Monday, March 19, 2018

Critical Mass Part II

Introduction to Part II

Welcome back to Critical Mass, a discussion about the pressing need for NonPro interests in our show system. In Part I we explored some of the factors that contributed to the disenfranchisement of the NonPro and how these factors changed the nature of our community for so many of us. Indeed, their story hints at the needed shifts that could guide us towards a better future for everyone involved in the arts and even the larger experience in the US. Because at some point we’ll have to address our tolerance of exclusion, stress, and intensity at the expense of those things characteristic of a happier hobby community like inclusion, fun, and camaraderie.

So as promised in Part I, we’re now going to look into the systemic poison that helped to insinuate this kind of thinking into our gestalt. Target this and we take the first step towards meaningful positives that can reshape today’s flawed structure. For that then, let’s consider some rather radical ideas to get to the heart of the matter, and while moments of introspection aren’t always comfortable, they’re often necessary to evolve into something better. Because—sure—we may have gotten way off track but we can bump this runaway train back onto the rails if we’re willing to sincerely engage the problems with an open mind, generosity of heart, and unafraid honesty. We owe it to ourselves, don’t we? To each other?


We have a problem that runs deep in our community, pumping out bad vibes in dozens of ways onto everyone in some way. And as the stress has ramped up in our community so it has, too, sometimes becoming so shrill as to define the very atmosphere at times. What is it?

We have a real problem with beta aggression. There—I said it. 

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Many of us were outsiders, the “weird kids” who typically weren’t part of the popular social groups. I know I was. Many people avoided me, thinking I was too strange and not cool. Many of us are still outsiders who don’t fit the mold. Being so, we know what it feels like to be excluded, to be devalued. We also know all too well the nature of peer pressure and how it feels to be manipulated so unwelcomely. 

So why are we allowing the very same thing to happen to our fellows, the NonPros? 

We have to recognize that the NonPro concept has never been popular among those married to the status quo. Whatever their reason, it seems there are those who want to destroy and discredit the idea by whatever means possible, and so we find some dismissing, bullying, and even denigrating those most vulnerable among us. “Power corrupts” could certainly be a fitting idea here, too, because it seems that when someone gets just a taste of success, all of a sudden they’re inordinately fixated on their own self-interests. So we may see shaming practiced without equivocation and peer pressure applied to coerce people into accepting inequitable conditions because—darn it—they should like it this way. This behavior just barges right over anyone who doesn’t fit the frame and plows over the concept whenever it peeks up. Perhaps it gives them a sense of once-denied power, of once-denied importance, of once-denied value. And we should remember that there always someone out there who weaponizes their emotions to get what they want.

Is it any wonder then why bullying is so typical in our venue? Let’s be honest here—it’s not a stretch to say that our community is now defined by its bullies just as much as anything else. We’ve literally allowed the lunatics to take over the asylum—especially online—and we wonder why change seems so difficult? Why our volunteers are so fried and rattled? When we allow an aggressive, self-interested malcontent to dictate the discussion, we’re handing power over to the wrong person. Indeed, bullies have such disproportionate power now they essentially run things through pressure points. But even more, they’ve primed the system to react to their spectacle in a way that shuts dialogue down.

In this, bullies seek to intimidate and terrorize. For instance, they use the insinuation that people are being dishonest or unfair if they’re not doing things exactly the way they “should” be done, a typical accusation lobbed at NonPro. Yet most people are honest and upstanding and there are different ways of doing things that are fair, too—and in the case of NonPro, more fair. Bullies also threaten repercussions if their way isn’t instituted even when those intentions ignore more pressing and universal issues, even reality itself. To think the status quo remains as a function of blackmail is rather unsettling, isn’t it? Bullies also use fear mongering to panic people into their way of thinking when none of their alarms are actually justified in most cases. This is truly an unfortunate form of domination because it exploits the vulnerability of already panicked people. Bullies rely on fear to get what they want—it’s their primary tool and weapon—so if we could quit the fear response we’d remove their power. Because to get NonPro underway, all this will stir up again so don’t be surprised—be prepared.

But manipulation can be trickier by taking on the guise of the victim as a way to passive-aggressively manipulate the situation. For example, we see this card played when someone behaves as though they’re being personally attacked when their errors in logic are pointed out. Lobbing the bomb “mean” to discredit and malign is a one such retaliatory tactic here. Martyrdom is a curious thing—so quickly it can turn into a spiky mace used to tactically bludgeon others. All this effectively diverts attention away from the issue at hand and squelches discussion—exactly the intention. But the sideways problem is this martyr tactic can make it seem like NonPros are whining when they chime in, which isn’t the case. As such, their dialogue can be shut down by a trigger groomed to spring at anything that sounds like “woe is me.” In response, framing how the NonPro concept is presented can be really important so it remains the rational, productive, universal idea it is rather than spun into the “whiny special interest entitlement” so often used to discredit it.

Bullies also tend to work the psychological angle rather than play to evenhanded reason. For instance, they’re good at attacking someone’s confidence, wearing them down into a puddle of self-doubt and questionable self-worth. If they don’t like our idea then, they’ll shout louder and louder, escalating in tone, insinuation, and accusation, to drown and shatter our resolve, making us question why we’re even trying trying to materialize it in the first place. Here’s the thing—most people have really great ideas only their nature doesn’t predispose them to go to war over them. Truly, most people here are peace-loving and aggression-adverse. But bullies live for war—they’re experts at starting and waging them, and even better at slash and burn tactics, leaving behind a bunch of human briquettes in a smoking crater wondering why they’re trying at all. It’s simply a war of attrition. And it’s always strange how some join in not realizing they’re being manipulated, too. In this, bullies are good at rallying mobs, whipping them into frenzies of assumptions, speculations, misinterpretations, anxieties, demands, and a bevy of indignations that can crush an idea before it even sprouts. And—boy—has the NonPro concept been blasted by artillery fire over the years. And it will again. But it keeps popping back up, doesn’t it? Like a Chumbawamba song. Even so, it does elicit bad memories over this, a lingering fallout. Clearly then, all this needs emotional and practical counter measures so the concept keeps moving forwards despite the volleys of expected cluster bombs.

But let’s be real here—destructive pressure can come from within the NonPro ranks, too. For example, “imprinting” is a common form in which someone tries to game the concept to fit their specific wants despite the bigger picture. They essentially try to shoehorn the requirements to fit their own special conditions even at the expense of their fellows or the feasibility the idea itself. Have enough NonPros do this then and the concept collapses in all the in-fighting. Then, of course, all the NonPro detractors get to smugly and gleefully say, “See, I told you so!” Always remember that not everyone fits into AO rules but it’s still big enough to scoop up most—and the same will apply to NonPro. And per case adjustments are always possible. On that note, another problematic sentiment is “the purity syndrome” in which the movement becomes too fixated on perceived qualifications that would make someone a “real” NonPro and disqualify those who weren’t. But NonPros are a lot of things, all of which are situationally variable. And creativity is messy! So qualifying every little aspect and pinning people down isn’t only impractical, it’s unfair. The better option is always looser. Along with that, another form is "ribbon fixation" in which someone becomes too focused on who gets ribbons and how rather than how NonPro serves the overarching interests, steering the concept right off a cliff. Let’s not fall into the same trap the larger community has plunged into! Always keep the big picture in sight. Do that and everything else works out over time. Another form of negative pressure is trying to establish a creative hierarchy in which certain forms of art are considered “more authentic” or “more worthy” than others. But creativity is creativity! NonPro does best to recognize all its artists as worth protection and cultivation on equal terms. Every artist is a “real” artist! And yet another form of internal coercion is “pigeon-holing,” of trying to dictate the outcome for a NonPro to remain eligible. For example, some wanted to ban original sculptures because they were “too advanced.” Others wanted to ban customizing because it was “too involved.” Still others wanted to ban resins because they were “too expensive” or “too good,” forcing everyone to paint OFs. But all this misses the point, doesn’t it? And those are huge chunks of potentials! It’s far better to just keep things simple and on point: if a person meets the NonPro criteria then their creativity—in whatever form it takes—is eligible. Don’t get in the way of the muse—clear the way for it. These things can be separated in a classlist anyway. At its core, NonPro always does best when based on inclusion because bigger ranks adds more weight to the momentum and that means a stronger presence in the future. (Wait for Part IV for a easy definition of NonPro.) Quite literally, NonPro cannot afford to make the same mistake of sliding into an exclusionary system. Instead, it has the marvelous opportunity to establish itself as a shining example of an inclusive paradigm and how well that could work. It would certainly be a shame to see that fantastic opportunity squandered.

In essence then, all of these negative pressures together have helped to groom the setting to take away the NonPro voice and to keep the NonPro concept suppressed right along with the rest of us. So perhaps it’s time to let it all go. Because it would be great to support NonPros when they practice activism for their cause! To listen to them, help them clarify their needs, to start meaningful dialogue, to help them develop solution-oriented strategies, to help materialize their vision and, even more, to allow them the space to make mistakes and correct them since the first steps will be wobbly. They need empowerment and support because so many feel powerless and voiceless. Let’s give ‘em a hand up! Soon they’ll discover they have far more power than they ever imagined and they’ll find their stride and start walking on their own.

It also suggests that perhaps our priorities could use some rethinking. How are we contributing to the positivity of our community? How are we forwarding progressive ideas that improve conditions for everyone? Are we a proactive part of the solution or are we getting in the way of those doing the pulling? We can also do our part by forming a proverbial human chain between those who would launch attacks against those who are trying to help themselves. It’s going to take a bit of effort and maybe be a little uncomfortable at times, but it’s so worth it! The benefits of a paradigm shift for NonPro are many, which we’ll discuss in Part V. 

What’s more, in learning how to help realize NonPro, we’d be learning about ourselves, too, wouldn’t we? Indeed, as a community, we’d be developing the tools needed to better deal with our social stressors and that’s beneficial across the board. Because, sadly, the equine collectibles community is an expert at poisoning its own well. At every turn, at every opportunity, it pours it right in and we all keep drinking. We never learn, we never change, and the poison just keeps getting poured in. If we could change one thing that would have the most positive impact right now, this would be it. We can definitely do better. There are so many wonderful people in this venue with so many great ideas and so much potential—we all deserve better.

Conclusion to Part II

Here’s the thing—this current system needs to evolve and that means asking “what if” again. And getting to a place where we can experiment and explore, to reconsider how we frame what we’re doing, is facilitated by addressing the NonPro issue. Truly, we can re-focus our intentions onto the inclusive and progressive while still preserving the popular aspects of showing because there’s plenty of room for more interests.

But it does mean we’ll be asked to be proactive. We’re going to need that terrific imagination we all have to concoct some fresh ideas for potential solutions. We’ll be asked to spearhead the change we want to see happen. We’ll be tasked with finding workarounds to limitations and obstacles. We’ll need to accept a bit of uncertainty for awhile as we test, weigh results, and make adjustments. Change takes effort but we can do this. We have to do this. Because in many ways, we’ve developed communal apathy, haven’t we? Yet it’s not so hard to understand when so many are disenfranchised, confused, and disillusioned. But there’s hope! We just have to look at NaMoPaiMo for its glimmer. So perhaps now is the time to turn this baby around—and what a wonderful feeling that is! To actually take control of our destiny, working together to reclaim our collective future. We can fix this.

In Part III then, we’ll turn the mirror back onto the community to ponder its own philosophical issues that also squash the materialization of NonPro. Indeed, this activity has this strange propensity to knock itself back down, doesn’t it? But it’s worth so much more and has so much to offer, and it’s time the community realize that. There’s a brighter future out there if we’re willing to believe we’re worth reaching for it. 

“The moment you value yourself, the whole world values you.”

~Yogi Bhajan

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