critical praxis (1)

My View on Social Movements

After many prompts from dialogues with my daughter, with Barbara and others, and listening to some interviews on the radio, it seems I ought to put down some thoughts on my views about social movements (including environmental movements). After all, the Fearlessness Movement is my own term for many movements that I have recorded historically across cultures, that work to move the world from Fear to Fearlessness. 

Although I consider myself an activist-educator at heart, I am many other things too. I cannot dismiss there are other social/environmental movements also going on now, and have been throughout history. I cannot suggest they are of lesser importance in the liberation of consciousness and that they have no important role to play in achieving a better quality of life for all beings. That said, I am discerning, and have learned to be so after near 64 years on this planet. I am a social movement watcher and have also participated in several movements, from the environmental movement to the various human potential and new age movements to the critical education movements that have attempted to transform Education on this planet. Once I even joined a political party, but not for long. 

Yes, politics is part of everything I am interested in. Social movements, OLD (like Marxism) and NEW (like Black Lives Matter), it doesn't matter the topic of their content and lobbying, there is always a point of where I discern how much I want to be involved in these movements. I am rarely asked to be part of them or to consult to them. I'd love to do a lot more of that. The point of this short blog is to summarize how I have come to understand it is best for me to align and/or critique such movements. Btw, if you haven't noticed, or don't know my work that well, it is typical that I tend to 'go after' and critique the hypocrisy of 'my side' of the political spectrum rather than go after the obvious enemies that have their hypocrisy too. It is the obvious enemies that so many others are criticizing that I have not felt I need to join them (e.g., the Leftist criticizing the Rightists)-- on and on. No, I prefer to 'go after' my-side, my own kindred types and critique everything they do that I find hypocritical, contradictory to their mission, and sometimes just down right unnecessarily fear-based and violent. 

So, now you have some sense of where I spend most of my energy in my critiques of social/environmental movements... I critique those that are closest in philosophy to mine, and those that espouse the very best liberational ideas that I would ally with--however, my allyship is not without discernment and critique. I often introduce myself to those movements with a desire to help them--and, then I critique them. I challenge what I see is inconsistent with their mission as stated, officially or not. As Barbara says, "This doesn't go over so well." Because they want supporters and allies alright, they want their numbers to get larger, their funding to grow, so they can be more effective achieving their goals or even defeating their enemies. I see that practical need. However, that's not how I want to be part of helping any movement, including the FM. 

So, you can see I quickly get labeled a pariah in many of these movements I come in contact with. They are more interested in advocacy (lobbying) than inquiry--and that's where I have to draw the line when those two forms become too overly weighted--on one side or the other. I look for a 'balance' in operations and philosophies in any healthy and sustainable movement. I think politics can only be really "useful" to the many when it has that balance of advocacy and inquiry--and all that comes down to what i think I can best offer these movements (e.g., the current men's movement battling feminists, and visa versa, of which Vanessa and some other colleagues of mine are involved with now)--it comes down to HOW they do their movement--meaning, how they do critical praxis. That is, how do they use theory, and practice, to combine in a critical consciousness that is an ongoing self-reflexivity to make sure they are not reproducing the very same symptoms (e.g., violences of oppression) that they declare they formed to be against. 

This last sentence is worth re-reading. 

I am a critical pedagogue, cultural critic, and curriculum designer and consultant by profession, and by choice of vocation. I support social/environmental movements pretty much just because they exist and want to improve the world--now, whether I like their agendas or not, they have a right to put them out on the table of any healthy democracy. That's my initial thought anyways... then, they also need to be responsible for the reactions they bring upon themselves. I will help any movement deal with that 'backlash' phenomenon, if they want my help, of course. And mostly, I will look to see how fear-based perceptions, thinking and actions may be undermining the movement. Fact is, fear-based conflict has ruined just about every good movement there is on this planet--to be dramatic in my generalization. 

Indeed, conflict within rips them apart. I was just listening to an interview on NPR radio, on a documentary film-maker talking about his 7 year study and filming around the historical Black Panther Movement in the USA and around the world in the 60s-70s especially. I think that was such a cool movement, as their goal was to monitor and prevent police force and military interventions into civil society (especially involving people of color)... today, this is still going on as a major concern of the Black Lives Matter movement. In this interview, Stanley Nelson told how he discovered that the reason the Black Panthers fell apart after some years and have not reformed well is because of the interior conflict in leaders. And, I don't doubt it at all. The In Search of Fearlessness Project in Calgary, AB that I co-founded in 1989 broke up after a decade also because of rifts within. Now, Nelson also says that the riffs were fanned by the FBI and other forms of oppressive agencies and forces that added to the conflict that couldn't be resolved within the organizations. In my masters degree, after ISOF Project (Calgary) fell apart, I went to study New Social Movements (NSMs), because I realized ISOF was one in fact. I was its main leader. So, there was a lot of interest on my part to find out what happens in the birth and death of NSMs as they are called by sociologists today. 

In my graduate research in 1998-2000 I started by examining the feminist movement and what happened, why it was largely gutted by the 1990s. Time and time again, feminist commentators on the movement, as academics, and as participants, recall the inner-organizational conflict--splits in agendas, and power that corrupted. They also mention that those inner conflicts were flamed by agitators outside the movements (and anti-movements contributed as well). Oppression dynamics work that way-- you are in an organization and think that you are liberating yourselves until you look hard enough, one day, and see that the efforts at liberation are being distorted into fear-based patterns, curriculum, agendas and practices that oppress the very organization itself--and all the members in it, more or less. I was furious to watch this happen in ISOF (Calgary) and not be able to stop it, turn it around-- even though I worked for years to get the community to see what it was doing in some of its behaviors (e.g., internalized oppression). 

Turns out, all Old and NSMs have this problem, as just about any organization of people--right down to families as institutions or even relationships with an intimate other. Yes, that's why I have made a systematic study of conflict and fear. I trust you will remember that is my expertise. I also know, it doesn't mean much for me to say it, if you don't get it, or simply haven't studied my work enough to make a discernment.

So, in FM ning, it behooves us as a liberation movement to likewise question HOW we are operating as an online community--and to develop a critical praxis that demands ethically that we are not operating as individuals or as sub-groups, or as a whole, with a fear-based structuration--otherwise, the entire Fearlessness Movement ning means nothing--nothing liberational, that is! 

There's some grist for the mill... 

Read more…