Tim Jordan’s writing in Activism! engages with the question of what the purpose of radical activism is, given that its goals are frequently unreasonable in practice. He references the examples of feminist movements demanding separated male and female communities, or environmental movements demanding automobile-free futures. I think this is a critical issue in activism, and one which any argument attempting to treat it must address. One of the greatest reasons why people aren’t activists is that they feel the goals are impossible – Stanford will never divest from fossil fuels, say – and so it’s a waste of time.
The key concept in Jordan’s argument is that the highest purpose of activism is to construct new morals – that rather than “defining our future society,” they are “part of the creation of values by which we may judge our future society” (Jordan 23). Moreover, he says that unreasonable goals are a necessary condition to achieve such change. The rationale for this somewhat out-there claim is that if a goal is achievable within a currently existing system, it represents latent but widespread sentiment, and not truly new morals.
As someone who has inhabited the camp of questioning the practicality of activism, I find Jordan’s thesis satisfying. However, I’ve got to say that out readings don’t seem entirely sufficient to support the claim. The excerpts we read were excellent in categorizing and describing different sectors of activism along with their associated ethics. However, I never found a good demonstration that a radical activist group (conforming to the criteria Jordan lays out) brought about, say, the many varieties of grocery store eggs Jordan mentions in the first chapter. I found this somewhat unsatisfying.