The reality is that there are only two ways to change a system.
That may sound like an oversimplification, but it really isn’t. One can either work from within the system or from outside of the system. From a political perspective, one can either work within the system, or one can work through violent overthrow. Now, of course, there are multiple flavors of each of these. Violent overthrow, for example, could come from outside invasion; it could come from home-grown rebellion, or some variation or combination thereof.
Let me be very, VERY clear. I am not advocating , nor do I support, violent overthrow of the system. I cannot say that the time will not come, but we are not there yet. I still, perhaps foolishly, hold out hope to save and reclaim the system. I still believe that the underpinnings of the system, despite all of its flaws, can be good and workable. Let me be equally clear about that though. At this point in American history, it is NOT good, workable, or sustainable. That is what we have to work to fix!
The other way to change a system, though, is to work within the system. To take advantage of its structure and its quirks. To use the system against itself, so to speak. To do that, one cannot simply continue to support the status quo. One cannot simply withdraw from the system either though. To do that, allows the forces in play to win. It allows them, in fact, to grow stronger.
Tune in. Turn on. Drop out. Really? How’d that work out? Not so well, actually. I mean, sure, for a small handful of people it worked out great, but for the larger number, for the society at large, things continued on. Is that what we want? Do we want a handful of small groups to possibly form nice little communes somewhere? A few farms that are self-sustaining until the outside world stumbles onto them and ruin them? Tent cities somewhere that survive until the police or army of the larger society comes in and kicks us out of “their” parks?
Or, do we want to change the world? Do we want to really impact the world around us? Personally, I want to change the world for the better. I want my son, my nieces, my cousins, my friends, and so on to have the world as it can be, not as it is. Not as I fear it will be, if we do nothing. I want to find the reset button and push it. I want to keep all the progress we’ve made in so many ways and get rid of the detritus that has built up. Flush it right out. But, not throw the baby out with the bath water!!
So, how do we do that? We do not do it by isolating ourselves from the rest of our society. We do not do it by pretending the rest of society doesn’t exist. Nor by ignoring our history. We enjoy our computers. We enjoy our smart phones. Our cable. Our satellites. We want our solar power. We want all our mp3 players and nifty gadgets.
To some extent OWS took inspiration from the so-called “Arab Spring”. In those instances, the whole of society wasn’t thrown out. The people did not withdraw from society. Nor should we. But, we do have to make major changes. I am seeing a very disturbing trend though in that many of the vocal elements of the movement are advocating isolation. They are advocating separation. Advocating building parallel structures within society and withdrawing from the rest of society. This will not achieve the goals that we want. This will only result in killing the movement. It will only result in building a larger chasm between the younger and the older elements of our movement. It will only result in failure of the movement and the continuation of the path that we’ve been on which will lead to the collapse of our society. Then, we all lose our toys and our security. And, I suspect that there is an element within our movement that wants exactly that. That there is a survivalist-anarchist element who thinks there is nothing worth saving in our society. I disagree. I think the vast majority of us disagree too.
Many of those outside of the Occupy movement have made light of the movement because of the heavy use of technology by Occupiers. They have spread images showing us using these as though this were contrary to what we stand for. Is it? I don’t believe it is. And, this is the message that I have answered to them. We are not anti-capitalist. We are anti-corruption. We are opposed to the ridiculousness of a CEO making 1723 times what the average worker earns. One reason we are opposed to this is that it is unsustainable.
This is a very broad movement, and none of us is really empowered to speak for the movement as a whole. This is, to some, a strength. To some, this is a hindrance. I have long believed that true democracy simply does not work in groups larger than about 200 people. It is paralyzing in groups larger than that. It is for that very reason that our “founding fathers” established the representative republic that we have. The ancient Greeks and many others throughout history have known this too. What I only recently discovered is that there is, in fact, an academic theory in support of this. It is called Dunbar‘s number. In short and in with vast oversimplification, what Dunbar’s theory essentially says is that as the size of the population grows we spend more and more time working on the social cohesion of the group. Eventually, we’re spending more time maintaining the integrity of the group than we are on achieving the group’s aims.
I still believe this, and, in fact, I think that if we look at OWS in NY we find that they have been forced to admit this too. The implementation of “Spokes councils” is an implicit acknowledgement of this, despite any denials to the contrary. I have already witnessed this at my own local Occupy.
Additionally, the primary reason that we as a species have been able to progress technologically to the point that we have is specialization. Because we have settled and specialized so that one person or group, for example, can produce sufficient food to free another person or group from that duty so that the second person or group can pursue other activities, has allowed that second group to do other things. Other things, like, oh, go to space? Devise smart phones? Sadly, also things like dream up useless and pointless wars. Dream about taking their neighbor’s goods, and raping their neighbor’s daughters, or sons, too.
We really have to face the truth. No amount of technology is going to solve this basic problem. We cannot all stop to vote on every decision that has to be made, and if we are not all voting, then it isn’t a “true” democracy such as many in the Occupy movement want to demand. That is just not realistic. It is a beautiful dream. But, we do not live in that reality. Nor do we live in the world where all problems and issues will wait until 7pm to be decided so that we can all pause to go through the issues and make a decision. Which leads us to an added complication. One that is hugely important.
None of us, and I do mean NONE of us, has the time and resources to be adequately educated on each and every topic. So, we must either be able to trust others to tell us quickly what we need to know and then jump to a conclusion, and vote, or we have to trust others to act on our behalf.
One of the many criticisms leveled against the consensus-based democracy is that of “groupthink”. That is, many members want to be accepted by the “cool kids”, and so they either say nothing and wiggle their fingers at the appropriate time, or stand up just to say, “I just wanted to echo what _______ said.” If someone has the audacity to actually challenge what the facilitators are saying, while still actively and stridently supporting the goals, that person is pushed aside as “not understanding”. Again, I have seen this in my own local Occupy. This too gets in the way of actual leaderless, participatory democracy.
Are you beginning to see why “true” democracy just doesn’t work in large numbers?
So, what is my point? Quite simply, we really must work within the system. We need to organize politically. I have maintained all along that the Occupy movement is neither left nor right. That it is about right versus wrong. However, I do firmly and proudly proclaim that I am a liberal and that it is my belief that the right is simply lacking in understanding. History has consistently shown that those who support the right side of the political spectrum cannot survive except by force and deceit. If we are going to organize politically, we can do so both from the right and from the left. We can organize on these principles and then we can begin to actually work together to deal with the rest.
The Occupy movement is about getting corruption out of the system. Are we not primarily for the following?
- Reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act immediately
- End the fiction of Corporate personhood
- Reinstate fair taxation across the socioeconomic spectrum by
– closing tax loop holes, and
– returning rates to pre-1980’s levels
- Reign in lobbying from the Left and the Right
- Campaign finance reform
We need candidates that will support these issues. These specific issues. We need them at all levels, but specifically we need them at the federal level.
Where are you?