If you haven’t looked at or subscribed to Sarah Haider’s Substack site “Hold That Thought”, you should consider it. She regularly produces thoughtful and well written posts, and her experience as cofounder and director of development for Ex-Muslims of North America gives her insights into ideological infighting that you might not know about. And she’s definitely not afraid to say what she thinks, even if it flies in the face of “progressive” politics.
That infighting in facts informs her latest piece, one about the toxicity of progressive, nonprofit organizations. Both the progressivism and nonprofit nature of these groups contribute to their dysfunctionality, conclusions she also draws from a related article by Ryan Grimm “The Elephant in the Zoom” at The Intercept.
The nonprofit nature of such an organization works synergistically with its progressivism to give a special entitlement to employees. According to Haider, the entitlement means that employees don’t feel the need to work as hard as those in “regular” organizations, demand special coddling, and, in the end, fracture exactly as other woke organizations fracture.
I have to say, Sarah is courageous enough to say stuff like this, which, combined with her regular mission of helping apostate Muslims, makes her doubly “unsafe”:
I’ve been lucky that my explicit politics and nature of work have driven off many of the kinds of people who might create such a dysfunctional culture—but even I have not been entirely spared.
Meanwhile, I’ve witnessed other groups entirely overtaken—their work forgotten as internal reckonings routinely roil within the organization. I’ve watched their (already underserved) programs be abandoned for more fashionable, social justice oriented ones.
I’ve watched identitarianism creep into hiring and firing—white males dropping out of leadership positions like flies. Sometimes they are chased out, accused of some impropriety or other. Sometimes they “choose” to resign—claiming to step down to make way for someone more diverse. It kept happening, until it became genuinely rare to see a straight white male in a top leadership position. And of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with fewer white male leaders…so long as it is a natural consequence of a fair system that finds the best people for the jobs. But of course, that is not what is happening. Indeed, I’ve been called a “white supremacist” for insisting that leadership positions should be granted on the basis of qualifications and experience—regardless of the race/gender/sexuality of that person.
Instead, organizations around me have been pressured by activists to fill leadership positions with “women of color”, accepting the absurd identitarian logic that somehow this act would solve issues of disparity (just as the Obama presidency presumably fixed racism once and for all). Sometimes this has led to the appointments of leaders who are simply not qualified for their positions—causing harm to the stable functioning of the organizations and their ability to do good work.
But even if a “woman of color” is elected (many besieged leaders in the Intercept article above were, in fact, women of color)—nothing ends the incessant infighting except an outright rejection of the politics that support it.
It seems that Haider is against all forms of affirmative action, wanting to staff organizations like hers based completely on merit (“leadership positions should be granted on the basis of qualifications and experience—regardless of the race/gender/sexuality of that person.”). I’m not with her 100% on this, as I still cling to the idea of some affirmative action as a form of reparations, but Haider and I would agree that identitarianism and the idea of hiring based on race and gender have gone too far.
Further, as she points out, coddling the progressives doesn’t stop the “incessant infighting”. We know that because other woke organizations, like the New York Times and Washington Post, are riven with dissent and accusations—something we’ll see in the next post. The meltdown at the Washington Post that led to the suspension of reporter David Weigel and then the firing of Felicia Sonmez is one example. Weigel was suspended for making a tasteless joke on Twitter (which he retracted and apologized for), though he could have simply been chewed out and told not to do it again. No, he had to be punished more severely, as woke politics demand. Sonmez, on the other hand, was the whole ball of Woke Wax: neurotic, accusatory, vicious, and self-aggrandizing: exactly those qualities that, says Haider, will kill progressive organizations. To quote another recent piece of hers (emphasis is also hers)
. . .the problem isn’t merely the fact that social justice issues are abused by disturbed personalities with the right identities, it is that social justice politics condition the average “nice liberal” to accept bad behavior and cancerous work dynamics, all in in the name of “justice” and “inclusion. . . It is a simple thing to re-cast untenably toxic and inexcusably hostile behavior as the price one pays for “justice” and “diversity”, and indeed, that is exactly what happens. The nice liberals are easily duped into accepting the unacceptable, capitulating to extremists again.
She ought to know, as she’s experienced this in her own organization.
I wonder if “progressive” universities may eventually fall apart for exactly the same reasons. We’ve already seen schools like Princeton and Harvard becoming ideologically toxic, chilling speech everywhere in the name of “social justice”, and if Wokeism doesn’t go away soon, we can say goodbye to our elite colleges as vessels to ferment ideas. There’s no sign of that yet. I see glimmers of light from time to time, but for every glimmer there’s a darkening of trust as schools strive to become ideologically acceptable and homogeneous.
And of course this kind of political dissolution describes today’s Democratic Party.
Finally, Haider outlines the only way she sees a progressive nonprofit organization is able to thrive: by following these rules:
1.) Creating an explicitly mission-oriented culture. Making it clear that all staff and volunteers are there to support the mission of the organization—that the mission is important, and deserves their full attention and commitment. This means that while they are at work, engaging in activism that is unrelated to the mission will not be tolerated. . .
2.) Creating an explicitly WORK oriented culture. I don’t know why this is a problem, but it is—especially in non-profit spaces that employ young people. Make it clear to volunteers and employees that they are here to work, to achieve an end. Nonprofits in particular are the space for you to GIVE TO OTHERS, not to take for your own ends. . .
3.) Zero-tolerance. This might sound harsh to outsiders who don’t know how bad bad can be, and charitable types in general have a very hard time taking on a management style that makes boundaries clear. However, there can be no tolerance for abusive behavior, or for breaking the above two rules, regardless of the reason.
Finally, Haider gives two pieces of advice about what to look for in organizations that you want to donate to. These involve how scattered their mission is and how strong the leadership is. I’ll let you read her summary yourself, but it mandates that you should not be giving money to either the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center.(The ACLU is a pathetic case of how a once respected organization is circling the drain because it now gives most of its attention to the civil liberties of “progressives,” and has widened its mission unacceptably.)
I could recommend some organizations that do adhere to Haider’s standards and deserve your dosh, but I’m sure you know those yourself.