culture,  homeschooling,  Occupy,  the ethical life

Social Skills, Homeschooling and Occupy

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I’ve written a bit already about my experience with my local Occupy group, and how I love the idea of Occupy but had problems with the reality. So when I recently saw a link to an article about Occupy Toronto, I was very interested to read it. After a lengthy recounting of some of the safety hazards and failures of Occupy Toronto, the article concludes:

The unwillingness of Occupy Toronto’s membership to develop and enforce standards of behaviour consistent with the values of social justice exemplifies a deeply flawed process. These problems are not unique to the Occupy movement; they have been present in many organizations, including our own. Yet they are particularly egregious in this movement. It is important to note that many people have left, or refused to be a part of, Occupy Toronto because of the ongoing and severe safety issues. Without proper accountability mechanisms, Occupy Toronto is setting itself up for failure. If it is to flourish as a movement, and fulfil the potential it obviously has, it will need to find ways to consistently challenge the inequity that exists within itself.

I think this is really, really important. I know people who say, hey, it doesn’t matter about the mistakes of Occupy because the cause is just so important we should overlook all the mistakes. Those who say that are wrong, because the biggest and best thing that Occupy can do is to figure out how to be a movement. How can groups of strangers work together? How can they solve problems? How can they model society as they wish it to be? This is one of those times when, as the saying goes, the journey is the destination.

Occupy challenges the idea that 1% of the population should control such a disproportionate amount of wealth and power. It attempts to live that belief out through general assemblies and participatory democracy. Unfortunately, living without a clear power structure is challenging. If Occupy wants to really promote the ideals it claims it needs to take the challenges seriously and find ways to make it work. At this point most Occupy camps are packed away but some groups still meet to plan future actions. By now the participants would be a self-selected group. My question is, when spring comes and they potentially can start taking more public steps, will they be able to demonstrate a change of heart and reach out to those they have pushed away? Will they be able to demonstrate real inclusivity?

Inclusivity is hard. In some ways I have more faith in organizations such as Lead Now, which have a clear power structure yet rely on public participation. We need organizations that can function quickly. We need political infrastructure to promote the ideas we value. The rightwing have the infrastructure already. Among other things, they have the Fraser Institute, subsidized by Canadian taxpayers as a charity, yet 100% political. The left are behind. We need to build it and quickly. Occupy was, and still is, a potential rallying point and method of building the political infrastructure. Locally it was disappointing, and it sounds like others have been having similar or larger problems elsewhere. But hopefully, hopefully the networks necessary can still be formed.

Meanwhile I try to think about what it is that allows people to work together. How do we balance our own needs and those of others? How do we deal with disagreements? Having been homeschooled and now homeschooling, I’m used to hearing people talk about how much children need socialization. I’m not sure exactly what that socialization is but I’m finding myself sitting here thinking about the Occupy movement in the context of teaching children social skills. Or maybe it is the other way around. Maybe I’m thinking about teaching children social skills in the context of the Occupy movement.

How do we teach people to be respectful? How do we listen and make decisions cooperatively? How do we teach them to be inclusive of everyone, and yet at the same time to insist that bullying stop? How do we decide what social norms need to be enforced and which we need to let go of, because the enforcing of them would be unjust or discriminatory?

We need social norms. Social norms provide predictability, allowing us to make our decisions with some forewarning of the potential consequences. Coercive though they might be, they can be a soft form of coercion that allows for group functioning. For example, social norms around reciprocity mitigate the extent to which we might otherwise be taken advantage of without requiring the coercion inherent in contracts.

There are people who rejected the idea of having social norms. Citing the restrictive nature of gender roles they dream of challenging every other societal role or expectation. They argue for complete freedom and for the primacy of everyone doing just what he or she wanted. If their actions offend others, they say the others were free to leave. It is a morality that suggests that one’s relationship with others is expendable.

Let us all act as though no one is expendable. Let us act as though we have to find a way for us all to get along. Getting along might mean minimizing contact with a specific person or people but it should be based still on the principal that the other person is important too, that his or her feelings and understanding of the world must also be respected.

I have always been fascinated by the question of what a group should do if one member of the group is behaving in such a way as to harm others. Does certain actions justify exclusion from a group, because to include the person would mean excluding others? Or are there ways to exclude actions or enforce behavioral norms while still being inclusive of all the people involved? Or is it wrong to expect people to have to allow those whom have harmed them into their presence, even others are seeing to it that the person is no longer causing harm?

The question of homeschooling and having socialization always seems so strange to me, because from my point of view the big questions of social interactions are still unanswered and I highly doubt that another six years in school would have answered them for me.

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