued by accusations of racial insensitivity and exclusion of disability rights. The whole "intersectionality" concept is an attempt to address these divides; it appears to be used instead as an internecine weapon, widening them.

And I think it's a breakdown in premises. I think there is a flaw built into these activist ideologies at some basic level that makes them break down when in relation to other vulnerable groups of grievances.

My intuition is that this poison was injected with the inclusion of abortion as a key platform in the feminist proposition—with this early sacrifice to consequentialism, which will embrace the sacrifice of the weaker person for the sake of the perceived good of the stronger person. The solution to a structural inequality that privileged the strong over the weak was perceived to be the implementation of new structures which...favour the strong (women) over the weak (children). The end of reaching parity with men was deemed to justify the means of violence against the unborn. The existence of more powerful and privileged groups was sufficient reason to deny our responsibilities to less powerful, more vulnerable individuals.

Perhaps this consequentialism was inevitable, given materialistic (some say Marxist) influences on activism in the second half of the twentieth century. It seems to me to be a perennial rot, one which has twisted the principle of the strong giving way to the weak by embracing a chosen blindness to one's own strengths and responsibilities. While intersectionality tries to address this tendency of victim groups to deny their own ability to victimise, it lacks a fundamental and coherent rationale for the human person's inherent worth, something person-centred rather than power-centred.

Note that none of these observations of the problems within activist movements is meant as a wholesale rejection of these movements or many of their aims, nor is the cancer of consequentialism unique to left-leaning activisms. We've seen it seep into pro-life activism in sometimes horrifying ways. It is rife in political infighting. It creeps into Christian "culture wars"—even though its appearance there indicates a surrender to non-Christian ideas. Even the best ends and goals can be corrupted by the justification of evil means. 

Once we accept the "use" of persons—manifest through manipulative propaganda, scapegoating of "the other," the reduction of persons to props for rhetorical effect, argumentative traps, deception, violence, and so on—we lose the ability to make a moral argument that persuades, rather than coerces.