Your Means Will Shape Your End

Bayard Rustin was the man who taught Martin Luther King how to use nonviolent protest to achieve civil rights.  But Rustin had long been an activist for nonviolence itself.  He didn’t just see it as a means to an end; nonviolence was Rustin’s philosophical north star, his primary goal for the world.  College students can stay up all need debating whether the end justifies the means, but the whole question was moot for Bayard Rustin, because his means were his end.

I’ve thought a lot about that.  And it’s led me to a guiding principle of my own (which I’m still learning how to follow):

Your means will shape your end.

I don’t mean anything fuzzy or aspirational by that.  It’s a cold hard fact of reality.  The means you choose won’t determine just whether you reach your goal — it will change the way that goal plays out when you bring it into reality.

I made the Republicans in Congress video because I saw the party orchestrating a campaign of lies on issue after issue.  These weren’t petty rhetorical overstatements, or the political sleight-of-hand we expect during a reelection bid.  This was a coordinated, party-wide effort.  Republicans seemed to toss out statement after statement with no regard for the truth, and if one of them gained political traction then they all started echoing it.  Who cares if death panels are a vicious myth?  If the lie helps us, let’s use it!

Forget for a moment whether this strategy is moral.  Ask rather, If it succeeded, how would it shape the result? Republicans would have won their bid for power.  But what else?

The electorate would be deceived, ignorant, and just not capable of making good choices.  Media institutions like Fox would be little more than ministries of propaganda.  The ruling elite would rely heavily the “noble lie” strategy:  if you know what’s best for the American people, then craft a story, any story, that will boost public opinion.  Weapons of mass destruction?  Ooo, that’s a good one.  If we push that, along with a fake link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda and Iraq, then we can invade the country, set up a democracy there, and change the whole political equation in the middle east!

You set up this structure to get yourself in power, but it doesn’t go away after the election is over.  Instead you’ve got an entire deceit industry whose new chief goal is its own survival and exaltation.  Once upon a time the Republican Party used buffoons like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as political tools.  Now those tools are able to frighten the hell out of party officials.  In 2008, the party advanced an obscure governor to boost a presidential campaign.  They told her what to say, where to be, how to dress.  Now some of them beg Sarah Palin for endorsements, and she delivers them in speeches that reflect her fiction of the moment.

Your means will shape your end.

I’m not a pacifist like Bayard Rustin.  I’m mostly a big dork and what I like best is to figure things out.  It may be naive to think you can change the world by focusing on what’s true and can be supported by reason.  Certainly our anti-gay opponents jettison careful thought every day.  They work from their own prejudice and count on the prejudice of others (even if they’re too blinded by their phobia to see it that way).  But whether I do it well or not, whether it’s the best strategy or a hopeless attempt, I have to stick with my dorky does-this-make-sense approach.  It’s not just a method, it’s the world I want to live in.  Remember the give-and-take meetings Obama had with Congress over health care?  That’s why I still love him despite his broken promises to our community.  That’s why I  can be patient and see how he plays out his long game.  Your means will shape your end.

The long game is essential.  The failed Prop 8 campaign decided not to show many images of gays and lesbians on TV.  They followed the best polling available and maybe they were right.  Maybe we’d have lost even worse if we’d put out our lives out there in this struggle about our lives.  But I don’t care.  Keep your eye on the long game.  What kind of place can we achieve in the world through hiding, though accommodating that gay-is-yucky feeling some voters have?  Our opponents can hurt us this year and the next by appealing to ignorance, fear, and hate, but they can’t do it forever, not if we’re more visible every year, not when people who know us are more likely to vote with us.

This strikes me in the most immediate way as I get ready to fly to San Francisco and begin the AIDS/Lifecycle.  Yeah, the event raises millions of dollars for prevention and treatment, but it does so by building an amazing week-long community, a tiny traveling work of people working their asses off (the crew even more than the riders!).  People are better when they’re in that world — I’m certainly better when I’m in that world — more open, more friendly, more connected to the people around them, more eager to help when help is needed.  The people I see on the LifeCycle are working to build the world they want to live in, and they do it by creating for one week that very same world.  I’m honored and humbled to be a tiny part of it.

Because you know what?  Your means will shape your end.

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6 comments to Your Means Will Shape Your End

  • 1
    Kel Munger says:

    Loved this. In fact, I FB-shared it so my friends could see it. Very thoughtful. In the heat of the conflict, it’s often hard to remember that there’s no point in “winning” if what we’ve “won” is devoid of morality and justice. Rustin was a great man.

  • 2
    Ben in Oakland says:

    Rob– I absolutely agree with you. We lost prop. 8 I think because our leadership, such as it was, conducted the campaign from a place deep within the closet. Can’t show gay people– they’re scary. Can’t show gay families–the Reich co-opted the issues of OUR children. They are ours, not theirs. where did they get that power? Can’t talk about religion. Can’t talk about prejudice. Can’t show our lives. And what did we get for that reticence, the obsequiousness to the soul-destroying power of the closet? $45 million dollars worth of more of the same.

    Though I did a lot of work against 8, ultimately, I chose not to work with the official campaign above a certain minimum. It was very clear to me that this was going to be a campaign conducted from the closet. In fact, I wrote a couple of articles on the subject, which together constitute as clear a picture of what I saw happening as I could produce. This picture was confirmed to me when I took a training and I received the list of words that we were supposed to avoid, including these three: prejudice, religion, and children.

    I’m not a lawyer, but I do have my nearly 60 years of life, and 39 years as an out, proud, and happy gay man to guide me. Very frankly, it seemed to me that the lawsuits against 8 were being conducted from the closet as well, and in exactly the same way as the campaign was. Once again, before the Olson-Boies trial, I saw these three words being avoided: children, religion, and prejudice. And the result was exactly the same. During Olson-Boies, it allowed our opponents to say once again, “We don’t hate you. We’re just trying to preserve heterosexual marriage/the family/traditional values,” by which they mean the myth of heterosexual superiority and the realities of heterosexual privilege and prejudice. It will also allow them to continue to claim that somehow, if gay people are protected from discrimination, whether in marriage or the usual employment/housing/accommodations, that their freedom of religion is compromised, by which they mean their freedom to discriminate against gay people on the basis of their religious belief.

    The closet is about living a lie. It IS a lie, it is based on lies, and it engenders lies. It distorts, perverts, and debases everything it touches, as the sorry life of Ted Haggard will attest. And like all lies, the bigger it is, the longer it is told, the more damage it ultimately causes. One lie, that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, as told in the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul, ultimately led to centuries of anti-Semitism, the murder of six million Jews, and 250,000 murdered gay people as an afterthought. John was, of course, justifying the Jewish heresy that became Christianity, and was sticking it to the Jewish authorities of the time. The Christians won and the Jews lost. Another lie, that gay people are responsible for child molestation, has impeded so much progress in the battle to protect our children. After all, if you can blame it on the queers, you don’t actually have to look at child molestation and where it actually occurs most often– the family.

    As a Jew, I’m weary of losing. As a gay man, I have no use for the closet.

    Getting back to your point aobut MEANS:

    There is only one answer to a lie, and that is the truth. By hiding us, hiding our families, we are complicit in this lie. Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” So when do we start telling the truth? Because I, for one, wish to be free.

  • 3
    tavdy79 says:

    This is kinda related ot (and the flip-side of) something Mohandas Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in your world”.

  • 4

    […] Do I have to pass some bureaucrat's religious test? Occasionally Jon Stewart compiles a montage of far-right-wingers using the same little phrase to push the party line (death panels, shoving it down our throats).  The phrases are obviously contrived and distributed. They’re usually empty, emotionally-loaded, or false. And they sometimes “work” — sort of. […]

  • 5

    […] Occasionally Jon Stewart compiles a montage of far-right-wingers using some little phrase to push the party line (death panels, or shoving it down our throats). These phrases are obviously contrived and distributed. They’re usually empty or false. And they sometimes “work” — sort of. […]

  • 6

    […] expect me to join in or laugh along.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Remember that your means will shape your end.  We’ve got too much going for us to resort to petty, schoolyard bullying. LINK […]

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