Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Resistance Languages

I have a general theme that I began in my last two posts, but this week I feel the need to digress a bit.  In my recent writings I have covered the various categories of nonviolent resistance tactics as outlined by Dr. Gene Sharp.  These include the categories of protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention.  Nonviolent protest and persuasion is usually the weakest of the three categories of resistance, with the other two categories being much more powerful when skillfully executed.  However, sometimes one comes across methods and tactics which are able to skillfully and effectively express all three categories of resistance.

I'd like to present two such methods in this post.  The hostility of the Trump regime to nonwhite peoples and cultures is very well-known.  Trump represents the naked id of a certain fascist, supremacist element of the Global North.  This element is characterized by a desire to destroy all other cultures and their peoples.  This element feels intolerably threatened by the existence or close proximity of people with dark skin who speak a language other than English (or Russian or German or French if you happen to live in those countries).   Unfortunately, all three branches of the U.S. Federal Government are now controlled by members of this fascist element, who also control many of the largest corporations in the world.

So...what if those in the U.S. who are part of the resistance to this regime decided to learn some of the languages of the oppressed?  What if they decided to use these languages as their main way of talking with each other?  What if the resistance began to learn some of the cultures of the oppressed and to deliberately adopt these cultures?  What if, for instance, those in the U.S. who oppose the Trump regime learned Spanish, or Arabic, or Vietnamese, or Hindi, or Korean, or Chinese, or Swahili?  What if they began to talk publicly to each other in one of these languages instead of English?  What if they used one of these languages instead of English when writing emails, memos, and letters (o entradas de blog)?  What if, for instance, researchers and academics at universities and labs started writing technical articles primarily in Spanish or Swahili?  That's not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.  Spanish is very well suited for technical writing.  (In fact, the Latin American School of Medicine, which trains some of the best primary care physicians in the world, does all of its teaching in Spanish.)  And for the last four decades, the use of Swahili for technical and academic writing has been growing.  (See this and this also.)  The same things can be said of the other languages I have listed.

Imagine how well such actions would serve as a means of both nonviolent protest, social (and potentially economic) noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention!  For one thing, if you and your friends started speaking and writing in one or more of the languages of the oppressed, you would annoy the living daylights out of any bystanders who happened to be bigots.  For another thing, if anyone wanted to join in the conversation, he or she would have to have the humility needed to learn another language - thus also learning to see the world from another point of view.  Seeing things from new points of view is frequently very good for people.  A third benefit is that you would drastically increase the costs which the State would have to pay in order to do surveillance on you.  A fourth benefit is that you would make a whole new set of friends - people now demonized by right-wing media would suddenly become more human in your eyes by your learning to speak their language, as the social distance between you and them was reduced and you began to see them as they truly are.  Lastly, by speaking and thinking in one of the languages of the oppressed, you would be declaring your withdrawal from the dominant oppressive culture and your intention to be part of an alternative to that culture.  Who wants to learn with me?

There is something else resisters can do as well.  The Trump regime has been breathing fire about deporting massive numbers of Hispanics from the U.S., and of drastically expanding the grounds for deportation.  Many of the targets of his deportations have been adults with small children or spouses who are American citizens.  At this time, we can reach out to the families who have been bereaved of one or both parents by deportation - by providing food, care (including foster care) and other material resources to them.  And when they are sent to deportation hearings, we can volunteer to walk with them, to go with them to their hearings, to document what is done during those hearings, and to report it to the world.  This too achieves more than one resistance goal, as it is both a method of nonviolent protest and a method of nonviolent intervention.

Over the next few months, I will begin writing about some technical, volunteer-based initiatives that I am organizing in my community to help people who are currently without help.  I will be describing in technical terms some of the approaches we are trying, and documenting the results.  When I publish these posts, I will try to publish them first in one of the languages of the oppressed.  (I know people who can translate for me.)  A few days after publishing each of these posts, I will also post an English version.  Mira este espacio.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Road Between Before And After

Most people in America have been exposed to Before and After ads - ads designed to make you dissatisfied with the "You" of the present moment.  These ads usually contain Before and After pictures - the "You" before your desired change, before you send away money to get the thing (exercise equipment, exercise plan, financial advice book, space in an addiction treatment center, prayer cloth, etc.) that will transport you effortlessly from Before to After; and the "You" all glamorous and happy after your "change."  But there's one small catch.  Because most of these Before and After solutions don't force you to  fundamentally change yourself, your stay in the land of After is usually short.  It doesn't take long before you wind up back in "Before."

The lesson in this example is that a permanent relocation from Before to After requires a personal change - often a deep and permanent change - in the way you live your life.  Usually that change is costly.  So is the change of an oppressed people from a condition of oppression to a condition of freedom, the change of a dictatorially run society to a society free of oppression.  That change requires some necessary first steps, such as:
  • Strengthening oneself and one's people to be self-reliant
  • Creating your own, personally owned alternatives to the oppressive system that is destroying you
  • Withdrawing your support from the oppressive system by ceasing to rely on it
These steps are exactly the same sort of steps that a battered woman must take to free herself of her batterer.  For as long as she relies on him in any way, she makes herself vulnerable to further battering.  As the steps listed above constitute the necessary first steps of "going No Contact" with an abusive intimate partner, they are also the necessary first steps an oppressed people must take in destroying the hold exercised over them by a dictatorial government.  To quote Gene Sharp:
"Under the dictatorship the population and civil institutions of the society have been too weak, and the government too strong. Without a change in this imbalance, a new set of rulers can, if they wish, be just as dictatorial as the old ones."  
"Dictatorships usually exist primarily because of the internal power distribution in the home country. The population and society are too weak to cause the dictatorship serious problems, wealth and power are concentrated in too few hands. [Emphasis added.]  Although dictatorships may benefit from or be somewhat weakened by international actions, their continuation is dependent primarily on internal factors."
That second quote accurately describes what has happened, not only in the United States, but throughout the developed world.  Those who have power over the global industrial economy revised the rules of predatory capitalism to such an extent that they were able to concentrate an overwhelming percentage of that economy's wealth wealth in too few hands.  Then they started buying governments and began changing those governments into tools for lining their own pockets even further.  And they bought most of the world's media and turned it into a pulpit for preaching the propaganda that the government as a guardian and promoter of the common good was an evil thing.  The results of this include such things as the Citizens United verdict by the Supreme Court, which was the last step in turning the United States from a "one person, one vote" society into a "one dollar, one vote" society.  The results also include the presidency of Donald Trump.

What then does it look like for ordinary people to start the first steps of breaking free from a dictatorship?  Let's examine each of these steps in turn.

Strengthening yourself and your people to be self-reliant first requires the willingness to look long and hard at your situation.  It requires the willingness to do a thorough strategic assessment of your situation and the threats that you face.  You must put as much effort into this assessment as a wise general would put into the assessment of battlefield conditions before he send his troops into the fight.  Then you must have the willingness to make yourself as smart and as capable as possible in order to deal with the challenges you face.  The future does not belong to the stupid!  You've got to hit the books and learn such things as math, basic sciences (including biology), principles of engineering, and techniques of crafts and skilled labor.  You must also learn the history, strategies and tactics of nonviolent struggle - a method of struggle which is both much more complex than armed warfare and much more effective when skillfully executed.  Even the great Chinese general Sun Tzu recognized the value of being able to win without fighting.

Part of your initial assessment of your situation should consist of figuring out how much of the oppressive system you can do without, and learning to need as little as possible from that system.  Then you will be able to create alternatives to that system that are within the means of yourself and your people.  If you now believe you need as much bling as your money can buy, you may want to re-think that.  Do you really have to drive everywhere by yourself?  Do you really need a big-screen TV that can play movies and be turned into a gaming console?  Do you really have to eat out all the time?  Would it not be more sensible, rather, to live as frugally as possible so you can pay down your debts as fast as possible?

Having strengthened yourself and your people thus, you are now prepared to create your own, personally owned alternatives to the oppressive system that is destroying you.  Here I must warn you that those alternatives will require more personal time and work from you than the current system seems to require.  And they will require you to physically work with other human beings.  But they will cost you less in actual terms.  One of the attractive parts of the current system is that it is so convenient to use, and you can use it without having to interact with other people.  Indeed, one of the ways the current system induces you to depend on it is by making you addicted to "convenience."  But what if, say, instead of driving everywhere by yourself, you took public transit? Or, say that you lived in a place which did not have a good public transit system or was not easily walkable, and yet you made friends with your neighbors so that you could carpool and combine errands that required driving?  Or, say, instead of driving several miles to take your kids to basketball camp, you started a basketball league in your own neighborhood?

And these things are but baby steps compared to some of the things you could do - especially if you were willing to rub shoulders with neighbors and with people you would not normally associate with, if you were willing to reduce the atomization and social distance that separates you from your fellow humans.  (I saw a good example of social distance and atomization recently - a sign next to the front door of a not-quite-McMansion which read,


Nice neighbor, eh?!  I wonder if he's ever threatened to shoot anybody.)

Creating alternative systems which reduce social distance between diverse participants is one of the required steps in building a successful movement of nonviolent struggle.

By taking the first two steps, you are automatically taking the third step, which is withdrawing your support from the current system by ceasing to rely on it.  What might this look like?  Maybe like a group of neighbors, each of whose households has devised a strategy for living on $1000 a month or less, who rely on each other to meet as many of their collective needs as possible without relying on money, and who decide that they like such an arrangement so much that they are willing to live this way for the long haul.  (And there are a number of resources available, both on line and in many communities, for people who want to learn to live cheaply.  But be warned - cheap living will require a permanent attitude adjustment.) Groups of such people who had extra funds left over each month would be in an ideal position to help groups of people who are struggling, thus strengthening the resilience of their entire community.  They would also be in an ideal position to to begin applying what Gene Sharp calls the methods of nonviolent noncooperation and nonviolent intervention - methods which are much more powerful than nonviolent protest in waging nonviolent struggle.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Power of Decentralized Resistance

I've been enjoying listening to some talks by Jamila Raqib, who is Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution and a Research Affiliate of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In one of those talks she made a point about the nonviolent struggle waged in the American colonies for over ten years which granted de facto independence to many of these colonies months before the start of the Revolutionary War.  Her words got me thinking (and Googling) for more information.

In my search, I ran across a book (which, I must admit, I haven't read yet) called The First American Revolution - Before Lexington and Concord, by Ray Raphael.  In reading various summaries and reviews of the book, I came across some surprising information about the decentralized, grassroots nature of the vast majority of the resistance in Massachusetts to British rule.  No matter what one thinks of the aims of the revolution itself, one can't help but appreciate the wealth of information captured by recent historians about the ordinary acts of social and political disconnection by ordinary citizens which weakened and eventually destroyed de facto British rule throughout many of the colonies.

According to one source, the points made by Raphael concerning the revolution in Massachusetts are these:
  • The revolution was strongly democratic, and therefore highly decentralized.
  • Because the revolution was decentralized, it was ubiquitous (in other words, it sprang up everywhere, "taking place everywhere and at once without any central organization, specific times or geographical locations.").
  • Many of the revolutionaries were people who had had their voting rights taken away by the British.  Hence, the strong commitment on the part of these revolutionaries to participatory direct democracy among themselves at the local level. 
  • The revolution occurred without bloodshed.
  • Because the revolution was decentralized and ubiquitous, it was extremely hard for centralized British authorities to counter, or even to understand.  
To the British governor and his superiors, it must have seemed as if they were being eaten by a school of piranhas - a diffuse resistance which was highly effective in drawing economic and political (but not physical) blood, yet which presented no easy target against which the British could concentrate their forces.

This presents an important lesson in the power of everyday resistance.  A grand strategy of resistance is very important, and a wise and well-executed strategy by a wise leadership insures the success of a resistance movement.  Yet ordinary everyday resistance is also very important, even though acts of everyday resistance are not likely to make it into the news or the history books.  Such everyday resistance was used by the Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles East Germans, Hungarians and Czechs in their struggle against Russian Soviet occupiers in the latter half of the 20th Century.  (See this for instance.)  Such everyday resistance is also part of a manual for civilian-based defense published by the Lithuanian government in 2015 and designed to help Lithuanians foil any future Russian attempts to invade their country, whether that threat comes directly or through "hybrid warfare."

There is just one cautionary point I want to make about everyday resistance, as it is defined and has been studied by political scientist James Scott.  His catalogue of acts of everyday resistance includes acts that most societies would consider criminal, such as arson, sabotage and theft.  I don't think these acts should be part of the toolbox of tactics of nonviolent resistance.  The reason why I would exclude such acts is that criminal acts - even if they are nonviolent - weaken the mechanisms by which nonviolent resistance removes the pillars of support of a dictatorship, in much the same way that violence weakens nonviolent resistance.  Those who engage in such criminal acts give the oppressor an excuse for his oppression.  Instead, nonviolent resisters should be guided by the following principle: "...let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer..." - 1 Peter 4:15.

That still leaves many very legitimate acts of everyday resistance that can be employed.  (See this and this, for example.)  Using your imagination and creativity can be a lot of fun here.  In a future post I will describe an an idea that recently came to me for just such an act of everyday resistance.  Let's explore how to take bites out of the Trump regime, shall we?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Of Sympathy And Negotiations

This last week has been less than kind to the junta which now holds the reins of the U.S. presidency.  Things have been particularly hard on the figurehead and namesake of that junta, a certain Mr. Donald Trump.  After losing his bid to exclude travelers from seven Muslim countries, his administration was embarrassed by news reports that revealed that Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor, had tried to cut a deal with Russia before the election to remove U.S. sanctions against Russia under a Trump administration - and that Trump knew about this weeks before he took office.  As a result, the Trump team ditched Flynn and Trump had to defend himself in a Thursday press conference in which Trump's answers and comments sank to the level of word salad.  That press conference also induced Mr. Trump's first pick for a replacement national security advisor to decline the job.

One interesting thing came out of that conference, however, namely an offer by Mr. Trump to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus.  This coincided with the release of issues of some of the glitzier gossip magazines sold at the checkout counters of supermarkets across America - magazines which sought to induce sympathy on behalf of Melania Trump (and by extension, on behalf of the Donald himself) in the hearts of many of us who buy groceries.

My problem is, I find that I keep having sympathy for the many people from Arab and Muslim countries who are in the U.S. legally and who were terrorized by Mr. Trump's abortive travel ban a couple of weeks ago.  I keep feeling sympathy for Elizabeth Warren.  I keep having sympathy for the many Hispanics who have been arrested by the ICE over the last several days, and who are now threatened with deportation.  I keep having sympathy for the members of the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus who this week were ordered away from a meeting with the ICE chief by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  My sympathies are also for everyone of Hispanic descent who lives in the U.S., for they are all potentially threatened by a proposal entertained by the Trump administration to use 100,000 National Guard troops in eleven states to round up supposed "illegals."  (Do not think for a moment that they would limit themselves solely to deporting those who could be proven by due process to be in the United States illegally.  Mass deportations have occurred at other times in U.S. history, and have targeted many legal citizens as well as illegal residents.) My sympathies are for the refugees and asylum seekers who can no longer find a place of refuge in the nation of Franklin Graham.  But for the Trump junta, I have no more sympathy than I would have for Scarlett O'Hara.  And that's quite a bit less sympathy than I would have for a pile of used toilet paper.  You feel me?!

Trump's offer to "reach out" to the Congressional Black Caucus may by an attempt to gain some positive PR from supposed "negotiations."  But as far as negotiations go, I think there is a need for extremely clear thinking on the part of all decent people, as political theorist Gene Sharp once wrote.  Indeed, in his book From Dictatorship to Democracy, he makes some very wise comments on the dangers of negotiating with dictators:
"Democrats should be wary of the traps that may be deliberately built into a negotiation process by the dictators. The call for negotiations when basic issues of political liberties are involved may be an effort by the dictators to induce the democrats to surrender peacefully while the violence of the dictatorship continues. In those types of conflicts the only proper role of negotiations may occur at the end of a decisive struggle in which the power of the dictators has been effectively destroyed and they seek personal safe passage to an international airport."
 And there's this:
"Resistance, not negotiations, is essential for change in conflicts where fundamental issues are at stake. [Emphasis added.]  In nearly all cases, resistance must continue to drive dictators out of power. Success is most often  determined not by negotiating a settlement but through the wise use of the most appropriate and powerful means of resistance available. It is our contention, to be explored later in more detail, that political defiance, or nonviolent struggle, is the most powerful means available to those struggling for freedom."
We have seen that the Trump team is capable of attempting appeasement when backed into a corner, although the attempts are artless and very badly done.  Yet even well-done attempts at appeasement used by abusive persons to pacify their prey should almost always be rejected.  I have written at length of the insights that can be gleaned from viewing dysfunctional national governments through the lens of family and intimate partner dysfunctional relationships in which at least one of the parties has a personality disorder.  While others have also written along these lines, this way of thinking of national and global politics has become well known only in the last few years.  Yet, just as one can predict the behavior of a non-periodic mathematical function by modeling it as a Fourier series, one can also predict the behavior of a dictatorship toward its subjects by modeling it as an interaction between a physically abusive man and his wife or girlfriend.  The interaction goes in cycles - first, the honeymoon, then the buildup of tension, then the abuse, then the apology and honeymoon, and so on.  The cycle stops only when the woman manages to put an effective barrier between herself and her abuser - a barrier that prevents any further contact.

In the same way, those of us who are the intended targets of the Trump regime should wage what Dr. Erica Chenoweth calls a maximalist campaign against the regime.  (This is only fitting when opposing someone who himself wants to cause maximal hurt to others.)  The campaign should use nonviolent means to shatter the regime's pillars of support in order to disintegrate the regime.  That means not only Trump himself, but Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and all the others in the legion of demons who have now possessed the American government.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The New Regime's Zero for Two

I've been more than a little grouchy this week.  I think it has to do with the regime that is currently infesting the U.S. Government (on account of which I have been avoiding reading the news, lest I read something that might make my grouchiness worse).  But today I read something that put a long-absent smile on my face.  What I read also confirmed certain hunches that I've been harboring concerning the short-term future of the relationship of the United States to the rest of the world.

The first thing I read is that Trump seems for now to have lost his bid to ban refugees from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States.  It's more than a little amusing to see him belch forth his frustration over that loss.  (May he choke on it.)  In covering this story, several journalists have also shed light on the incoherent character of Trump's administration to date.  (I mean incoherent as in, a bunch of psychotic people who forgot to take their meds.)  I think it's safe to say that what normal people would correctly regard as a teaching moment will be utterly lost on Trump and the regime he represents.

Which leads me to the second thing I read, namely, that on at least two key foreign policy issues, Trump has been forced back into compliance with treaties and diplomatic approaches adopted by earlier U.S. presidents - namely, the treaty between the United States and Iran negotiated under President Barack Obama, and the "one-China policy" negotiated between the United States and China under President Richard Nixon.  This happened after Trump's bombastic promises to bully China and Iran by American military force.  I think what has happened is that Mr. Trump has been forced to realize the following:
  1. America is in no position to carry through on its threats to bully China or Iran - militarily or otherwise.
  2. Should Trump actually try to follow through on his threats, he will find that Iran and China can inflict catastrophic losses on any American forces that attack them.  Even Iran is in fact unconquerable.
  3. Threats against China may well cause that nation to administer a righteous thrashing to the U.S., a thrashing that need not require the firing of even a single physical weapon.  For China is one of the world's three biggest creditor nations, and the United States is China's biggest debtor.  Although Japan holds more U.S. debt than China, a trade war (or any other kind of war) with China could still yield disastrous consequences for the U.S.  Can anyone say "currency crash"?
I think the future of American domestic and foreign policy therefore lies in another direction.  Trump has been set up as a convenient point person to lead his regime in that direction, as well as being set up as a convenient scapegoat to be blamed when that direction turns out to lead to disaster.  So it is important to recognize that the current deranged direction of the United States is not the fault of Trump alone, but rather, in the words of Professor Dennis Etler (cited in the link in the third paragraph of this post), "It should be clear to one and all that Trump is not a free agent. He is, in reality, a front man for a faction within the US deep state and ruling elite that wants to impose an extreme right-wing agenda domestically and a balance of power regime geopolitically. This is seen by his handlers as the only way to maintain US imperialist rule both at home and abroad..."  (One note on the quote from Etler: In addition to the so-called American "deep state," we must not ignore the role played by the global far right and especially by Russian President Vladimir Putin in helping to install Trump in power.)

Therefore, having threatened both China and Iran, and having been told unequivocally by both of these nations to quit that mess, he and the regime he represents will search for easier prey to terrorize.  This is why I think that despite his recent legal loss regarding his travel ban, he will most definitely try again to impose such a ban.  It is also why I think he is serious about renegotiating NAFTA - because he thinks that by doing so, he can terrorize Mexico.  However, what he has succeeded in doing is to motivate Mexico and China to forge deeper trade ties, while threatening revenues of American farmers.  (By the way, his abortive travel ban cost U.S. airlines $185 million while it lasted.)

In other words, the actions of the current regime in charge of the U.S. are causing nations far and near to begin in earnest the process of "going No Contact" with the U.S.  You see, No Contact can be done even when it is employed against a national government.  And it imposes costs.  Those who supported Trump as some sort of "anti-globalist" were disingenuous in not discussing those costs, as they were also dishonest in their reasons for hating globalism.  What they would have liked is the sort of situation which British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to negotiate in the aftermath of the Brexit - namely, a situation in which a nation that has exhausted its own resource base, and therefore its ability to earn things by manufacturing, is able by gunboat diplomacy or by providing "financial services" to continue receiving something for nothing from other nations while excluding the citizens of other nations from entering its borders.  What such people will find is that they cannot create such a situation - either in Britain or in the United States.

As for those of us who live in the U.S. and who are potential or actual targets of oppression due to skin color, language, religion or national origin, we too can go No Contact with an oppressive regime.  In fact, going No Contact is the necessary first step in a campaign of nonviolent resistance whose purpose is to impose the kinds of costs that bring down a dictatorship.  In future posts I will have more to say on this process, as well as the factors which led to economic globalism as it now exists.