Something someone said to me is making me a little anxious. Not even something they said to me but something they said to someone else.

"Is ISIS a social movement?"

I don't want to get in to a discussion of the virtues or otherwise of the 'murderous death cult', but it left me thinking about what the difference is between the social movements I move in and a murderous death cult.

Let me backtrack, I recently attended the second retreat of my Centre for Australian Progress Melbourne Fellowship.  I've talked about it before in other posts but basically it's a program that brings in all sorts of super smart and talented people from Victorian civil society and teaches them to be better advocates; it teaches them, us, to fan the flames of our respective social movements.

I think it's safe to say that we, not just my fellow Fellows but we of the progressive side take a moral high ground. We need to, because there is a moment somewhere, somehow that sees us react to injustice, or unfairness, or devastation or whatever that makes you sit upright and think: 'I have to do something about this.'

We need to take a moral high ground because we don't have the financial resources of our opponents, we do have people power and we appeal to our people by leveraging off their values.  We need to take a moral high ground because we are going against the status quo; we need to take a moral high ground because we need to believe that what we are doing is right and for the common good.

What about if we are wrong? I'm not having a crisis of faith here, I believe wholeheartedly in concepts of social justice, equity, freedom and human rights but how do we avoid a position that will see us go to an extreme, any extreme? 

You could make an argument that ISIS is just seeking self determination, that they are going against the status quo to have the right to be free to believe whatever they want.  I won't make that argument because all sane people would agree that once you start killing and maiming people maybe you've gone a tad too far, but their movement would have started with an idea, just like mine did. 

I'm not drawing parallels between ISIS and global warming activists, if anything they serve as a perfect warning on what happens when movements derail.

We, the progressives are proud to keep those in power be they corporations, governments or individuals in check by monitoring their activities; but who monitors us? Do we even need monitoring? How do we ensure we are always doing the right thing not just by our members or followers but by our cause.  At what point does an advocate become an emperor?

I know that I have failed in reflections on my experience and how my activism work will progress and improve in the future, but I was left with this question after my last Fellowship retreat. While we were all planning campaigns to make our patch of earth a little more liveable I just had to ask myself that question: "how do we know we are right?" 

I have no solutions, just a proposition:

As a movement of progressive thinkers we need to be beyond scrutiny, not that we should not be scrutinised, but rather we are so transparent that scrutiny is such a given as to be uneventful.

 

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