Tuesday, July 5, 2016

VICTIMS AND ACTIVISTS



I believe the current victim culture in the U.S. grew out of the HIV epidemic. Millennials were children or adolescents at the height of that epidemic and its current stasis through scientific research. Their parents were undoubtedly affected by constant images of red ribbons and AIDS quilt panels. But I speculate that the key inspiration for the current Social Justice Warrior (SJW) movement of feminists and Black activists (Black Lives Matter) was the success of ACT UP, the corps of sit-down protesters who shamed Ronald Reagan's homophobic administration into action on AIDS research and response. That shaming worked ostensibly. It spawned a massive AIDS non-profit sector. It also garnered tremendous profits for the health care and pharmaceutical industries.

There are at least two crucial differences between ACT UP activists and SJW activists: Those two difference are their objectives and their methodologies. While both groups share the aim of spotlighting injustice, ACT UP protesters were dealing with a biological peril which came to those with HIV/AIDS before anything was known about the disease, an affliction transmitted through sexual contact and often associated with loving affection between homosexual partners. SJW protesters are confronting age-old human injustices/ideas like misogyny, racism, homophobia, gender inequality, personalized xenophobia, etc.. These different objectives may explain the difference between the methodologies of these movements.

ACT UP's methodology was simple. Visibility. Its protests were largely modeled after Gandhi's principle of passive resistance in the form of sit-ins which gained public and media attention in major cities. Since the movement was overwhelmingy a gay-male movement, its theatrical enhancement of Gandhi's technique was perfect for TV. These protests moved the mountain of Reagan's refusal to do anything to help AIDS sufferers in amazingly short order. Reagan, the ultimate ham and egoist, could not tolerate wearing a black hat for long in the public eye. He was the Norma Desmond of politics.

SJWs are admittedly facing a more difficult and diffuse mountain of resistance to their methodology. Unfortunately for them, it is my opinion, their methodology is more apt to bury them in a reactionary landslide than move any mountain. The use of the term "warrior" to describe them is important. Their methodology includes a baseline tactic of attempting to change thought and behavior by social peer pressure. This is often perceived as bullying and hostile mobbing, both aggressive actions. Wars on ideas and behaviors are most readily associated with Stalinists, Nazis and religious fundamentalists. We have ample evidence of where that leads in today's world.

I believe in social change through individual action. I was at the meeting which became ACT UP in March 1987 in Manhattan. I heard Larry Kramer's angry indictment of the Gay Men's Health Crisis. I was working with dying AIDS patients at the time in the city. I had also been told I was infected with the virus which later became commonly known as HIV. I was personally insulted at Kramer's dismissive attitude toward those of us who were actually working within health systems to care for people with AIDS. I did not return to ACT UP, and I still consider Kramer less influential than he has portrayed himself to be in the successes of ACT UP. He is a master media manipulator. Many more compassionate and less egoistic men put themselves on the line with ACT UP. Their dignity and perseverance changed the landscape of medicine and government's attitudes toward health care.

This is what I see lacking among the SJWs. I see the anger for which Kramer is notorious, but not the balancing compassion and humor which often sustained the ranks of ACT UP's protests. For me, there are three essential elements of being an individual social activist:

1. Humility
2. Practiced self-restraint
3. Good manners

Humility often disarms aggression and diffuses anger in one's audience/opponent. Practiced self-restraint allows me to listen and learn, not just push my agenda. Good manners are the best way to model the progressive and positive behaviors that all social activists hold as ideal. That's it. 

I don't pretend to be a guru or expert. I am neither. However, I have been an publicly out gay man since 1970, when I graduated from college. Before coming out publicly, I was a participant in civil rights demonstrations and anti-war demonstrations. Unlike many of my peers, who put down their banners for progressive ideals in exchange for Ayn Rand's materialism, I persisted in human service, LGBT activism and HIV/AIDS activism. Day by day. Year by year. So, it is with that authority I offer these ideas.  


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