In many varieties of activism, there’s a drive to argue that our cause is the most important thing in the world, or at least somewhere up there among the top priorities.
For example, in atheism, there has long been the notion that religion is the “root of all evil” or that it “poisons everything”. I think most people who say that are being hyperbolic, although it’s hard to say to what degree. Certainly, there is a conscious attempt to assign religion more blame for the evils of the world.
In some socialist/communist/Marxist circles, it is argued that class struggle is the root of all oppression, including the oppression of women and ethnic minorities. And sometimes it is argued that much of feminism is pointless because all it fights for is for more women to become part of the ruling class.
There are also some feminists who have tried to interpret everything through the lens of feminism, for instance blaming homophobia and transphobia on the patriarchy. Gender critical feminists (aka TERFs) demonstrate an extreme version of this thinking; they argue that trans people’s problems will go away once we abolish gender.
It’s natural for activists to argue for the importance of the causes they fight for. Although, as an ace activist, I tend to have a different perspective. Generally speaking, ace activists do not believe our cause is the most important thing in the world. We do not believe that ace/aro-hate is the root of sexism or ableism or whatever. Because, frankly, that’s just implausible. At best, ace activism is just a thing that we personally care about, or something we are well-equipped to do.
By the way, I’m not saying that atheists/communists/feminists are wrong to make the above arguments. Perhaps atheists are correct to say that religion deserves more blame. Perhaps socialists are correct to criticize the way feminists favor wealthy women. Perhaps feminism really can offer important insights into homophobia and transphobia.
Activists want to argue their activism is important, and that is well and good, but there’s a risk of sloppy reasoning. For example…
- Interpreting large-scale social problems through a single-dimensional lens. Rejecting other lenses.
- Believing that large-scale social problems would be fully solved if you were to achieve your goals.
- Dismissing other social movements as relatively unimportant.
- Dismissing causes within your own social movement as relatively unimportant.
- Justifying relatively unimportant causes by drawing strained connections to more important/shocking problems.*
- Getting burnt out when it becomes clear that there are indeed other more important causes that you aren’t equipped to deal with.
I think this is a particularly important message in the age of Trump. A lot of us feel powerless to address the world’s biggest problems, but it’s still okay to chip away at the little problems. Anyways, this is what I try to tell myself.
*One particular example comes to mind. Historically, a lot of people have argued against transphobia by bringing up the shockingly high murder rates of trans women. Critics have pointed out that most of the murder victims are women of color, and it’s sketchy for white women to use their deaths as rhetorical tools while omitting that important bit of context. Anyways, when I looked around it appears that critics got their way, and now it’s widely noted that most murder victims are women of color.