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Criticism and Critics March 4, 2009

Posted by obnoxioususername in Uncategorized.
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This Monday, we did a presentation in the college library on youth homelessness, showing a ½ hour long documentary on homeless youth in Minnesota. Afterwards, we had a discussion…and honestly got a little surprise.
One of the (very few) people who attended the presentation stated that she wasn’t convinced by our presentation that she should support the runaway and homeless youth act. This was, quite honestly, a pretty major surprise for the 3 of us-of all the reactions we were expecting to get, “this isn’t worth my time” honestly wasn’t one of those.
What are we to think of naysayers and critics? Well, honestly, I think movements need them very badly. Movements without internal criticism, or who do not listen to external criticism, will fail. Because they will not be able to refine their counterarguments, the movement will end up looking foolish in any public debate. Possibly, they will lose touch with their audience and sympathizers, as they will not be able to change their message, goals, or methods when it becomes necessary because they lack the ability to respond to constructive criticism. Without critics and naysayers, movements would be in a very sorry state-and impartial observers who see the movement ignoring the concerns of those who question its agenda will probably conclude that the movement is totalitarian. Movements need their criticism.
Of course, this does lead to the question of which arguments to take seriously, and which to not take seriously. Many criticisms of the environmental movement come from think-tanks that are obviously working on behalf of corporations who stand to lose a lot of profit if the environmental movements have their way. It’s obvious that the think-tanks are following an agenda that could be quite rightly described as nefarious. But what if they make some valid criticism? Simply dismissing them out of hand for having a “corporate agenda” may make the movement miss some vital and necessary change their argument will have to undergo for them to succeed.
The only answer that I can really give is that there is no one easy answer-no movement can waste energy answering every question or criticism leveled against them, particularly criticism from quarters that will never side with the movement, but ignoring all criticism can be just as problematic for the movement in the long run. Many left-wing movements need to shed the illusion that every critic they have is nothing but the tool of a vast right-wing conspiracy, and must learn to defend their agenda. Martin Luther King Jr., in response to public letters from Southern clergy criticizing his movement, took their criticism seriously and responded quickly and clearly to their points in his famous letter from the Birmingham jail. He emerged from jail and criticism with his movement strengthened, his actions against the status quo justified, and his opponents humiliated by his icily polite but extremely powerful reply.

-Alex

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