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Won’t Vision Be Sectarian

cEveryone I know who talks about a vision is horribly inflexible in their thinking, really – what they are is sectarian. Since vision makes you sectarian, shouldn’t I avoid it?

It is often suggested that vision is intrinsically sectarian. The idea is simple. A person has a vision in their mind. The person soon becomes attached to that vision and defends that vision. In time the vision becomes entwined with the person’s identity. The person’s identity likewise becomes entwined with the vision. Behavior becomes reflexive, even kneejerk. Someone criticizes one’s vision and one hears the criticism as a personal attack on one’s personal identity. “Your view of x seems lacking,” is heard as “you are a decrepit person.” One defends oneself by defending the vision as if it were one’s personality, as if it were one’s soul.  In time one can’t even conceive that one’s vision might be incorrect much less calmly explore refinements, variations, alterations, even alternatives..

Worse, if this picture is correct, a group that holds a vision in common, will behave similarly. The group’s identity will rest on the vision’s validity. The group will defend the vision against even the slightest criticism as if it was defending itself against imminent dissolution or even pillage. The vision becomes identity, dogma. The group pursues the vision automatically. Mechanically, and becomes collectively sectarian.

Bob Dylan has a poem, I read decades ago – really a part of a poem, that I still remember, bearing on this…

first of all two people get
together an’ they want their doors
enlarged. second of all, more
people see what’s happenin’ an’
come t’ help with the door
enlargement. the ones that arrive
however have nothin’ more than
“let’s get these doors enlarged”
t’ say t’ the ones who were
there in the first place. it follows then that
the whole thing revolves around
nothing but this door enlargement idea.
third of all, there’s a group now existin’
an’ the only thing that keeps them friends
is that they all want the doors enlarged.
obviously, the doors’re then enlarged
fourth of all,
after this enlargement
the group has t’ find
something else t’ keep
them together or
else the door enlargement
will prove t’ be

ffThe above description I offered, and the more poetic related version from Dylan, is a widely feared picture which causes many to reject the idea of developing much less collectively advocating shared vision, or action, for that matter. And the fear, up to a point, is warranted. Vision breeding sectarianism is certainly one possible result of having vision. It would not do for an advocate of vision to deny this possibility. In fact, sectarian arising from vision is not only possible, it is even likely and this is not just wisdom or conjecture. In fact, of course, vision propelling sectarianism has frequently occurred. There can be no denying the danger.

But the solution is not for resignation. The solution can’t be to have no one hold a vision. If no one holds a vision there can be no hope, inspiration, positive and well-aimed program. There can only be failure. The solution is also not for people who are anti-sectarian to have no vision. That is, if anything, even more ridiculous. Resignation squared. If those who decry sectarianism forego vision, in short, then those who are inclined to sectarianism will be the only holders of vision. That would not solve the sectarianism problem, but would instead enforce the sectarianism problem. By that route too, there can be only failure. As Bertran Russell put it, maybe exaggerating a hair, but not excesively…:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

The solution to fear of failure due to sectarianism can’t be to adopt an approach guaranteed to fail, whether due to having no vision or only sectarian vision. The solution must instead be to have vision but to not correlate one’s vision to one’s identity. The solution is to have vision, yes, but to also value continual change. The solution is to have vision, yes, but to admire and seek constant improvement and innovation. The solution is to have vision, yes, but to frown on reflexive attachment to past views of any kind, including past vision. The solution is to have vision, but not dogma. The solution is to wrap one’s identity up in change and not in stasis, to wrap one’s identity in reaching a new world not protecting a past or current identity.

Vision, though incredibly important, is still simply a tool, not an end itself, Vision is part of the process of winning a new world, not the whole of the process of winning a new world. Inflexible, defensive vision, is not merely flawed, it is counterproductive. Visionaries must become adamantly anti-sectarian. We must favor constant questioning and innovation.

The conclusion is unavoidable. Those who seek a better world in which people all have access to participation and influence must have vision because without vision, there can be no success. There is no getting around that quite obvious fact. But those who seek a better economy and a better world must not become sectarian about their vision or about any other mutable contextual or value laden views. To become sectarian is to freeze into a static stance when for success, instead, one’s stance must continually evolve. Likewise, to become sectarian is to freeze into a mode of social interaction with others that is defensive, hostile, and dogmatic, when to accomplish worthy change, just the opposite mindset, behavior, and even personality type is required. 

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