Is the ‘big tent’ full of hot air?

This post is a challenge to all those who continue to insist – in the face of evidence, and with seeming great annoyance at me even broaching the subject –  that a ‘big tent’ mentality will allow those individuals believing  their selves to be working for the objectives of a social movement to bring about ‘freedom’, champion ‘truth’ or oppose ‘war’.

To be clear what I mean about a ‘big tent’ mentality, I will boil it down to a single, simple, understandable definition: working with, or otherwise supporting, other individuals – with whom one has clearly identifiable differences of principle. I will not include in the definition the reasons for adopting the mentality, since there do seem to be various motives involved, and I think it would be incredibly helpful if some of the people concerned chose to explain their thinking to us.

For now, I will leave out my suspicions and existing analysis, and simply pose questions:

  1. Do you not think that an agreement on fundamental principles is not the most basic prerequisite to any collaboration? Should it not be the main reason for you to work with them in the first place? I get that you may be ‘joining forces’ because you feel you both share the same objective, but do you not think that joining with those who have a common methodology and a common approach is more likely to help you bring about that end goal than working with those on whom you disagree with on a deep level?
  2. What happens when that objective is reached? Let’s just imagine that the disagreements have not caused sufficient friction along the way to fracture your ‘movement’ and break down your operation. Now that you have both got what you want, do you not think that those principles will lead to completely different prescriptions as to what ought to happen next?
  3. Is it better to uphold truth and principles, and fail to spread one’s message, or to be ‘practical’ and make compromises for the sake of imagined gains? Are you happy selling out 5% of your principles for the sake of ‘small victories’? Does compromise not mean that you are actually just accepting the arguments of those with whom you differ? Do you not think this will come back to haunt you (see Qn. 2) ?
  4. If your answers to all of the above questions have been to defend the ‘big tent’ mentality, then why do you bother pretending this is a moral battle at all? If you’re more concerned with results than maintaining a methodological approach that values integrity above popularity, why not pursue any means possible to bring about your end state?
  5. What would you ask of someone, such as myself, who explicity rejects the ‘big tent’ mentality? What is there about our stance that you do not understand fully?

I hope your answers enlighten us all.

10 responses to “Is the ‘big tent’ full of hot air?

  1. Pingback: Notes on a journey | Consentient

  2. Hey, how about recent comments widget? I am tired of having to peck and hunt.

  3. You ask: “Do you not think that an agreement on fundamental principles is not the most basic prerequisite to any collaboration?”

    I think that the basic prerequisite for any collaboration is that the other person is not an asshole. As a corollary, I would list the willingness for both sides to self to self-examine if any one happens to fall into assholery temprorarily — so one can quickly climb out instead of digging the hole deeper.

    • OK, but whether the other person is an asshole is a subjective claim. 9 followers of Islam could call an uncooperative dhimmi an asshole.

      [EDIT: I’m in favour of mutual examination and self-examination within a discourse, but insist on sticking to referring to principles, not subjectivities such as ‘you’re being an asshole’. What can anyone say to that which moves things forwards?]

  4. Well, it may be subjective, or it may be intersubjective (where there is considerable agreement among the group) — as you point out. There are, of course, no ultimate guarantees.

    1) Since you read my post on Dickology, you may be aware that to call someone an asshole is an asshole move.
    2) If you are dealing with an asshole, there is no “moving things forward.” That’s why asshole recognition is a crucial art.
    3) Everything we have is a less or more corroborated hypothesis. Or are you laboring under the impression you have access to certainty?

  5. I’m not sure what your point is anymore. You took issue with my idea that all political collaboration starts with shared fundamental values and tried to insert this thing about assholes. Maybe you can tell me exactly what it is you are asking or saying :)

  6. You asked a question. I answered. The gist of my claim is that the quality of the collaborative relationship depends on the character of the participants. I am skeptical that referring to some “principles” can substitute for it. But then again, maybe I don’t know what you mean by principles. :-)

    • Character is important, but if the people hold fundamental values which are not congruent, then no collaboration is possible. We can look to principles when we encounter difficulties. We have already encountered principles several times in our exchanges thus far, asking for clarification and so on. So truth is more important than everything else, so far.

  7. Well, hm. If by truth you mean correspondence with ultimate reality, then I don’t think we humans have access. If by it you mean concern with honesty, veracity, and so on, then to that I say yes. But that takes us back to character… except I would not say it’s more important than anything else. My overriding concern in these exploratory conversations is the question of trust.

    Is there a post on “fundamental values” which I could read and get more of a sense what you mean?

What do you think?

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