Friday, April 28, 2017

I Gotta Pull Weeds This Weekend

I have greatly appreciated the readership and kind and appreciative comments I have received over the last few months.  Those of you who blog regularly know that quality blogging can be very hard work.  In my writing, I strive for a semi-academic style, and I like to put a lot of research into my posts.

Unfortunately, the grass in the backyard has grown almost to the point that my cats can hide in some of the tallest patches, and there's a bunch of other stuff "in realspace" (namely, around the house and elsewhere) which I need to take care of this weekend and next.  So I probably won't have a new post this weekend.  I may have a Spanish translation of one of my most recent posts online by the following weekend, God willing.  After that, I hope to resume regular blogging.  See you in a bit.  Keep fighting the good fight!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tactics of Polarization

This last week, I listened to a video lecture presentation from the 2016 Fletcher Summer Institute of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.  The title of the lecture was "Nonviolent Discipline and Violent Flanks," and was presented by Dr. Erica Chenoweth and by Philippe Duhamel.  I learned a few rather disturbing things, the first of which is that, although the record of successes in nonviolent mass civil resistance campaigns had been growing steadily from 1900 to 2006, the percentage of nonviolent campaigns that succeed has been dropping steeply from 2010 onward.  (However, there is good news: the number of nonviolent campaigns that succeed is still quite high, and nonviolent mass campaigns, which were over two times as likely to succeed as violent campaigns during the 20th century, are now more than three times as likely to succeed.)

Fortunately, Dr. Chenoweth (who presented these statistics) also presented a number of possible explanations for this decline in effectiveness, such as the fact that oppressive adversaries have learned how to adapt and react to nonviolent campaigns, or that nonviolent movements are not learning the right lessons from each other.  But she also stated a hunch she has that the reason for the decline in nonviolent campaign effectiveness is that "...a growing proportion of nonviolent mass campaigns seem to be willing to tolerate or even endorse violent flanks that are existing alongside them..."  She defined a "violent flank" as "...a group of people attached to the movement and who engage on a routine basis in some form of violence," where violence is defined both as destruction of other people's property and as harming or threatening to do bodily harm to an opponent.  To bolster her hunch, she showed a graph which displayed the percentage of nonviolent campaigns per year that had no violent flank compared with those campaigns in which a violent flank coexisted with the nonviolent movement.

Sure enough, the graph line showing the number of movements which had both a nonviolent campaign and a violent flank began to increase around 2010.

Dr. Chenoweth then presented evidence of the detrimental effect of the presence of violent flanks on the nonviolent campaigns with which they coexist, presenting her own research and the data set which she built in the process of writing her book on nonviolent resistance.  However, she also presented evidence from studies I had not heard of before, studies which backed up her assertion that violent flanks in a mass civil movement drastically hurt the chances of success for the movement.  (Her slide, "Negative Violent Flank Effects," is quite relevant - especially the references she cites.)  Interestingly, in the NAVCO data set which was constructed by Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, most of the violent flanks in movements which occurred between 1900 and 2006 did not arise in the movements to which they attached themselves - rather, like unwelcome house guests or body lice, these violent flanks sprang up independently and then claimed to be part of these movements.

As Dr. Chenoweth described how violent flanks decrease mass societal participation in a civil resistance campaign she said something very striking: "Violence is by definition a tactic of polarization."  That statement is so important that I will repeat it again:
Violence is by definition a tactic of polarization.
In her words, "Polarization means dividing a society into very discrete camps that support or oppose a certain idea..."  Therefore, tactics of polarization effectively discourage diverse groups within a society from coming together to work for the common good, or from uniting against a common predatory threat.  Thus the emergence or presence of a violent flank in a nonviolent resistance movement does not help the movement - but it does help the oppressor against whom the movement has organized.

This perspective helps to interpret the events described by Philippe Duhamel in the second part of the video.  Duhamel is an activist who was instrumental in several anti-"free trade" protests in Canada and the U.S. from 1999 onward, and he described how, in the majority of the protests, the organizers held extensive training sessions for participants before each protest action.  Yet they began to find that as time passed, their protests were being increasingly infiltrated by members of the "Black Bloc," groups of young adults, usually men (and usually white), who attended protests in order to commit vandalism, assault other protesters, and attack police.  (See this, this, this and this also.)  The increasing presence of these Black Bloc vandals at mass protests has begun to reduce the effectiveness of sustained mass protest in presenting the genuine grievances of marginalized and threatened populations.

An interesting question, then, is, where the violent flanks have come from in the nonviolent campaigns that have been waged especially in North America and Europe from 2010 onward.  For the oppressors who are the targets of civil resistance have now known for a long time that the presence of these violent flanks actually helps the oppressive regimes against which these violent flanks fight.  In fact, there are concrete historical examples which demonstrate that if a mass nonviolent movement remains nonviolent, the oppressive regime it opposes will try to manufacture violent incidents in order to polarize the nation's population and bolster support for the regime, as happened in the Philippines when President Ferdinand Marcos ordered his forces to set off a number of bomb explosions around Manila.  The bombs were set to give Marcos a credible reason to declare that the country was under threat and that he was therefore justified in imposing martial law.  (See Why Civil Resistance Works, Chenoweth and Stephan, pages 148-150.)  It might be prudent to ask who is funding, supporting and growing the Black Bloc.  Who guides its recruitment efforts?  What similarities exist between the Black Bloc and the global far right?

(A larger question, one which hopefully will be studied by the academics at the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, is the study of false flag operations by oppressive regimes who are under threat from popular uprisings.  How, particularly, does an observer detect whether a violent incident is a false flag attack?  I think especially of the shooting of a police officer in France last week, supposedly by a "member of ISIS".  How, er, convenient - just a few days before the French presidential election, in which an anti-immigrant candidate is one of the front-runners.)

In closing, I am reminded of Vaclav Havel's essay, The Power of the Powerless, in which he says that "...a future secured by violence might actually be worse than what exists now; in other words, the future would be fatally stigmatized by the very means used to secure it."  He also implied that oppressive regimes appeal to their oppressed populations by making them believe that the only alternative to the regime is chaos, as made clear by his statement that "Every aberration from the prescribed course of life is treated as error, license, and anarchy."  One way a nonviolent resistance movement can disarm such an appeal is by being orderly and maintaining strict nonviolent discipline.  Another way is by building orderly "parallel institutions" by which people can get their needs met in an orderly way that is superior to what the existing system currently offers.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Ontogenic Battle

Ontogeny: "The development of an individual organism," Wiktionary.  "The origination and development of an organism," Wikipedia.  "The development of an individual," Online Etymology Dictionary.  "...The process through which each of us embodies the history of our own making," (Gingrich, Fox, et al, 2002)

Ontogeny.  An interesting subject, no?  I am especially struck by the last definition quoted, ontogeny as "the process through which each of us embodies the history of our own making."  Taken together, these definitions indicate that this history is a function of our development as individuals.  In other words, our development is meant to beget a certain kind of story.  Are there clues to the kind of story we are to embody, the intended goal of our development?

Before I give you my answer to this question, let me warn you in advance that this will be another blatantly spiritual post.  And now, let's look at a particular Scripture:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,
instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires
and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,
looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed,
and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
(Titus 2:11-14, NASB)

Breaking this down, we can make a few immediate observations.  First, the intention of our Creator is that we should be rescued from living useless lives, lives characterized by uncontrolled and degrading passions and addictions.  Second, our lives are to be disciplined and purposeful, with our wits and faculties fully engaged in serving that purpose.  Third, our lives are to be beautiful by virtue of being characterized by good works.  The word "good" in Greek is the word καλός ("kalos").  According to Strong's Concordance, this word καλός means, "beautiful [emphasis added], as an outward sign of the inward good, noble, honorable character; good, worthy, honorable, noble, and seen to be so."  So our lives are to be full of beautiful deeds, works whose beauty is a direct reflection of the goodness of these works.  And the letter to Titus is full of appeals to those who call themselves Christians to engage in these beautifully good works, whose purpose is, among other things, to meet the pressing (or urgent) needs of their fellow human beings  (Titus 3:14).  

The Scripture indicates that this purposeful life can only be fully experienced through the transformation that results from genuine faith in Christ.  And yet every human being has at times experienced a desire for this sort of life, a longing to fulfill this sort of ontogeny.  Proof of this can be obtained by asking any five or six year old kid what he or she wants to be when he or she grows up.  Unless a kid has been severely and/or persistently traumatized, you will never hear the kid answer that he or she wants to be trash or wants to be nothing.  Kids naturally tend to want to be something beautiful, something noble, something good when they grow up.

However, the human twisted-ness which is the result of original sin has resulted in people who are often confused as to how they may fulfill their ontogeny.  Such people frequently make the mistake of believing that they cannot rise unless they push other people down, that they cannot shine unless they make others dim, that they cannot fulfill their drive to be beautiful unless they trash and dehumanize their fellow human beings, that they cannot fulfill their ontogeny unless they deprive others of the right and ability to fulfill their ontogeny.  

This twisted-ness is seen in the role played by the nineteenth-century British government in protecting and expanding the flow of opium through China, to the enrichment of Britain and the detriment of Chinese society.  (It is interesting to note that the Chinese attempted to eradicate the opium trade when they saw the devastating effects of opium addiction on Chinese society, and these attempts provoked a military response from the British empire.  It is also interesting to note that before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, the rulers of that country had eliminated the Afghan opium trade - yet that trade re-appeared after the invasion.)  Another example is the passing of laws in various states of the 18th and 19th century U.S. which made teaching African slaves to read or write a criminal offense.  In fact, many people may not know this, but slave states and slave owners tried to prevent their slaves from learning the Bible, from being evangelized, or becoming Christians, fearing that such enlightenment might help the slaves assert their humanity in the face of their white "owners."  These and other examples illustrate the perversity of people who try to fulfill their own ontogeny by breaking other people, who seek to achieve their highest purpose by turning their fellow humans into prey.

For the oppressed, then, the seeking of the fulfillment of their own ontogeny becomes a central aspect of their nonviolent resistance against their oppressors.  And because the oppressors are in the business of trying to prevent this fulfillment, the oppressed cannot expect any help from the oppressive society in which they live.  After all, the oppressors' self-interests are best served by keeping the oppressed in a condition of constant brokenness.  If, then, the oppressed are to fulfill their ontogeny, they must develop the sort of parallel institutions which, outside of the control of the oppressors, equip the oppressed in their full development as human beings.  Since a fulfilled ontogeny results in people who are characterized by beautifully good deeds, a key component of parallel-institution building must be centered on the building of parallel arrangements for the education of the oppressed.  This education must equip the oppressed with the skills and tools needed for beautiful deeds.  (Titus 3:14 - "And let our people also learn to engage in good deeds...")

Examples of parallel institutions for education include the illegal slave schools of the American antebellum South.  They also include the Polish "flying universities," which appeared during at least three periods of Polish history, corresponding to the 19th-century partition of Poland by Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Imperial Russia; the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany in World War Two; and the struggle against Soviet domination in the mid-to late 20th century.  In the first two cases, the occupiers of Poland sought to dehumanize the Polish population by denying Poles (especially women) access to higher education.  In both cases, these underground flying universities were instrumental in building and preserving a cadre of Polish intellectuals who could rebuild Polish society when the time was right.  (Many may not know this, but Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium, was a graduate of a Polish flying university.)  Present-day examples include the burgeoning homeschooling phenomenon among African-American parents.  

And I have a personal example, namely, the tutoring collective to which I belong, which visits a low-income apartment complex three times a month to teach math and basic science to the kids who live there.  I can see how badly our services are needed when I ask nine and ten year old kids what 8 times 7 is and I see many of them start drawing eight circles so that they can put seven dots in each circle and count the dots, and I can only think that the public schools to which these kids go are guilty of a fearful waste of these kids' time.

The education of which I speak is therefore not mere vocational training, but giving students a complete suite of tools to navigate this earthly life, and to provide in an honorable way to meet their own needs and the needs of others by means of beautifully good works in any situation they are likely to encounter.  It is the oppressed themselves who must take charge of providing themselves with this education.

When oppressed peoples make a coordinated effort to fulfill their ontogeny in the way I have described, they can expect a backlash from their oppressors, as was the case with the followers of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (also known as Bacha Khan).  During the early 20th century, Bacha Khan organized a large number of Pashtuns in the Northwest Province of Afghanistan.  He built a number of schools for his fellow Pashtuns in order to educate them in the improvement of their society.  The British held imperial control over that region, and they deeply resented his work.  Thus, they arrested him and his elderly father in 1919, which was the first of a series of arrests and imprisonments.  In spite of British police action, he was able to organize a large Pashtun "nonviolent army" devoted to the improvement of Afghan society.  For his troubles, the British army and police committed a massacre of hundreds of Pashtuns during a nonviolent Pashtun protest in 1930.  The British fired their guns at the unarmed resisters for over three hours.  (Information taken from Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance In the Middle East, Chapter 8, by Maria Stephan, et al.)

That incident, while gruesome and tragic, illustrates a powerful point.  That is, that by this kind of pursuit of ontogeny - by the pursuit of the kind of self-education needed for living a life of beautifully good works - an oppressed people can mount a powerful nonviolent rebuke to their oppressors.  For the beautiful, skillful, purposeful, useful lives which result from this education have a powerful effect on the oppressors, namely the unwanted lessening of social distance between oppressor and oppressed, as the oppressor is forced against his will by the beautiful deeds he sees to recognize the humanity of those he wishes to oppress.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Emotive Effects of Saturday Night Wrestling, Part 2

If Donald Trump had hoped for some long-lasting boost to his approval ratings from last week's missile strike against a mostly abandoned Syrian airbase, he has another think coming.  The official narrative about the missile strikes and the supposed new animosity between Trump and Putin is unraveling faster than a cheaply made sweater in the paws of a bunch of kittens stoned on crystal meth.

Here's what we now know:
  • The Trump administration's warning of the impending attack gave Russian and Syrian troops plenty of time to move personnel and equipment out of the way before the attack.  The Russians and Syrians took advantage of this warning to get out of harm's way.  (But there was no protest from Russia after they had received the warning - only expressions of what appear to be feigned outrage and surprise after the attack had concluded.)
  • The attack did very little damage.  (See my previous post.)
  • The drama of last week's events occurred against the backdrop of mounting pressure on the Trump administration because of its ties to the Russian government.
  • The Trump administration has admitted that the Trump administration never intended to hurt or displace the Assad regime, and that the U.S. remains committed to working with Russia and the Syrian government to "defeat ISIS."  (See this and this.)
What we saw last week seems to be a typical tactic when the personality-disordered center of some train wreck tries to deflect the proper placing of blame by causing drama.  Trump's version of drama seems to involve causing big explosions.

But I'm tired of analyzing his actions just now.  My next post will be on the subject of ontogeny.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Emotive Effects of Saturday Night Wrestling

Looking back, I realize that when I was an adolescent, there were many times when my mom possessed the patience of a saint.  One such time seemed to occur every Saturday night, when me and my next youngest brother would park ourselves in front of the TV in the living room to watch Saturday Night Wrestling.  What inevitably happened was that for 45 minutes or so, we would fill the house with the noise of our screaming and shouting at the TV as we watched the good guys we had been told to root for as they were being beaten half to death by some Scary Big Bad Guys.  My mom never got into the screaming and shouting, nor did she ever watch Saturday Night Wrestling, as far as I know.  But she did sometimes poke fun at the emotive action-adventure shows we liked to watch.  (I particularly remember her stand-up parody of someone being shot by a phaser - but I digress.)

You see, by the time me and my brother discovered Saturday Night Wrestling, my mom had become in many ways a hard-edged realist.  It wasn't until much later that I myself began to reflect on some of the "pro wrestlers" I had seen and began to realize that even though they seemed to get the living daylights kicked out of them every Saturday night, they kept coming back week by week.  None of them died from wrestling, although several of them died from cardiovascular disease, and one of them suffered a fate worse than death - he became a state politician.

I was thinking about Saturday Night Wrestling and its connection to fights which are highly dramatized, even though the combatants don't do any real damage to each other.  For instance, take Trump's order to fire cruise missiles at a Syrian air base last week.  The Tomahawk cruise missile is supposed to have the capability for a high degree of accuracy, and the United States has a number of intelligence assets which could have been used to augment their accuracy - yet last week's missile strike did almost no damage.  (See this also.)  Second, take the fact that Trump informed the Russians of the impending strike before the first missile was launched.  (That means that Russian expressions of "surprise" at the missile strike are in fact disingenuous.)  Third, take the fact that before last weekend, Trump was in definite political danger in the U.S., and Putin was becoming increasingly unpopular in his own country.  Lastly, take the questions which have been raised by a number of commentators on whether or not Syria actually still has any remaining stocks of chemical weapons.

If you consider all these points, you may conclude, as I have begun to conclude, that last weekend's little show was an international version of Saturday Night Wrestling.  (Although I really do believe someone did use chemical weapons to kill innocent Syrians.  It always stinks when innocent bystanders are dragged against their will into someone else's TV show.)  If last weekend's action really was the beginning of a rift between Trump and Putin, I would expect to see long-term, deep, irreversible effects to manifest themselves - in such things as the cash flows between Trump and his Russian business contacts, or long-term adjustments or revisions to American economic policy toward Russia.  Absent that, I might be forced to conclude that last weekend's drama was about as real as the injury done to a pro wrestler who is body-slammed onto the mat, yet gets back up again for more action.

Maybe Trump and Putin should dress up in wrestling tights when they hold news conferences.  It would not hurt their credibility in my eyes, since Trump never had any credibility to begin with, and as far as Putin, one of his lackey mouthpieces once wrote that "a reputation is something you lose only once."  Putin has lost his.  Take this whole fight against terror, for instance.  Russia waged an information war accusing the U.S. of manufacturing ISIS in order to provide a pretext for military intervention in the Mideast.  Yet Russia has now been intervening in the same way in the same region for over a year, and by now should have destroyed ISIS itself - yet we keep hearing of ISIS attacks, in Egypt, and now in Germany.  What if ISIS is a convenient sock puppet for the Russians also, to aid their implementation of a Duginist agenda in Europe - an agenda which involves making Europe an unsafe place for any non-European person or Muslim to live?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Playing Catch With Fire

Last week's strikes by U.S. missiles against a Syrian air base have provoked a lot of commentary from various pundits inside the United States.  Some are saying that the U.S. action represents "the Trump doctrine not to follow doctrine."  Others are saying that the strikes are sending "a clear message" to Russia (and to the world).

I am quite a bit more cynical.  It is well known that Russia played a very large role in getting Donald Trump installed as the President of the United States.  It is also very well known that FBI investigations of the Russian role have uncovered a lot of dirt on Trump and his dealings with the Russians.  This dirt has been gleefully reported by a large number of American journalists who are frankly disgusted by Mr. Trump.  It is also well known that Russia has been caught in a very bad light lately, due to Vladimir Putin's repression of peaceful anti-corruption protests which took place over the last few weeks.  The ties between Putin and Trump are a liability which could have provided an easy opening to removing Trump from office.

Mr. Trump has closed that opening a bit by his actions against Syria.  Indeed, I believe this is the chief and sole reason for his order to attack Syria with cruise missiles.  It seems a devilishly clever bit of political calculus, and it seems to have worked for the present - but it is quite risky.  I am reminded of a quote from The Hunt For Red October: "The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch."

Make no mistake. In the present contest between the U.S., the Assad regime, and Russia, there are no good guys. None at all. The best way to look at what's going on right may be to compare these events to the Bible story set forth in Judges 9. I am thinking especially of the curse which Jotham pronounced against Abimelech and the men of Shechem. Maybe our present international crisis will end with a бабушка dropping a piece of an upper millstone on the head of a head of state. Кто знаете?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Resistance Way Of Life

I'd like to make a post out of a few very good comments to my discussion of frugality as a means of nonviolent resistance.  Thanks to Aimee and CZBZ for your input.

Aimee's recommended ways to be subversive in modern America:

1) Maximize your food independence. For some of us, that means growing a lot of food or raising animals. For others, it means learning how to cook from scratch. If you are buying raw materials from your local farmers at the farmer's market, you maximize support of your individual neighbors and minimize your support of the giant agribusiness companies. You also save money and eat better.

2) Buy secondhand. Everything you possibly can. In this way you avoid encouraging the extraction of raw materials and extend the useful life of products. The embedded energy cost in, say, a new car or a new set of dining room furniture - even a new winter coat! - can be stretched over a greater time period and made to serve a greater number of people. For me, buying secondhand clothing is an ethical decision to avoid supporting the sweatshop industry. A subclause to this recommendation is: repair things that can be repaired. Get your fridge fixed a few times before you get a new one. Learn to mend clothes. When was the last time you saw a kid wearing jeans with knee-patches on them, unless they were sold that way to begin with? Take good care of your car. Do all the scheduled maintenance. Learn to do it yourself! Or ask your neighbor.

3) Maximize your energy independence. There are so many ways to do this - we brew biodiesel for our cars. But you might do it with solar panels or windmills, depending on where you live. Or do it by not owning a car and biking instead. Or by living in a smaller house and super-insulating. The sky's the limit.

4) Know your neighbors. Make friends. Develop mutually beneficial networks. Support each other. Lend your tools. Pool your resources. Why should every small-farming family along the same stretch of road own its own haying equipment, for example? That's absurd. Or its own tractor, even? Why shouldn't three or four families get together to buy one tractor instead of four? Does every household really need a chainsaw? No, not if you are on good terms with Bob down the way. And not if you are willing to lend his wife your sewing machine.

5) Most important of all: take charge of your education! Be informed! Get your information from diverse sources. Use your brain. Teach your kids. Go to museums and libraries while they still exist! Buy books (secondhand, of course!). Do not default on your obligation to educate your children, or yourself. It's too important. You can't leave it to the public school system alone. Talk about important issues with your spouse, your neighbor, your kids, your in-laws, your city councilman, your state senator!

6) For the love of God, VOTE!

CZBZ's Contributions:

1) Join families under one roof. This challenges communal skills and nourishes spiritual growth. Save landfills by purchasing one washing machine for four adults. My sister and her son moved in with me and now my adult daughter lives with me. That would be four washing machines (dishwashers, refrigerators, etc.) if we lived apart.

2) Find a church and fill your inner void with something meaningful rather than zombie shopping, what my daughter calls "retail therapy". Each of us has shopped-til-we-dropped and that's why we know how 'empty' it is---like an addiction.

3) Buy second-hand furniture or better yet, learn to build it yourself. Self-esteem grows as carpentry skills increase and there's nothing as wonderful as knowing your nephew almost cut his finger off making a bookcase for your second-hand books.

4) I love cooking from scratch (make my own yogurt and have saved thousands of plastic containers from the landfill). However, I don't judge people who lack the time to cook from is very time-consuming but gives me a sense of purpose now that I'm old. (grin) And nothing brings community together quite like having a good cook in the family.

5) Save all the bones and table scraps for day-long boiled broth but don't tell your guests that you were gnawing on the chicken a few days ago. 

6) Learn to be thankful.

And here's an additional contribution of my own: a link to an article in Sojourners Magazine on the virtue of buying used (when you have to buy at all).  Also, if anyone wants to add to these lists, feel free to leave me a comment.

Have a good week!