Monday, July 14, 2008
The unity referred to in the title involves the unity of sociopolitical movements.
I use the word movement according to definition 3.b in the American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition:
“An organized effort by supporters of a common goal.”
If a movement is going to become organized, and maintain that organization, effectively, then of course its members should not do things that compromise or undermine its unity.
But what, exactly, is unity?
According to the models of non-Western tyrannies, Western fascisms and totalitarianisms, Gnostic movements, and Islamic society, unity necessarily involves the suppression of internal disagreement and criticism, and more radically the suppression of institutions, sociocultural trends, and personal habits that tend to nourish the free thought that leads to disagreement and criticism.
According to the healthy Western model, on the contrary, unity necessarily involves the allowance of internal disagreement and criticism—and not merely the allowance of it, but the positive cultivation of it. Only within this broader context of, and commitment to, the virtue of free thought and its often unavoidable (and often to be welcomed) corollary of internal disagreement and criticism, ought the parallel problem of degrees, and the fine distinction between too much internal disagreement and criticism, on the one hand, and a healthy amount thereof, on the other hand, be treated.
Once an appropriate appreciation for that broader context in which to place the parallel problem of that fine distinction is evident—or at least on the table for consideration among members of a movement too often plagued by disagreements but still hopefully able to listen, and to consider what they hear, like rational human beings—the question then becomes:
What is the best way for the members of a movement to handle that parallel problem?
The answer to this question depends to a significant degree upon the nature of the movement in question. In the case of the Anti-Jihad Movement—and let us further refine this by speaking only of the Blogospheric portion of that Movement (for that portion remains predominant, due to the inhospitability to the Movement in the world outside the Internet)—it is currently primarily agitating in the realm and stage of the War of Ideas.
The War of Ideas stage, of course, directly relates to action and policy in the world outside the Internet, but does so as a necessary precursor to that action and policy—if only because the crystallization of that action and policy requires the successive steps of 1) internal agreement or compromise on an overarching agenda; and 2) externalized persuasion of those in the West who are not yet in the Movement (a pedagogical endeavor made extraordinarily difficult by the mainstream dominance of politically correct multiculturalism (PC MC) throughout the West).
In the Blogospheric realm and stage of our Movement, the activity of members is primarily that of disseminating two kinds of intellectual matter:
1) facts about the problem of Islam
2) ideas about those facts.
The dissemination of ideas involves many different styles, sometimes demonstrating subtly distinct postures in relation to both Islam and to Neo-Dhimmitude (or PC MC), sometimes manifesting more serious ideological fissures and even, on occasion, leading to recriminations and attempts at purging the ranks of sub-communities within the overall, still loosely organized Movement.
In this Blogospheric realm and stage of the War of Ideas, there is a sense in which everyone is ostensibly not equal. There are obvious leaders, or quasi-leaders, such as Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch or Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs; then there are relatively well-known analysts such as Andrew Bostom or Lawrence Auster or Bill Warner who are nevertheless considerably less influential than individuals like Robert Spencer; then down the totem pole are the general masses of the Movement, themselves roughly divisible into two informal camps of those who have their own little blogs (like me) and those who remain for the most part merely consumers of information & analyses. (What any one of us does out in the non-virtual world with regard to our various roles and our knowledge of the problem of Islam is another matter, for we are considering here only the Blogospheric aspect.)
Another detail about the Anti-Jihad Movement needs to be pointed out at this juncture of our argument: Its full organization is ostensibly not yet complete. It is still in the process of becoming, in fact, an organization. It is still in the process of crystallizing what its guiding agenda should be in relation to the problem of Islam.
Given this last detail, and given the nature of the Movement’s Blogospheric portion of its War of Ideas which I have described above, the answer to the question I posed earlier, which I now paraphrastically clarify—
What is the best way for the members of the Anti-Jihad Movement to handle the problem of internal disagreements and criticisms, and to determine how much disagreement and criticism is too much?
—in my opinion would be this:
Don’t try to “handle” this problem at all. Indeed, this is not even a “problem” to be “handled”. Let the disagreements and the criticisms be, let them breathe. Wherever they appear, they are appearing from people who agree with the general premise that Islam is a threat against which we need to defend ourselves. I may not, for example, like it when I see a person who seems to agree with that general premise, but whose arguments show that in fact he disagrees with my impassioned conviction that it is Islam itself from its inception and throughout its historical career into the present that is the dominant source of that threat: I may not like this, but I will not attempt to vilify him or ostracize him from the general Movement because of my disagreements with his position. I will, if I have the time, simply critique him and debate him if he is willing.
False unity, thus, is the unwarranted exclusion by members X of members Y because the latter disagree with, and criticize, the former and thus—in the opinion of members X—threaten the unity of the overall Movement. Again, under certain circumstances, depending on the nature of a Movement, such a posture could be defensible. But not with respect to the Blogospheric portion of the Anti-Jihad Movement.
And one particularly convoluted (if not rather peculiar or even perverse) wrinkle to this posture of false unity has become acutely apparent to me of late, whereby a highly influential and prominent member of the Anti-Jihad Movement (as with Cy Sperling of the Hair Club for Men, he is both President and a client) has recently declared me anathema in no uncertain terms to the Movement of which he is a participant, while at the same time and in the same context has patted himself on the back for his own ability to remain united with various other members with whom he has more or less substantive disagreements.
The test of a commitment to free thought and free speech, and to the strength of any movement derived from these virtues, is to brook not merely criticisms that don’t hurt—that’s easy; but also the ones that cut deeper. The underlying principle here, in the healthy culture of the West, is that disagreement and criticism—when not motivated, of course, by vulgar scurrility, distracting neuroses, or various forms of sabotage—only make a movement stronger in the end, because they are an important part of the free and rational human process of the refinement and improvement of the ideas that will form the nucleus of the agenda of that movement.
And any movement that is unified around an agenda that has been born of an unhealthy avoidance—or worse yet, vilification—of diagreements and criticism, will be proceeding on the basis of a false unity. And false unity is a weak foundation for a movement, and augurs ill for its continuing career under difficult external circumstances.