Occupy Whatever: Mic Check + Reality Check

Flowchart of consensus based decision-making

Generic consensus process

A trade-mark phrase all across the Occupy Stuff universe is “Mic Check!”.

Shouting “Mic check” means “everybody in earshot listen up and repeat after me…”

Many items of an OWS/99% reform agenda have been hammered out in countless hours of consensus-based “General Assembly” meetings around the US and around the world. “Mic Check” is about as good a phrase as any to represent the entire, evolving OWS consensus process or practice.

This consensus process as a whole, including all its rules and variations, represents the idealistic side of OWS. It has produced many fine ideas for social, political, and economic reforms. But to balance this “mic check” consensus idealism, OWS needs a complementary, pragmatic process that we might call a “Reality Check”.

What should an OWS “reality check” process consist of?

The academic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is about using a modern systems science approach: empirical evidence, quantitative measurement, quality control, continuous self-correction, etc. From that perspective the “reality check” process is about how OWS studies and corrects itself– how the movement observes, measures, interprets, documents, and improves itself inch by inch, day by day.

On the other hand, a more intuitive or poetic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is all about ones instincts or “gut feelings”.

But gut feelings and scientific methods might seem at first glance to have little in common. How could both represent a coherent interpretation of “reality”?

They represent two different ways of empirically checking or verifying a particular interpretation of data.  The “gut feelings” approach (gut feelings about “truth” are sometimes referred to as a “bullshit meter”) is instinctive and fast, whereas the “scientific” approach is generally more formal, standardized, and tedious.

Although a gut feeling and a scientific measurement are both empirical, the former is more subjective and less rational, while the latter is both more objective and rational. We are equally “conscious” of  gut feelings and rational proofs, but we tend to feel more conscious of how we arrive at our scientific measurements and rational proofs–whereas we are often far less conscious of how we arrive at our gut feelings. Our gut feelings just arrive on the threshold of our awareness spontaneously. They are generated by various specialized parts of our brain that have evolved to rapidly respond to danger or opportunity. They do not depend on language or even on our conscious rules of logic or rational thought.

Each in its own way, both rational thought and gut feeling are subject to complex combinations of biases.

Because rational thought is represented in language, problems of language spill over into problems of thought. A given set of facts can often be woven into very different, sometimes diametrically opposed, narratives. Said another way, a given set of dots can often be connected in multiple ways that suggest different interpretations.

The biases involved in gut feelings are programmed into our nervous systems by eons of evolution and are not generally open to our casual self-examination. Science (as in evolutionary psychology) is gradually teasing out some of the common biases in our gut feelings, but what little is yet known is not yet known very widely.

Ultimately, rational analysis and gut feelings must serve as mutual cross-checks (reality checks) on one other.

But how does a reality check process relate to OWS specifically?

For example, there are numerous historical and cultural variations of the consensus process. The appropriate reality check has to do with making sure that the OWS version of consensus process actually works out well in practice. It means measuring actual facts or results (typically before and after activities, projects, or actions) and adjusting  actual practices over time and across local conditions. It means continuous observation, adjustment and improvement– that is, continuously revising theory, ideology, and methods to fit the facts on the ground, not the other way around. (Note: That does not in any way mean “the ends justify the means”. )

DDG_0615

Image by ArtistJ via Flickr

 

Reality Check: what does the latest phase of the “Arab Spring”, the “Arab Autumn”, especially the Egyptian “Second Revolution” against their military  establishment, mean for the OWS movement?

Gut feeling: don’t go home (leave the streets) before the revolution is really over. As soon as occupiers leave the streets the old rats start sneaking back into the halls and the seats of power.

Rational analysis: Moderate, mainstream, middle-class-leaning people are not really comfortable in the street for long. They aren’t all that comfortable with open social (class) conflict, much less civil disobedience. So the tendency may be for Occupy coalitions to weaken and unravel around effects of prolonged physical occupation and the status-quo backlash which may include police or military violence and other reprisals. The evidence seems to show that it is easier to mobilize an oppositional coalition against a corrupt and unjust status quo than to maintain a proactive coalition in support of a specific set of reforms or prescriptions.

Therefore, to maintain the broadest coalition for the longest time, OWS should limit the specific reform proposals to the lowest common denominators across 99% coalition communities.  Adopt narrower ideological agenda items only if and when those opposed to them have already left the coalition, not before.

I think we should reconsider and perhaps pare down the OWS reform agenda in this light.

In my opinion, the lowest possible common denominator for OWS is opposition to political corruption. No other specific reform of social or economic injustice is possible until the general level of corruption is drastically reduced. But getting money out of politics is fairly complicated and controversial in its own right, and that may already be a bigger reform bite than a 99% coalition can chew.

GOP, Tea Party (TP), and Libertarian Party (LP) objections to campaign financing reforms, election reforms, lobbying reforms, and ethics reforms center on conflating money and speech and on an excessive and indiscriminate objection to “regulations” of any kind on any thing. That extreme ideology is unrealistic and incompatible with a 99% coalition.

Its time to concentrate on populist narratives that  justify regulating political corruption as a lesser evil to rampant, unfettered corruption in and out of government. Every single law ever established, including each of the Ten Commandments, is a regulation. The GOP/TP/LP ideal of a tiny government and an unregulated free market economy is based on a premise that all market failures are caused by government regulation or interference. The reality is that unregulated markets also fail for a variety of reasons including information asymmetry (as in the principal-agent problem), game theory dilemmas, externalities, economic irrationality and behavioral idiosyncrasies; and they produce excessive concentrations of wealth and power in weak or failed states as well as in strongly regulated ones. The fact is that corruption, concentration, and abuse of power are problems that cross all public/private sector lines and all ideological lines. Limiting the corruption, concentration, and abuse of power to tolerable levels cannot be implemented simply by reducing the size of government. It requires a fair, balanced, and organic body of law, an impartial judiciary, and a strong but restrained arm of  enforcement.

Furthermore, the issue of systemic political and judicial corruption is one that fully justifies the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience.

The question is not whether we should have laws/regulations or not (that was generally settled several thousand years ago despite the persistence of a cranky minority), but what those laws should be.

Ultimately I agree with FDR:  economic security is just as much a basic a requirement for liberty as is the security of our property and our persons.

But for the present, it will be a miracle if we can all just agree that:

it’s time to GET MONEY OUT of politics.

Period.

(www.getmoneyout.com)

Poor Richard

Fighting Injustice

Resist not evil…

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39, King James Version)

According to Wikipedia, Nonresistance (or non-resistance) is a philosophy and strategy for social change that discourages physical resistance to an enemy. It is considered as a subdivision of nonviolence. Practitioners of nonresistance may refuse to retaliate against an opponent or offer any form of self-defense. Perhaps the oldest recorded statement of nonresistance philosophy is that of Socrates around 399 BC. An influential ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates was sentenced to death by the Athenian democracy for teaching his students to question authority and think for themselves. Socrates accepted his fate on reasons of morality and justice, rather than accept help from his supporters to flee Athens and escape execution. There are few if any other accounts of nonresistance which have been so influential throughout the history of the Western world.”

Cropped image from the title page of Uncle Rem...

Wise Uncle Remus (Wikipedia)

Non-resistance or non-engagement with evil is also the moral of “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” from Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris.  “The Tar-Baby is a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entrap Br’er Rabbit in the second of the Uncle Remus stories. The more that Br’er Rabbit fights the Tar-Baby, the more entangled he becomes. In modern usage, “tar baby” refers to any “sticky situation” that is only aggravated by additional contact. The only way to solve such a situation is by separation .”[1]

Helplessly stuck in the Tar-Baby, Br’er Rabbit barely escapes doom by begging Br’er Wolf NOT to throw him in dat brier-patch…

But if good men do nothing

What about Edmund Burke‘s famous sentiment that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’? [2]

Certainly that sentiment was shared by such giants of social reform as Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Isn’t civil disobedience a form of resistance? How can one fight evil without resisting it?

Resistance is futile…

One theory of power holds that it is a kind of shared illusion, that power only exists by virtue of voluntary submission on the part of the many. This is the argument of Étienne de La Boétie in the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1552):

“I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him.”

The premise seems reasonable, but the inference that a remedy can be sought in popular dissent fails to recognize that humans are herd animals down to the genetic core. In many species, if the alpha leader is removed, a new alpha will emerge from the herd. This often includes changes in the actual physical and physiological characteristics of the new leader.

Not all humans seem to express the herd genes, but there may be little hope of changing the many who do, or enlisting them in popular revolts against authority.

Turning the other cheek

Disobedience isn’t necessarily resistance; and non-resistance (turning the other cheek) isn’t necessarily submission.

Instead of being combative, disobedience can be constructive in a new direction. Instead of being engaging, it can be disengaging.  Disengagement from evil can liberate resources for positive alternatives.

This is the strategy of constructive disengagement or proactive separation which the Tar-Baby story teaches.

Instead of trying to coerce or cajole the Tar-Baby, the Wolf, the King, or any evil jerk to have better manners, we can practice any kind of manners we please down in the Brier-Patch, which ill-mannered predators avoid of their own volition.

That is why I place most of my hopes for peace, justice, and all our other highest ideals in the constructive, proactive creation of Intentional Communities and our own self-reliant economic activity.

To that end I support a general strike and general boycott of the mainstream economy so that the bulk of our labor and our treasure can be concentrated in our own local Brier-Patch communities.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Objections to “isolationism

One can neither ignore the evils of the world in good conscience nor shut out the effects of climate change, even way down in the Brier-Patch.

But conflating separation and isolation is a straw man. Separation does not depend on isolation; nor does it necessarily intend on it.

Many people think that the best way to seek change is by working “within the system”. Working within the system is what some people are geared for and I have no problem with it, but it is not the only position of power or even necessarily the best one. Separation enables engagement with global issues from a position of strength (self-reliance) rather than weakness (dependence); and by creating positive examples of alternatives, rather than simply by objection or petition. It can also be difficult to effectively criticize or reform a company or a system on which you abjectly depend for your own livelihood, status, security, etc. Often there is both an asymmetry of power and a conflict of self-interest to overcome.

Fringe benefits of self-reliance

Finally, if all else fails, the meek may inherit the earth simply by surviving to emerge from their Brier-Patches to find that the wolves, lions, tigers, and bears have all consumed each other. If anybody is going to survive a collapse of modern civilization it will be sustainable, self-sufficient, intentional communities, eco-villages, cooperative farms, etc. and green collar, worker-owned and consumer-owned economies.

Poor Richard

________________________

Notes:

Br’er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby: “‘Mawnin’!’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee—‘nice wedder dis mawnin’,’ sezee. “Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox he lay low.

1. From Wikipedia/Tar Baby: “Br’er Fox constructs a doll out of a lump of tar and dresses it with some clothes. When Br’er Rabbit comes along he addresses the tar “baby” amiably, but receives no response. Br’er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as the Tar Baby’s lack of manners, punches it, and in doing so becomes stuck. The more Br’er Rabbit punches and kicks the tar “baby” out of rage, the worse he gets stuck. Now that Br’er Rabbit is stuck, Br’er Fox ponders how to dispose of him. The helpless, but cunning, Br’er Rabbit pleads, “but do please, Brer Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,” prompting Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in thickets, the resourceful Br’er Rabbit escapes.” [The full tale is here.]

2. According to Wikipedia/Edmund Burke,  Burke never made that famous statement. It is a popular aphorism nonetheless, representing the view of many social reformers and activists. What Burke actually said in 1770 was “No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/04/good-men-do/

Nonresistance (or non-resistance) is a philosophy and strategy for social change that discourages physical resistance to an enemy. It is considered as a subdivision of nonviolence. Practitioners of nonresistance may refuse to retaliate against an opponent or offer any form of self-defense. In the modern times, this has been used as a tool for social protest. A well known example is the nonviolent resistance movement led by Mohandas Gandhi in the struggle for Indian Independence.Nonresistance (or non-resistance) is a philosophy and strategy for social change that discourages physical resistance to an enemy. It is considered as a subdivision of nonviolence. Practitioners of nonresistance may refuse to retaliate against an opponent or offer any form of self-defense. In the modern times, this has been used as a tool for social protest. A well known example is the nonviolent resistance movement led by Mohandas Gandhi in the struggle for Indian Independence.
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