The phrase, “Pick your battles” is whistle language. What it usually, really means, is that someone doesn’t want to listen or introspect and just wants someone else to shut up about an issue.
Feminists get this message in the form of Dear Muslima – where our efforts are not criticized based on whether or not they are valid or invalid, but whether or not they involved life and death.
Use of sexist slurs is not as bad as murdering someone: therefore invalid. Photo-shopping models on billboards is not as bad as murdering someone: therefore invalid. Not funding girl’s sports adequately is not as bad as murdering someone: therefore invalid. Not allowing access to abortion services is not as bad as murdering someone (most of the time): therefore invalid.
Blah blah blah.
Pick your battles – there is a cause much more pressing than that – so shut up.
Even when the advice is offered in sincerity, it can cause all sorts of toxicity. While task-oriented groups should think hard about their priorities, to go down the road of policing what others should and should not care about ends badly. It can lead to an inordinate amount of time being spent attempting to co-opt the time and energy of others instead of spending your own time and energy wisely. Bridges are burned when, many times, simply asking for concrete actions from someone else, in solidarity, would accomplish a hell of a lot more than tearing down what you think should be beneath their notice.
But what if this isn’t about priorities, but it’s about problems?
“Pick your battles” certainly fails. Even seemingly small problems, micro-aggressions, and common annoyances add up; pointing them out and working them out should not be shut down because the problem, in isolation, is not as bad as murdering someone.
But what if this isn’t about priorities or problems, but about people?
“Pick your battles” sometimes absolutely wins. I’m am not saying that who-someone-is magically makes whatever they say or do automatically villainous or virtuous; only that who-someone-is should inform how we proceed.
While pushback from the concept of “Pick your battles” is justified in a hell of a lot of cases, the concept of “Pick your targets” is much less so.
An example of epic fail, is Thunderf00t, an atheist on YouTube, and VenomFangX, a creationist on YouTube. I’m going to be completely honest, I got through about the first 30 seconds or so of Thunderf00t’s first video. I wasn’t really that terribly interested in watching a grown man “laugh at” VenomFangX.
The Creation Science industry has many players – big hitters – people who make a shit-ton of money on selling bullshit. So, who does Thunderf00t target for video-after-video of literally being “laughed at”?
He chooses some devote teenager who is later rumored to have emotional problems. For whatever reason, instead of speaking TRUTH TO POWER, Thunderf00t decided to speak truth to vulnerability – in the form of public ridicule.
The fight against Creation Science charlatans and pseudo-science Christo-fascists is a righteous one – but basic human decency shouldn’t just get cast to the wind. His choice of target did not point to a desire to work towards a just end; but a desire to bully. Years later, this became more and more apparent.
I’m sure he still feels justified.
I worked several service industry jobs. I don’t have to tell you what happens to the cashier or the phone bank worker when a customer is upset. Often the person who is justifiably angry lashes out at the person who is near and open to attack, and not necessarily at those most responsible. The employee may not be completely blameless; but all rage is focused on whomever is closest and most convenient, not who actually has the power.
You know, like what this douche bag did.
And yes, companies donating to anti-gay hate groups is a matter of life and death. They can kiss my fucking ass and everyone should really be angrier – this isn’t about the level of anger. It would be MORE justified, in my mind, to literally burn Chick-Fil-A to the ground* – at least doing that would have accomplished something.
As it was – it was just some asshole – being an asshole – to be an asshole.
Sorry, real-world struggle and just-cause is not some sort of asshole license regardless of what battle you have chosen.
*No, I am not advocating arson. I’m making a comparison.