Cliques, plagiarism and political change

Definition of clique
  1. :  a narrow exclusive circle or group of persons; especially :  one held together by common interests, views, or purposes

noun (“Clique.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.)


Writing meticulously referenced blog posts, let alone books, takes time for everyone, but when stricken with cognitive impairment and a debilitating illness it is an achievement, considering that the work is done from an already obscure place and position. It is the added dimension of disabling, crippling pain and the dire consequences of erasure from our own lives that prompts me to raise the subject of cliques and plagiarism in the field of advocacy. While plagiarism always constitutes a series of  problems for any field, it becomes particularly concerning in a community of people who seek political change for their survival. I have tried to list some of the more serious problems with plagiarism.

a) it only serves the plagiarising party and can therefore not be conducive to change for all 

b) it renders a sick and disabled person even more invisible by erasing their name and work from public view, thereby cementing their obscure position and undermining their credentials.

c) it corrodes the very aims of activism: empowerment, self-empowerment and, ultimately, change. People who already speak up for themselves and others are stripped of their voices when cliquey narratives are superimposed. 

d) collaboration quickly becomes something exclusive (cliquey), mirroring the oppressive behaviour of those power hegemonies whose detrimental actions made it necessary  to take counter measures in the first place. 

e) exclusivity in advocacy is a time-waster. Why re-invent the wheel when someone else has already said it, and, as is often the case with original work, has said it better? 

f) cliques formulate narrow definitions and blinkered visions for solutions. 

g) to use disease and disability to create new hierarchies of ‘authority’ is plain wrong, see empowerment/self-empowerment.

Objecting to cliqueism and plagiarism in public is quickly rewarded with characterisations such as uncooperative, egotistic, self-important, narcissistic. But someone who creates original work rarely has an agenda other than to highlight a problem that did not exist in the social imagination before so those characterisations do not make sense in any scenario. It is never conducive to change to ignore someone’s work, but when it is done deliberately (and failing to seek collaboration is a form of deliberate ignorance) it becomes counter-productive. I have tried to determine why this is so, as the lack of collaboration in advocacy is frustrating. Why do good people constantly hit brick walls when they seek collaboration? Why is original, in fact groundbreaking, work buried with the added insult of seeing shoddily recycled and much more recent work published as groundbreaking when it is no such thing? I think that those who subsequently enter advocacy can be roughly grouped thus

Genuine seekers of knowledge with the intent to effect political change will invariably collaborate, are driven by intellectual curiosity and more often than not show humility for others’ knowledge and expertise.

Opportunists are political operators who are not seriously interested in the problem at hand so will not mind maintaining its status quo. Or they are interested but mainly to further their own interests, from which follows that maintaining the status quo is a good thing for them as well, as they want to make a career of their illness or wish to benefit from treatments not available to others which is not to be confused with self-expression and being vocal about one’s situation. Opportunists will, as a consequence, walk away should new opportunities arise while those who have supported them in any way they can are not only left behind but usually with the added stress of having to tidy up the mess and misunderstandings that opportunists tend to create.

Those who are a bit of both tend to cherry pick. They are the most cliquey while there is also a genuine drive to understand. They may even think they collaborate but as they appear to work mostly with opportunists their endeavours will only partially serve the greater good.

One serious implication of such dynamics in advocacy is that facts become semi-truths, and sometimes even fiction. ‘There is very little known’, ‘this illness is still poorly understood’, are fictitious statements that grant certain psychiatric and other medical circles, the NHS, the NIH, the Science Media Centre, and disinterested GPs and other healthcare providers carte blanche for their unethical behaviour, e.g. referrals to ineffective, even harmful, treatments because ‘this is what is on offer’. Advocacy must urgently be reframed to make it more powerful and less malleable, for instance by stating ‘There is no political will to do anything about my illness. Why?’  The ‘why’ requires some work but add the question ‘who benefits’ and a web of history and answers shall be revealed. Malleable advocacy is not pragmatism, it is appeasement of bullies, and once again, only benefits the individual advocate, depending on how great a following there is and how much s/he is liked by the political establishment.

(Online) advocacy is full with people whose motives remain guesswork but every now and then we are given a clear indicator. I suggest that plagiarising someone’s work reveals both intention and future direction. It is an action that deserves scorn rather than praise from a community that is desperate for political change.

Thank you for reading.



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