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How do we get grandma to bring the pots and pans?

by NBBooks Sun Mar 14th, 2010 at 11:29:30 AM EST

Note to Eurotrib readers: I have cross-posted this at CorrenteWire, Real Economics, and DailyKos. Though it is considering the U.S. situation exclusively, it does discuss some of the European economies by way of comparing the U.S., so I thought it would be beneficial to solicit reactions here. - NBBooks

In the middle of last week, lambert posted on CorrenteWire a brief snippet of a very dramatic and gut wrenching conversation between David Cay Johnston and Chris Hedges, about the likelihood that America is near a tipping point into massive, militant, violent social dissent - but which is coming from the wrong-wing, not the left.

Revolutions occur when young men see the present as worse than the unknown future. We are not there. But it will not take a lot to get there.

There's more downstairs.


I had just begun reading Lawrence Goodwyn's 1978 masterpiece, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America. Goodwyn has made a life's work of studying popular democratic uprisings and social movements, and his Introduction is decidedly pessimistic on the prospect of popular democratic uprisings in advanced industrial societies. I posted a large excerpt from Goodwyn's Introduction. Here's a smaller cut and paste:

Unfortunately, history does not support the notion that mass protest movements develop because of hard times. Depressed economies or exploitive arrangements of power and privilege may produce lean years or even lean lifetimes for millions of people, but the historical evidence is conclusive that they do not produce mass political insurgency. . . . "The masses" do not rebel in instinctive response to hard times and exploitation because they have been culturally organized by their societies not to rebel. . . .  It is clear that the varied methods of social control fashioned in industrial societies have, over time, become sufficiently pervasive and subtle that a gradual erosion of democratic aspirations among whole populations has taken place. . . .

This gradual erosion of democratic aspirations is usually mistaken as apathy, which would-be revolutionaries incessantly bemoan. But it is not apathy; it is, Goodwyn explains, mass resignation at the perceived impossibility of significantly affecting and altering society's structures of inherited power and privilege. Goodwyn explains that in advanced industrialized countries, both capitalist and socialist, this resignation "has engendered escapist modes of private conduct that focus upon material acquisition." It is also useful here to recall Thorstein Veblen's critique of "leisure class culture," such as professional sports.

In my long quote, I made the observation that Goodwyn wrote this over a decade before the outbreak of massive democratic movements brought down the Iron Curtain, and wondered what Goodwyn has to say about those historic developments. Below, I will give you the answer, having just found a December 1989 presentation Goodwyn gave, when the news headlines brimmed with tidings from Poland, and the newscasts were filled with pictures of Lech Walesa and those unforgettable Solidarnosc banners.

But first I want to point to one comment by quixote, and an accompanying link.

You get violence when the young men are mad. You get revolutions when the grannies start banging on pots in the central square. (Emphasis mine - NBB)

The question then, of course, is how do you get the grannies to join you in the central square with their pots and pans? Quixote provides a link to an interesting study on the characteristics of freedom movements that succeeded. Using statistical analysis of the revolutions and uprisings tracked in the Freedom House database from 1973 to 2002, Adrian Karatnycky, senior scholar at Freedom House, and Peter Ackerman, chair of its board of trustees, show that there was lasting democratization in 69% of the revolts that were generally non-violent, but in only 8% of the revolts that included violent uprisings.

I think two things need to be said about the Freedom House study, and its applicability to the United States today. First, Freedom House gives its highest ratings of "free" in all categories to the United States. Yet, increasingly what we feel in the United States is a hardening of corporate power and privilege that, while not openly hostile to the trappings of democratic political processes, has managed to subvert and usurp those processes nonetheless. We are, in other words, facing something quite different than the traditional despotism or tyranny recognized by Freedom House. Here, we are aided by fairleft, who back at the end of January - when the Supreme Court issued its hideous and blasphemous decision that corporations have the same rights to free speech as we humans - pointed us to Sheldon Wolin's latest book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.

Secondly, what Goodwyn excels at, and which, as noted immediately above, the Freedom House study signally fails to address, is how political structures, processes, aspirations, and beliefs, interact with, affect, and are affected by, economic structures, processes, aspirations, and beliefs. In  The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America. Goodwyn brilliantly summarizes most of the economic tensions in American political history as being the conflict between two views of human nature: humans as competitive beings, and humans as cooperative beings. Judging from the broad sweep of American history, these tensions have played out rather well, giving us the faint structure of a welfare state, while also giving us one of the most dynamic economies in the world. But I think this happy balance has been seriously disturbed since the Reagan Revolution, with the view of humans as competitive beings becoming dangerously dominant.

Moreover, there are many who argue that a "dynamic economy" is simply not environmentally sustainable, though it becomes painfully obvious, upon closer examination, that these people have not adequately explored the question of how we as a species go about feeding, clothing, housing, educating, and caring for eight billion fellow human beings. The most malignant result of this shortcoming is the blanket assertion that the world is overpopulated. But nobody has yet volunteered to name those who are too numerous - or to be counted themselves as those who are too numerous. A more intelligent approach appears to have emerged in Europe, particularly in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, where laws mandate that all products of manufacturing industry must be designed for eventual de-manufacturing and recycling. Not surprisingly, these societies have also put into effect programs of renewable energy and public transportation that put the U.S. to shame. It is also worth noting that large industrial firms in these countries have worker representation in management embedded in their structure, carrying those societies further along toward economic democracy than the United States.

If you accept the fact that sustaining eight billion souls cannot possibly be done without industry, I suggest that you next accept the idea that the problems created by industrialization are best solved by industrialists. You then arrive at a new vantage point from which to understand the underlying historical dynamic that drives most of the environmental problems created by industry. Economists touch on this underlying historical dynamic when they discuss "externalities" -- but they are only touching the dynamic, not fully grasping it. Here, again, we are greatly aided by Veblen, who made a distinction between industry and business: industry creates wealth, while business merely accumulates and manages wealth. Once you understand the point Veblen is making, you can begin to see that the real dynamic driving industry to despoil nature is industry's obeisance to the dictates of business. Jonathon Larson has fully developed this idea in his 1992 book, Elegant Technology; economic prosperity from an environmental blueprint. Larson recasts Veblen's "leisure class" as the "predator class," which most emphatically includes bankers and financiers (the more truthful things we call them are speculators, rentiers, and usurers).  On the other side is the "producer class." And the producer class is typically quite willing to redesign its industrial processes to conform with the highest environmental and safety standards, once freed from the constant financial and management demands made by the predator class. Economic neo-liberalism is easily conceived as being distinct from and in direct opposition to sustainable development.

Which brings us back to Goodwyn, who strips away all the fluff, foof, and folderol of American history to show that it all comes down to whether - or not - the financial and banking structures of society will be democratically controlled and operated for the benefit of society, instead of the enrichment of a few.

Democratic Money: A Populist Perspective
with Lawrence Goodwyn and William Greider
Remarks presented on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Populist Sub-Treasury Plan for financial reform
9 December 1989, St. Louis, Missouri

Let me say that in my profession, you get acquainted with error. Historians study error. You might even say we study the continuity of error. It is a very sobering occupation. We discover that it is more consoling to develop a long angle of vision. If you focus just on one generation you may not find enough there to warm the spirit. Better to have four or five hundred years in your gaze and be judiciously selective within that period.

All kidding aside, there are certain rhythms that become clear over the long view. First of all, in all human societies, almost all the people, have deep, substantial grievances. That's rhythm number one.

Rhythm number two is that despite this universal sense of loss and injustice and injury, the number of large-scale social movements that exist in human history is very small. In our country the CIO mobilization of the '30s and the Agrarian movement of the 1890s -- Populism -- were the only movements after the Revolution that achieved genuine scale, if one measures movements by their level of internal organization.

It's possible to say, "my goodness, the history of agriculture in America has been one of a systematic exploitation of people on the land by people who lend them money and by people who sell their products." Can it be that only in the 1890s farmers got together to try to do something? How about the 1870s or the 1840s, or what about 1924 or 1935? Looking back over the history of workers in America, one encounters an absolute agony in the industrial heartland from the end of the Civil War through the Great Depression.  Is it only in the 1930s that "workers got mad" and decided to do something about it?

How do we explain the fundamental disjunction in human history between the widespread existence of grievance and the very rare collective assertion that we find? The answer to this is appallingly simple: Large-scale movements happen when they're organized. They happen no other way. And the reason that they're not organized more often -- we have people in the audience whose
lives will verify this -- is that large-scale movements are agonizingly difficult to put together. The entire culture of a society is arrayed against the idea of large-scale collective assertion.

[edited for fair use - dvx.]

Display:
Goodwyn's provocative and exciting remarks came just before the emergence of a major global phenomenon.

Organizing the unorganized has always taken too much time. The organized have always had a long period of warning about threats to their organization and thus the time to disorganize the unorganized. Until now.

The speed and networking capabilities of communication, and the relatively rapid assembly of the self-organizing structures they enable, is now faster than the hierarchical structures can organize themselves to disorganize.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Mar 14th, 2010 at 12:31:54 PM EST
Sven Triloqvist:
The speed and networking capabilities of communication, and the relatively rapid assembly of the self-organizing structures they enable, is now faster than the hierarchical structures can organize themselves to disorganize.

I have to disagree. My experience (works council) is that the limiting constraint on organizing a group is not the speed of communication but the learning curve - getting people to realize that is in their interest to show active solidarity with those in the same situation, rather than with those who are more powerful.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 09:28:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Two examples:

EDSA Revolution of 2001, leading to the deposing of President Estrada

On the evening of January 16, 2001, the impeachment court voted not to open an envelope that was alleged to contain incriminating evidence against the president. The final vote was 11-10, in favor of keeping the envelope closed. The prosecution panel (of congressmen and lawyers) walked out of the Impeachment Court in protest of this vote. The 11 senators who voted not to open the envelope are known as the "Craven Eleven." That night, anti-Estrada protesters gathered in front of the EDSA Shrine at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, not too far away from the site of the 1986 People Power Revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos. A political turmoil ensued and the clamor for Estrada's resignation became stronger than ever. In the following days, the number of protesters grew to the hundreds of thousands.
On January 19, 2001, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes, seeing the political upheaval throughout the country, decided to withdraw his support from the president and transfer his allegiance to the vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The following day, the Supreme Court declared that the seat of presidency was vacant, saying that Estrada willfully vacated his post. At noon, the Chief Justice swore in the constitutional successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as Acting President of the Philippines. Estrada and his family fled the presidential palace in fear for their lives.

How did hundreds of thousands get mobilized over 3 days? Group SMS. Speed was the deciding factor, because the protestors got 'organized' faster than the authorities could react.

2) 15.000 bikers drove though a Wiltshire town yesterday to honour troops killed in Afghanistan. Wooton Bassett is close to RAF Lyneham where the bodies return home.

During each repatriation, hundreds of people turn out to stand in silence as the coffins pass through. Today's crowds again gathered along the High Street as over 10,000 motor bikers, carrying 5,000 pillion passengers, passed the war memorial. The ride, believed to the biggest of its kind, has raised more than £100,000 for the charity Afghan Heroes.

Steve Bucknell, the Wootton Bassett Mayor, said: "The vast majority of the people of the town fully support what the bikers are doing today.
"Too many times the town has had to stand still in silence but today is all about noise and movement." Laurence Phillips, from Afghan Heroes, said the event gathered pace after being posted on social networking site Facebook.

A teenage girl - pillion on her boyfriends bike - had the idea and posted it to facebook, with the idea of just her biker 15 friends going together. But it snowballed. Everyone paid €5 to ride, and 100.000 pounds was collected for the charity Afghan Heroes. I understand that there was no shortage of volunteers from the facebook fellow bikers to help with the logistics.

It is not about bikers or Presidents. It's about systems of communication that have never been in the hands of the mass of people before. I can't really predict what they are going to do with it, but I have some ideas.

It is not spontaneous combustion - although it requires a potential in a large audience for the system emerge. It also requires individuals or groups to be the 'particles in suspension' round which snow or carbon dioxide accumulate. You could say catalysts, also. Or flies in the ointment. It is the first messages sent out by these catalysts that are important. Usually it is their sincerity (and simplicity) that convinces.

Increasingly I'm having conversations with coders in the networking business about these first messages. In Finland, these are young, socially aware people, and often entrepreneurs. Yes, they will do a complex CMS corporate website for money, but in between they are testing their own experiments in online interaction. If you think I'm crazy, you should listen to them ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 10:28:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good points: I see we're coming from different concepts of "organizing".

Where a consensus exists, you're right: the only constraints are the speed of communication, and modern technology makes it possible to organize action faster than "authorities" can intervene.

OTOH, "organizing" in the sense of building a consensus in the first place requires a lot of steady, time-consuming effort, often one-on-one. Here new technical tools and paradigms can enhance range, but not speed.

This is particularly true when the aim is not just to organize one-off actions but movements with sustained follow-through.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 11:46:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you, but what these young coders are talking about is applying their knowledge to organizing (in your sense). And speed of feedback will be one of the capabilities they're looking at.

I've seen some interesting consensus online software.

First, the software has tools for the promotion of information about 'the project' to potential interested parties. The potential core group will be found using search optimization, visitor tracking, email monitoring and all the other tools for reaching a specific audience.

Then it allows this core group to formulate questions that must be asked in order to find the consensus. Anyone can add as many questions as they like. All visible RT. The usefulness of each question is tested by a simple response by any user - in a 10 point agree/disagree range. There's a closing date for the circulation. A quorum of registered responders is needed (TBD)

A forum allows discussion at any stage.

Then the list of questions is asked with the same mode of response and limitations. This process is intended to filter out extreme views. The data analysis on this kind of process (depending what you want to find out) is relatively simple. What you really want to know is, is there a consensus? That's what this software does.

In some beta-testing they did, admittedly with a fairly captive audience of thousands of university students, 3 days of iterations were enough to find a consensus, with many users changing their answers as they saw what other people were answering - but at a late point there was a massive shift all in one direction. Thus people were compromising on their individual views to some extent, in some kind of loyalty to the ideas under discussion. This kind of phenomenon is present on a smaller scale in ET.

3 days is a short time.

There are, so I was told, web applications already existing for this kind of consensus seeking, although all are intended for a corporate organization. I haven't come across any of them. But my Den Haag guru will no doubt know them.

I am sure that face to face remains vital in local situations. But this type of software will have a major effect on national campaigns imho.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 12:26:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That sounds like a rapid process if the object is to develop a consensus from scratch.

My frame of reference is workplace-level organizing. There the problem is that employees have adopted the employer's narrative, and the challenge is to convince them to ditch that in favor of a solidarity-based view. And the reality (in my experience, anyway) is that given a choice, people choose to side with the powers that be. So this process takes a whole lot of one-on-one time. This is not to say that tech tools cannot help, but they cannot supercharge the process.

Once consensus is reached on that level, of course, the tools you describe become awesomely effective. But the hard part is getting granny to bring out her pots and pans.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 04:28:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As always, it's not either/or. We have to use all the tools at our disposal, and use them in the right contexts, locally and nationally.

I'm writing about Smart Grids at the moment for a client. Smart Grids enable two way communication within an energy system, and can accommodate all the intermittent sources (wind, wave, solar, etc). I'll post it here once the client has published it.

What we need for organizing is a Smart Grid of a different kind.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 04:43:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which brings us back to Goodwyn, who strips away all the fluff, foof, and folderol of American history to show that it all comes down to whether - or not - the financial and banking structures of society will be democratically controlled and operated for the benefit of society, instead of the enrichment of a few.

I rather think that decision point has already passed. It is simply up to the american people to ask how quickly they wish to be impoverished. Too many have blindly accepted the self-hobbling mythology that is the "American Dream" in which it is written "America is about winners and losers"; the assumption being that if you lose, you obviously didn't work hard enough so it's all your fault. Classic victim-blaming, except it's the victims who blame themselves the most.

It is easy to rail, as feminists and the coloured once did, against the obvious externally imposed impediments to their equality. It is another thing again to see the prison walls you build for yourself in your own mind.

Where is the outrage at the corporate capture of the political process ? A few people here and there, but no great mass forcing DC to re-consider. Obama can mutter about the USSC decision that gives the corporates free rein, but is there legislation in the offing ? I doubt it, there would be no bi-partizan support and Obama only does the right thing when it's the right-wing thing.

So Goodwyn described what happened, not what can be avoided.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Mar 14th, 2010 at 12:59:12 PM EST
by NBBooks on Sun Mar 14th, 2010 at 02:30:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Pretty Policing™ Technology]

The copyright notice on the Goodwyn/Greider piece explicitly permits "fair use", which AFAWK is generally not construed to mean excerpting an entire article. I have therefore shortened the quote to a five-paragraph excerpt, which is the ET rule-of-thumb length for fair use.

I do not think that it materially detracts from your fine diary (and I urge readers to follow the link and read the piece in full).

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 09:23:07 AM EST
You can't get the grannies to bring the pots and pans.  The grannies will lead the way, or not.  If you are trying to coax the grannies to do something, you are not listening to the grannies.  

I still have my doubts about all this software and networking that is supposed to allow regular folks to outwit the powers that be because the powers that be are working overtime, and paying (coaxing) regular folks to keep tabs on each other and send reports. It (effective action) has to do with intentions and loyalties, not on technologies.

It's the grannies, not their pots and pans, that matter.  Flashmob networking software is nothing but fancy pots & pans.

by jjellin on Mon Mar 15th, 2010 at 11:14:44 PM EST


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