You and what army?
This seems to be a favorite question of movie villains everywhere. It also seems to be a question that anyone holding any contrary belief or desiring any social change asks themselves in moments of doubt. After all, how is it possible to make an impact without likeminded supporters?
In answer, many of these passionate thinkers and critics go out in search of their armies. Today, it seems that every deeply-held idea, innovative technology, or popular product has some kind of community or movement behind it. From movements for Net Neutrality to those for drunk driving restrictions and Bitcoin adoption, people who want their voices heard seek out power and a pulpit in mass support.
It’s true that there is a great deal of strength and community to be found in sharing a common cause with others. Unfortunately, it often happens that movements tend to dilute their own values in the pursuit of success and group loyalty (Our own Zak Slayback has made these observations elsewhere).
This dilution of purpose affects more than just the goals of the movements themselves. The effect which group thinking can have on movement members can be ultimately disempowering. It’s precisely when members place their hopes for change or self-realization solely in the actions of others that they lose the opportunity to gain either. They instead spend their days clashing over internal differences and fighting outsiders for group esteem.
Perhaps you want greater freedom in your education (if you’re reading here, you probably are into that sort of thing). You could go to the unschooling, homeschooling, and skilled trades advocacy movements searching for support. These are excellent causes, but you’ll be faced soon enough with the realization that there are twice as many movements fighting to prevent you from achieving your goals – education lobbies, the culture of higher education, etc.
If you confine your hopes to a success of a broad-based movement, you will inevitably find yourself outgunned by these opponents. Even if you succeed, you may find yourself silenced by your comrades.
There is an alternative to the dreary course taken by movements. Succeed where movements fail – take principled individual action without asking for permission. Act unilaterally wherever you can, whether through taking apprenticeships, creating your own curriculum, or traveling the world. Yes, take advantage of and support the communities that truly share your aims. Just don’t limit yourself only to imagining the kind of change that would require you to follow, wait on, or subordinate yourself to a majority.
You really don’t need to be intimidated by the size of the groups that oppose your goals, either. Like any movements, these become shallower as they spread further. They lose efficacy when faced with the determination, clarity, and focus of individuals or small groups in the same way that large militaries are often thwarted by groups of ragtag rebels.
Nonconformity has more than symbolic power. By taking a stand and making an exit from a situation in which others feel powerless, you can become an anchor point for those that do wish to make a change. You can be a movement of one. Even if your goal is not to inspire others, you can (with some resourcefulness) make the necessary changes in your own life to achieve the goals you desire.
It is said that no army can stop an idea whose time has come. Similarly, no army is necessary to achieve an ideal. Just live it.
We don’t have a movement, but we do have a group of learners making their own education without permission. You can join them. Apply for our Fall 2015 Class.