Actual Real Life Tactics to Secure Concrete Social Demands

Critics frequently charge (no link found) that while we on the Left are prolific in identifying reasons things must change, our prowess in actually bringing about change is less impressive. I thought it might be of theoretical interest, or at least of idle curiosity, to reflect on the means of effecting change. Let’s sit ourselves down with a cup of coffee and conduct a thought experiment concerning what might be done. Dare we contemplate something more than change? Something as grandiose as social transformation? Yes, I say. Why not? This could prove to be an intriguing exercise indeed.

To begin, suppose a sizable chunk of us agree on a specific set of concrete social demands. How many of us is a sizable chunk? It’s hard to say. What could we possibly agree on? That’s even harder to say. But let’s say that we do agree, and there’s a sizable chunk of us. And let’s call our set of concrete demands “X”. It’s algebraic and alphabetical in equal measure, and serves as a symbol of whatever it is we are uniting behind.

Let’s get to work and consider the options.

Turning Up to Vote

In a recent and refreshing call for American revolution, Bernie Sanders has suggested that one thing we could do, for starters, is vote. We could at least consider it. I know it sounds simple, but apparently some of us have not been bothering to turn up to the polling stations. Although understandable given our preoccupation with weightier matters, this absenteeism is rather playing into the hands of whoever it is that keeps voting against X.

Speaking, for instance, to those of us on minimum wage, it appears that only twenty percent of us are actually turning up to vote. This must please those who are seeking to end the minimum wage. I believe the percentage of Koch Brothers voting at the most recent election was significantly greater than twenty percent. It’s a small matter, to be sure, but every little thing counts.

Sit-At-Home Strike

Maybe we are simply too preoccupied with loftier matters to turn up at the polling stations. It might make better sense to contemplate a tactic not requiring us to leave home. Bloggers, tweeters and social networkers in particular should be especially receptive to this option: the sit-at-home strike. The way it would work is simple. Rather than going to our places of employment, we simply sit, at home.

Why at home? It takes less effort. It’s safer. It is much less likely that we will be rounded up by an over zealous police force, beaten, tear gassed, imprisoned. If we all did this, if we all said, “give us X or we stay indoors”, all of us, that would be something. Really something.

Consider this. To put an end to the action, the ‘powers that be’ would really have to show their true colors. What could they do? Come to our homes and drag us out by the scruffs of our necks one house or apartment at a time? And where would they put us all? There would be no room in the prisons. They’d have to leave us where we were and re-designate our homes prisons.

On second thought, there do appear to be potential pitfalls in the plan. For one thing, how would the homeless pull their weight? For another, the rest of us wouldn’t get paid. Considering most of us can barely last a fortnight without a pay check, and the Koch brothers can go months, easily, the playing field is heavily tilted against this tactic.

It also seems inevitable that the state would respond with ruthless countermeasures, the mainstream media in tow. While authorities cut off our internet access and phone signals, the mainstream media could move into action, network news services talking down support for the sit-at-home strike. “98 percent of employees turn up to work?” they could report. “Sit-at-home protest, though good on paper, an abject failure for organizers,” shock jocks could crow. How many of us would relent under the deception and arrive at the office in time for afternoon cake? We might be strong enough to withstand the disinformation campaign, but only till our funds depleted to zero.

An unconditional basic income would certainly come in handy in the case of a sit-at-home strike. Imagine if X equaled unconditional basic income. The one thing standing in the way of holding out for X would be our past failure to obtain X. Hardly much solace in the moment, but future students of history might come to appreciate the irony.

Arbitrary Consumer Boycotts

All in all, a consumer boycott seems less expensive than a strike, financially speaking. However, we can’t afford simply to boycott every product. One constraint is that we need to consume things for our survival. Another is that our jobs depend upon aggregate demand. If not careful, we could boycott ourselves out of our livelihoods.

The key, then, is to be selective. Even better, random. No, not random. Arbitrary. One day we all decide, for no apparent reason, to take down corporation “Z” by boycotting its product. We don’t say why we chose Z. We just say, “give us X or we don’t buy Z’s stuff”. We all do it. Even those who really like Z’s stuff. Even if we’re not even that keen on X. Like, we’re the least committed of anybody in the fight for X and the biggest fans ever of Z’s stuff. We still do it. This takes discipline. But we reserve the right, at any time, to switch to the taking down of a different corporation instead. This keeps them all on their toes. They won’t know what might hit them, at any moment. Day or night.

We’d have to leave certain corporations alone. Most activism would grind to a halt if we took down Blogger, WordPress, Facebook or Twitter. We’d have to go back to snail mail. No! Let’s be arbitrary, by all means, but also sensible and considered.

I know what you’re thinking. There are flaws in this plan also. A corrupt government could always just bail out Z. For one giddy moment we might think we’d sent Z broke, and party in anticipation of X. But a currency-issuing government faces no revenue constraint, leaving our efforts easy to foil.

Maybe it could work in the Eurozone? No. The ECB could still come to the rescue. And Europeans couldn’t even vote the culprits out at the next election.

Sun Tzu’s Art of War

The first three tactics, though interesting enough to ponder by the water cooler, appear to run into serious difficulties. Perhaps a fourth possibility can be contemplated. This will violate the comedic rule of three, so just as well we are being completely serious.

I don’t know if this last tactic really captures the full majesty of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Frankly, I’ve never read the book, but I do know (if Wikipedia can be trusted) that there are thirteen chapters and this tactic draws its inspiration from no less than twelve words selected from those chapters. That’s almost a word for each chapter. The passage in question, at least when translated into English, supposedly goes:

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

Now that’s not bad, even if I do say so on Sun Tzu’s behalf. I think we may finally be on to something here. Let’s imagine, even if only for the sake of argument, that we’re strong. Sun Tzu’s strategic advice would then be for us to appear weak.

Okay. That really seems like something we can do.

It seems that the simplest – and least suspicious – way to apply this principle would be to keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing. Show up at the office or plant each day. Comply with orders. Take pay cuts, maybe get laid off, but keep consuming as best we can. All the stuff we normally do, except that now we do it to lull the powers that be into a false sense of security. They won’t suspect a thing.

They’ll think we’ve got no plan at all.

Oh wait.


9 thoughts on “Actual Real Life Tactics to Secure Concrete Social Demands

  1. This was discussed in great deal during the countercultural revolution in the Sixties. I was part of that discussion. Through having it, in conjunction, with attempting to apply pressure on the government unsuccessfully even with huge demonstrations, many decided that the this was not going to happen in our lifetimes without some unexpected shift. We therefore decided to create a counterculture with parallel institutions and a parallel economy. That tack was very successful in many ways but not completely because, of course, TPTB co-opted it and many people who became successful joined the ranks of the enemy.

    But the result was countercultural revolution that spread through the whole culture transforming to the degree that the previous culture was largely eclipsed other than in conservative circles. And the parallel society also exploded with many people living quite independently of “the system” and only interfacing with it to the degree necessary.

    It’s a tried and true plan and a lot simpler now than it was then owing to digital communications, open source, sharing, and networking. I recommend it highly, and many young people are now pursuing it both in old ways and also in innovative new ways. And anyone that is very successful can sell out and become one of the oligarchs, too.

  2. Pete

    For my own reasons, I am always reluctant to speak of myself. But I’ll make an exception.

    I am probably younger than Tom, but I am no longer a spring chicken and I’ve done a fair bit of travelling around.

    All these places I’ve been to had something in common. No matter how shitty life was, people would say something like: “Nah, things can’t happen here.” You know, “things ain’t so bad”; the beach or the sun, the parties or the chicks; the beer this, the church that; “things are way worse next door”.

    Here in Oz we have the “Lucky Country” bullshit. Elsewhere they have the “We’re Champions of the World”, or the “World’s Greatest/Bestestest”. The yanks have their “exceptionalism”.

    It’s not that life wasn’t really that shit: deep down, I’m sure they knew. It was that people chose to see the good bits of life. And decided to look somewhere else, while something was boiling inside (for years, and even decades, too).

    And then, one day, for almost nothing, you’d see the same people going berzerk. I’ve seen this happening. Not everywhere, not every time, but I’ve seen it.

    And I’ll be honest, often it’s not pretty; very often it leads nowhere, or even leaves people worse than they were before (as you’ve seen with Syria and more generally, the Arab Spring). But I see no reason why that should necessarily be the case.

    You see, Peter, nothing ever happens, until it happens.

    The questions, for me are: can we do something to shorten the wait? and what to do, when/if it happens?

  3. For me, it’s understand what it means to be human.

    Even Xi Jinping quoted “war begins in the minds of men” – but everybody thinks that you can use the same tool that created the problem in the first place, to fix the problem. There is also an assumption made that once we have fixed all of the problems, we will be happy.

    The world was full of problems when we arrived, and it will be full of problems when we leave. So relax, enjoy being alive – even as you strive to make things better! We have but seventy laps around the Sun. Music breaks Pete and lots of ‘Russian humour’!

    My solution for myself, is very simple: there is an ‘energy’, that begins in the heart that carries one inward to where I want to go. Many have described this journey far better than I – Kabir springs to mind from days gone by, and Prem Pal Rawat in modern times. A side effect is that the mind becomes kind, and the ‘I’ is no longer ravenous – so that has a huge potential. Consciousness in the end, is a Witness – it is also Love~Wisdom (human wisdom). The mind then works in partnership with the heart: – instead of trying to fulfill mind, the heart is fulfilled, and the overflow is to the mind. That’s the ‘natural’ solution in my experience. The question people should ask themselves is (for my 25,550 days I am alive): ‘what do I want’?

    If it is a heart that is full and a mind that is serene – go inside. The spin-off is dignity, peace and prosperity – as a human being. Gratitude and an appreciation for a beautiful planet, the miracle of a human being, built after countless kalpas of evolution from the same atoms that comprise dirt – in every pay packet (Breath)!

    We have no idea how rich we are ……. by going outside, the universe is a very large place and we can get really lost. Better to have a rope to hold onto, to find your way back to your home.

  4. Very interesting comments, guys. Thanks. (And for the link, M.) I would like to have been a fly on the wall in those meetings in the Sixties. Then again, I love how we can now connect instantaneously online.

    jr, I don’t disagree with your solution as it applies to, and begins with, each individual. When it comes to improving current conditions though, no one can go inside for another person, but I think we can attempt to improve the external conditions and make it more conducive for everyone eventually to follow that path. Otherwise, what can we do? Just wait around till everyone is ready to behave kindly? In the meantime, there is social injustice everywhere, but we just examine ourselves and wait for everyone else to do the same? (I know you’re not suggesting this.)

    It may seem that we are seeking our own happiness through external rather than internal changes. I don’t really see it that way. I generally feel very happy — possibly happier than I should considering the state of the world — but am fortunate. The motive for supporting a JIG is that it would offer some measure of freedom for everybody, at least relative to the current situation. Happiness, though always on offer, can only be latched onto by the individual, but I believe this could be easier for many if the strain placed on their lives by the present system (see, for instance, M’s link to David Ruccio’s post) was as far as possible alleviated.

    I guess the question in the back of my mind in the present post is what kind of tactic could be effective even if we had a massive groundswell of support, considering the military weaponry and police muscle at the disposal of the elites? Would the US, for example, permit significant social change that it was not itself able to co-opt when it comes to any country with relevance to its economic interests? Suppose 99% of us had followed jr’s wise counsel to go inside and had re-emerged clothed in kindness, but the elites retained their present mindset. Would this weight of numbers be enough? I guess this would spirit away the difficulties, because we could go on general strike, bringing the economy to a standstill, with high earners donating cash to low earners to tide them over in the interim. Under those circumstances, the sit-at-home strike would be effective.

  5. Having said all that about happiness, there is happiness, and happiness. My favored footy club had its best and fairest night tonight. Of the top five performing players, two are leaving for other clubs next year, and two are on the long-term injury list. Excuse me while I weep inconsolably into my cornflakes. 🙁

    Thank goodness for Scott Pendlebury.

  6. Peter – just to clarify my current pov a little:

    I am very much empathetic towards doubts as to the effectiveness of kindness, and discriminate between ‘football dependent joy’ and unconditional joy. 🙂

    I’ll have a go at mapping this business of going inside and dealing with things on the outside.

    TomH has a mind that embraces all of the human and social sciences and the physical sciences. But if I understand the heart of TomH correctly, all of this knowledge is placed in the hopper, and out of the extractor at the bottom comes a pure drop of what he labels ‘collective consciousness’. And he laments that human affairs will not significantly improve until this drop expands and becomes more universal. RogerE labels the same drop in evolutionary terms and natural ability. I fully agree but add to this the dimension of the human heart (implicit in Tom’s collective consciousness); hence ‘kindness’.

    For myself, I see my existence as a continuum that passes from the ‘inside to the outside’. Consciousness could be portrayed as a light or intelligence that moves along this continuum. When it’s on the outside, it looks out at the world through whatever window we happen to have drawn the blinds on; hence the sciences, or football dependent joy. When it moves inside, there is a kind of barrier or door – and the quest then is to find a key. You will find repeatedly in all of the written records that it is a quest of the heart, and the key is really, Love – mind in the presence of what is behind that door becomes very still; the consciousness wide awake. All of the loves (dharma) that consciousness has for things on the outside remain, but are taken up into one all-consuming Love or ‘knowledge’ of Being. This love then returns to the human heart as kindness; generosity, activity. The same records will tell you that this is why you have taken birth on this planet – that the society and everything else on the outside is something else; and you will know this to be true through experience. I also fully agree with these records. Hence ‘getting off the wheel’ means being able to traverse freely from rim to hub – and both are necessary if the wheel is to go around.

    Of course, the mind is sceptical as it should be. I personally have no wish to convince any mind to ‘go inside’ or pursue knowledge of the Self, because I know it would be a waste in so many ways: – but if the heart is thirsty, you should listen and take the steps.

    Now for more practical matters on the outside: my discipline is architecture and I think the creative processes of the discipline could be utilised in economics.

    An island in the middle of an ocean is shaped by the forces of the wind and seas – this is architectural and structural response to environment. The human purpose is to build on the island sensitively. There may be 1,000 elements in the design, each with myriad details. Elements are either in harmony with each other, conflict each other, detract from each other, add to each other etc. The Plan knits all of these together to achieve the Purpose; the Build is carried out by desire, held true to the plan and purpose. The plan must have some organising principle (Parti) around which the elements come together in the design. Clarity of purpose begets clarity of plan and engenders the desire (force) necessary to build. Ideals are enwombed in Ideas and emerge as children and Icons. All of these are part of the natural creative process in human beings.

    It seems to me TPTB are organised, and others that seek a more benign world are not. It is the great Ideals sweeping the world that change people’s behaviour and the more these ideals by all parties are identified and placed before the public consciousness the clearer things will become. Only when humane Ideals gain power will planning be effective. I love Tom’s slogan ”people before money and machines” in this regard. People power is the only power that will overcome TPTB – so the question is how to make it move? So, I believe the focus should be on enunciating (ta daa) the Ideal of our Time, of our Age; with a lot of pre-planning in place (sketch design) moving on to concept design once the power aspect is resolved. This to me would be an efficient use of energy.

    However, all design processes go on contemporaneously and feed back and forth. An Architect is actually a team. I think one of the greatest Ideals held in seed form in the human heart is the longing for Peace. That, I believe is the Ideal that is beginning to emerge in the world after such a long period of gestation. So, I am one voice for peace. I see MMT as one element in a design that could build for humanity a better Society (on the outside), one in which conflict in the world could be resolved, and greed conquered. Once the hubbub of the world dies down, the voice of the heart might be heard, and humanity go back to discovering what it means to be human.

    I do not see the world through the eyes of the newsreels and believe the human debate (after 200,000 years on the road, what do we want?) should be in the foreground of all political, economic and religious debate. I am forever grateful that I can air these views on an economic blog, respectfully, perhaps tangentially but in good faith of context, and put the heart forward as both an Ideal and reality of living energy in the debate. Thanks Peter!!

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