Cruelty How we choose to treat each other in a group that is committed to equality and justice goes to the core of what we hope to accomplish as activists. If we hope to bring about a fairer, more compassionate world we have to start with our most basic interactions. The fact that deliberate cruelty does not lead to greater justice should be too obvious to mention. Yet in collectives itís very often considered normal, not even worthy of a mention or of a raised eyebrow. Tormenting someone mercilessly until they flee the collective--or even the entire local activist scene because they are so afraid of encountering further abuse--is common practice. Weíve never heard anyone speak up to say that itís morally repugnant or to try to stop it in any way.

Condoning and accepting cruelty as business-as-usual is an attitude and a way of living. Its potential for creating and promoting social injustice and a more vicious, less tolerant world makes it a matter of the utmost importance: it is our duty and responsibility to vigorously oppose cruelty within our own midst.

The same behavior we saw as children in school playgrounds, where an individual is singled out for no other reason than he or she is an easy mark and is then subjected to a gleeful campaign of abuse, is much too often at work in our activist collectives. Are we so conditioned by our upbringing in a society that forces us to conform to authority that whenever the mantle of established authority is removed (like it is in an egalitarian collective and in a playground), we can think of nothing better to do than prey on each other with cruel name-calling and senseless attacks? Another frequent consequence of new-found freedom is to immediately establish and follow new hierarchies based on who is more popular or stronger or the best at manipulation versus who is unpopular, out of the group's mainstream, the easy target, etc. It's just like Lord of the Flies...

Individuals who believe they have been mistreated by their fellow group members feel genuine pain. It is not possible or appropriate, in our view, to explain away somebody's pain by pointing to the group's positive work or invoking regulations that the pariah in question may or may not have properly followed. Do you honestly believe that anyone deserves to have cruelty visited upon them? Even if theyíre a pain in the ass, if theyíre impossible to deal with--even if they themselves are cruel--that is no reason to taunt, torment, bully, slander with vicious lies, etc. As activists, we hope to create a world in which difficulties can be addressed and every attempt is made to resolve them, not one where suppression, intimidation, and violence (psychological or physical violence) are resorted to if the groupís majority or most vocal members do not get their way.

It is not possible, in our view, for the person who feels pushed out or abused to simply be mistaken in perceiving a sustained campaign of attacks and vilification by the group (or a faction of the group) against him/herself. The hurt that is expressed over and over in situation after situation is undoubtedly real, and it should not be dismissed, regardless of whether or not the person experiencing it was originally (or continues to be) at fault.

Regardless of the merits or faults present in each situation, it's not okay for us to inflict emotional pain on one another. That should be a basic tenet.

A commitment to compassion and justice and against cruelty (yes, that's what it is) needs to be overtly stated as the basis for how an egalitarian group operates.

We only need to look at the current political situation to see the wages of indifference and casual acceptance of cruelty. Once we have relinquished our moral compass, we can condone both small and huge moral insults with logical arguments and pragmatism. Where is the outrage of the American public at the thousands of deaths and injuries of Iraqi civilians? Even for those who believe the war to be politically justified, how can ecstatic cheering be the overwhelming reaction to death, suffering and destruction on a massive scale? Wouldnít the more human reaction be sober regretfulness that sometimes harm is done in order to achieve a purportedly worthwhile objective?

Yet even among the activists who vehemently oppose war, many do so for political reasons, because they object to imperialism or other political forces they believe to be at play in this conflict, not out of moral outrage. And of those who invoke humanitarian objections to war, many adopt that view as a persuasive arguing position, not as a deeply held revulsion to causing suffering.

The purpose of activism, fundamentally, is to create a better world, one where there is greater justice, equality, and harmony and less pain and hardship. It is not to put forward a particular agenda. When we overlook this basic truth and allow ourselves to act with deliberate cruelty toward people in our own collectives, then go on to justify our actions by saying that we vilified or attacked our comrades because they were interfering with important political organizing, we have twisted our motives into an indefensible moral pretzel.

Please send your comments and suggestions to:

"Is This What Consensus Looks Like?"

"Is This the Just Society We Want to Model?


[Why This Booklet?]
[Introduction to Consensus]
[The Particular Vulnera-
bility of Collectives
[Power Sharing]
[Red Flags to Guard Against]
[Ploys To Subvert Consensus]
[The Problem With Politeness]
[The Need For Kindness]
[Creating Pariahs]
[Respect for Differences]
[Personal vs. Group Issues]
[Micro-Managing Behaviors]
[Skepticism is Healthy]
[There's Hope]

[A Model for Justice?]
[The Dearth of Due Process]
[What About Free Speech?]

[Codifying the Collective Process]
[Relinquishing Control of Projects and People]
[Staying True to the Mission]
[Whatís a Lone Person to Do?]







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