When you’re in the IT business, fragmentation is bad. Whether it’s your platform that gets fragmented (hullo there, Android), or you’re tha admin that has to support all different versions of popular browsers (hullo, Firefox and Chromium o’ver. 9000), fragmentation is bad news and more work.
Also for social and political movements or organisations (formal and informal, regardless) fragmentation is bad. Organisation loses people, hence also clout and political power to make the changes they want to make. The movement splinters into small, irrelevant groups that cannot take on the Big League…
Only, it’s not true anymore.
Have you ever tried choosing a mobile plan? I have. It’s daunting – and I used to work in a mobile tech R&D lab!
It’s daunting not because of technology, though, and not because it’s hard to make it easier to make choices there. It’s daunting because telecom companies are working hard to package features and pricing in plans in a way that effectively makes it impossible to really compare and contrast plans between different operators.
You want Feature X? Okay, you’ll get it within the plan at A and B, but at C you will have to pay additionally for that; but, C has lower rates overall and Feature Y, offered only by C and A (for an additional price)! Ah, but B has Feature Z, very similar to Y (but just-not-the-same)… and so it goes.
This is also how mainstream political parties work. I agree with Policy X of Party A, and Policy Y of Party B; but A has Anti-Y-policy and B has Anti-X-policy even though X and Y can be compatible. The effect? I cannot in clear conscience choose a party that actually fits me.
Why? Because it’s all pre-packaged. You cannot get your pick of the issues, features, policies. You have to pick from packages containing some you agree with, some you don’t.
Social movements often work this way, too. You want to support the Movement X because of Policy A? Well, that will mean you also support Movement X’s other policies that you might not be too fond of. And while with mobile plans and (less, but still) political parties you are bound to choose something, with social movements the effect is that most people choose not to choose. Packaging kills involvement.
Less is more¶
Suppose for a moment that we could choose to engage in furthering Policy A without having to support Policies B and C; and that Movement X that engages or coordinates efforts around Policy A does so inclusively, inviting any and all to join-in and help out, regardless of their support for other policies Movement X stands for.
Suddenly, John Doe (a stern opponent of Movement X’s other policies, yet a supporter of Policy A) can feel invited to just help with this particular policy or issue. Net effect – one more supporter of Policy A!
This is exactly how Anti-ACTA worked in Poland. There were NGOs that might not see eye-to-eye on most of things and people of all walks of life and political affiliations working towards a common goal. We embraced fragmentation and were able to bring in support of many times more people than we could have dreamt had we decided to exclude those we do not agree with on other issues.
Anarchists and right-wing activists protested hand in hand, just months after fighting each other on the streets of Warsaw.
The narrower the issue, the better defined the goal – the more people can feel invited and welcome to help out.
This does not mean that organisations or movements should suddenly narrow their scope down, start focusing on single issues only. They should still be as comprehensive as they see fit. Some issues are not possible to fight for separated from the bigger picture.
But there certainly are issues that can be well-defined in a way that makes them at least partially self-contained. And then action can be organized around such an issue in an inclusive and welcoming way. This not only helps further the given issue, but also stimulates discussion between different people and different organisations.
Discussion that can lead to better mutual understanding, and better dialogue on the more general level.