Advocacy anti-patterns


A few years ago it became quite trendy to attempt to isolate succesful patterns in solving certain recurrent programming problems. Not long thereafter, it became clear that it was useful to identify identify harmful anti-patterns which frequently impede or halt the success of a project. Just as studying such anti-patterns can help the success of a software-engineering project, studying anti-patterns in human behaviour can help us be more successful in our attempts at social-engineering. Among the social issues for which I advocate I have noticed several such anti-patterns, which I will attempt to identify and describe.

The purpose of studying anti-patterns is self-analysis, not to provide a convenient vocabulary for attack within an advocacy group.  Indeed, in-fighting and splintering within an advocacy group is the mother of all advocacy anti-patterns.   I called it the “People’s front of Judea” pattern, and will write about it at a future date.

That said, a  comment at www.stopthedrugwar.org inspired me to write out the first few. The context is this: An editorial was posted discussing how illegal cannabis cultivation is destroying the ecology of our national parks. The article was specifically addressing the impact on Crystal Cave, but the problem is a general one. This is one of the negative consequences of cannabis prohibition, and will disappear once prohibition is repealed. A reader, ( primus) made a comment to the effect that “hey, we should try and get the Sierra club involved in this issue.”, a good point, and useful from an advocacy point of view, as it suggests an approach to bring more people into the cause.

Another reader (“James G”) replies:

I am more than sorry to inform you Primus that with the exception of our public lands,”thank God we do have those, for now” this world is not ours,”the common home of humanity,as it should be” but the” private property” of a small percentage of the human population who thouraghly believe they should be able do anything with their private property they see fit even if the rest of us is harmed.You must understand that these people are in favor of freedom and human wellbeing only to the extent that they can profit directly from such virtues.When freedom and the wellbeing of the 90 plus percent of humanity that does not belong to the ownership class threatens the power and or profits of the elite those virtues are cast aside in favor of totalitarian and facistic acts which insure that the masses never taste real freedom and wellbeing.

The facts are quite clear;the elite will first destroy humanity and the natural enviroment with their arsenals of nukes and biochemical weopons before they will loose or sucsede power to whom power rightfully belongs”,that is the people”.

Indeed this is not our world but the private property of the elite.This is why we now live in an age when a person can be incarcerated for the personal use of a plant ,”in the name of protecting the public wellbeing” while ultra wealthy manufactorers of the most deadly of weopons,”even nukes” walk scott free and enjoy the best life has to offer,all at our expence. It is really quite insane,but yet we still call it civilization !

Apathy of Despair

These three paragraphs can be summarised as “Dude, don’t even try and do anything because everything is so shitty you can’t possibly make it better.”. I like to call this “Apathy of despair.“.

Successful advocacy relies on people being engaged and working actively to a certain goal. People are motivated to work towards social change when they 1) see that there is a problem, and 2) have some hope that the situation can be improved. One often runs into people who start off claiming that there is no problem (apathy of denial). If one confronts these people with sufficient evidence to the contrary they move directly to despair (apathy through despair). What these two states have in common is a lack of action or effort. I get the impression the apathetic individual simply doesn’t want to take responsibility for their role society, and just wants to skate through without making an effort. Some accomplish this abdication of effort through naivite, and others through cynicism, but the result is basically the same.

The overwhelming journey

Laziness is not the only path to the apathy-of-despair. In James case, I believe he arrived there through a pattern of thinking that deserves its own anti-pattern, which I’ll call the “overwhelming journey”.  (I can’t think of a better name yet, but please feel free to make suggestions). The overwhelming journey occurs when an individual sees the problems involved, but can’t see the path to improvement.  They have forgotten that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with single step”.   They may be frustrated because they have forgotten that social change takes time, and is difficult.  Perhaps their frustrations with the problems they perceive leads them to an angry state of mind, and so they are unable to calmly and rationally analyse the problem and possible solutions.  The get wrapped in a ranting, raving, rabid froth.

Some additional gripes

James’ post suffers from some additional anti-patterns, which are difficult to point out in a kindly manner.  He rants and raves about the “elite”, “fascistic act” etc.  Basically he’s falling into the “grand conspiracy” AAP (which is a close corollary to the tinfoil hat AAP).   This kind of thing dilutes a movements credibility, and drives away potentially useful collaborators.

In the end, James post encourages prohibition-repeal advocates to give up and stop giving a shit, and drives people who are undecided on the issue away.

2 thoughts on “Advocacy anti-patterns

  1. Thanks for laying this out. I deal with a person who occasionally does this, and has driven many people in his life away from him because of it. It makes me want to shake him sometimes. I sent this to him, hope he realizes that he engages in the apathy of despair and makes changes.

  2. Thanks Glen, I enjoyed this. I’ve been dealing with annoying commenters for a long time, but I never thought I’d see a whole blog post dissecting their nonsense.

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