Transformation: How deep must the scalpel go?

2003-04-30

Richard Moore

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 25 Apr 2003 16:07:57 -0400
Subject: Re: dialog re/ Transformation
From: Robert R. Holt <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>

Dear Richard,

Thanks for your reply.  It is clearer now where we
differ.  I agree on your goal of transforming society
as a most worthy long-term goal.  I also am, like you,
a pragmatist, more interested in what works than in any
theoretical purity.  But we part company at your flat
statement, "I dismiss the political-power route...
because it is a strategy which has never worked and
which cannot work."  Of course it is trivially true
that it has never "worked" if by that you mean that it
has not brought about an ideal society; but can you
deny that it has not worked in more modest pragmatic
terms: improving the lot of many people for meaningful
periods of time?  
---<snip>---

-----------------------------------------
    
Dear Robert,

Thanks for for your response.

The topic is a deep one, and I certainly didn't present
in that message any kind of complete argument.  I'll
share a few thought on what I consider some pivotal
points, in the hope that might be useful to you.

Reforms are always temporary
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
In Normal Times, people are relatively apathetic. 
Elites run the media and the major parties, and they
select which candidates the people can choose between
-- and which issues will be debated in the phony
campaign. In such times, we live basically in an
elite-run society.  Our political system is designed 
to encourage this: your primary official duty as a citizen 
is limited to voting.

Every once in a while, however, people get roused up,
and strong reform movements arise.  If the movement is
strong enough, it succeeds in persuading / compelling
legislative reforms in response to its demands.  Such
reforms are always a compromise. In some cases they
don't even improve things at all, and in other cases
they do -- temporarily.  And there's the rub.  When the
reforms are granted, one thing the elite never
compromise on is the structure of power relationships.
People can get more pay, or medical care, or whatever,
but they don't get their hands on any reins of power. 
When reforms occur, they are always GRANTED by the
elite.  GRANTING is prerogative of power.

What happens then is that the movement fades away --
it got its reforms, or a reasonable facsimile.  Normal
Times return, and the reforms are gradually eroded
away.  We see this in spades with Bush.  Not only are
the gains of the sixties and seventies being undone, or
rendered mute, but even the Consitution itself is being
undone. As long as the basic mechanisms of power remain
unchanged (the elite-managed political system), we can
gain only temporary FAVORS.


The White Knight Variation
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
In extreme cases, with very strong movements, they
throw us a pseudo hero, a white knight.  Perhaps the
most familiar example is FDR.  Such white knights are
selected for their prestige, and they can easily sweep
aside the genuine movement candidates.  We saw this
when RFK cynically entered the '68 primaries after
McCarthy (more genuine in my opinion) had demonstrated
the strength of the anti-war vote.

Such white knights can talk the talk, and they can
deliver reforms, but they will never alter the power
structure.  FDR boasted late in his career that his
greatest single accomplishment was "saving capitalism".
And we thought he was working for us!


The political system fosters divisiveness
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Consider Hartmann's proposal:

    Hartmann > Marching in the streets is important work,
    but wouldn't we have greater success if we also took
    control of the United States government?...

He is suggesting that one faction -- the progressives
-- turn their movement into a voting block, become a
majority, and run the country their way.  Just like the
conservatives did when they got Reagan and the Bushes
in.  This is exactly how the political system is
designed to work -- it is an adversarial system.  I
consider this a fatal structural defect for two
reasons.

First, it leads to a divided society.  There are those
getting their way, and those who perceive they are
getting screwed, and the groups change roles from time
to time.  People are thereby divided into enemy camps
according to their values & perceived interests - left
vs right, minorities vs. whites, farmers vs. city folk,
etc.  I don't think we can afford that kind of
divisiveness any longer.  We need to learn how to work
together cooperatively and synergistically.  Our
political system is not compatible with that.

The second defect has to do with the dynamics of
competing power groups. When you have various pressure
groups vying for influence, then power brokers always
arise.  People who are skilled at putting together
deals, and trading favors.  The kind of deals that get
made are, "I'll vote for your measure if you'll vote
for mine", or "I'll support your candidate if you'll
agree to vote against such and such a proposal.".

The deals are not about how to resolve difference on
issues, but rather about trading influence and power. 
Instead of wise decisions, which reflect the interests
of the various parties, we get one-sided decisions --
from the faction that got its way in exchange for some
unrelated tradeoff.  I don't believe a society can be
run effectively with that kind of lawmaking apparatus.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 21:21:45 -0400
Subject: Re: the political-power route
From: Robert R. Holt <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>

Dear Richard,

OK, excellent!  Now we are really talking.  I'm with
you up to, but not quite all the way to, the end.  The
final critical question is: How do we find the critical
point of entry into the big problem of changing the
nature of the system?

From what you write, I get the impression--correct me
if I'm wrong--that you have in mind the need to wait
for a breakdown of the existing system so profound that
there is an opportunity for truly fundamental
restructuring.  I guess that is good systems theory: to
change the most basic social system, in which seemingly
basic systems like our constitution are embedded,
requires a really profound destabilization.
---<snip>---

I guess I have been assuming a more hopeful scenario:
that, by working within the imperfect (even malign)
hierarchical system we have and making use of the bit
of democratic leeway provided us, by going Thom's route
a new Roosevelt might be able to make a decisive move,
steering the self-repairing process in a direction that
will lead ultimately to real, good, reorganization.

I'm writing this just after Tom Atlee's most recent
posting, pushing Jim Rough's Dynamic Facilitation
training.  Have  you read Jim's book, "Society's
Breakthrough!"  As I wrote him, I dislike the hype
implied in that exclamation point. I also sent him a
lot of pointed criticism about various aspects of that
book, and got a very heartening
response--non-defensive, thoughtful, open: he seems to
be a rather wise man.  So I am tempted to go to
Washington and learn his technique; trouble is, I'm too
old and not in great shape to be undertaking anything
so grandiose.  But maybe you should!  Jim feels that
the social invention he has stumbled on, about which
Tom is so enthusiastic, has the potential for
restructuring institutions of all kinds in precisely
the way you and I want.  His book tells about ways he
has actually done it in relatively small systems.

Dee Hock seems to have made a somewhat similar social
invention in his chaordic approach ("Birth of the
Chaordic Age").  At least, he succeeded in building one
huge international organization of a nonhierarchical
type (VISA ) which embodies a lot of the values we are
striving for.

I keep using the vague term 'we'; let me comment on it.
 Right here, I meant you and me, and sort of implying a
larger group of like-minded folks.  But above, when I
am fantasying about supplying critical input to bring
about fundamental systemic change, the referent is
really vague.  I seem to be hoping that a larger,
inchoate mass of us who read you, and Tom Atlee, and
Thom Hartmann, and Dee Hock, et al., may coalesce into
enough of a social force to be able to do something
meaningful.  That raises the next question: how do all
these good people assemble ourselves into a growing
nucleus that embodies the very principles we want the
larger society to adopt or evolve into?  Do we need a
charismatic leader?  In a way, I hope not.  What came
to mind then was the leader of a failed effort at such
a new society in Norman Rush's "Mating."  Yet it is a
real dilemma; I don't know of any successful social
movement that managed to do without such a leader.  Do
you have thoughts about that?

Mostly, what I am trying to nudge out of you is your
specific ideas about how to proceed.  Your web site and
listserv seem to be part of a plan to build a movement;
OK so far.  What else?  And what about the big question
of what to do when the critical moment seems to have
arrived?

It's always stimulating to exchange ideas with you.
Thanks!

Bob

----------------------------------------
Dear Bob,

I am pleased that you see us as "really talking".  I
know exactly what you mean. It doesn't mean agreement
so much as it means finding someone you can 'get to the
quick' with, a 'fellow traveller' perhaps.

I will get back to the 'point of entry' question.
    
  > From what you write, I get the impression--correct me
    if I'm wrong--that you have in mind the need to wait
    for a breakdown of the existing system so profound that
    there is an opportunity for truly fundamental
    restructuring.

I can see why you would suspect that, but that is not
my thinking.  First of all, I do not believe a
breakdown is at all likely or even plausible.  There
might be depressions, famines, and all kinds of
societal breakdown, but not a breakdown of
command-and-control.  Even if everyone else starves,
the military will eat and have transport &
communications. Such an environment would be repressive
-- not conducive to promising new beginnings.

And then if somehow there really were a chaotic
breakdown, then I think that would be almost the worst
possible environment in which to try to build a
sensible new world.  Mass starvation, disease,
warlords, whatever.  Hard to imagine, difficult to
predict -- not something for which I'd want to wait and
see how it turns out.

No, I am very much in favor of doing what we can RIGHT NOW.  
Our opportunity-space is diminishing rapidly under Bush.


  > I guess I have been assuming a more hopeful scenario:
    that, by working within the imperfect (even malign)
    hierarchical system we have and making use of the bit
    of democratic leeway provided us, by going Thom's route
    a new Roosevelt might be able to make a decisive move,
    steering the self-repairing process in a direction that
    will lead ultimately to real, good, reorganization.

Earlier I said, approximately:

    For the movement, the relevant question is not, "Can we
    work through the political system?", but rather, "Is
    the political system one of the things that needs to be
    fundamentally changed?"
    
To that I would add this, as regards the Thom route: 

Before we know whether a good reorganization could
provide what we want, we need to have some idea of what
it is we want.

My own investigations in this regard have been like
peeling an onion.  I keep finding more layers of
what-we-have that need to be undone.  Undone NOT in
pursuit of a perfect society, but undone in order to
have a livable society AT ALL.  I suppose the first
layer to go was CAPITALISM.  It took me a while to
understand what capitalism is really about, at its
core.  When I finally understood, it became clear that
there can be no compromise with capitalism.  It must be
replaced totally by other arrangements.  It is one of
the absolute taboos, like slavery.  One must understand
of course that this does not necessarily imply
socialism, as Korten makes clear with his 'market
economy' discussion.

Along with capitalism went GROWTH, its close companion.
The idea of pursuing perpetual growth on a finite
planet is pure insanity.  It's like burning your
furniture, and the walls of your house, in order to
keep warm.  Chossudovsky and others spell out the 
stupidity of today's ultra-growth, but we need only
common sense to see that growth isn't any way to structure
an ongoing economy -- if human beings matter to you.

At this point a 'positive' became clear to me:
SUSTAINABILITY is a necessity for a livable society. If
we aren't sustainable, then we're merely postponing
disaster onto our children's shoulders.  It's not that
Green Is Good, but that non-sustainable is simply
another phrase for short-sighted & foolish.  Once you
accept sustainability as an imperative, then concepts
like respect for ecosystems, energy-use reduction, and
eliminating pollution become obvious necessities.

Over time I came to discover another imperative:
DECENTRALIZATION.  One of the turning points for me was
Leopold Kohr's, "The Breakdown of Nations".  He focuses
on the question of SCALE.  Often overlooked.  We tend
to assume that if something works, then a bigger
version would work even better.  Kohr argues
persuasively that scale itself changes the character of
things in fundamental ways, and often larger is worse
-- after a certain optimal point has been passed.

This and insights from other sources have convinced me
that we need to pursue an emphasis on the LOCAL, the
COMMUNITY level, as the primary forum for societal
problem solving and decision making.  That's the only
place where each of us can be heard, where we can each
participate in solving our problems and setting
priorities for our society.  The other side of this
coin is the fact that every large state always gives
first priority to its own perpetuation.  That is,
after all, how it got to be a big state in the
first place.

I need to mention one more layer, and that is the
COMPETITIVE PARADIGM.  The over-simplified Darwinian
idea of 'survival of the fittest'.  I've come to see
this as something that's been forced down our throats
by conditioning from birth.  It isn't the dominant
feature of human nature at all.  It's just one feature,
one potential, that our society happens to nurture and
extoll above all others.  Early societies, and all of
nature, abound in various modes of cooperation.  Human
nature is a more balanced thing than what we might
infer from our rat-race societies.

After looking at this from many perspectives, I've come
to characterize the positive version of 'not
competition-centered' in a certain way.  I emphasize
the word COLLABORATION.  We don't need to agree, and we
don't need to think the same way, but we do need to
work together.  This has nothing to do with communism.
They who trade and barter are in fact collaborating in
the efficient distribution of goods and services.  It
may look like competition on the small scale, but it need
not be competition in the sense of the winner-take-all
paradigm that haunts society today.  (ref: Korten's
'market economy')

---

This brings us back to the 'point of entry' question.

We obviously need some kind of popular movement if
society is going to be fundamentally restructured.  It
would be contrary to the nature of our governments and
their leaders and all established elites for any of
them to help with any of this.  In their minds we are
talking about Anarchy, Chaos, the Breakdown of Society
-- and perhaps more important the loss of their
privileged prerogatives as individuals and as
institutions.

The next question then becomes, "What kind of popular
movement?".  If our goal is to achieve a locally-based,
decentralized society, which is sustainable,
collaborative, and democratic, then I suggest the
movement needs to have all those same qualities.

I say this for both negative and positive reasons. 
Consider first a negative or two.  If the movement has
a centralized leadership, and it succeeds in gaining
power, then we are left with a new hierarchy in charge. 
And if the movement is not democratic, then we find
ourselves in a Bolshevik scenario.  My hopes for a
benign Lenin are dim.

On the positive side, a movement which is decentralized
and locally based -- and yet is able to oust the
current regime -- must discover ways to achieve
large-scale collaboration without sacrificing local
autonomy.  And if that movement is democratic, then it
has found ways to resolve important issues at the
community level.  The very success of such a movement
generates the insights and experiences we will need if
we hope to build that kind of society.

This can be summarized many ways, each capturing an
aspect: "The movement needs to be a model of the
society it hopes to create."  "The means become the
ends."  "Become the truth you want to create."  "Learn
by doing."  "The path is the journey."

Another way to look at this is to think of the movement
as BEING the new society in formation.   I think this
turns out to be a necessary characteristic of a
relevant movement -- if we are seeking a total
restructuring of society, and we can expect no help
from existing institutions, and if the existing system
provides scant useful models for us to build on.

If the movement sees itself as the evolving new
society, then it is focused not on overcoming the
regime, but on something beyond that -- creating and
operating the new world.  This is a sound posture from
a martial arts perspective, from the perspective of the
warrior.  The karate master does not aim at the bricks
he will smash, but at a point below them.  The bricks
automatically get out of the way as the well-centered
hand moves toward the imaginary point below. 
Similarly, we need to focus not on overcoming the
regime, but on building the society to replace it. 
Indeed, it doesn't make sense for the regime to go away
until there is something to replace it.

---

If the movement is to be the new society, then it must
be an inclusive movement. If it is a movement of the
like-minded, of a clique, then it is a case of one
faction seeking to dominate the rest, and such would be
the foundation of the new society.  That is the problem
with the concept of 'progressive movements', or of
movements which seek to overcome what they call the
'right wing'.  Similarly, from the other side,
exclusivity is a problem with 'militia' and 'patriot'
movements, as it is with the Fundamentalist Christian
movement, which currently perceives itself as holding 
sway.

If we want a new society that includes everyone --
which is what democratic means -- then the movement
must somehow include everyone.  Which bring us to your
next point...

  > I'm writing this just after Tom Atlee's most recent
    posting, pushing Jim Rough's Dynamic Facilitation
    training.  Have  you read Jim's book, "Society's
    Breakthrough!"... Jim feels that the social invention
    he has stumbled on, about which Tom is so enthusiastic,
    has the potential for restructuring institutions of all
    kinds in precisely the way you and I want.  His book
    tells about ways he has actually done it in relatively
    small systems.

I've been looking at dynamic facilitation for some
time.  I've had long face-to-face sessions with Tom in
Eugene, and I've had face-to-face discussions with a
woman who teaches DF and is an enthusiast (Rosa
Zubizarreta). I've read quite a bit and have
corresponded with various people in the field.  And
I've been through sessions in which I experienced many
of the processes and got a taste (the painful way) of what
kind of breakthroughs are possible.

I am convinced that the DF process is a very powerful
technology, with incredible potential.  At the same
time, it is a very old technology, the same one used in
what we call 'primitive' societies, with their
'councils' and 'pow wows', 'sweat houses' and 'peace
pipes'.  It is simply the skill of helping a group
listen to itself and find its own synergistic
consensus.  The skill of helping the group learn to
work together -- to collaborate despite the inevitable
differences.

The potential of the technology depends on how it is
applied.  If it is applied only to limited problems,
then it will achieve only limited results.  When I say
the technology has incredible potential, I am thinking
of it in a certain context.  I am thinking of it in the
context of building the kind of movement we need, and
the kind of society we need, according to what I have
said above.  

We have already seen the widespread use of consensus
and decentralization in what has been called the
anti-globalization movement.  We've also seen some
degree of inclusiveness, at least during the actual
protest events, where we have seen red-blooded union
hard-hats marching beside gay feminist tree-huggers. 
But we haven't seen inclusiveness as a primary focus of
the movement.  Inclusiveness for its own sake, if you
will.  We still tend to gather together in like-minded
cliques, like birds of a feather.  It seems so natural.

DF has the potential of bringing people into a sense of
community, even when they perceive themselves as
adversaries at the outset.  And under the right
circumstances, the technology seems to have a
reasonable success rate.

I can imagine several ways the technology could be
usefully applied.  It could be used to build greater
coherence in the movement, as it currently exists, and
to bring different branches more into collaboration. It
could be used to expand the movement to new include new
constituencies.  It could facilitate consciousness-
raising at the community level, and help develop a
sense of community where there now seems to be no such
thing.   It could help us all see that we're all in
this together.

---

For me, the search for a 'point of entry' has become
rather focused.  From my perspective the question
becomes, "How can we encourage the development of
DF-style sessions/gatherings in useful/strategic
settings?"  Which brings us to your next point...

  > I keep using the vague term 'we'; let me comment on
    it.  Right here, I meant you and me, and sort of
    implying a larger group of like-minded folks.  But
    above, when I am fantasying about supplying critical
    input to bring about fundamental systemic change, the
    referent is really vague.  I seem to be hoping that a
    larger, inchoate mass of us who read you, and Tom
    Atlee, and Thom Hartmann, and Dee Hock, et al., may
    coalesce into enough of a social force to be able to do
    something meaningful.

I would re-frame this.  I would say that those of us
who have some insight into the situation need to find
some way to turn that insight into effectiveness.

In that regard I have a particular proposal, one that I
have been developing in parallel with others. I propose
that 'we' organize a conference/gathering focused on
your very question, of "how to proceed".  Using the DF
process or an equivalent.  I hope we can talk about that.

    
  > That raises the next question: how do all these good
    people assemble ourselves into a growing nucleus that
    embodies the very principles we want the larger society
    to adopt or evolve into?  Do we need a charismatic
    leader?  In a way, I hope not.  What came to mind then
    was the leader of a failed effort at such a new society
    in Norman Rush's "Mating."  Yet it is a real dilemma; I
    don't know of any successful social movement that
    managed to do without such a leader.  Do you have
    thoughts about that?

It becomes apparent how much our ideas are converging,
when you talk about a "growing nucleus that embodies
the very principles we want the larger society to adopt
or evolve into".  That is of course the very point I
was making earlier.  As for charismatic leaders -- no,
we don't want them.  And there are precedents.  Unlike
the 60s anti-war movement, there have been in the
anti-globalization movement no Mario Savios, Abbie
Hoffmans, or Timothy Learys.  There has evolved in the
meantime a much greater understanding of affinity
groups and consensus, and a grass-roots faith in
itself.  We are no longer the naive children of the
fifties, which is what those earlier leaders had to 
work with.

There are people who try to interpret and guide the
movement, such as Naomi Klein and Starhawk, but no one
who entrances crowds and tries to tell them what to do
and what to think.  In particular, there is no single
movement-wide person who stands out in that regard.
This is a good thing.

The idea of a Main Leader is bad theoretically for
several reasons. For starters, such a person can be
easily assassinated, as was MLK, JFK, RFK, and eventually
Ghandi.  There are other reasons, but the main thing is that
the dominance of a single point of leadership (whether
an individual or a party) does not foster the qualities
that we want in the movement or in the new society. 
What we need is to learn how to run things ourselves. 
We are capable of doing it, what we lack is practice. 
We already know how to follow leaders, laws, and other
people's agendas.  That has gotten us to our current
sorry state.

bye for now,
rkm
-- 

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    For the movement, the relevant question is not, "Can we
    work through the political system?", but rather, "Is
    the political system one of the things that needs to be
    fundamentally changed?"


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