Tag Archives: opposition movement

Weak Signals of Cracks in the Neoliberal Paradigm?

government, business, neoliberalism, Red (team) Analysis, paradigm shift, political risk, weak signal“Businesses run the world, they are better managed, more efficient at all levels, promote innovation and discoveries, and deliver better services and products than any other organization, notably governments and states’ administrations.” This is a hardly caricatured representation of the worldview we have increasingly known since at least the middle of the 1980s, that bloomed and became entrenched in the 1990s and in the first decade of the 21st century. Yet, what if it were now showing signs of being questioned, besides protests movements? And which signals can we find that could indicate the possibility of cracks in the hegemony of this idea?

A first signal comes from what we could call an elite group, itself benefiting from the hegemony. The Henry Jackson Initiative For Inclusive Capitalism (HJI), launched on 14 May 2012, although focusing on capitalism as a system and aimed at the private sector, seeks to promote a better capitalism, because:

“we believe that a broad-based acceptance of basic ethical norms is necessary if any form of capitalism is to be widely accepted. Otherwise, the system itself will be discredited and ultimately destroyed, whether by internal failures, external pressures or both—or by some other unforeseen and undesirable force.” (HJI Task Force’s report, p.6)

It promotes the vision held by neoliberalism, according to which “capitalism has made the world healthier, richer and freer than previous generations could have imagined. People in capitalist societies live longer than their forebears, earn more and are better educated,” (report, p.4), but also take stocks of many of its shortcomings and adverse impacts. By doing so, it seeks to only bring “modifications” (p.6) to the current system, not to completely change it. Yet, its very efforts will contribute to achieve something different from what we knew. Furthermore, the HJI shows that it is now possible to question the dominant ideology without being marginalized. This signal, as the next one, would most probably not have emerged if the various protests movements that took place worldwide, from the “Arab Awakening” to Occupy, had not occurred, as indeed underlined p.26 of the report. Interestingly, the HJI also specifies that its focus is the private sector, thus acknowledging a difference between the mission of governments and states’ administrations on the one hand, and the role of businesses on the other, setting a clear line between both, in contradiction with the previous worldview:

We decidedly take no position as to exactly what level of taxation and regulation best balances the ability of government to do what it must without harming the desire of entrepreneurs and businesses to do what they can.” (my emphasis – report p.6)

The signal is all the more important that the HJI it is a child of the British and transatlantic think tank the Henry Jackson Society (see notably its history and its advisory council), and relayed by famous and recognized media, such as The Economist, as shows the interview of Lady Lynn Forrester de Rothschild, a crucial member of the HJI task force,  and among others, Chief Executive of E.L. Rothschild LLC as well as a Director at The Economist, on “Capitalism and society in 2013″ (video, The Economist’s World in 2013, Gala dinner on December 6th 2012).

A second signal comes from the website OnlineMBA.com, which has as “larger mission to educate prospective MBA students, not only about their options for online programs, but also about current trends in business”.* As part of its education purpose, this website produces videos (Minute MBA), and one of its latest production is titled “3 reasons why government shouldn’t be run like a business” (see here for a transcript):

In the words of one member of the video production team:

“This is an independent research project. We are not connected and affiliated by any school, organization or government. Moreover, we are privately funded by contributors and researchers who have volunteered their time to create this resource and other resources within our site.”*

Besides being interesting and very well done, this video – and it can also be taken as a perfect example of the diversity of ways we can use to deliver products – is a direct signal that cracks in the neoliberal ideology exist and seem to spread. Interestingly, once more, it comes from one of those very groups – the private sector – that were meant to benefit most from the paradigm. Furthermore, it is promoted by the young generation and within the field of education, which is one of the institutions in society where norms are inculcated.

The existence of those signals does not mean that everything will change overnight, nor even that the still current worldview is meant to disappear. We could witness a possible polarization taking place in the Western World and elsewhere, as suggested previously, but with changes compared with what was noted in November 2012. Either the polarization will be kept in check and a more peaceful evolution will take place, as the signals here suggests, or the polarization will happen, but with a positioning of actors that could be seen as surprising from the point of view of the worldview questioned. The indications reported here could also disappear, not be followed by others, leaving the ideology more entrenched… for a while, as it is the historical destiny of worldviews to be born, bloom and then disappear. In any case, this issue must continue to be monitored.

* Red (team) Analysis was contacted by the video production team of onlineMBA, who suggested, rightly, that I could be interested in this video. Quotes are taken from the email exchanges with them.

Occupy, Los Indignados: towards radicalization?

The polarisation that can be observed in recent elections in 2012, notably in Greece and in France for the first round of the Presidential elections, appears to also take place within some of the current Opposition Movements existing outside the classical party system. Those movements, Occupy and Democracia Real Ya! – also known as Los Indignados, born out of Spain’s mobilisation last year, are showing their continuing presence, notably with various protests staged on May Day, then between 12 and 15 May, more or less followed according to cities and countries.

A beginning of radicalization would, so far, touch more specifically the American Occupy movement. Already, in February and March, it gave rise to a debate on the tactics that should be used, as analysed by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall in “Debating Violence in the Occupy Movement.”

In May 2012, Occupy still displays weak signals of rising tension, which could lead to escalation. Those signs can be seen, for example, in the acronym chosen to prepare for May Day and then used on social networks such as Twitter: #M1GS (May 1st Global Strike), also reads MIGS, which refers to the Soviet and then Russian fighter aircraft, and thus carries with it a symbolism referring to war and opposition to the American and allies governments during the Cold War.

As shown in the gallery below (click on each thumbnail to see the image), some of the pictures surrounding M1GS, compared with the images used the year before, notably for the birth of the Spanish Movement, or with the more European 12M-15M 2012 protests, also tend to signal that a radicalization is happening. M1GS uses notably the colour red, as well as sometimes a more offensive symbolism. All transmit an aggressive feeling. 12M-15M continues to favour as colours yellow and black, which tends to warn of danger ahead and thus suggests caution. However, one can also find one call for 15M that adopts a red background and the symbolism of a fist.

Will radicalization spread and intensify? This will depend upon the interactions with the existing political authorities and, in a related way, upon the capability of the movements to obtain concrete results. It is definitely an issue that needs to be monitored in the coming months.

——

Images

“12 M Puerta del Sol Aerial” in Jerome Roos On May 13, 2012#12mGlobal Indignados take back square on movement’s anniversary Madrid,” DRY International.

“Polish MiG-29 (version 9.12A) from the base in Królewo Malborskie near Malbork” by Łukasz Golowanow (website Konflikty.pl), via Wikimedia Commons.

A New Opposition Nexus and Why it Matters for our Future: #OccupyWallStreet, Los Indignados, Anonymous and Others

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.

“To the people of the world: You are Anonymous. You are Legion. You are the media. You are the voice of truth. You can not forgive. You can not forget. They should expect us.”

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?

References

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.

Following #OccupyWallStreet

If you want to keep up to date with #OccupyWallStreet, its geographical spread as well as actions, movements etc., check out these synthesizing websites

Occupy Together.

The Occupy USA aggregator.

News from @Occupy_USA.

A few thoughts regarding #OccupyWallStreet

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?