A Guide to Listening, Empowering the Oppressed, and Being Good without Radical Ideology

I am genuinely seeking a way that people can talk rationally, scientifically and honestly about social issues. I really, truly am attempting in good faith to do this. If a clear map for this exists, I am looking to find it.

In doing this, I am taking a big step, one that many of my friends have told me they would not even touch: I’m writing a book on Intersectionality without Dogma. A short book on how we can better engage in issues of identity politics and social justice, and how we can better communicate with one another and be more open to dialogue, alternative viewpoints and arguments, while also being more respectful and willing to listen.

I’m far from the perfect example. I’m seeking the input and testimonials of a range of people, across race, gender and politics, to help me create this book. The goal will not be to give or pretend to have all the answers. It will be to build a genuine conversation.

Why this conversation is needed, and what we can do

In a time of great dehumanization across demographic, political, religious, ideological and racial lines, perhaps two defining items should guide us in how we move forward as a Nation, and as a society:

Closing the Empathy Gap, by Building a Bridge of Conversation between polarized groups

Actively Tear Down Taboos of Conversation (and the ‘Taboos of Association and Agreement’) between Polarized Groups

Imagine two people sitting down, discussing their backstories and inner lives, and trying to imagine ‘what it is like’ to be the other person. To walk in their shoes. And then, connecting with more and more people from the ‘other group’, as their spheres of inclusion is expanded and their moral and intellectual horizons broadened.

What is critical here is the ability to invoke moral imagination, to ‘imagine what it’s like to be that person’ — essentially, to walk in their shoes. This helps close the empathy gap by lessening the distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’, thus making people outside our inner circle (or ‘sphere of moral inclusion’) less likely to be demonized, dismissed or viewed as enemies, and more likely to be brought into our circles of human concern. We expand our desire to extend empathy and concern to more and more people, we have a better society for more and more people. This is key in facilitating the Nonzero — the cooperative arrangement in which all parties are better off.

Discussing Intersectionality without Dogma: Some Initial Thoughts

Someone recently asked if we should toss away ‘identity politics’ and simply here each other out. Here is my reply:

I’d say, reform identity politics, and stop saying that opinions and arguments on entire topics are automatically invalidated, categorically, by a person’s skin color.

I think that identity politics has been weaponized in many circles. Tribalism and dogmatism has eroded the basis of genuine compassion, active listening and human empowerment that identity politics was founded on during the Civil Rights struggles. The original spirit behind this needs to carry on, to be preserved, but the ideological nonsense needs to go. I think of meaningful discussion of identity, oppression and lived experience the way I think of meditation without religion.

The tools and working models for these things have long been in place, and rigid political ideology makes the process worse, not better. More vicious and tribal, not more compassionate. More prone to bias and closed mindedness, not more free and open. More dogmatic, and less skeptical. Stupider, not more intelligent.

I look at some of the folks who insist that rigid political ideology (on any side) is a prerequisite to fighting oppression, the way I look at those who say you cannot be good without religion.

The following picture is a section from my upcoming book, and used in a separate article. It details why modern Intersectionality and rigid or dogmatic identity politics fail to capture the nuances and human realities of our wider American landscape. We do need the tools to listen, to foster compassion, and to respect people’s lived experience. We need to tools to compassionately map our human terrain. This can best occur, I argue, if we detach the basics of Intersectionality from its more dogmatic, tribal and vicious forms.

Envisioning a Social Activism without Dogma or Rigid Ideology

Let us start from a simple proposition, without which this entire conversation will be a non-starter:

All people deserve the same fundamental recognition of their dignity and rights, and to drink from the same fountains of freedom.
Politics, ideology, and race should not change the core of this moral calculus. This truth finds expression in every language.

I see a common thread across all my immersion around the world and in communities at home: Marginalized people — or entire sub-populations — are rarely listened to — truly listened to — from the ground up. Most attempts to appease or engage them are detached and ‘top-down’, ultimately out of touch. Engaging with people from the ground up, in a way that works alongside their culture and resonates with ideals, speaks to their deeper grievances and aspirations, is far more transformative. Be it with soldiers and Afghans, police and communities, or outsiders and Native Americans.

But this type of engagement is rare in most parts of the world, including here at home. Understanding how to best do it — across diverse cultural contingencies and environments — would save us a great deal of blood, sweat, tears and blowback around the world, including within our own back yard.

A defining summary of the Reason Revival movement.

The rural conservative farmer, the inner city resident, and the academic liberal often speak different ‘languages’, and gravitate toward different ‘moral axes’. But there is ample opportunity to converge on this common ground. And this common set of core ideals — human dignity and freedom — tends to find its expression differently among these different ‘political-demographic tribes’. But when we lift the veil of partisan ideology and political symbolism, and move beyond the smokescreen of divisive tribalism, we start to see this with the most beautiful clarity, describable only by witnessing these wonderful conversations unfold between otherwise segregated human beings.

We need to build a bridge of translation across America. Alternative media and the tools of moral psychology and ‘tribal engagement’ can become the framework for this bridge. But the underpinning foundation will be the shared values and aspirations of us — vulnerable, naked humans — as a stardust-born primate species, seeking to flourish in our own ways.

And our scientists, our skeptics, our social activists, our veterans, our marginalized populations, and our community residents can help build this bridge. And when we build it, no one — neither vicious ideologues nor powerful demagogues — will tear it down.

The Non-dogmatic Toolkit for Transformative Dialogue: A Few Thoughts

Emotionally effective communication is key to these bridges, and I’ve been looking extensively in how to build them on this issue. There are some effective (and humanizing) tools that already, work, as well as ways to apply them in our current ‘asymmetric’ political environment using the approaches of psychological and tribal engagement mentioned above. The possibilities are quite vast, but rarely enacted or even aimed for by the status quo of our conversations. Here are a few examples:

  • Participatory discussions, storytelling & empathy-building exercises
  • Emotionally effective, politically resonant conversations by a small but diverse group, on key issues such as police reform. This can be intelligently applied on and off campus, and within our communities and alternative media forums
  • The ideas and concepts behind participatory mapping (especially as a non-politicized way to show how Intersectionality can work without dogma or political demonization, which have become common perceptions of Intersectionality by many).
  • Multifaceted media, outreach and communication platforms, which speak the political-moral language of different target audiences.
  • A “Universal Translator” for social justice language (such as nuanced definitions & examples of racism, along a continuum) and how we can have effective conversations with *reasonably open* people.

I think we can defeat a lot of bad ideas and bigoted voices and echo chambers by creating more options. There’s lots of corroborative evidence and research that this works, based on the psychology of identity and belonging, and of moral psychology & how people search for “teams” to be on or outlets (such as causes, venues) to find moral solace and meaning. I have some good examples from warzones and in the Balkans, and from my experiences observing several big social activism projects here in NYC. I will elaborate more on these in future writings, and explore them in depth in the book. This can be an exciting journey for examining the contours of social engagement and meaningful justice activism, in a way that reconciles logic, reason, science and some core intersectional ideas.

Why Intersectionality Should not be Dogmatic or Literalist

Another thing to consider is the dogma (it is dogmatic in many cases) / doctrine / practice of Intersectionality and radical Standpoint Epistemology (“you can’t know my lived experience, so your argument is void if I’m on a more downtrodden side of the oppression matrix “)

If respect for anothers’ lived experience mandates that people without access to that experience sit down and listen, be an ally, or at least refrain from telling the oppressed minority what to feel or think, then we must apply this to ex-Muslims as well. Especially female ex-Muslims. And especially female ex-Muslims who have certain experiences of oppression, like FGM.

Hence, if the white or male ally has to be quiet, “sit down”, listen, and refrain from telling the oppressed minority how to feel or respond to their oppression, then many (if not most) others also must excercise similar restraint with people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. If she says Islam is a root cause of her suffering, and intimately tied to her oppression, who then are we to tell her she’s wrong? Many whites are told not to lecture or Whitesplain to BLM or to black victims of police harassment, and in similar fashion, who are Muslims to “Islamsplain” to people like Ayaan? Or to other ex-Muslims, especially female ex-Muslims? Who are non-Muslim critics to engage in 
“Kaffirsplaining” (as I’ve heard it called) to those who have lived in Islamic societies as an oppressed minority?

Is the door to criticism completely closed off to most of us in this regard?

Even your staunchest practitioner of Intersectionality will likely say no. Does Talib Kweli, for example, “sit down and be quiet” in the presence of ex-Muslims like Ali Rizvi, Faisal, or Sarah Haider? Does he refrain from criticism of Maajid Nawaz’s views of Islam and dialogue with Harris, out of respect for Maajid’s lived experience in an Egyptian prison? No. Does he silence himself out of respect for all these peoples lived experiences in Islamic societies? No. He certainly does not, as 2 minutes on his Twitter will indicate. He explains Islam and oppression to ex-Muslims without batting an eye. And to my knowledge, he’s never been a Muslims. Do Leftist practitioners of Intersectionality call him on this? Not that I’ve seen, at least.

My point is that no one I’ve ever met wants to consistently and literally apply Intersectionality as a dogma, any more than Catholics want to literally follow the Pope’s guidance on abstaining from masturbation.

A Nonliteralist Reformation: Can Intersectionality Exist Without Dogmatism?

What we perhaps need is a non-literal, non-dogmatic, non-fanatical version of Intersectionality, which retains the same core aspects of active listening, respect for lived experience, and giving a foremost voice to the oppressed. These are good things, to be celebrated. I have no problem growing as a human being, in my ability to listen, be an ally, and foster humility, empathy and awareness of my relative privilege.

But this “standpoint epistemology” fanaticism, this quasi-religious literalism within Intersectionality has to go. This idea that anyone outside of the lived experience of an oppressed minority HAS to be silent and refrain from argument or ideas, and silence their own independent thinking, suppress their own original thoughts, is nonsense. And I think most people privately know it, but won’t openly say it, for fear of calling out the Naked Emporer in the Room.

And certainly, almost no one actually follows this dogma consistently. Doing so would silence the majority of us on even having an opinion on Islam and extremism if we’ve never been Muslims, ex-Muslims, or minorities in Islamic societies.

Their Inner Lived Experience is beyond my comprehension for understanding, on any level that warrants an opinion or insight. Just like all Non-white-cis-males on the planet, apparently. At least according to some social justice theories.

Left Behind: Minorities within the Minority

Standpoint epistemology doesn’t always apply to ex-Muslims, apparently: Sarah Haider, an ex-Muslim herself, had strong words to say in an interview.

“If you’re talking to people on the Left, in general, they will not accept any negative critique about Islam, no matter how nuanced, no matter how well-researched it is.”

Sarah Haider speaking at AHA about how ex-Muslims are often abandoned or attacked by some circles within the Left, when ideology trumps basic human rights and compassion. Link to the video: Her interview with Malher Mali is here:

Malher Mali, the one conducting the interveiw, also had words on this topic.

One of the most disappointing phenomenons I’ve seen in the western world is that individuals who call themselves “liberals” usually bury their heads in the sand when it comes to discussing the human rights violations in Islamic countries because they’re unable to see past the idea that “criticizing brown people is racist.” To me this has effectively opened up a vacuum where those on the far and extreme-right are taking control of this conversation in often bigoted ways. How do we make this conversation less taboo.

I have literally met people who think this way, and it’s absolutely disgusting in its backwardness, intellectually and morally. 
I honestly don’t think that most on the Left do this (to the degree you mention), but what disturbs me is the lack of a response from more on the Left calling this out. It’s as if people don’t want to “criticize within the Tribe”, even when certain behaviors and ideas run directly against the very grain of liberal principles like science, reason, respect, freedom of thought, liberty and women’s rights.

I see similar tribalism and “reflexive solidarity” on the Right, of course, as well. While most conservatives won’t directly engage in some of the more nasty versions of trolling, ‘poor-shaming’, or Muslim-phobia, most won’t really call these things out in public either.

This is why we so badly need “Incubators for Self-reflection” within both sides, to admit that there’s problems in-house and seek to call them out. This is the spirit that propels science and reason. Sadly it is directly undermined by the spirit behind our modern political discourse.

A satirical ‘defense’ of the soft bigotry of Low Expectations and Multicultural Relativism

This is a sample from a fictitious, openly satirical letter I wrote last year. This ‘open letter’ is not to suggest that most Muslims are ‘the oppressors’, but rather, that substantial problems exist within Islamic societies that need to be honestly addressed. Not by attacking Muslims as people but by addressing the consequences of ideas and beliefs. This ‘letter’ is written from the perspective of a (fictively named) Regressive Leftist (as opposed to a true liberal), in response to a Pakistani woman who wrote Ben Affleck a letter after a widely-viewed conflict with Sam Harris and Bill Maher (this letter does not attribute any of its ‘views’ to Affleck, though!). In the original letter, the author encouraged us all to be brave enough to criticize bad religious ideas. This fictional ‘response letter’ illustrates the double standards of the ‘Regressive Left’ — a subset of (pseudo)liberals who are so fearful of political correctness, that they often fail to support the ‘minority within the minority’, such as women and non-Muslims living under Islam.

Here is a sample from the ‘Letter’, which seeks to underscore the point of double standards and the need for change in some circles of Intersectional thought.

Dear Ex-Muslima,

Unlike most Regressives, I will claim the term. I will be forward with you, and honest. I only stand up for women in privileged Western cultures, and side with feminists only against white privilege. Oppressed women in other cultures and societies must be ignored and tossed off the agenda, because it is too important to respect non-Western ‘exotic’ cultures. Our Femynist logic is Intersectional and wondrous: we must continually echo the reality of Western privilege, but repress efforts to speak on behalf of less privileged women who are silenced by their own cultures … while enjoying our privilege to engage in feminism in a free and privileged society we despise.

Please understand — White Oppression / Western Oppression is the only form of oppression that is allowed to be directly attacked and scrutinized in any honest way. Don’t come to us asking for help — we’re too busy attacking mom-and-pop stores for not selling contraception. If you are born into a non-white or non-Western culture and are oppressed by it, too bad — you must learn to enjoy it and embrace it and assimilate into it, so that we white Leftists and feminist supporters won’t feel awkwardly racist. Our sense of our own non-racism and our non-racist image is literally more important than your suffering and your attempts to escape rape, wife-beating, female genital mutilation, honor killings, acid attacks, and shame and ostracism and occasional violence or death for leaving your faith or speaking out against your own culture. That is a privilege reserved for US, not for you.

Delineating Word Boundaries: Conflicting ‘definitions’ of “Political Correctness” and “PC Culture”

A word on the term “PC” is perhaps needed, right off the bat, in order to help bridge the divide of these conversations.

Many, I have found, define “PC” in different ways. Some see it as a form of moral and social progress, by making it embarrassing to be a bigot. Others use the term to denote the subculture of shaming, shunning, etc, for raising controversial ideas or questioning the narrative. So I think it depends heavily on the specific type of “political correctness” we’re talking about
This is why a better bridge needs to be built between the Left and the New Center types. At least, between the ones on either side willing to find common ground and have genuine conversations, explore their own blind spots, and seek conservational progress.

Avoiding the Binary Thinking Fallacy: On different uses of the word “SJW”

The term “SJW” undoubtedly gets tossed around far too often, and has become a way to dismiss and invalidate, or even viciously attack, very legitimate grievances and good faith efforts to seriously address them. Obviously, this is a big problem that we all must address. As a result, many on the Left reflexively view anyone who ‘dislikes SJWs’ as someone who dislikes or is indifferent to social justice of any kind.

This is a false dichotomy.

We don’t want to presuppose that there is or can only be one single motivation or reason for disliking what “SJWs” do. For one, the common use of the term (as I understand it) actually does describe a real and problematic set of trends (intolerance, echo chambers, all-or-none mindsets, tribalism, viciousness, moral sanctimony, simplistic narratives, authoritarian thinking, over-applying labels, crying “wolf!” with accusations of racism and Islamophobia, un-evidenced character attacks, rigid identity politics, political dogmas, anti-scientific attitudes, dislike of independent thinking, dissuasion of free inquiry, etc). In short, an “SJW” describes the Left’s brand of an authoritarian personality. Such types arguably have more in common with authoritarian personalities on the Right (including higher levels of moral and interpersonal disgust, lower verbal-cognitive skills, tribal bond mentality, groupishness, etc), leading to a sort of ‘Horseshoe Theory’.

That said, these are general descriptors, not sweeping indictments of anyone who fits the theoretical “SJW” profile. Nor is there a single SJW profile to begin with. It’s more like a broad set of core traits, ideas and behavior patterns. (treating ex-Muslims like shit and reflexively calling their allies “Islamophobic” is a semi-recurring one).

And of course, many who are “anti-SJW” are not conservatives, but liberals (Dave Rubin, for ex). One can be a liberal, or on the Left, and still have a problem with authoritarian personalities, tribalism, dogmatism, and rediculous uses of intersectionality and identity politics.

And keep in mind that making lots of noise and speaking out for justice doesn’t automatically make one an ‘SJW’, anymore than going on the firing range and owning a pickup truck makes one a ‘conservative’. Aside from the pickup truck, I do all of the above, quite passionately, and I sure as hell don’t fit into anyone’s box or tagged on to any political label.

And lastly, many who label people as SJWs, or who toss around the word like it’s candy, are dead wrong. They apply it to people they simply disagree with, putting them in a box. Ironically, a word designed to call out Orwellian bullshit within the Left is now becoming a means for Orwellian bullshit. This is an irony that many who dismiss all ‘social justice’ efforts must honestly address.

On How the Left can better respond to the ‘Milo Problem’

I will say this, as a starting point: I think there are very specific, genuine reasons — Intellectually and morally — to understand and respond to the toxic environment on many campuses, as it has implications well beyond the immediate behavior itself. However, many efforts to tackle this issue don’t do this, but remain one sided and politically partisan, and often overshoot what they say they are aiming for.

Hence, many efforts to cover these issues are indeed overfocused on the least powerful, while setting up a false dichotomy in which these students’ grievances are ignored but their bad behavior criticized. We can both criticize bad ideas and behaviors, while also generously listening to the people with reasons to be upset. Understanding and responding to legitimate grievances is an essential component of counter-extremism, for any group, most anywhere. (I explain this at length in my writings on the non-lethal applications of COIN models to combat extremism on both sides, and within Islamist circles, while empowering and supporting sensible, reasoned and civil discourse across the demographic/political spectrum)

In fact, I argue that the most central part of debunking bad tactics within the radical social justice sub-community is **to do it better than they do, and show that one can generously listen and expand the empathy circle to the least powerful among us, without the need for dogma, viciousness and ideological nonsense**.

You have to understand that the politically correct speech-suppressing, dogmatic, conversation-stifling, Orwellian environment on at least some of these campuses really is a problem. And it is a problem created by a radical, ideological (I.e. hostile to free inquiry and Intellectual diversity) wing of the Left, and which most of the Left honestly are not calling out or responding to.

Milo called out some of the bullshit and spoke honestly about this toxic environment. He also said a lot of absurd, bigoted and childish, simplistic things that are fit for a Tier-1 troll and entertainer, not a dignified Intellectual. He is also smart and charismatic, so he can articulate his arguments, even though they are often laced with hurtful insinuations, simple anecdotes and divisive nonsense.

My take is this, which I address a lot in my book: if the Left did its job, and called out problems within their own wider community, and created a genuine space for real conversation — a space where people can speak their mind, call out problems of politically correct overreach — then Milo would not have been nearly as appealing.

The failure of the Left to call out their own bullshit, and to create alternatives for better conversation, is partly responsible for enabling the environment in which Milo thrived. I’ve seen this shit all over the country and all over the world.

**Whenever there’s a vacuum, someone will fill it. Whenever grievances exist, and local actors don’t step up to seriously address them, someone else will step in and do so***

Defeating people like Milo isn’t hard. But the Left must realize it’s blindspots. And perhaps let us freethinker types have more of a say in how we do this. Perhaps Science, reason and compassion may be better tools than ideology. The Left has been betting on the former FAR MORE than the latter.

If we had more Exchange and Discussion Spaces to actually explore differences without the paralyzing fear of being labeled a bigot or a racist or an Islamophobe merely for raising points on most people’s minds (like contradictions between conservative Islam and feminism, for ex), people like Milo would become far less relevant and closer to being obsolete in the eyes of popular discourse.

When we close the door to real discussion and allow Orwellian toxicity to take hold of campuses, we outsource the conversation to people like Milo. The key is to bring conversation back home, and reclaim the conversation space

That’s the focus on my project on NYC campuses. I invite anyone who disagrees with me to explore this further, in good faith.

A Closing Statement, in Solidarity with political freethinkers across America

This is a proposal for a wider discussion and debate by the secular community, on serious reform within the Left and the Right, and reform within social justice activism. Dogmatism and tribalism — as well as a desire to shut off people with differing viewpoints and avoid exposure to helpful criticism — is a huge problem right now. It is a problem which (if my psychological warfare background and understanding of moral psychology research has anything helpful to say) will further empower the far Right and play into the phenomenon of ‘echo chamber reciprocity’

Serious changes are needed. We can find a roadmap ahead, together in solidarity, on the basis of scientific skepticism, reason and human dignity.

We need to reinvigorate our love of intellectual curiosity, of skepticism, of the ability to change our minds and be wrong. To enrich our thinking and continually seek to broaden moral and intellectual horizons. To view conversation as healthy and necessary attempts to find common ground and shared values, as well as inoculations against our own ignorance and extremist tendencies. To view difficult discussion and debate as a good faith ‘translation effort’, rather than see each other as competing tribes through a false binary opposition. Black and white ways of looking at the world — and at each other’s arguments — is a fundamentally dangerous, stupid and counter-productive way to co-exist on this planet. We need to tear down these walls of tribal stupidity and erect platforms of real conversation, in which we seek out our own blind spots and do so in solidarity with fellow freethinkers across the political spectrum.

REFERENCES: Some tools and models that can enrich how we map the human landscape, listen, and give a voice to the oppressed

My appreciation for the merits of working with local populations arguably began with my first Iraq deployment in 2004 — in part, as an Arabic language and cultural specialist — then with Special Forces training at Camp Mackall, NC, and has lead me on a long and refined journey across four continents and dozens of countries. From Iraq and Afghanistan to South America to Red Hook, Brooklyn, I have seen both the dead-weight loss from not understanding the human and social terrain, as well as the benefits — both social and economic — of understanding and respecting it, of working alongside rather than against it.

Here is a very brief summary of some tools and approaches which we can further explore and discuss, as they relate to enriching a non-dogmatic intersectionality.

Participatory Community Mapping

Participatory Mapping is an inclusive, bottom-up, locally driven approach to engaging communities

It can look at how residents view outside entities / actors, including foreign aid, NGOs, governance, and local police or security forces. It maps out current and historical perceptions, across groups (such as age, race, demographic location). Equally important, it looks at the intangible, often ‘hidden’ layer of grievances and frustrations.

Essentially, it is a tool for respectfully listening to a community by allowing it to ‘map out’ its own problems, concerns, as well as solutions and aspirations. What is perhaps most remarkable is that — aside from being truly ground-up — works across a wide range of cultures and levels of literacy. BBC ran a report on ‘The Akassa Approach’ in 1998, and there is much to learn from studying it.

Some references are here:

2005. Good Practices in participatory mapping. A Review Prepared for the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Apr 18,

John Egan. 1999. The Akassa Approach. BBC News. 22 April,

Dynamic social science and applied anthropology

The tools of understanding the human dynamic, the personal layer of living, breathing human beings and their livelihoods, fears, aspirations, and behaviors. And — perhaps most importantly- the reasons behind them. Orienting ourselves to see the ‘human picture’ is indispensable, yet rarely sought after as it should be.On

A main factor in these equations is the problem of gaps in information — that is, not having optimal or necessary information about the sentiments of the community, its sources of social unrest, and how best to connect with its residents, facilitators and leaders to address these issues. Bridging this information gap is a problem of that social science and skeptical thinking can help address.

It is not about claiming to know all the answers-rather, it is about the humility to ask questions. And better ways to ask the right questions. this is something that Left- and Right-leaning political dogmas often close the door to, hindering our minds from the tools it needs to engage in skeptical, scientific thinking and free inquiry.

Some relevant references:

1. James Spradley. 1979. The ethnographic interview. Published by Cengage Learning, Inc

2. Russel Bernard. 2011. Research Methods in Anthropology. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Publisher: AltaMira Press

3. 2006. Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. First published Wed Apr 19,

4. Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. 2009. Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May,

5. Doris, J and the Moral Psychology Research Group. 2010. The Moral Psychology Handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, August,

6. Palek Sheth. 2014. Examining Embrace Through the Zero Based Design Framework. Social Enterprise Institute at Northeastern University, Feb 14,

Geospatial Information Systems

Ways to represent the various ‘terrain layers’ in an overlaid map. It aggregates and displays the geographical, environmental, and socio-cultural factors, plotting them as data points. These areas (natural / physical, environmental, and human) are displayed, or ‘layered’, alongside one another in viewer-friendly ways, as wider pieces of the bigger picture (think of these as the various “layers” of a natural area and its human population). In addition, the ‘civil terrain’ layer is plotted, showing various civic organizations and entities and their relationships within the area.

GIS Mapping should be done in partnership with the local community and its residents. It should be participatory in nature. The above process of participatory mapping does not require GIS, but GIs can greatly compliment it, so long as it is done in solidarity with local residents of an area. Think of it as people building their own ‘map’, co-discovering their own problems, issues, grievances, as well as skills, ideas and knowledge capital.

This map ultimately belongs to the people — the locals — who help build it. It is their map. This wider ‘community-owned map’ can then be used by the local population to not only share information from within, but to tell a story to outsiders. And to create a new kind of transparency. To showcase the environmental and social concerns, in real time, and force those in authority to listen. To show local governments and corporations who they are. Not only to show their problems, needs and concerns, but also the knowledge and talents and skills that they possess. And perhaps most importantly, to give a voice to the most marginalized within the area.

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