On social movement theory

An aspect of Human Science I discuss less often is a notion that, as human scientists, we are supposed to be not just scholars, but scholar-activists. And to this end, a part of my Ph.D. program curriculum, involved social movement theory. Bill Moyer’s (yes, this is the correct spelling for the name of a different fellow from the the Public Broadcasting System celebrity) “MAP model” describes a circuitous, iterative method for social movements in which a need is identified, stated, and rebuffed; something happens that compels change; and elites grudgingly allow a minimal change in that needed direction. Getting to where we actually need to be can take a very long time—decades or centuries—involving several iterations and requiring infinite patience.[1]

My response has been that, given the climate crisis, we don’t have that kind of time. JoAnn McAllister wrote a chapter in Moyer’s book and continues to advocate the MAP model. She was my department chair, a member of the committee that approved my qualifying essays and dissertation, and has, on more than one occasion where I’ve felt grumpy about a situation and felt unable to do or say anything about it, come forward with my very concerns, even without my saying anything to her about them. She has earned my enormous respect and gratitude for this. She also completely understands my objection to the MAP model.

In essence, if I understand her view, it is that yes, the MAP model may offer a long, difficult, and winding road, but at least it’s a road. I say the road is too long and that we need a short-cut. She might ask where that short-cut is and this would be where I would have to grimace: I don’t know, I don’t have it, and if it exists, it likely leads through even more difficult and dangerous terrain.

That terrain likely means violent revolution against a superbly armed and technologically equipped elite at a heavy cost in human life. Further, the history of violent revolution suggests that when it “succeeds,” it replaces one set of thugs with another. See, for example, the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union.

The trouble is less with who specifically is in power and more that whoever is in power inherently has a vested interest in the status quo; they become functionalist conservative, and functionalist conservatives emphasize the preservation of their power and privileges over the rest of us, even at the expense of necessary action.[2] Indeed, theirs is an ongoing failure to respond to the climate crisis.

I do not have a solution to this conundrum. People are dying from elite disinterest. The climate crisis poses an existential threat to our species.[3] Action must be taken and must be taken quickly.

But I don’t really have that short-cut.

  1. [1]Bill Moyer with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2010).
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  3. [3]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 19, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/2012/03/19/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/; David Benfell, “The mysterious expectation that elites give a damn,” Not Housebroken, October 15, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/01/the-mysterious-expectation-that-elites-give-a-damn/; David Benfell, “The lesson of the pandemic: An incremental approach won’t save us,” Not Housebroken, October 21, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/10/21/the-lesson-of-the-pandemic-an-incremental-approach-wont-save-us/; David Benfell, “We are reaping what we have sown,” Not Housebroken, November 28, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/11/21/we-are-reaping-what-we-have-sown/; David Benfell, “Failing to answer the question: Why you should care about other people,” Not Housebroken, November 28, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/11/28/failing-to-answer-the-question-why-you-should-care-about-other-people/

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