I don't think we should have causes anymore. This is not to say that we should ignore the worlds problems. But rather that causes create a dogmatic 'us vs. them' mentality. They perpetuate the idea that there are certain causes one can choose to fight for or not, and the strength of your engagement in that fight is equivalent to the moral fortitude of your character. I think this keeps a lot of people out of doing what is good and right for the world, which is exactly what causes are created to promote.
Don't get me wrong: adopting a cause takes a lot of guts, and really representing it takes a lot of hard work. Fair or not, if you declare that eradicating sweatshops is extremely important to the world, you're gonna get a lot of flack from people who just don't care about sweatshops, or resent you for making them feel guilty about their Nikes or their tees. Plus, if you dedicate yourself to the cause, and you want to have some success in your life, the fight is EXTREMELY difficult and long. Even if you work your butt off, you may never see any significant change for what you were fighting for. And I know there are countless numbers of individuals who engage in this struggle on a daily basis without judgment, suspicion or cynicism of others who are not a part of the fight.
But I have also met those that strongly represent causes, be they political, health-related, civil rights, environmental, etc, that were often too quick to write you off as one of 'them'. If you didn't sign their petition or knock on doors or whatever else was really urgent to them right then, you were part of the problem instead of the solution. Not unlike religious dogma, their conviction that their cause is the right one is only confirmed by societal rejection. Drawing lines between those that 'see' or 'know' what's really going on and those that don't, the world becomes a constant battle, and those who represent 'causes' can always find ways to feel like the enemy is everywhere. That conspiracy theories abound in some of the most entrenched literature of these causes is not surprising. It seems to me that there is no quicker way to feel isolated, judgmental and cynical about the state of the outside world.
I think my uneasiness with causes comes down to a basic challenge that I've struggled quite a bit. Ok, I want to be a good person, and do something that is good for the world. But which cause? Believe it or not, I don't think that this is a rare goal of individuals. (I really do believe that most people want to be good, and want to do things that are at least non-harmful to others or society in general. I know some will disagree with this, but I don't think it is a matter of knowable fact, and thus I feel that my faith in it is both justified and beneficial.) So what should I do?
The sheer number of causes, of issues and problems that one could approach is daunting. Beyond that--I feel strongly that my choice would be arbitrary. Sure, I could dedicate my life to infectious diseases in 3rd world countries. But why not try to save the rainforests in Brazil? That you have to 'pick one', and 'do something' is a fine enough answer, but hardly a good reason to convince others they should join the fight. And how can you ever expect to really make progress if you can't even justify to yourself why one cause should be fought for over another?
And thus, I think the current structure of activism is backwards. To be good, I do not think we fight for causes that represent problems we want to solve. Instead, we should observe ourselves more closely, and solve the problems for which we are the cause.
I'm not suggesting that this is easier than adopting a cause--I don't think it is. There are a lot of problems that we contribute to without realizing it, and discovering these transgressions is difficult and at times uncomfortable and unpleasant work. And yet, it is in some ways easier to know where to start. As a taxpayer in New Orleans, my money causes the disfunction that I observe in my city. Because I don't voice my opinion to my elected representation, I fail to do my part to solve the problem. As someone who drives a car, I am a cause of global warming and of the harmful relationship our country has with oil. Because I don't pay close attention or attempt to ration my use of gas, I fail to do my part to solve the problem. And so on and so on.
More importantly, approaching doing good this way will eventually free individuals from having to represent ideals instead of themselves. I think living as a solution, or as someone committed to solving only the problems they directly contribute to, will make the responsibility more balanced and allow people to be more in tune with themselves instead of the external issues that surround them.
I certainly, as usual, don't claim to have succeeded in doing what I suggest here. And I don't know if I'm saying anything much more complicated than 'do your part' or 'be a part of the solution'. But sometimes, just writing them down brings them that much closer to happening, and sometimes, the simplest things are worth saying again.
***P.S> I want to in general give more credit to all my amazing friends/family who, w/o the conversations I have with them I would never get half the ideas that I do, so thanks for all the other ones I should have and for this one esp. David and Jordan B.!***