Last night I watched Black Hawk Down, a well-made pean to the quality and effectiveness of America's Armed Forces in the most adverse situations. The political dimensions are pretty clumsily handled, and the action bits remind me (somehow uncomfortably) of a video game, but the essential narrative of comrades on a noble mission sticking together and performing their function in the midst of chaos has traction. It's a "guy" film, I think. Huah.
What does this have to do with the idea of revolution... Well, for one thing, if you want a career as an armed revolutionary, joining the Special Forces is one way to go. That's not what I am after, but I think there's a lot to learn about effective organization by looking at the military. Our country has been pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into that organization for decades. We ignore their developments and discoveries at our peril.
Discipline, focus, roles, responsibilities, these are not inherently fascist things. They are good practices for accomplishing tasks. Ask Zizek, he knows.
Now, I'm not a big fan of hierarchical systems; that's not what I'm advocating here at all, a chain of command. However, the concepts of training, mentorship and leadership are strong. I believe that experienced working groups can form ad-hoc organizations which rapidly attain levels of effectiveness exceeding those of institutionalized, top-down machines. The key is that these groups and their members have functional knowledge of one another, and a common set of standards for interoperation. Talented people who are experienced at working together and willing to do so towards a common goal will outperform a bureaucracy or hierarchy just about every time. Their fitness is greater. They are more effective.
Chris dropped this quote which comes from an article about chess:
Strategic concentration of force, advantage in tempo, and the element of surprise could devastate a much larger foe.
As the speed of communication increases and the automation of routine processing becomes more and more the norm, quantum leaps in operational methodology emerge. We're ways off from being able to make things mesh on-demand, but we're improving. Also, these are advantages of which the institutional establishment will have a very hard time taking advantage; they have not cultivated the necessary operational autonomy within themselves.
Large-scale institutions generally react to change by attempting to restrict the pace of new development, to maintain the status quo long enough to absorb the new wave, and therefore sustain their position of influence. This tends to be the strategy even if they happen to be on the loosing side in the long-term equation, to hold the line as long as possible. This is the story of the record labels as surely as it is the story of most left-of-center political machines.
The upshot is that, in B-school terms, a significant and untapped market niche exists. There's a strong human impulse for the kind of agency we're talking about, for political and economic power to be more decentralized and distributed on the human level. It's also a good idea in terms of problem-solving. As I said, this kind of organization works better. Individual human effort is leveraged to greater effect. At the Department of Defense, they call this a force multiplier.
As the next generation of social organizations emerge, they are finding participants not only among newly minted citizens (talkin' 'bout my generation), but also among large number of adults who are tired of being functionally disenfranchised. Voting is the least you can do, and for a lot of people it doesn't really relieve their sense of social responsibility. As the scale and extremity of our problems come into sharper focus, this trend will increase. That's a good thing, by the way.
The question is, how do we act in this situation? I am interested in learning to build highly effective collectives of highly effective people which can operate with functional independence, but maintain a superior level of situational awareness and cooperative consciousness. These cells would be able to rapidly form as-hoc coalitions to accomplish goals on the state, national and international scale.
These coalitions must be unified and outcome-driven to be effective. Coalitions that are a "mixed salad" of purpose and meaning, a chaotic melange of egos, will continue to be brushed aside by the establishment at will. Those which provide an effective temporary focus for the network have a chance at succeeding, at breaking through.
Finally, I am also interested in stitching together a broad narrative into which these cells activities can be connected. The results of our individual, group and coalition activities must be linked together into our own version of history.
So we have four distinct levels of operation: Individual, Community, Coalition, and Historical. When we get these pistons firing together -- when individual action can be folded into experienced communities which function as constituencies in an effective coalition, which in turn accomplishes things which can be powerfully contextualized within an emotionally, intellectually and spiritually gripping historical narrative -- that's when you get a real sense of Movement.
With that sense, impact is increased yet again. This is the engine of social change. Lather, rinse, repeat. How many revolutions-per-minute can we muster? The revolution will be more than the sum of its parts.
(technorati tag: revolution).