We always talk about traits like honor and integrity; these are non-negotiables for those of us who seek to further Western Civilization. The problem is that fair fights are lost ones, and dissension often ends up requiring tasks that are illegal, maybe distasteful, or even “of questionable morals.” Sometimes the dirty tricks we need to be able to engage in, violate other principles that we hold dear. Honesty, transparency, etc…all of these things tend to come into conflict when we start playing in the deep end of the pool. We end up finding ourselves in a lot of moral dilemmas, and that alone can discourage people and make them ineffective. Look at just a few potential situations.
- You want to infiltrate a local leftist group but you also have a problem with lying.
- You despise the gun laws in your area but you wonder if breaking them is somehow immoral.
- You have a very big piece of dirt on a politician but you’re not sure if/how you could use it without being ‘mean,’ and you don’t want to harm his family too.
- You have a piece of information about something your company is doing that should be leaked to the public but doing so breaks the law and/or puts your employment in jeopardy.
- You have the opportunity to go through a computer belonging to a guy in your neighborhood that you’re sure is a pedophile.
- You have the capability to expose the personal information of an adversary but wouldn’t want that done to you.
- You are aware of an infiltrator in your group and you want to mess with him or make him leave but you don’t want to be manipulative.
The list of potential situations you could find yourself in is staggering, and the deeper you go the more those situations happen. What are you supposed to do? Hold to every single one of your values at all costs? Throw them all out the window for the sake of the cause? Or is there a middle ground somewhere — and if so, how can you find it?
There is a middle ground, and there is a way to have your activist cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, it requires understanding yourself at your core, and being brutally honest about what’s in there — two critical things often missing.
Let’s say you take a piece of paper and divide it into two sides. On the right, put down all the goals that you want your actions to move forward. Don’t put vague things like “freedom” or “liberty.” We are talking about specific things you want to work toward; think smart goals. Repeal X law in your state. Pass Y law. Stop Z activity or practice.
Underneath that list, make another; these are the lines you will not cross. Traits you need to keep to be the person you want/need to be, facets of character you refuse to let go of, acts you cannot commit. This isn’t a quiz, it’s an exploratory session. Don’t judge anything that is listed or not listed; there’s no room for emotions and whatnot here. Your list will not be exactly the same as others have, and chances are that it won’t be what you expected, either.
When you’re finished, go back through your lists and decide which of those lines you are willing to cross if it directly furthers one of the goals at the top of your page. Consider risk, consider your morals, character, etc. The answers will be different for everyone; where one person might decide that stealing company resources to secretly create and print subversive materials is an “acceptable violation” of an edict he normally abides by (such as “don’t steal”), someone else might decide that they aren’t willing to do that at their own employer, but would elsewhere. A third person might decide that the entire idea of ‘shady activities’ isn’t something they’re willing to be involved with because it requires, at some point, being deceptive. A fourth might already be half way through an illegal look into an adversary’s personal financials, wondering why people are bickering about copies.
In the course of your process, you need to be absolutely crystal clear with yourself about what’s being discussed. For some people the line might be very shallow; for others, very far past the average person. Some might not be willing to cross any lines at all; I would argue that certain types of activism, for them, are not a good fit. Just like there is a difference between murder and lawful killing, you will find that there are things you might have once said “I could never do that,” only to find that yes, you could, under the right circumstances and for the right reasons. There are other things that you might reaffirm as never being okay, regardless of the situation.
You might even find that while you’re morally okay with a choice, you’re not okay with all of the potential consequences. When thinking through those, don’t jump on the “I will DIE FOR FREEDOM!” train; no one’s around to see your bravado anyway. You might be willing to die, for instance, but are you willing to live the next 30-50 years in prison fighting off your cellmate’s advances or being the target of other inmates? Are you willing to be separated from your spouse and kids? Lose everything? Sometimes the people who are so willing to die for a cause aren’t so willing to live for it. Again, there’s no judgment in this phase. Just be honest with yourself.
Next, make a list of activities that 1) further the goals you seek, and 2) have consequences and/or risks you can live with. That area is probably where you should focus your actions; it’s where you’ll be the most effective and be able to live with your choices.
I’ve had a few folks laugh at this idea, but it’s important to do it. What we think we can do, or think we can stand, often ends up being something a lot different than what we are actually capable of when we stop to think it through and imagine potential consequences. If you’re sitting down all by yourself looking at the words on paper, it’s a bit more real. Can you REALLY do what you think you can? Or maybe it’s the other way; maybe when you see your goals there, you realize that you really are okay with a lot more than you thought.
The core takeaway here is that there IS a place for honor, and ethics. There IS a place for us to do things that we would not normally do, in the pursuit of higher things. There IS a higher purpose to be served. For me, there is a very, very obvious and thick line; for most people that’s probably true. There is also, however, often quite a gap between that line and where we stand today. Understanding that gap — and what can be done in it — is the difference.