Jul 14, 2008

Quality control in movements?

Within a few years I hope to look at one or more movements that have contributed to Western Civilization. (For the nature of a movement, see the July 5, 2008 post.) Examples in the USA are movements to abolish slavery; secure property rights for women; spread the theory of evolution; abolish alcohol Prohibition; and repeal "Jim Crow" laws. Following are preliminary notes for this project; the notes are mostly questions at this beginning stage.

WHAT IS QC? In the electronics industry, from which I retired twenty years ago, quality control is the active, purposeful, and organized effort to make sure that a company's products and services meet the company's standards--and the customer's expectations. The main positive motives for QC are pride in the products and higher profits; negative motives include reducing complaints from customers and the expense of handling returned products.

QC IN A MOVEMENT? What would be QC in a movement, that is, in an effort--especially through advocacy--by various individuals to improve their society in a certain way? Consider the individuals in the movement as individuals acting on their own. (Organizations within a movement can set rules for quality of their own membership and quality of their own product.) QC would consist of individuals examining, not only their own products (lectures, essays, and conversations), but also the products of other individuals in the movement, and then taking action to remove or improve poor quality products. In a free or semi-free society, the control in QC would be peaceful and honest.

MOTIVATIONS? Why examine the products of other individuals in a movement? One example of a member of a movement who might deserve scrutiny is an individual who is influential but is spreading a mixed or erroneous message (an "abolitionist" who wants merely to improve the living conditions of slaves), thereby undercutting the work of other individuals who have perfected their understanding of the issues involved. A second example is an individual who is advocating the correct position of the movement but whose personal behavior is an embarrassment--for instance, destructively poor grammar, foul language, or public displays of mental illness--that might reduce the movement's chances of succeeding.

TECHNIQUES FOR "CONTROLLING" QUALITY? Are such aberrant individuals actually a problem, that is, do they actually threaten the success of an objective movement, one whose goals are drawn logically from facts of reality? If they are, have past movements identified such individuals as a threat? If they have, how have concerned members of those movements handled such problems? Based only on brief personal experience and observation of contemporary movements, I would expect to find, in historical movements, a range of tools being used by some members of a movement to improve the quality of the movement overall. Possible QC tools for individuals who are trying to minimize the effect of counter-productive members of a movement might include the following.

1. Shunning is disassociation. On a personal, face-to-face level, an example of shunning is refusing to speak to a certain person at a party or even refusing to attend the party. Blacklisting, a tool of shunning, is compiling a list, written or not, of individuals to avoid for any kind of formal association such as hiring them or accepting them as members of organizations. Boycotting, a special type of shunning, is specifically economic, neither selling to certain individuals nor buying from them.

2. Criticism is an alternative to shunning. Criticism is pointing out defects either in the person or in his products and then offering a superior alternative. Criticism may be either public or private.

3. Pre-emption is a second major alternative to shunning as a dominant strategy. Pre-emption can take several forms. In one form, a member of a movement may tell his general, non-movement audience that the individuals in the movement agree on the one goal that they all seek, but that otherwise they are as diverse as individuals in the remainder of society, so do not be surprised if you meet a wide variety of individuals bearing the same message. In a second form of pre-empting, a member of a movement might steer listeners who are outside the movement to the best sources of information about the movement's goals. This "positive" approach publicizes superior sources and thus indirectly draws attention from inferior sources of information about the movement's goals. In a third form of pre-empting, a member of a movement might single out particular false representatives of the movement and tell his audience why those individuals are false representatives as a contrast to the true representatives.

In summary, when I research particular movements, I will be looking for evidence, if any, that, outside of organizations, at least some members of each movement considered quality control to be important enough to take action. If they did take action to ensure quality, my next step will be to see what techniques they used. Last, I will try to assess the effectiveness of such efforts.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

1 comment:

Richard said...

This directly applies to leading Objectivists' treatment of Libertarians.

For a while, it seemed to me that a vote, and nothing more, for the Libertarians in this one election would be more useful than abstention, or a vote for either dominant party.

On a silent level that may hold, but
1. it would be terrible if a a Libertarian gained office because a large number of people voted that way, and
2. the minute an Objectivist suggests such a one time vote, Libertarians who caught wind of it would immediately promote the fact to their ideological advantage.

Either scenario would damage Objectivism and its cultural progress.