Commentary | Hive Mind: Activist maladies and radical disorders

I’m sick and I’m grumpy, and even though my meeting quotient this year has been relatively low when checked against my track record, venting about pet peeves from meetings seems like a good plan. I’ve narrowed it down to the top three activist behaviours and archetypes that make me grind my teeth whenever I see them. All are infectious, and while I’m not claiming I’ve never been susceptible to any of them, I do know that the left desperately needs to expunge them. So let the venting begin.

First, the Straight White Dude. This Dude is obviously not always straight and not always white, but he is generally a Dude. His key characteristic behaviour is the hoarding of space, both figurative and literal. He takes up more space than any other activist. There seems to be one of these at almost every meeting I’ve ever been to, and he inevitably speaks thrice as much as anyone else there. He frequently interrupts others and seizes every opportunity to criticize the points other people make. He also likes to assign tasks to other, frequently female, activists and generally spew unsolicited “tips” and instructions on how to better run protests, meetings, etcetera. Outside of meetings he has a tendency to hoard physical space and resources with the underlying assumption that his particular area of activism is more important than anyone else’s. He may likely be the inspiration for the much-loved term “manarchist.”

Dear Dude, voting in favour of gender parity at a General Assembly does not give you any sort of feminist cred if you’re undermining the very principle behind it with your own actions. If you give a shit about women’s voices, allowing them to speak would be a good start.

Second, the Oppression Fetishist. This one is still under observation, so a more conclusive study might follow. People suspected of embodying this archetype, however, might constantly complain about being “poor” when they, well, aren’t. Another symptom is the delusion that the Value Village aesthetic, dumpster-diving, and living in a low-income neighbourhood are signs of how radical you are. This can further evolve into figurative dick-measuring of the “how many times have you been arrested?” type.

The most disturbing aspect of oppression fetish is the subtle ways in which people who don’t have “the look” or highly specific life experience can get judged for ridiculously irrelevant attributes. Wake-up call: Poverty, and other forms of oppression, are not desirable or glamorous. Glorifying them, however subtly, is not any use in helping to fight them. And let’s not even mention the gentrification that inevitably occurs when young hipsters, no matter how great their politics are, move into poor neighbourhoods.

Last, the More-Radical-Than-Thou attitude. This one is less a person and more of a behaviour that happens when multiple people come together. I’ve observed a strange phenomenon whereby the more radical activists you cram into a room, the colder the atmosphere of the room becomes to outsiders who don’t know the lingo. It seems to be correlated with the irritating ideological elitism that permeates many types of activism.

A frequent scenario: a fresh-faced, somewhat innocent newcomer enters a space and tries to get involved on an issue they find engaging. Inevitably they are perceived as misinformed on some topic, or say something the rest of the people in the room disagree with, or simply don’t make the cut in some way or another. The temperature of the room drops to arctic levels in a millisecond. Instead of having a reasonable debate and, if relevant, directing the person to useful information, there is a complete shutdown. Even if this is not done explicitly, said newbies tend to feel unwelcome and never return. As an inevitable consequence, the same people tend to always occupy the same spaces, which seems counterproductive if your alleged goals are to propagate ideas and actually achieve social change.

Floh Herra-Vega appears every other Thursday. Brag to her about your Value Village finds at hivemind@flohdot.org.


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