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.

1 comment:

Five Hundred Pound Peep said...

Why does it seem so hard to find those communities though of people joining together.

My old rural town had some, informal ones, I could see that place having some potential that way but the town has been destroyed economically. I lived the "Dying Americans" [rural Americans dying young] in my personal life. Everyone died or was forced to move away like us. I do not believe I will ever recover the feeling of community that was in that town. I did not take it for granted. As a person with no family, I felt it in a church and in a art/music/bookstore/coop but both were wiped away and Do not exist today. Well the bookstore does at least as far as 2011.

I think the powers that be are setting things up for spontaneous community to be wiped away, even the churches have become all "planned" and directed from above. The book Bowling Alone goes into some of these issues.

I can't even find anyone IRl who resonates with the fact this place is in trouble. I don't care about left and right labels so much, you know me. Even the fellow protesters in town are all Soros people officially which drives me a bit nuts but I am protesting as my own self. The problem is so much is top down controlled. I never saw the automatic answer to Trump being the Democratic party or Hillary, they betrayed the working class and poor too.

Sometimes you can get a friend to do at home bible study and some people can get like minded people for prepping groups or other kind of groups, they used to hunt mushrooms in one club in my old town, but true spontaneous sharing community, its a rare bird. I had a taste of it in my 30s and 10 years in this town, I've never seen it.

They got the serfs tied at every end. They sure don't want them talking to each other. Maybe one reason they focused on inventing new screens rather then infrastructure that actually improved our lives.

I'm 48 years old and have gone to a stamp club, a book club held by a library, a gem and rock club and everyone in all these groups, day or night save for one disability group, everyone who has shown up is 60-65 years and older.

So when I say community in the last 10 years for me has disappeared personally it has. I don't have people I can talk about stuff about IRL like I do online around here.

I dream of community too. Save for my husband and online friends, I feel like a human being wondering out there alone. This is a really serious problem in this country. My pain is I got a taste of actual community where people knew each other and knew your name. Didn't realize how short lived itd be and how easily they break down.