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Making the Movement Look Bad

The refrain that some behavior makes your group look bad is entirely common, but is it worth worrying about?

A very common internal criticism in any movement is that some behavior makes the movement look bad. Often rattled off at the innocent group members for lack of a way to engage in targeted criticism, the behavior is part of the overall support-group mentality among a cause’s adherents.

That support-group mentality is that the outsiders don’t get it, and the insiders do, and when insiders get peeved, the insiders will contribute a chorus of agreement. That agreement resolves the insiders, prepares them for the next onslaught from the big, bad world of infidels.

Do bad actions from insiders really reflect on the group? Sure, some outsiders undoubtedly do use this as fodder for a bait-and-switch argument against the group. In religion, particularly critiques of Islam, but also in feminism, gender, and sexuality contexts. And in just about anything else you can think of as a group.

But let’s look at business as an example. While a few will lump all businesses together for bad actions by a few or by one industry, for the average person the crimes belong to the particular industry, or even to the particular actors in that industry. We don’t blame food industry businesses for harm from carbon extraction and pollution, for example.

Thus, if you have a group that is being criticized due to what are mostly outsider actions, considering a split or delineation is wise. In the vaping community, such a distinction should probably be drawn between vapers and cloud chasers, for example. In veganism, a line might be brightened between the holistic types that believe in fairies, the ethical vegans, the dietary vegans, the environmental vegans, etc.

Wait, veganism? For the most part the problems in veganism aren’t bad actors in the sense of people offending outsiders, per se. It is more of the way the literature or communities treat veganism. Most vegans are so for ethical reasons, and thus most vegan communities overemphasize the ethical side of things. Some vegans believe in the magical properties of some obscure food, and so you get quack advertising and pseudo-advertising for miracle foods.

Of course, splitting a group weakens the group a bit. If the ethical vegans are the true believers, they may be gluing together the other subsets.

But while fracturing to allow outsiders to point blame where it belongs may reduce some criticism, how concerned should the overall group be by criticism in the first place? Opponents to a movement tend to be less aware of the movement’s issues than insiders, even when the issues are out in the open, often surfaced by insiders in public fora. The opponent’s ignorance is often startling to see by insiders, waiting for the shoe to drop only to realize their critics are barefoot and blind.

In most cases, better than shaming others for making a movement look bad, the fix is to seek out alternative behaviors that both accomplish the goals of a bad behavior and avoid the criticisms. And that includes finding ways to make internal criticism more targeted to the offenders, rather than rubbing the entire group’s nose in the dog dirt.

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