Thursday, April 17, 2008

Join or Die

I started out the day wanting to write about joining and severing ties with certain groups and my reasoning for doing either, when I was sidetracked by my interest in Benjamin Franklin’s famous political cartoon.

While familiar with the cartoon, I didn't understand that it was published in The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754 to help support Franklin’s Albany Plan in which he (and Thomas Hutchinson, the would-be governor of Massachusetts) recommended that the American British colonies join together to fight against the French and Indians. This plan, the first to encourage a union of the different colonies for common defense, while rejected by both King George II and the leaders of the states involved, was later used in part to help form the Articles of the Confederation, helping to preserve the state’s union before the development and ratification of the Constitution.

In his editorial which first accompanied the cartoon, Franklin stated:

"The Confidence of the French in this Undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited State of the British Colonies, and the extreme Difficulty of bringing so many different Governments and Assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual Measures for our common defense and Security; while our Enemies have the very great Advantage of being under one Direction, with one Council, and one Purse...."

It is most interesting to note that in retrospect, Franklin judged that had his plan worked, it would have postponed, or obviated the need for the American Revolution as in being able to operate in their common defense, the colonies might not have suffered the ensuing indignities of the Stamp Act among others, and would not have been forced into action against the British monarchy.

Somehow, I suspect this history is applicable to my personal struggle with joining and leaving groups, and my reticence to do either; therefore, my distraction wasn’t a waste of time, merely a gathering of more information for my 3 ring binder.


C. August said...

I can't help wondering what groups you're thinking of joining or leaving?

A women's Harley rider group? A bible study group? A cheese enthusiast group?

LB said...

Damn, I thought my bible-thumping, cheese-eating, Harley-riding secret identity was safely hidden by my mysterious initials, LB!

Sorry. No such exciting groups as those; mostly homeschool groups (email and in person) and other organizations related to my children. I’m not sure if my active and/or passive participation in these groups means that I’m somehow sanctioning the ideas represented by members of the groups if I don’t speak out against them. I’m not sure I want to speak out against them. I’d just rather leave, I think. Or maybe stay and fight. Or not. I’m still very ambivalent (in case you couldn’t tell). But, I’m working on it.

It’s just one more thing I’m trying to sort in how I want to spend my time and effort.

One observation I have made in my 20 years of being a parent – I'm quite sure that youth soccer uses the same PR firm as Jesus Christ.

Burgess Laughlin said...

In wrestling with similar issues, I remind myself of the distinction between sanction (in the sense of public approval) and support.

E.g., if I, with the greatest reluctance, vote for a Democratic Party candidate, I am indeed supporting him with my silent vote. I am not sanctioning him, that is, I am not saying through my public words or other actions that this person is morally acceptable.

In some cases, even if there is no sanction, one might still not want to support an individual or a group. If I privately contribute to an Environmentalist group, I am supporting my own destroyers--financially. I would stop making contributions. But, as long as my name remains hidden, I am not thereby sanctioning them.

The concept of "sanction" is difficult. I welcome correction.

LB said...

That's a good reminder, Burgess.

As I start to increase my level of commitment to and participation in any of the groups to which I belong, I have begun to consider my efforts as a sanction of the ideas which are prevalent among the individuals in those groups, not merely of the explicit intent of the group, which I do endorse simply by belonging.

Being on a an email list may not seem to either support or sanction it, but the list will have me enrolled as a member. Doesn't my membership in some way sanction the intent of the list, and therefore, in that same way, the content of the list?

Of course, I do gain value from the various explicit offerings of each of these groups, otherwise, I would not have joined in the first place.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Here is an imaginary example to illustrate my point. Let's say I love playing chess. I join a local Portland Chess Club. Further, let's say 90% of the members are Leftists. The official, stated purpose of the club, however, is to foster the playing of chess through the club's own private, voluntary efforts.

My being an official, dues-paying member does not, I hold, sanction their leftist views on issues outside the playing of chess.

If the club, however, uses my dues to pay a lobbyist pushing the legislature to provide tax money to fund chess programs across the state, then I am supporting my enemies. If my name appears in their public literature, then I am sanctioning principles I oppose.

Perhaps the general rule is: Don't join an organization that takes public positions on issues based on an internal majority vote. The organization should take positions based on unanimity or should say its members have differing views and here they are: X, Y, and Z.

This has to be merely a general rule, because in some professions one might need to belong to organizations in order to pursue one's career. Perhaps for lawyers the American Bar Association is an example. I don't know. The point is that no one is obligated to sacrifice his career if there are no alternatives to an official organization.

C. August said...

I'm curious if you're specifically refering to the homeschooling groups? I understand that they can often have very strong philosophical and/or religious leanings, and if so I can certainly see why you'd be ruminating about this.

My kids are in a number of local organizations, but because they're so young (5 and under) it's mostly just a way to get kids together to play. There's absolutely no agenda, so any views that particular parents might have are irrelevant. No need to worry about support or sanction.

So are you wondering if you should stand up and confront the bad ideas you're encountering, just leave the group, or go on enjoying the limited value you get from it without comment? Personally, assuming the group wasn't openly supporting awful ideas -- like Burgess' example of an envronmentalist group -- then I'd probably just continue extracting what value I could. If a group isn't overtly idea-centric, and is just organized around an activity or something, then I'd take it at face value even some people in it were bad. I don't think you would necessarily be sanctioning or supporting anything. You get a limited value from limited association with a group of people.

The only time I'd directly confront bad ideas from individuals is if they were impacting my kids, or if I cared about the individual in some way. Otherwise, I'd leave them alone to be as stupid as they want to be.

Now if, as you mentioned, I got more involved in a particular group and I could be seen as a representative or leading member of it, then it would change things for me. First of all, I'd make an evaluation of whether the group was worth my effort at all (including how much of an uphill battle it would be), and if it was worth it I would attempt to change it for the better. If I couldn't, I'd likely leave.

LB said...

Okay, I'm still considering both of your helpful thoughts on the matter.

It's possible that I am not doing enough to combat what I've encountered as the mostly unquestioned altruist-collectivist and environmental righteousness of seemingly everyone around me (I am in Massachusetts). Therefore, I have begun to consider my mere participation in any group as a tacit agreement of the man-hating ideologies of the overwhelming majority of group members EVEN WHEN the group is not based on these ideas. In this case there may be no public sanction of those ideas, but by not doing everything I can to combat them when they rear their ugly heads within the group discussions, I feel as though I am endorsing them.

My current group quandary is limited to homeschool and school groups precisely because the people involved have become my friends and their children, friends with my children. I feel more inclined to want to persuade them that altrusism, collectivism, and environmentalism, when taken to their logical conclusions, are destructive to man. My powers of persuasion are woefully underdeveloped, apparently. I suppose that I should just keep what I value and learn to dismiss what I have tried to, but cannot change.

For the record, I have not the skill nor the inclination to debate faith, so I don't.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Here are two points that have helped me maintain a proper perspective:

1. Difficulty of persuasion is directly proportional to abstractness. It is easier to persuade a man that this object (on which I have placed my computer) is a table and not a desk, than it is to persuade him to adopt a proper metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. The more abstract, the more difficult to persuade.

2. Influence means giving an idea to another person who wants that idea in order to help him achieve a value he has selected. In that chain of cause and effect, my only role is to give him the idea. All the rest is up to him. If he doesn't want my idea, I can have no influence.

A romantic-realist sculptor can influence other sculptors (e.g., in how to carve life-like hands) only if they want the techniques he offers. If they prefer welding random bits of metal together guided by their feelings, the romantic-realist sculptor will have no influence on their techniques.

Ayn Rand has had enormous influence, not because she "changed people's minds," but because many individuals were looking for solutions to problems, solutions that she offered and they latched onto eagerly.

LB said...

Yes, thank you, Burgess.

I need to be ready to provide the ideas if asked, as I sometimes am - particularly when I am uncharacteristically silent.

And, in the meantime, I should make the contributions which suit me and mine and be happy for what value the group does provide me.

That's a much better perspective to maintain.

Kim said...

I don't feel at all qualified to discuss overarching philosophy, but I will share how I handle it. I stayed away from joining any group that was expressly religious. In a weird turn of events, however, I am a member of a Catholic homeschooling group. The group is very nice and I got along well with all of the people. I explicitly stated I wasn't Catholic and that I wasn't even religious when I first met them. I never asked to join, but they decided to give me a membership card anyway (good for discounts for homeschoolers) and as they're handing me the card I told them again that I was atheist. Interestingly enough they said they didn't care.

On the major group issues, I know that most of those people are too old to be bothered with a new philosophy. Unless you know the person is philosophy shopping and is open to debate, I've found it's generally not worth my while to say more than that I disagree. Some have asked for more explanation and I try to give it to them.

When it comes to larger gatherings with a lot of the group members, well, I'm pretty reticent to break into a larger group dynamic with philosophical points. If I meet the peope again in a smaller group of two or three, maybe I'll bring it up again.

I really don't know much about the use of sanction in the Ayn Rand Institute Objectivist community (my observation based on people who speak at the ARI conferences, who are sold through the Ayn Rand Bookstore, and who have editorials published, etc).

LB said...

Thank for your input Kim. It's helpful because as a homeschooling mother, you're often in similar circumstances.

I've decided to just lay low and answer when asked. Until then, I need to get what I can out of the groups, make sure that no one is in anyway instructing my daughter in things of which I disapprove, and make mental notes about the prevalence of bad ideas I hear.

I've moved past my flirtation with the unearned guilt of sanction, thanks in part to comments here and at home.


Now, I'm flirting with the idea of becoming a pirate.