Against

One of the ways you can think about the motivations of groups is to put them into one of two categories: those that are for something and those that are against something.

By default, I am very wary of groups that are organized around being against something.

It’s not that there aren’t things worthy of being against! It’s that those groups have a lot of inherent problems.

Problem One: Selectivity. Groups that promote something generally have the aim of “increase the number of people that engage with X,” whether it’s selling X, raising awareness of X, raising money in support of X, etc.. That naturally means you’re not concerned with getting everyone and everything, just more than there is now. If you’re a fan club, you don’t care that everyone becomes a fan of your thing, just more people. But groups that are against something almost always have the aim of “total elimination of X,” whether it’s a complete ban, eradication, etc. That leaves no room for edge cases, flexibility, or personal autonomy. For instance, take people that belong to pro-school choice groups don’t want to eliminate public schools or make everyone home-school their kids, they just want to increase the availability of those options. Meanwhile, people that belong to anti-school-choice groups want to totally eliminate home-schooling. Even when your goal of elimination is noble, like eliminating tuberculosis or something, this leads to further problems. Such as:

Problem Two: Persistence. All groups, regardless of their stated goal, have a secondary (and often secretly primary) goal: continue to exist. No movement ever just willingly declares “mission accomplished” and goes home without a fight. That means that even once-noble goals can become corrupted as organizations continue to redefine ever more nebulous ambitions in order to stay relevant. And since resources are finite, those established movements crowd out progress towards newer and more important goals. As bureaucracy increases, efficiency decreases, and that’s the natural way organizations go as time goes on. Organizations that are pro-something face a similar problem over time, but at least they can keep their goal focused.

Problem Three: Denial. Organizations that are anti-something have a strange way of denying their own victories. It’s bad press – if the perception is that you’re constantly fighting a giant Goliath, you can solicit sympathy and the support that comes with it. But once you’re on top and clearly winning, people stop donating. That means in order to continue to survive, you have to constantly claim that you’re not actually making progress, but you don’t want to seem ineffectual, either. So you have to simply claim that your foe is ever-strengthening, even when the opposite is true.

As a general rule, I think it’s much better to pick a good thing and promote it than to pick a bad thing and work against it. Like all general rules, there are certainly exceptions, but it’s also good if you acknowledge the problems above even if you’re waging a war against a truly terrible foe.

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