Sunday, 2 December 2012

Thought Picnic: In Support of Activism


Causes without course
Recently, I have found myself attending meetings where the ideas discussed are far from mainstream.
From a pragmatic perspective, there is no reason for those ideas not be part of the package of the good life of humanity but for all sorts of reasons due to history, culture, traditions, creeds, tenets, laws, religion, beliefs or politics people suffer unmitigated and unnecessarily bad consequences.
The voices are many
In such cases, the cause might well be lost for the individual but it does not have to be lost for society.
What keeps that cause alive is the voices, the many voices of those in favour, those against and those somewhat indifferent but available to be persuaded of the arguments of all sides.
Now, I know that certain voices are extreme, strident, aggressive and uncomfortable but that is the nature of activism and the drive for change.
The method is insignificant
There are times I have not agreed with the methods used but I very well appreciate the broader intentions, which are to achieve a goal that would do humanity a lot of good.
We have seen this in the rights movements to enfranchise the masses, women and then minorities, the activism to extend rights to the underprivileged and much more.
The battles are diverse and unceasing, but the victory for humanity even after great setbacks is only in a matter of time.
Channelling the inconceivable
This brings me to an interesting case of historical literature published in 1868, in the novel Phineas Finn, there is a recorded conversation as to how public policy is formulated and it is interesting that in the political arena, this seems to fetch true all the time.
Attributed to Anthony Trollope, this how the conversation went and I highlight the words that show the progression from inconceivable to essential.
"Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable; – and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.
It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, “to have taken the first great step in making it.
The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr. Monk, – ”taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”
The initiators were not popular
The previous two paragraphs indicate that the discourse about a cause must never die and apparently the first step leading to the adoption of such policies would normally have been planted as a seed by those at the time of conception society might have castigated, excoriated, persecuted, prosecuted and even martyred but that is for history to discover and eventually document.
It is why I am never discouraged when a greater cause hits the buffers because of the political discourse of the day, it will never be the end and much will change over time to bring the good to bear of what is currently unacceptable but tolerated.
The Overton Window
Joseph P. Overton then came up with an aspect of political theory that illustrated the narrow window within which an idea might gain acceptance and consequently evolve into policy. This became known as the Overton Window.
The degrees of acceptance in increasing order of acceptance was listed as follows:

  • 1.    Unthinkable
  • 2.    Radical
  • 3.    Acceptable
  • 4.    Sensible
  • 5.    Popular
  • 6.    Policy

Someone will always have to think the unthinkable which with time after convincing others might be seen radical but over the course of time the argument is persuasive enough to be acceptable and might well become sensible enough to be offered as a popular choice by which time there is enough support to make it policy.
Change is inevitable
There are positive and negative trajectories to this but I believe the momentum for change will be for the better if amongst the articulate and prominent voices we have, those who are able to convey with great conviction the reasonableness of an idea that the unreasonableness of the status quo will have to be abandoned.
That is why I am in support of all forms of activism, some could well be counter-productive but in that quagmire the ideas will eventually find refinement and any reasonable person engaging logic with critical thinking and objective discernment will become an ally in the cause for the advancement of humanity, in communities, in societies or in nations at large.
The two-state solution for Palestine and Israel is not inconceivable, having women ordained as bishops in the Church of England is not impossible and the notion that homosexuality is unafrican has a course to travel from unreasonableness to a fact of reality – it has always been part of humanity.

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