Five Dimensional Activism
I find it frustrating when activists focus on getting political change so much that they ignore all the other important dimensions of life that also need changing. I used to talk about 3 dimensional activism, Political, Cultural (though I guess I really meant Social) and Spiritual. As I have pondered this further, I’ve begun to see that there might even be five dimensions to activism, which, though important in different ways and at different times, should always be born in mind. I guess it would help for me to clarify what action within each dimension entails. The first, being Political Activism, is the one most people mistake for being the entirety of the domain in which activism should take place. Lobbying MPs, Senators and the like is all well and good, but these people are supposed to represent everyone, not just those who turn up on their doorsteps; why should they listen to you if you haven’t convinced society of the need to accept these changes.
Of course, its also possible to get to a stage where you have done so much Social Activism, and yet so little political activism that while everyone is happy to change, the law still holds things back. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing; often it is a good thing to have the law playing catch-up, as this means a public consensus can form before change is ratified by lawmakers. Indeed, many campaigns don’t need, or shouldn’t be about lawmakers, especially many campaigns concerning people’s private lives or social status.
But aside from the Social Activism which challenges Societal Norms and Assumptions, there is also Cultural Activism, which seeks to bring influence in an entirely different sphere altogether. Sadly, most Political Activists make terrible Cultural Activists. Cultural Activism involves music, poetry, artwork and the like, and seeks to influence people on that level. It may even involve an element of folklore-development; “do you remember when…” and the like.
Where Social Activism challenges the status quo of daily life, Cultural Activism often challenges our assumptions about our heritage, though not exclusively. Culture is sometimes described as being the common codes through which we communicate, and creating and redefining codes is one way to bring about change. Done well it is the most pervasive, virulent form of activism, and can inspire fresh action in other dimensions.
For many, the obvious alternative, or complimentary approach is to creating economic influence. When the perpetrator is a company, the natural challenge to an injustice often seems to attack the company in some way; the boycott is perhaps the most obvious. But we can also choose to spend money in ways which show our intentions, i.e. Fairtrade, though more subtle alternatives exist.
Boycotts and FairTrade-like arrangements can still be built around states though, as seen with “Boycott Israeli Goods”, and with attempts to bring about sales of Palestinian products in the UK. In fact, economic activism can be very appealing, especially if you are not the sort of activist who goes looking for state endorsement of your campaigns.
But the problem is, these are methods for those with money to use their spending power; this is power that only a few in the world can obtain, and so methods that place power in the hands of the economic minority is, I would argue, a better approach. It is for this reason that I support the trade union movement, though often rather tacitly based on who exactly that movement seems to be representing in Britain, but that’s a story for another day.
Finally, I want to address the final dimension: Spiritual Activism. I tend to list it last because I fear a certain amount of backlash against the suggestion that organised religion should be part of activism. But Spiritual Activism need not be connected with any religion, and certainly not any specific organised one. For the sake of this article, I shall assume a pantheistic/universalist position (and repent later).
The fact remains that injustice can be at once physical and manifest, and a deeply unsettling ‘presence’ around us. I remember discussing what had happened at an anti-BNP protest in a cafe afterwards, and agreeing that there was something specific about nationalism which goes deeper than the political. Those who sought to promote nationalism and those who sought to counter it both ended up trapped within a spirit of divisive hatred. I’ve observed that pro-Palestine protests can become infected with a similar kind of anger.
Without tying myself to one religious perspective over another, I shall leave it at this: that one cannot afford to seek to change society and the laws that govern it and the flow of money through it and the images and codes which communicate it, if one does not also challenge the atmosphere, the emotions, the bad spirits, the actual evil the underlies, surrounds and permeates the injustices that are being described.
Having gone into a little detail about each of these five dimensions, I should possibly add some kind of explanation for why I choose to call them dimensions. The reason I don’t call them domains is because the term ‘domain’ implies something discreet, and these should not be. They are not strands, though this is a better term, because strand tends to imply a parallel line.
Dimensions go in all different directions, all at once. To expand a cube, one can expand its height, width or depth, or indeed all three at once. To expand a campaign, one can increase its Political, Social, Cultural, Economic or Spiritual dimensions, or better still, one can attempt as many as possible. Through finding new ways to enhance each dimension, campaigns can become more effective, drawing in the talents of more people, and providing new outlets for action. Through this an all-pervasive challenge to injustice can be built, and real, deep and meaningful change can come about.
I tired of the endless political activism of most socialists some time again, and continue to cringe at their few attempts at cultural activism. Anarchists have a natural tendency to broaden out their perspectives into society, taking them to the leading edge of change. Many people seem to see boycotts as somehow more legitimate, as if to believe that it really is just “all in the economy, stupid”. Some Christians I know are a bit too focused on the spiritual without spending much time on the substantive. When you next think about a campaign you are involved in, or an injustice you wish to challenge, try working through all these levels finding a way to act along each dimension.
PS It would be very helpful if I could have comments that cover more than just the spiritual activism section. Cheers!