Activist appropriation, adhering to my definition, is the popularization and generalization of political ideas or protests, movements, or symbols without an actual understanding of said ideas movements or symbols- Nora McNulty
As our epigram here indicates, Activist Appropriation is apparently a thing in at least one person’s mind. As someone who happens to live in one of the most “social justice” trendy places in America (Portland, Oregon), it occurs to me that in a way this was an inevitable conclusion for someone to reach. I’ll give one reason it makes sense and one reason it makes no sense.
On the one hand, the fact that this is a problem makes total sense. Virtue signaling– that is, the act of demonstrating one’s quality of character by proclaiming agreement with the supposed values of an in-group- is part of the subculture of self-identified Progressives on college and high school campuses across the country. This isn’t actually new, despite the fact that’s now frequently discussed by media personalities like Paul Jospeh Watson and Milo Yiannopoulos. For example, when I was a teenager I was invited to various anti-capitalist demonstrations as a social occasion on a fairly regular basis. A few times I even went, but I was mostly there for the social dimension of the event.
As signaling one’s virtue becomes an increasing value in a group, it’s almost an inevitability that some members or peripheral associates of the group would signal insincerely. It’s one reason many in more mainstream political groups across the United States don’t get too concerned about campus radicalism- once the group naturally dissolves due to not being in school together, there’s a probable reversion to the mean averages of political thought among the bulk of the group.
What doesn’t make sense is fretting over the “appropriation” aspect of things. What even the non-spiritual among us can learn from the myriad occult traditions of the world is that the power of symbols is often not intrinsic to the symbol as an object. It’s the proliferation of a core truth, even if misunderstood by the vast majority of beholders, that matters. In fact, the more people that see and do not understand a symbol, the more power the author of the symbol has. That’s what an occultist would argue, at least.
Take for example a “tag,” or graffiti script. Even if 100% of people who aren’t the author of that tag despise both the tag and tagger, the more places they see the tag, the more prolific and cunning the tagger appears to be. Imagine being illiterate in an ancient Mesopotamian civilization where giant cuneiforms and texts embellished monuments and buildings- imagine how powerful proto-businessmen carrying tablets with mysterious contracts and treatises would have seemed. To an extent, these were purposefully occultist acts of perceived domination.
Put aside all of the issues people will likely bicker about in regards to the activist appropriation question- “political beliefs aren’t like race or culture- you can’t harm them by appropriating them,” etc. People propagating your symbols and without full knowledge of their meanings and purposes is not inherently bad or harmful. Next time you walk past any Masonic institution, just think how much powerful you might be perceived as by some if you knew how to “appropriate” their codes and symbols, even if you didn’t know their full context.
You can read Nora McNulty’s full article here.