No54 – 28 June 2012 – Click on the image below to read on Paper.Li (best with mobiles & tablets)
Human societies are politically organised systems, polities, which are themselves organised within a larger system, the international system (corresponding approximately to the second and third level of analysis of Kenneth Walz). Those systems, the shape they take, their specific socio-political organisation are not static but evolving over time out of various dynamics and underlying processes.
As individuals, we feel rightly those systems as all-powerful, if we are aware of them. They are complex systems, the result of myriads of interactions at various levels that also generate emerging properties, which are then imposed upon each unit according to the level at which it is located. The force of the collective thus animates them. However, as we are also part of the individuals who interact and make the emerging properties, then we are not powerless. It is one of the great strength of Anonymous to have perceived this phenomenon and to spread empowerment in its message. We can also see this at work in the slogan “We are the 99” used initially for A99 Operation Empire State Building (Video March 2011) and now adopted by Occupy Wall Street, or in the emphasis on democracy European revolution movements started last Spring.
Furthermore, trying to understand how those collective forces evolve and where they are heading are one of the best ways to reduce uncertainty and get better prepared for a future that is already in the making, even if the fine details, if the specifics of the coming unfolding events remain shrouded in mystery. It is necessary to know why, where, when and how to act. This is valid for any actor, from you and me as individuals, to companies or any economic agent, and even more so to governments, present and future.
To make sense of events and anticipate what might happen, we, as human beings, always rely upon a cognitive model, most of the time unconsciously (Epstein, 2008).
The cognitive model that is used here (Lavoix, 2005) considers that as political systems function (more or less efficiently, at least efficiently enough to endure), they allow their corresponding societies to evolve and become more complex. Meanwhile, the political structures and forms of socio-political organisation would also need to adapt accordingly. However, who says human societies and systems, says interests, habits, norms, fears, etc., which are all changing at different pace and according to different dynamics. Hence, adaptation is most often made neither easily nor willingly.
As political systems become increasingly ill-adapted, various movements of protests against the existing system emerge with an increasing frequency, while the whole system moves towards a higher level of tension. Those various movements of protests are the new opposition nexus. Those protests are at once symptoms of the need for change and actor of this change. Indeed, it is out of the interactions between the new opposition nexus and the existing political authorities nexus (that includes all political actors that contributed to create the existing system, the system that needs to be changed) that the new needed socio-political organisation will be progressively created. Meanwhile, both the new opposition and the actors composing the existing political authorities will evolve. Hence, for example, the apparent lack of clear, simple stated goal of the #OccupyWallStreet movement that is often thrown in their face in news articles is not a flaw, but evidence of their belonging to this process. Goals and ideas will evolve, while the apparent confusion may well come from the fact that they are read through old lenses, through the prism of a world that is already fading.
It is in this framework that the various protest movements happening throughout the world are read and understood as part of a new opposition nexus. Observing them, trying to understand them, attempting to decipher if they are part of the new or of the old, or how both old and new can mix and interact, paying attention to their evolution, to their interactions with existing political authorities should give us keys to understand better what is lying ahead, from levels of tension and potential escalations, to the type of socio-political organisation our societies with their specificities, challenges and complexities need to create.
There is no fatality towards success or failure, towards peaceful or violent change. However, if history is to be a guide, then, in the past, most often violence, wars and collapse of systems have also been needed, at one stage, to allow for the emergence of the new. Shall we be wiser?
Epstein, Joshua M. “Why Model?” Santa Fe Institute Working Papers, 2008.
Lavoix, Helene, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’: the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005.
Waltz, Kenneth Neal, Man, the state, and war: a theoretical analysis, New York: Columbia Press University, 1954, 2001.
More than a structured post, here are a few thoughts regarding the #OccupyWallStreet movement, including the arrests in NYC on Saturday 24 September 2011, related effects on the treatment by media, and the articles and blogs I have read lately not only on this specific operation but also on linked previous movements and protests. Indeed, for this episode of the age-old struggle against those who hold the key to liquidity (cash), the origin of the idea to fight bankers and the power of markets can be traced back to the Spanish Manifesto of the Indignados (published at the latest by May 17 2011), and to the recent events in Iceland.
Media, attention and … “martyrs”
It is good that mainstream media start paying attention to what is happening, but, as previously underlined, where were they in May, June, etc. for Spain, Greece, and the various movements that started then, not only Europe but also throughout America?When the #occupywallstreet demonstration started on #sept17, only CNNmoney and Al Jazeera were there and reported. Again, where were they for Europe? Obviously arrests in a symbolic place were needed to see wider coverage. As any student of political mobilization and revolution knows, getting “martyrs” – everything being equal – is a crucial time for movements to develop, getting support, coverage, attention, etc.
Thomas Jefferson against Leftist labels?
It seems that an interesting – still – low key struggle is emerging, at the level of ideas and legitimacy.
Some – the majority? – absolutely want to categorize the operation with what could be qualified of usual categories: anti-capitalist, left, leftist, etc. Yet, shouldn’t we wonder if those categories are not also or rather old, corresponding to the word of the end of the 19th and 20th century and to the Cold War, and thus most probably outdated? Note that this categorization, very interestingly, is done both inside and outside the movement – the most vocal being maybe Tea Party supporters and established Marxist/leftist elements.
Meanwhile, within the “movement,” other participants either do not pay attention or start looking for legitimating references, e.g. Jefferson on private banks (legitimacy is seen here in the American framework, but Jefferson, as a child of the Enlightenment, could very easily be adopted elsewhere, notably in Europe). The stream of tweets on Jefferson started on September 17 with some favored quotes and also sometimes with mention of blog posts, e.g. “A Den of Vipers and Thieves” by Scott Johnson, Sept 15, with no direct affiliation between posts and “movement.”
Towards an emerging new normative setting?
My take is that we are seeing here many things unfolding and coalescing: recuperation and hope for a renewal, thinking habit, fear to see part of one’s rhetoric and thus partisans stolen away, plain fear of what is happening, and, first and foremost, something new being created. We are most likely witnessing the first weak signals of the making of a new normative system. Hence, this ideological evolution must be followed. Even if this specific protest recedes, it does not mean it will completely die. It is most likely to come back again, transformed, stronger, better and differently defined, elsewhere. This is exactly what has already happened with the European movements of the Spring and Summer (although hardly documented), which, after the Arab (Winter-)Spring, and in conjunction with the markets’ evolution create the right conditions for transmission and mutation of ideas and their corollary, actions.
Very interestingly, right now, it would seem that all actors (from movements to institutions, including governments and international organizations) are unable to think clearly anything else than “less state” – in American parlance “less government,” although to think in these terms is fraught with complication. If this hypothesis is correct, then it would mean that all, probably unconsciously, abide, on the one hand, by the ultra-liberal ideology according to which less state is needed and that has dominated the world since the end of the Cold War and, on the other, have an ultimate faith in a Democracy that would not need a state (despite all the research done depicting a much more complex picture).
Shall we see with real life and concrete threats, with practical needs for mobilization and organization, with interactions within the “new opposition nexus” and between the latter and political authorities, ideas change, evolve and being re-imagined?
This map of the various movements across the globe can be collaboratively modified and updated through Google maps. To update…
It will try to include various detailed maps available online (see below)
Afficher Real Democracy Now! – World sur une carte plus grande
Latest 26 June 2011
- Real Democracy Now – Greece Όλες μας οι συγκεντρώσεις – Public Created on May 27 – Updated Jun 3 By George
On 19 June, Take the Square, a web-platform relaying regional and national information on and calls from the various Real Democracy Now movements, is calling for the official start of a global peaceful revolution – shortened as twitter’s category as #globalrevolution – expressed through a worldwide demonstration.
The Real Democracy Now movements, as has been explained by a few blog posts (e.g. Laura Gutierrez; Leila Nachawati Rego; Asteris Masouras; Martin Varsavsky) have started “officially” on May 15 in Spain and are inspired not only by the Arab (Winter-)Spring but also by the Icelandic “revolution.” First and foremost, those movements are an answer to actions by political systems that are perceived by citizens as increasingly illegitimate. Previous movements help notably by breaking feelings of powerlessness and despondency; web-based social networks accelerate and facilitate communication and organization; but none of these would be sufficient to generate collective action if everyday life situations were not increasingly felt as collectively unjust.
Amazingly, mainstream media, be they national or international, have hardly reported the various protests and movements, although they spread to many countries and progressively got more traction among citizens with varying speed and success according to national real life situations. In Greece, for example, tens of thousands of people gathered on Syntagma Square as early as May 22, ignored by all but by Facebook and Twitter followers. Meanwhile negotiations regarding the Greek bailout between European and International monetary authorities and the Greek institutions received broad coverage. The Greek movement did not recede as explained by Thalia Tzanetti in “The surprises of Syntagma and its Indignados.”
Actually, one may trace the beginning of the Spanish mobilisation that marks the start of the European and potentially global movements to March 14 on Facebook (twitter #15M). To date, the Real Democracy Now movements have spread to at least 26 countries, including the U.S., plus one endeavour spearheaded by Germany to network all European efforts in a European movement. In quantitative terms some of those mobilizations can be considered as negligible and unrepresentative. For example, if we use as indication by proxy the number of “likes” on Facebook, the U.S. movement only gathers 941 people on June 14, 2011 from 624 on June 3. Using the same proxy indications, European movements are more important, yet also quantitatively diverse: Spain (406.425 likes) then Greece (138.740 likes) are in the lead, followed by Italy (26.065) and Ireland (21.301); many countries display between 1000 and 12000 likes, the smallest numbers are obtained by the more recent Czech Republic movement (499) and Switzerland (199, inactive since June 10). Again, using this proxy, it would seem that the mobilisation is slowing down and looking for direction, notably since the Spanish movement decided to abandon its occupation of central squares on June 12.
Were thus mainstream media and analyses right in ignoring a movement that could be considered as just one more protest of no consequence and would just die and disappear as so many European demonstrations before? Are those movements just noise rather than signals? Or is there something else here? Are those movements, on the contrary, weak – or not so weak – signals that something is amiss and that change is in the making?
Actually, alternative hypotheses can be made for the general disinterest the #Europeanrevolutions and #Globalrevolution movement has garnered, notably compared with the events in North Africa and the Middle East.
- The Arab (Winter-)Spring can be analysed in the light of the fear of and struggle against terrorism and religious extremism, when the European and potential global movements do not carry with them straightforwardly a potential for such analyses.
- The Arab (Winter-)Spring revolutions have been quickly re-interpreted by mainstream media as spreading pro-democracy movements, when the reality behind each mobilisation is more complex. On the contrary, what happened in Europe could not be easily labelled as pro-democracy – despite the demands of the actors – because those movements take place in… democracies.
- The revolutionary movements and their sympathisers, wherever their location, offer and share reciprocal moral support across boundaries. Yet, despite those messages, it is likely that mainstream thinking deems the movements taking place “in the West” unworthy of attention and even unwarranted because they do not fit the still prevalent yet outdated First World/Third World ideology.
- From the point of view of Western media and analysis, the movements taking place “at home” would demand an inward political analysis made in terms of processes, when meagre resources in political analysts are usually focused on what is foreign and on political leaders and elite, while the bulk of domestic analysis tends to be seen through an economic analysis that would be severed from political processes.
- The European and potential global movements want themselves to be peaceful and actors responding to them did not make so far the mistake to use violence (save for a few forced evictions as in Barcelona). The overall situation has not escalated to see tension carried out as violence. The movements did not thus satisfy the “sensational events” criteria that often create interest of media and decision-makers.
- Finally, most of those movements being grass-roots and being not used to integrate a strategy of international support, expressed themselves and communicated in vernacular languages, thus generating a mosaic of tweets and posts in Spanish, Greek, Italian, Dutch, German or French etc. and more rarely English, making it more difficult for analysts to follow and see patterns across boundaries.
The existence of so many alternative hypotheses is sufficient to let us consider that the #Europeanrevolutions and #Globalrevolution are most likely weak signals. Those movements would thus demand consideration, coverage and an in-depth analysis, which would have to include a struggle against many biases including normative ones. The work would, however be eased by the understanding and knowledge accumulated over at least the last hundred years on revolutionary movements, political mobilisation, radicalization, state-building, etc., properly adapted to present and future conditions. The least that strategic foresight and warning analysts –and policy-makers – could and should do, would be to take stock of those movements, to consider them in the light of political processes with their dynamics, and to listen to what citizens have to say as those movements and their demands may well inform the future.