Niche Activism

There is a flavor of political activism for every belief, background, or personal preference. We have them for gays, Christians, atheists, gun lovers, Jews, gun haters, women, Muslims, homeschoolers, public school teachers, children, families, poor people, businesspeople, environmentalists, etc.

Almost all of these movements arose out of a condition of encroachment, oppression, or violence. This means that most of these groups began with an excellent cause and were justified in their advocacy. The problem is that most of these niche movements will continue to exist and operate long after they have achieved justice and fairness. The reason is that these advocacy groups were never founded on any kind of a rational principle, rather they were founded on the basis of self-interest—a group of people were not happy with the way things were working out for them. But self-interest is no ethical principle at all. Unrestrained self-interest is the lack of ethical principle. At first this seems obvious, but it gets fuzzy when self-interest and ethical principle happen to overlap.

Consider two activist causes that start good, yet sour.

The Religious

Good: A totalitarian regime sees religion as a danger—a higher authority threatens their claim to power. Religious assembly is outlawed, and participants are imprisoned or executed. The religious, because their peaceful congregation does violence to nobody, justifiably campaign for their interests. Say their campaign is successful. Maybe they defeat their oppressors via democratic election or revolution. Perhaps they move to new territory and establish a safe haven settlement for their practice. One way or another they overcome oppression and are now free to practice their religion without fear. This is good.

So the political campaign for religious interest ought to disband, because they have defeated the threat to their rights. They may resume their religious practice in peace. They ought to recognize that they are done. But the campaign not only does not stop; it, in fact, becomes more aggressive.

Bad: Why settle for merely being allowed to practice religion in peace when you can agitate for the invocation of state power to advance your religious interests? If you seek to maximize conversion to your religion, it becomes tempting to utilize government force to promote your beliefs and impede competing beliefs. Or maybe you remember the oppression of the religious and you simply want to use force to fend off anything that looks like it might turn into a threat one day, whether that be other religion, or secular associations—a preemptive strike, so to speak, to smother the threat before it becomes one. Let’s do it to them before they do it to us. Perhaps you want to outlaw certain types of sexual behavior that are incompatible with your religion. Maybe you want to outlaw public displays of sinful sexuality. Or maybe you want government to promote your religious literature at the public’s expense, while banning literature that mocks and denigrates your religious belief system.

At this point, the campaign for religion has crossed a very objective line. While it once merely defended the right to peacefully operate, it now agitates for measures that impede other’s rights to peacefully operate.

What went wrong? The problem is that this religious campaign was never rooted in the principle that people have the right to conduct their affairs in peace as long as this conduct does not impede anyone else’s right to conduct their affairs in peace—the principle of liberty. Instead, it was rooted in a more simplistic principle: what is good for my religion is what is right—the principle of self-interest. Period. Initially, liberty and self-interest overlapped, so the political campaign for religious rights was just. But once liberty was attained, agitation for additional political measures beneficial to religious self-interest actually became evil.

The Secular

The same example may be used for secular advocacy.

Good: A totalitarian regime utilizes religion to justify their claim to power—denial of that religion’s legitimacy threatens the regime’s claim to power. Religious allegiance is a legal requirement. Failure to pay homage to the church via service attendance, display of symbols, or financial offering leads to a conviction of heresy that is tantamount to treason. These heretics are imprisoned or executed. The secular, opposed to supporting this institution with time, money, or endorsement, justifiably campaign for their interests. Say their campaign is successful. Maybe they defeat their oppressors via democratic election or revolution. Perhaps they move to new territory and establish a safe haven settlement where they are free to live in the absence of religious dictate. One way or another they overcome oppression and are now free to dismiss religion without fear. This is good.

So the political campaign for secular interest ought to disband, because they have defeated the threat to their rights. They may resume their secular life in peace. They ought to recognize that they are done. But the campaign not only does not stop; it, in fact, becomes more aggressive.

Bad: Why settle for merely being allowed to live your life in peace, free of religious dictate, when you can agitate for the invocation of state power to advance your interests in a secular society? If your vision is that of a world free of meddlesome Christians pestering you to pray, or to attend Church—a world where intellectual inquiry is no longer hindered by fears of The Great Sky Ghost, it becomes tempting to utilize government force to promote intellectual inquiry and to impede superstitious nonsense. Or maybe you remember the oppression by the religious and you simply want to use force to fend off anything that looks like it might turn into a threat one day, whether that be religion, or an overly passionate dedication to any authority or belief system—a preemptive strike, so to speak, to smother the threat before it becomes one. Let’s do it to them before they do it to us. Perhaps you want to outlaw mean sounding talk of eternal damnation for sinful behavior. Maybe you want to outlaw public displays of religion that impress you as hateful. Or maybe you want government to promote your atheist literature at the public’s expense, while banning literature that preaches anti-scientific nonsense that confuses people and distracts them from truth.

At this point, the campaign for secularism has crossed a very objective line. While it once merely defended the right to peacefully operate, it now agitates for measures that impede other’s rights to peacefully operate.

What went wrong? The problem is that this secular campaign was never rooted in the principle that people have the right to conduct their affairs in peace as long as this conduct does not impede anyone else’s right to conduct their affairs in peace—the principle of liberty. Instead, it was rooted in a more simplistic principle: what is good for my secularism is what is right—the principle of self-interest. Period. Initially, liberty and self-interest overlapped, so the political campaign for secular rights was just, initially. But once liberty was attained, agitation for additional political measures beneficial to secular self-interest actually became evil.

But We’re The Good Guys

We have this nasty tendency to pick sides and to then cheerlead for that side, sometimes literally, to the death. Religious people are the good guys because they have truth on their side. The secular are the good guys because they have truth on their side. The Americans are the good guys because America is “exceptional”. A particular ethnic group is made up of good guys because they have been the oppressed underdogs for a long time.

Our enthusiasm for “our team” causes us to lose sight of any principle that might have initially justified our advocacy. The “goodness” of our team is a bygone conclusion—because we are good, anything that advances our interests is automatically good. And so, because we are the good guys, we reserve for ourselves “good guy” privileges, namely the privilege to use force on other people.

That is horseshit. The goodness or badness of an activist cause is continually a matter to judge. Good or evil is never inherent. A thing’s moral status is continually a matter of behavior, not what it is, where it came from, or what it represents. You might stand for something that is good, but once you resort to force to realize your vision, you become evil.

While I only present two examples here, if you consider any other political advocacy group, they virtually all continue to pursue political power even after they have attained their liberty. Liberty isn’t enough for them. They want to wield political force against others. And this force takes multiple forms. It may be as extreme as launching military force, or as seemingly mild as spending another’s tax dollars on something they do not approve of. It is evil oppression in either case.

I have friends from all over the political spectrum who urge me to sign up to support a particular niche political advocacy group. And honestly, many of these groups are operating mostly at the “good” stage, but they still show signs of crossing to the dark side. It is in their DNA to “go evil” because they were not founded on the principle of attaining liberty, but on the principle of self-interest.

Just Stop

Once a political activist movement achieves liberty, it needs to stop. It has achieved its goal. This doesn’t mean that a movement may not continue to peacefully educate, and persuade. It is simply to say that a movement seeking to lobby government has to stop once they have rescued themselves from forceful oppression—they have attained liberty.

A force for good cannot become the very thing that it abhors in its oppressors. Remember, your oppressor believes that he is the good guy as well.

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