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An issue

by Jerome a Paris Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 05:32:10 AM EST

Some harsh words from Francois in Paris in yesterday's Open Thread:

How many thousands of micro-issues does the citizenry need to have its consciousness raised about, its focus properly aligned on? Brominated flame retardants? Phosphate run-offs? Derivative instruments regulation? Volatile organic compounds? This is completely narcissistic!

That's not within the scope of grass-root activism or street demos. That's a job for good government vs. corrupt government. You cannot expect citizens to be on top of all the subjects of concerns in a technological society. At best, they'll get a very superficial understanding of the issues and more often, it's actually counterproductive. It just gives the impression that we are submerged in intractable problems and all you get is disengagement.

Popular activism needs to be focused on much broader and much more palpable issues, like corruption, inequality or lack of transparency. But thinking that going single issue by single issue is the way is properly bonkers.

I do have a problem with single issue campaigns because they positively are distractions from real political action and real political power. If the "other" side is not responding, there may be a reason. They don't fear you! They have no reason to. You don't have any power! And you won't get any as long you are losing your time with pointless single issue campaigns.

So, are single-issue campaigns useful (to raise consciousness, to motivate people or otherwise), or are they a dangerous distraction?


Display:
C'mon, get real.  Let a thousand flowers bloom.  it's not as if it's the disaster of hundreds of single issues which has prevented a coherent global policy of true sustainability.

Single issues do motivate people, and even sometimes, act as amazing catalysts.  Remember the guy who signed on to work a tuna boat, captured it on film, and changed the entire western world's tuna marketing strategy to one that actually addressed real issues?

Calling single issues within today's culturally diverse societies "narcissistic" ignores the process where each step follows the previous, however tenuous.  Single issues are no more "distractions from real political action and real political power" than reality TV or compulsive blogging.

I was present at the birth of Rainforest Action Network, which began in a kitchen but reached global deals with global corporations like Mitsubishi at the same time as widening its issues.  Fer chrissake, think the beginning of Greenpeace.

What's "properly bonkers" here, while hacking at trees, is the inability of the diarist to see the forest.  

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 06:55:39 AM EST
No, I think we've had relatively minimal actual influence.

It's a problem for the left that it always does single issue tactics while the right does strategy.

The corporatists know what they want and they'll do almost anything to get. The left knows what it doesn't want, which makes opposition fragmentary, haphazard, ineffective, and easy to write off as juvenile.

Protest isn't taken seriously. To most of the population it means people dressing up in home-made costumes being vaguely embarrassing.

Greenpeace and FOE have been around for decades now, and while they've had some local successes, most of the population will still tell you they're not sure if global warming is real.

The Culture of Protest has marginalised the left and given the Serious People a space which they can fill with their nonsense.

What the left needs is a restatement of goals which can motivate people to action, and a new sense of participation, effectiveness and solidarity.

You won't get that from asking people to dress up as corn cobs and pull up plants.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 07:53:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. Yes, if you have money and power, it's more effective to concentrate on strategy.

  2. If you don't have money and power, then the progress that has been made over global warming, in the teeth of opposition from those with real money and real power (Exxon springs to mind!) is actually pretty impressive.

Francois may be correct that it's all hopeless, but that's really all he has to say. If you have an issue that is not already part of the manifesto of one of the major parties, your only chance is to explore alternative campaigns.

There is no mechanism to do, for example, campaign for greater regulation of the City, within existing politics. So, we do it from here, we write to the FT and get not very far. But since we're actually fairly correct, then events now and then give us a chance. (e.g. Credit Crunch)

But, you only get a chance at changing the mind of a political party when:

a) Events force them to face up to the issue.
b) You've engaged in a long term single issue campaign to make your point of view heard.

Let me be clear, I'm all for "buying News International." I'm even still working on such ideas. But we have to do something for progress in the meantime, b/c god knows we don't have any money right now.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:17:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd further point out:

The guys who work hard at systematising the manipulation of public opinion, professional propagandists and marketing types have an academic discipline which is even worse in it's overall "reality base" than economics, so we shouldn't treat them as oracles of all knowledge.

BUT, they do have some level of empirical success and one of the things that comes out of the evidence is that "raising awareness" is a vital step in any kind of mass opinion change.

And if you don't have money or power, then "guerilla tactics" is where you start with that.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:21:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
they do have some level of empirical success

Truer words were never spoken.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:45:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You two are masters of English understatement.

It'd be nice if the battle were only against the right wingers, not half of the left on top of that — Franšois in Paris
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:47:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was unfair to say "Francois is just saying it's all hopeless," I'd like to retract that.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 09:48:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.

Aggregating micro-activisms is hopeless but I'm very bullish about broad-scale politics, in particular with the on-going failure of the "financial globalized capitalist" orthodoxy.

by Francois in Paris on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:45:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Though you know I agree on the overall narrative point, I think the rest of what you say is pretty skewed. You're quite willingly conflating "protest" with ineffectual la-la communication - which exists but not inescapably and not always. For example, the people who mow down GM maize in France are not jokes, and they don't dress up as corn cobs or ask anyone else to do so. And their methods of protest have been so effective that they have been stopped (I think they have been stopped, they don't...) by brutal repression in the form of very heavy jail sentences. When Bové and friends took apart a half-constructed MacDonald's to protest about the lousy food the agro-industry churns out, they hit a media nerve and spoke to the mass of people's desire to eat healthy food. Nowadays, if Bové as much as farts, they'll stick him in the slammer to catch up on all his suspended sentences. That doesn't seem to me to speak of inefficient communication, on the contrary.

Likewise, even though I feel somewhat bitter about the useless display of marginality I attended yesterday, I think you're inaccurate in claiming that

The Culture of Protest has marginalised the left

It's the other way round: Money and Power have marginalised leftwing protest. Where we're likely to agree is that this is now a consummated process.

However, every time I see the left play at Serious People and shun marginalisation like the Devil, the result is... They do like they were on the right. Do we need examples?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 11:46:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am someone who stopped going to protests in May of 1970 when I was asked to chant in front of a GE stockholder's meeting, "Save Mother Earth."  I swore at that moment that I would NEVER do something that irrelevant and goofy again.

Now there is NOTHING wrong with street action.  I don't even believe it saps energy.  If that is what you think your calling to be, make puppets and march in the streets with my blessing.

However, I don't think street action is what the folks who come to Eurotribune should be doing.  Let me explain.

Because I am graceful with tools, I get along VERY well with the members of the building classes.  The idea that our problems are due to insufficient political and cultural awareness of the car mechanic or carpenter is just plain wrong.  The grassroots are FINE!!!

The real problems exist at the level where the conventional wisdom is hatched.  Our politicians make preposterous economic decisions NOT because they are corrupt, but because the guys with all the "credentials" are filling their heads with utter bullshit.

See, that is OUR job.  Not to fill our leaders heads with more bullshit, but giving them good, sound, ideas that allow them to at least ask meaningful questions.  It is why I think our Jerome is bucking for sainthood with his crusade to relabel neoliberalism as "Anglo Disease."

Let others march in the streets and organize "grassroots" campaigns.  We have other fish to fry.  If we could come up with 20 ideas as effective as "Anglo Disease" we WILL change the world.  Ideas ARE important and the time has come to ridicule the right-wing crazies out of the debate.  There is NO way to meaningfully address the big problems like peak oil and climate change without changing the operating economic assumptions.  

This is OUR battle and Eurotrib is a damn good place to figure out how to fight it.  We MUST create the new "conventional wisdom."  It is a HUGE problem but there are some seriously smart people who come here.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 06:30:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
for those most uplifting words!

I've been feeling a bit useless and out of things to say lately. it's good to have things put in perspective again, so as not to give up too quickly...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 07:20:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome, don't feel down. Feel knurd. It's unpleasant but it works.

What you're doing has nothing to do with Greenpeace/Bové style activism. The "Anglo disease" is about framing the discourse and, interestingly enough, the action is directed towards the media and politicians, not ordinary citizens. In some degree, it's lobbying.

Plus, you have a pretty serious ally in this affair: reality. The Anglo disease is not an important issue because you feel very strongly about it (the ward single-issue activist use to gauge their own importance). It's important because it's real and it's bitting the whole lot of us right now.

That's more what I call citizen expertise: developing and articulating knowledge about important issues outside of the anointed circles so it is possible to tell them "No, you are wrong and here's the proof" when they serve their usual "expert" crap. That works even (and, probably especially well) for highly technical issues.

But you don't go around hectoring passers-by on how immoral they are for not caring deeply about the Anglo disease. That's what Greenpeace and the single-issue activists are doing and then they are all outraged and indignant when the passers-by just answer "whatever".

by Francois in Paris on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 09:56:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But you don't go around hectoring passers-by on how immoral they are for not caring deeply about the Anglo disease. That's what Greenpeace and the single-issue activists are doing

That is really one over the top and one too many, François. Belittle protests, or oppose the notion of protesting, if you like, but this is not even accurate.

Funny that I started this by sighing over the protest I had attended.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 03:11:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is my experience.
by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 01:23:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have never once seen it. Ditsy useless songs and slogans, oh yes, but not harassing passers-by with accusations.

But you're the tough guy around here, if you're to be believed. So you should agree with activists for being unpleasant and threatening rather than ineffectual, right?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 02:44:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unpleasant if they want. Threatening, certainly not. It will land them in jail. Ineffectual, always.

But you're the tough guy around here, if you're to be believed.

No innuendo, afew. What do you mean?

by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 03:06:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A reference to a number of your comments:

When I hear the Greenpeace whining, it really makes me want to harpoon a whale and club a baby seal just for the heck of it

I'm going to be mean and vindictive again

you should have spent more time shooting down the old guard of the PS

I don't want soft-spoken goo-goos à la Jimmy Carter. I want real sons of a bitch who don't hesitate to yield power and club the other side to pulp.

I thought that, finally, you might find that activist s-o-bs who hector passers-by were your kind of folk...

:-P

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 03:47:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, 'cause they are ineffectual. Outcomes matter :>
by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 04:09:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good comment, techno.

We've talked, off and on, of forming a "ET ThinkTank" and it always seems to bog down.

In my opinion we have a wide range of expertise with a wonderful potential waiting to be harnessed.  The harness, IMNSHO, is money and, allied to that, is a 'customer.'  The latter solves the former.  If we could find a customer willing to throw ~150,000€ a year for two years we could write a serious of position papers that would destroy the intellectual foundations of the Washington Consensus.  

Hell, we've already done it, but in an inchoate manner, spread across the years of diaries and comments.  

The job would be to go through ET, construct coherent arguments, do a bit of research, toss in the proper academic dongles, and write, write, write.  At the end of two years the output should be a minimum of two books and 10 papers.  (That's off the top of my head, we might double or - if things work out right - even treble it.)

Getting the books published is a known solution.  Getting the papers published is more - heh - academic but they could always be hand-delivered to various decision-makers and the media.  Since we're not really interested in getting tenure that's good enough, IMO.

Realistically, in order to qualify for support at that level a team would have to be formed, a funder found that would agree to fund if the teams proves itself, a set of criteria from the funder needing to be met, and the team prepare a paper meeting that criteria.  

I know, cuz I done done it - along with many other people here, doing the research and writing the paper is the easy part.  Finding the funder is the problem.  

And on that I'm of no help.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 07:23:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ATinNM:
In my opinion we have a wide range of expertise with a wonderful potential waiting to be harnessed.  The harness, IMNSHO, is money and, allied to that, is a 'customer.'  The latter solves the former.  If we could find a customer willing to throw ~150,000€ a year for two years we could write a serious of position papers that would destroy the intellectual foundations of the Washington Consensus.  
The idea of a "meta-consultancy" has legs, I think. It has been floated by a number of people. What we really need, though, is someone with sales/fundraising ability to convince potential customers that our expertise is what they need.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 10th, 2008 at 04:17:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, yes, yes, but with a quibble.

I actually believe the puppets makers/street marchers are noxious. They trivialize protests and when really substantive protests come along, they have no longer any effect.

Example : the anti-war protests in the US and UK in 2002 which were 1) massive and 2) had zero effects, in large parts because the idiots have poisoned that well long ago with their narcissistic street theater BS. The March on Washington of August 1963 would have no effect whatsoever if it were to happen today.

Protests should be very rare, only about really important matters, and they should be massive and brutal.

by Francois in Paris on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 09:05:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
make aware the public of a problem, not change how people think about it. Of course the anti-war protests were useless in changing public opinion. Everybody knew there would be a war and it didn't lack awareness.
But there are other issues, which can profit enormously just from awareness.

I guess by the way there are a lot of people, who would oppose protesters and potentially their issues, just because they are "massive and brutal", as you write they should be. If you really can change something, like stopping a war or destructing a nuclear power plant, this can still work, but such protests won't be constructive.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 01:27:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Partially so.

But partially it is probably also due to the very simple fact that protests today are substantially more toothless than protests forty or fifty years ago. It used to be that when someone put a hundred thousand pairs of feet on the streets in the capital, it presaged a general strike, extensive blockades, large scale organised sabotage or some other suitably nasty reprisal if their demands were not met - or at least approached.

In other words, the Left used to have the Parliament of the Street with which to oppose the Right's control of the Parliament of the Dollar. Today, the Parliament of the Street has been left to disorganised anarchist rabble with more guts than sense and little in the way of political program or parliamentary representation [2], while the Parliament of the Dollar is still fully operational - and likely more so than back in the bad old days.

It has been postulated - and I think I tend to agree - that rapid and real progress is made not by revolution, but by the credible threat of it. Looking across the history of European democracy, the greatest democratic progress has been in the late 1840s, in the interbellum years and in the immediate aftermath of WWII. In all three cases, revolution was a very real possibility [1], with potentially extremely unpleasant consequences for the elites, were it to happen.

Sadly, though, the credible threat of revolution tends to work best when said revolution is happening to someone else at the time; and revolutions have a way of eating their children...

- Jake

[1] Respectively the Franco-German liberal revolts, the aftermath of the Russian revolution and the way the European communists had been boosted in public opinion by being the only faction to put up a more than half-hearted fight with the fascists during the War.

[2] But do note that they did get a new Ungdomshus.

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 03:55:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know how old you are, Jake, but a disorganised anarchist rabble with more guts than sense was the kind of thing that was said about the protests forty or fifty years ago that you consider were efficient.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 04:35:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
True. But methinks you overlooked the qualifier with little in the way of political program. Not being old enough to remember it personally, I have my information second-hand at the best of times, but even if half the things I hear are post-facto rationalisations, there was a lot of political program back then.

Not so much with the present-day anarchists. They make a showing at the G8 summits, but not much more than that (and that's still a Hell of a lot more than can be said for the Serious lefties). But if you read their manifests, they specifically eschew political platforms as reactionary. Libertarians on the left.

Now, that's not to say that they couldn't be effective. The right has used right-wing libertarians to move the Overton Window quite effectively. But I don't see anything in their public statements (or their operational planning) that suggests that they are working along those lines.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 05:05:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This comment would be worth a diary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 04:46:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since you're addressing your comment to me, techno, (at least formally), please let me point out that you are preaching to the converted. My view of what we can and should be doing at ET is exactly what you say, and it's why I'm here.

I'm finding it quite amusing, though, that my admission that I'd gone to a street protest against GMOs is gathering me quite a basket of lectures... Some of them very good ones, of course, like yours :-)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 03:05:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am someone who stopped going to protests in May of 1970 when I was asked to chant in front of a GE stockholder's meeting, "Save Mother Earth."  I swore at that moment that I would NEVER do something that irrelevant and goofy again.

When 'normal' people go home just because they don't like the company of the nutters the nutters remain.

If 'normal' people really cared, they'd easily crowd out the nutters and street theatrists.

In fact, things could get as bad as for you in May 1970 only because the majority of 'normal' people bowed out of activism long before you.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 10:30:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll add that I did not go to an anti-GMO demo in order to prance around dressed as the Green Giant. I went in hopes there'd be a significant number of "normal" people like me. I was disappointed.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 11:40:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have the luxury to be disappointed :-) I can be happy when even just the nutters turn up.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 12:40:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that's true.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 01:01:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
When Bové and friends took apart a half-constructed MacDonald's to protest about the lousy food the agro-industry churns out, they hit a media nerve and spoke to the mass of people's desire to eat healthy food. Nowadays, if Bové as much as farts, they'll stick him in the slammer to catch up on all his suspended sentences. That doesn't seem to me to speak of inefficient communication, on the contrary.

It's very inefficient communication for two reasons.

Firstly efficient communication means getting the job done. It means doing whatever you have to do to make sure GM crops aren't allowed to thrive, and that McDonalds is driven out of town because people would rather have their head dipped in a vat of boiling oil than eat there.

Getting a possible custodical jail sentence is just media noise. It doesn't solve the problem in any way.

If Bové took 100,000 people with him, that would make an impression. But on his own he's just another story that slots in between Bruni's fashion stylings and the weather.

Also, the real message that it gets across to the population is that if we screw with The Man we will be ignored if we're irrelevant, and taken down if we're not. This is the message that people will actually remember from this - not the possibility of progress, but the futility of supporting it.

Which is why 'Hey, at least we got some air time' is not a helpful rationalisation. We really need to be thinking of strategies which go beyond that - a long way beyond it.

The only useful metric for action is real policy change. If policy change isn't happening, there's no effectiveness, no matter how much air time an issue gets.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 10:03:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Getting a possible custodical jail sentence is just media noise.

Not my point. The communication was efficient. In a very short time it got the "bad food" message out there, in France and beyond, and it was a message that resonated across a very broad sector of public opinion. (The message was not, btw, "don't eat at MacDonald's"; it was using the example of MacDonald's to point to the entire agri-food-industry and the low quality of its products).

Since it was efficient, it was replied to with repression. The prison sentences were not meant, in my comment, to be in themselves good communication via, perhaps, some kind of eagerly-sought martyrdom. I also think it's not an efficient strategy now to persist in "civil disobedience" tactics, as the crop-mowers seem to want to do. That really will bang home the nail of "resistance is futile".

It's wa-a-a-ay easy to say the only metric is success in real policy change. Long-term strategy that is sure to work in advance? Even big money and power can't be sure of that, though they're understandably fairly good at getting their way; but what can we do? I'm looking forward to your series of diaries to clue us in ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 02:57:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
persist in "civil disobedience" tactics, as the crop-mowers seem to want to do

I view crop mowing as something stronger: sabotage, with economic consequences for the planters.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 10:25:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They call it "civil disobedience" and derive it from Ghandi.

The economic consequences depend. When GM maize was "experimental", (years previous to 2007 in France), the farmer got paid under contract notwithstanding crop destruction. If it's a commercial crop (as in 2007), then destruction would mean loss of income for the farmer. (There was in fact very little mowing in 2007).

I think this is one more reason against mowing, not because I'm worried about the big subsidy-fat grain farmers, but because it's all too easy a communications theme: extremists are depriving poor farmers of their hard-earned pay.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 11:19:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're getting closer to the truth there.

Firstly, setting the frame is a huge part of the message. When people see protests their responses are already pre-conditioned towards framing the event as the work of silly extremists etc etc la di da.

What they don't get is any sense of personal connection with protest culture. They may get a personal connection with a specific issue - like food quality - but this won't give them a reason to cross the gap and start identifying with the people who are doing the protesting.

It's that sense of personal inclusivity - which used to be called solidarity - which protest culture lacks for anyone outside of the tiny, tiny minority of people who take part.

That's why the intellectual framing and the overall strategy are so important. The intellectual strategy - the story, the narrative, whatever you want to call it - has to be made into a drama which people feel compelled to take part in. They have to own it, personally, and they have to feel that it's all about their own personal lives. They also have to feel that change is inevitable - possibly difficult, but ultimately not something that can be stopped. It has to seep into the culture from many sources at once, until it's so obvious that it fills the frame and makes other possibilities look unbelievable.

The right has owned that territory for a few decades now. E.g. people see immigration as a personal threat in a way that GM or global warming or being raped by the financial industry isn't.  

Nothing of significance will happen until the Left can start producing narratives which create those kinds of feelings.

It's not impossible. It's happened before, and it's - kind of - happening now in the US, with Obama's campaign, which is having an effect because he's pushing all of these buttons.

I don't know how progressive he really is, and there's always the centralised cult of personality issue to work around. But if you look at how he's motivated his followers with a sense of personal participation, involvement and investment - that's exactly the kind of response the Left needs to be able to create to be effective.

We desperately need some new stories for the left which can crowd out the old extremist fist waver image. It's so easy to play to that, and the left really needs to reinvent itself as something more positive - inclusive, hopeful, welcoming, effective. Most of all, a contrast to the madness and greed on the right which is so obvious that it will make the corporate option look not bad, or evil, or frightening, but simply ridiculous.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 09:34:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
obama shows a high degree of self-mastery, that's his appeal.

he is light on his feet, lofty of mind, and very serious...and when he smiles, it's a beautiful thing to see and feel. gravitas, with humour.

he paces himself, is aware of his needs and limits, takes time off, and so far is surfing a wave of need for deep change.

with an intellect like his, being president could have some really positive outcomes. he's slight, yet has great stamina and ability to refresh himself.

he's redefining politics, and still at the beginning of his arc.

best thing to happen to america in a while...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 09:55:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't disagree with any of that.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 01:34:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think there is a lot of truth to what you write, but even you come short.

New ideas and ways aren't lacking. But you write about an "old extremist fist waver image". It's an image. The activist left is not in control of their image. Right-wing propagandists can apply negative stereotypes about fringe-leftists even to people who attempt to use new tactics. Meanwhile, they mainstream quite crackpot fringe-rightwingers with not much new to say.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 05:24:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The only useful metric for action is real policy change. If policy change isn't happening, there's no effectiveness, no matter how much air time an issue gets.

That is a metric that you can use after an event. As such it is worthless when judging if something will be effective. For example, by this metric in 1943 Gandhi's methods would be considered ineffective.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 04:13:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gandhi was successful because the Brits were bled to death after WWII and materially incapable of holding on India (and may be not that interested in holding it?). To a point, the same type of victory as the US "winning" against the Evul Soviet Empire(TM) in 1989.
by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 04:33:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They were materially incapable of holding on in face of tactics like the salt march. It was a question of time. (Then again, in West only the 'nonviolence' and 'break the law with a level head' elements of Ghandi's political strategy are widely known, his point about exploiting the relative size of the occupying bureaucracy/military and the natives less so.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 04:55:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No - all I'm suggesting is that we apply some basic reality testing to protest culture.

The goal is to stop GM crops. Everyone agrees on that.

Have the protests had any influence at all on the introduction of crops? Is there any evidence that they might?

I don't think there is. We've had some threats to send someone to prison, but given the goal, where's the hard evidence that GM crops are less likely to be introduced?

Did Genoa do anything to stop globalisation? Did Aldermaston stop the UK's nuclear weapons program? Did the Iraq march stop the Iraq war?

This will probably annoy some people, but it's hard to see that CND had any effect at all on the nuclear industry. The V bombers were built, Polaris was built, Trident was built, Greenham Common was abandoned because of Gorbachev, not because of the protests.

I think there's a disinclination on the left to believing that making a noise and getting yourself heard isn't enough. The idea seems to be that if you yell loudly enough and if you're right enough, someone in authority will notice and you'll get what you want.

Unfortunately - not. No one cares about yelling until you get to the general strike level of escalation. That's not where the pressure points are.

So we can continue doing what we've always done, and getting what we've always got, or we can try something different.

Which is what Gandhi did. He reinvented the independence movement - he didn't keep doing what it had always done, hoping that this time it might actually have an effect.

His methods may not be the right methods for where we are. All I'm saying is that it's well overdue for people on the left to start saying 'Screw this - how about we break with tradition and try to think of something that might actually work, instead of hoping it might and getting pissed off when it doesn't.'

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 10:27:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Again, I agree - with almost everything. But, as I've already argued, to the question:

Have the protests had any influence at all on the introduction of crops?

I'd say yes, their influence in France, that tends (-ed?) to be the agricultural policy-setter for the EU, has delayed their introduction. For some years the EU's soft power, as it refused to import or grow GM crops, even made Monsanto consider the possibility of giving up its GM agri-programme. It's the Barroso Commission that has gradually turned the EU's position round. And the protest methods that worked ten years ago no longer apply. So there's certainly a need for something different.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 01:48:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mowing in Germany stopped a number of research projects (by which I mean, end of the project after repeated re-planting and destruction of fields), and limited the spread (even if not turning it back). Though mowing was not that frequent back then, during the previous Schröder government, GM was legally stopped by the Green ministers, with current agriculture minister Seehofer opening up the way again only in 2007.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 05:00:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Too true, and well said.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 07:58:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
be a neat thing for the Kossaks to chew on.
by borkitekt on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:08:42 AM EST
I think François's comment is a very good one, I'd decided in fact to write more about it (later) before I saw this thread!

Here's what I replied to him in the OT:

afew:

Well, that reminds me of local action is futile and global action delusory, as somebody said upthread ;)

My main problem with it is that, to seek overall political control, you have to go with a major political movement, in hopes that your single issue will be positively handled by them. But, if you haven't raised the profile of your single issue, why are they going to bother? In real terms in France that means hoping the PS will thank you for your support by taking a different line on GM crops. Illusory.

I say illusory all the more in view of the colossal lobbying forces in presence. The current government is supposed to be tied to a set of conclusions reached at the Grenelle conference on the environment, following which a commission concluded on serious doubts about the safety of GM maize. Yet the law on GM crops has been transformed in the (government majority) Senate into a pro-GM machine. The law is currently in committee stage in the lower house, and the news is they're doing nothing to kick out the Senate amendments. That's the power of lobbying.

This is why, though I understand your logic, I don't support it. There have been years of backing broad-coalition platforms, for no return on environmental issues.

OTOH, attempting to change the global viewpoint, the overall narrative... That's the task. (In which, btw, GM crops is not a single issue, but an integral part of the question of how food is produced and who controls the process, which is the sister question to the one where the word energy replaces the word food, and the entire food/energy complex the core global issue of the decades to come).

But there's more to be said about this... I'm also under the depressing effect of having supported an excellent environmentally-conscious broad-coalition platform for the local municipal elections, that was scurrilously shot down by the old guard of the PS....

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:43:18 AM EST
I think the problem is that at any one time, certain issues are "core" to "elections" and others are less so.

And the reality is that parties win power on "core" issues. Their position on "core" issues dictates their support (be it monetary or electoral) and puts them in a position to contest for power.

Food should be "core" but it pretty clearly is secondary to "economy." Likewise, "energy" is only core in the frame of "economy" and questions of origination and control are swept under the carpet using the formulae of "substitutability" and "fungibility" from economics.

Anyway, if you think "food" should be "core" and it isn't, then the only mechanism to push it towards being "core" seems to be "single issue" style campaigning.

I think the cautionary tale about "broad coalitions" would have to be the story of New Labour and Tony Blair. That is the case study of how supporting a broad coalition cannot deliver what you voted for. The actions of the government are dictated not by the voter, but by the dominant narrative.

Now I think part of the point from Francois and TBG is that if you don't build a coherent, competing narrative, you're not really going to overturn the dominant one and so you're doomed to fighting a new single issue every week, because the dominant paradigm never seems to do the right thing.

And the big orange experiment seems to show that an organised sort of grassroots participation in a party can start to have an influence on it.

Still, in the end, part of building a coherent narrative is picking some single issues to make winning stands on, so I don't think you can get away from single issues either.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 09:46:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I second that. As I said yesterday, the media only retains the colorful protesters and their "tree-hugging" message.

As Afew reminded, the vast majority of the public is against GMO and still comfortably believe they're out of our plates since they're banned from the EU, right? (Afew: "They seem to be under the impression that there will go on being non-GM stuff on sale, but in fact it will rapidly become impossible to guarantee GM-free foodstuffs (for reasons of dissemination in the fields, and mixes in the silos and industrial facilities).")

So why pay more attention to this particular issue when others seem higher on the priority list: housing, employment, poverty, health care, pensions...

That's what the PS is focusing on, in France, and ruthlessly pushing its erstwhile Green allies on the side lines in the process. It happened here in Grenoble too...

Yet, Afew also mentioned this little known fact: very effective lobbying in the French Senate to push pro-GMO legislation, and into the lower house of the French parliament as well.

So my feeling, at the end of the day (I may be wrong), is that the real fight is not to raise awareness about the dangers of GMO's: this particular battle has been essentially won already.  The real battle is all the political lobbying happening behind the scenes, both at national level and at the EU institutions level, to shove them down our unwilling throats, whether the citizens want it or not. That's what the public is blissfully unaware of and that's the real danger.

by Bernard (bernard) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 10:10:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I think that campaigning on the GM issue needs to (obviously) drop the kind of girls dressed in old sheets with stuff written on them that was unfortunately all that was happening yesterday, and also the determined but doomed crop-mowing, and find a way of communicating efficiently on:

  • the strength of the lobby and its deep ramifications in the techno-structure (the documentary you mentioned, Le Monde selon Monsanto, is no doubt useful on this);

  • the fact that separation of GM/non-GM foodstuffs is not going to happen. What will be on the supermarket shelves will contain GMOs.

But, given the massed forces rolling GM crops out here, there's not much hope.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 10:59:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the documentary you mentioned, Le Monde selon Monsanto, is no doubt useful on this

DVD available here; French, English or German language.

Also, if you have access to Arte, the French-German TV channel, looks like you'll have another opportunity to record it on Saturday, April 19, at 09:45.
</Public Service Announcement>

by Bernard (bernard) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 12:29:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the determined but doomed crop-mowing

Why doomed? Not large-scale enough?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 10:22:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because all it will do is fight into a corner where the mowers will be more and more easily painted as extremists. Their jail sentences may make martyrs of them, but martyrdom only works as an inspiring theme if there are enough people ready to be inspired by it. I don't think that's the case at the moment, where people don't see much link between their personal rejection of GM food, and the mowers (maybe because most people see little connection between what's in their plate and a field somewhere?).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 11:27:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are the French GM mowers (1) typically in the public (I assume they are from the Ghandi reference and other points in your comments) and (2) typically bobos, no farmer element there (who'd feel inspired)?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 01:38:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are no bobos but a lot of farmers among them - organic or other small, quality producers, whose livelihood is threatened by the different forms of GMO dissemination towards their products. But we're not hearing about that. According to the media, "farmers" want GM crops. When the French agri-communications machine gets going, there is only one kind of farmer, industrial, productivist. But who somehow miraculously respects the traditions of good terroir food, see the annual Paris Farm Show.

The problem again is that most people don't know much about farming. The mainstream narrative works fine because of this.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 03:03:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Afew,

My main problem with it is that, to seek overall political control, you have to go with a major political movement,

Yes. Absolutely. You don't have a choice.

in hopes that your single issue will be positively handled by them. But, if you haven't raised the profile of your single issue, why are they going to bother? In real terms in France that means hoping the PS will thank you for your support by taking a different line on GM crops. Illusory.

No. That's where I wholly disagree and where single-issue activists piss me off, barking.

The PS itself will not act on GMOs, no more than the UMP, the PCF or the FN. It's way too technical, way above their head (and that of most activists too, btw). You don't want the PS or any other elected punk to touch those issues.

That's the core of the problem. You guys are naive on how modern democracies can be made to work.

Those issues are NOT within the scope of politics. Those problems are not issues of feelings or of liking a position or another. Those are matter for the experts to be decided on the base of the best knowledge available, not by who has the best political theater or the best communication lines into power. Like it or not, we are living in technological societies and most issues are way, way too complex to be handled by politicians.

What you need to work on is a government where those issues - GMOs being a very small one of them - are handled openly, transparently and with full consideration of the facts. What you want is a government where even the "little guys" like you, the citizen expert, can chime in and say "Hey, wait a minute! Have you thought of this problem? Show me your data! Show me your simulations!" and where the politicians you helped elect will turn around to the "official" experts and make them show their data, their simulations and redo their experiments.

What you want is a government that rewards competence and openness and punishes back-room deals, corruption, public fraud and manipulations, a government that sends corporate lobbyists in jail and shut downs crooked corporations and assorted fraudsters. By the way, it also means that the interested citizens must show actual expertise, not slogans. Fear-mongering bullshitters like Greenpeace would not fare much better than Monsanto in those conditions.

But on the whole, the larger issue is not particularly ideological. It's about picking and promoting the right folks. I'm not even sure it's that much related to democracy. A benevolent dictator could make it work as well, that is if you can find one this improbably bird. As a matter of fact, given the propensity of modern democracies to elect incompetent, corrupt blockheads, I'm wondering if it's not worth revisiting the "benevolent dictator" approach :>

I say illusory all the more in view of the colossal lobbying forces in presence. The current government is supposed to be tied to a set of conclusions reached at the Grenelle conference on the environment, following which a commission concluded on serious doubts about the safety of GM maize. Yet the law on GM crops has been transformed in the (government majority) Senate into a pro-GM machine. The law is currently in committee stage in the lower house, and the news is they're doing nothing to kick out the Senate amendments. That's the power of lobbying.

So what's the problem here? The GMOs? Or the far more general issue of corporate interests interfering with democracy and public debate? For me, it's the second. Coincidently, I think it's much easier and effective to campaign on it than on GMOs. That's really where political action can play a role.

This is why, though I understand your logic, I don't support it. There have been years of backing broad-coalition platforms, for no return on environmental issues.

OTOH, attempting to change the global viewpoint, the overall narrative... That's the task. (In which, btw, GM crops is not a single issue, but an integral part of the question of how food is produced and who controls the process, which is the sister question to the one where the word energy replaces the word food, and the entire food/energy complex the core global issue of the decades to come).

But there's more to be said about this... I'm also under the depressing effect of having supported an excellent environmentally-conscious broad-coalition platform for the local municipal elections, that was scurrilously shot down by the old guard of the PS.

I'm going to be mean and vindictive again but it seems to make for good discussions so...

  • May be the issues you are working on are not that important. Or they are cast in a manner so disconnected from other preoccupations that they always lose. I strongly suspect this is the case on environmental issues. When I hear the Greenpeace whining, it really makes me want to harpoon a whale and club a baby seal just for the heck of it.
  • May be you should have spent more time shooting down the old guard of the PS.

Two things to close my argument:

  • I do what I preach. As you know, I am a big proponent of nuclear power and I really see it as a civilization-defining issue. Yet my horse in the US presidential race was, without any hesitation, John Edwards, the only one of the three major Democratic candidates who is rabidly anti-nuclear. Why? Because 1) he has the right positions of a whole slew of issues as important as energy so my loss but he's the guy and 2) he was the only candidate who talks about cleaning up the public space from lobbyists. In this case, I don't care what his position on nuclear is because I trust nuclear energy would prevail on its own factual merits rather than by the reach of the (ineffective) industry lobbyists, something I'm perfectly comfortable with even if it means loosing a few years here and there. Sadly, Edwards lost. Too goo-goo. Not mean enough.

  • Before you call me naive on my approach, I want to make it clear that I'm not dreaming of a polite, honest society where everything is fine and peachy. The good guys don't win because they are the good guys. My position is actually pretty (embarrassingly) muscular. I don't want soft-spoken goo-goos à la Jimmy Carter. I want real sons of a bitch who don't hesitate to yield power and club the other side to pulp. My models are Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle, both authentic SOBs (who interestingly despised each other) and the closest thing the US and France got to dictators in the past century. Oh, and I don't believe in fairness towards the authoritarian 25% and the leaders who use them. I like them kicked early and often.
by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 12:01:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Francois in Paris:
What you want is a government where even the "little guys" like you, the citizen expert, can chime in and say "Hey, wait a minute! Have you thought of this problem? Show me your data! Show me your simulations!" and where the politicians you helped elect will turn around to the "official" experts and make them show their data, their simulations and redo their experiments.

Can I have a pony with that?

You ask me not to call you naïve (come now, in this discussion, I'm the one who's supposed to be naïve :-)), but at the least you must accept that the enlightened (despotism?) system of government you outline is absolutely not the one we have. The one we have is so far from "throwing corporate lobbyists in jail" that it is in fact colossally influenced by corporate interests. And the point of my comment above about GMO lobbying was the extraordinary combination here of corporate (Monsanto, Syngenta, etc, plus mainstream agro-industry) interests with the "farm lobby" (official farmers' unions in France), and the "official experts" of the MinAg techno-structure. That combination is so powerful that current official policy is countermanded by, um, the legislative representatives (under influence) of the people.

As for the right of little "citizen experts" like me to question the received wisdom of the "techno-structure experts", this is not in the field of play. Even scientific experts (no, I'm not bringing in Greenpeace, which I don't have much sympathy with) are asked not to meddle. Last (academic) year, I listened to a summary from and discussed their work with two young biologists from Toulouse University, one of whom had worked on transmission of the Bt Cry protein transgene from maize roots to soil bacteria, shown it to be possible, and concluded the need for expanded study. He was quietly told he had a bright future but that wasn't a good study topic, try something else. It's not an isolated example, but one that hasn't been talked about (he buckled under). My point is that scientific research, even publicly funded, is not free from an agenda based on conventional wisdom and a sense of lines it's smarter to stay within - rather as journalists know what not to write if they want a forward-moving career. If one then considers the preponderance of corporate R&D in GMO research, genuinely open scientific enquiry looks reduced to an extremely strict minimum. We are far, far from the sweetness and light of your ideal system.

Meanwhile, even if we had such a system, you say that single issues like GMOs are

way too technical, way above their [politicians] head (and that of most activists too, btw)

Pray tell, François, how than is anyone but the established experts ever going to get a word in on any such matter? It's all too technical, let the guys who understand it decide. What you're pleading for is government by experts, and it's no accident that you admit in an aside that it doesn't have to be democratic. Which colours the whole of your attitude.

The political, for you, boils down apparently to feelings or of liking a position or another. Not very clear... For me, how the planet's food (+ energy) is produced and who controls the process is eminently political. Above, you quote, but totally ignore, what I said here:

OTOH, attempting to change the global viewpoint, the overall narrative... That's the task. (In which, btw, GM crops is not a single issue, but an integral part of the question of how food is produced and who controls the process, which is the sister question to the one where the word energy replaces the word food, and the entire food/energy complex the core global issue of the decades to come).

Strange how citizens are belittled in your account for attempting to draw politicians' and public servants' attention to issues of the GMO kind which, interlinked, are far from minor, while corporate interests address these people permanently and with great energy and efficiency - they don't seem to be bothered that it's minor or "not political".

As for message efficiency, I quite agree that corporate influence is a prime target (and have said so elsewhere in the thread). And I think we're all agreed that dressing up and doing silly things in the street is at best useless. But your notion of the political sphere and of citizens' expression of concern on "single" issues seems to me to approach dangerously a drowning-in-the-bathtub approach - in favour of government by, unsurprisingly (!), experts.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 05:57:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can I have a pony with that?

Yes, if you buy it yourself. That's the entire point.

Government is not anymore about solving a handful of large problems, easy to explain, apt to mobilize large portions of the population. That was true fifty years ago. It's not anymore. The tasks of modern government have become far too complex and dispersed to allow for that. That's why trying to solve issue by issue is doomed.

You have to work on the government itself. You have to make it work for you. Everything else is futile rear-guard action.

by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 01:37:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That was true fifty years ago

I don't think so. The "expert" discourse was around then, too: don't mess with this, you don't understand it. And the mass of people was less educated than today.

The tasks of modern government have become far too complex and dispersed to allow for that. That's why trying to solve issue by issue is doomed.

I don't see the logic of this. If the tasks are complex and dispersed, they could well be amenable to treatment issue by issue.

But I don't care to argue that to death. What I am saying is that GM crops is not a "micro-issue" but central to the global question of how food is to be produced and who is to control the process. No need to be a titular expert to see that Monsanto, with currently +80% of the world's GM seeds, has the ambition of exercising that control. Like Micro$oft in IT, the ambition may fall short, but only a little. This is not, to me, a trifling matter.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 03:25:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The central problem with single-issue campaigns (and campaigners) is in a sense a cultural one.

When someone says "cultural" we still think in quasi-national terms- terms that stem from a common, often  geographical heritage in dress, cuisine, art, music, laughter, architecture, etc. etc. But --all that shit was sold off, friends. We were tubed and we missed it. Most of us now live within a commercial meta-culture that is almost a caricature of the above idea of culture. This new "streamlined" culture comes from the almost worldwide penetration of global market theology, and consumer "culture". One of the central memes is a reification of eternal, endless competition- the grafting of a business concept onto the ravaged, impoverished body of real culture, transforming a culture in which it's central elements were shared treasure(s) into a zero-sum game of cutthroat. The evidence is strong that, by and large, we hate it--but it seems the only game in town. It's not.

Greenpeace battles for it's goals in the face of scrambling for scarce resources from the ACLU, who schemes for bigger headlines over all the rest---endlessly.

It's a sophisticated version of a very old tactic, "divide and conquer", -one in which you divide yourself, and then squabble endlessly over the crumbs, while missing the real meal- thereby forever conquering yourself. It will remain unbeatable as long as "commercial culture" is dominant in our thought processes--and invisible to us.

I do have a problem with single issue campaigns because they positively are distractions from real political action and real political power. If the "other" side is not responding, there may be a reason. They don't fear you! They have no reason to. You don't have any power! And you won't get any as long you are losing your time with pointless single issue campaigns.

I read this as a plea for a more cooperative approach to issues, but ---look at the images that emerge:
Real political actions!
Real political power!
They don't fear you!

Where's the We in all this?  There is none. The need for communal action is acknowledged---and then couched in deeply exclusive, zero-sum terms.

A striking article recently (forget where- perhaps the WaPo) pointed out approvingly that Hillary Clinton has assembled a team including diverse points of view and backgrounds, and that celebrates internal dissension and competition, because the competition of ideas in a critical marketplace brings out the best.

Sheesh! From a backroom brawl, good policy or tactics will emerge.

Even for a Democratic candidate , the trap is invisible. For the journalist, it's equally unnoticed.

Single issues are the bricks that build the house,

--but the house is a structure to house a family.

George Lakoff did a recent piece that says it well.
Democracy is Based on Empathy

As long as the idea that we're all in this together is seen as sophomoric idealism, there will be no effective community action, because there is no community- and no democracy.
         

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 10:07:16 AM EST
I agree, and I think that the unifying theme is that of the "common good", which I harp about all the time.

That what matters is not how the best of us fare, but how the lowest/weakest/worst off do.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 11:06:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm mostly in agreement with Francois.

The way in which the American presidential campaign has been snatched up by single-issue groups at the same time that the US is headed down the shitter is amazing.

But the common good is an awfully damn abstract thing, and as I'm certain you know (le economique "X" magnifique , think I got it right, that you are) is that the increasing the amount of wealth in society is ostensibly the aim of neo-liberalism. But issues of distribution are to be considered only on how they affect the total output, aka deadweight losses.  

What this misses of course is that the apparent voluntarism of the market hides a dirty little secret.

Money is power.  Power makes the world go round, and people in power are able to use it to create systems of legitimacy, i.e. the Washington Consensus and the myths of neo-liberalism that it grows from, that allow them to exploit those without power while maintaining the appearance that they are acting in the best interest of society. It's one hell of a dog and pony show when you really think about it.

That's the problem.  The reduction of man and nature to things to be bought and sold.  The triumph of the market logic over all that is holy and human.  All for 30 pieces of silver, the bastards that run the show get.

That's why all these piss ant little distractions about brominated flame retardants and the like are so damn irritating. They divert us from the real forces at work.  And you know what, worldwide there's basically no organized political parties dealing with the fucking problem.  You've got Die Linke doing their damndest in Germany,  Zapatero has his moments, Chavez and the gang are a mixed bag of nuts.  

Where are the real social democrats?  Is there hope for us yet? Or are we all damned to live in a world in which there is nothing human left, because market rationality has reduced the whole damn thing to a dollar amount?

It may be the end of the world, if not simply for the fact that Francois and I are playing on the same team here.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 04:27:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where are the real social democrats?

I'm one : unreformed liberal, warts, Social Security, New Deal, Hiroshima and all.

There are quite a few around but they don't dare call themselves like that. Plus they are pussies, err no, wussies, oh crap, milksops.

by Francois in Paris on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 09:16:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, having read "Crashing the Gate", the Kos/MyDD analysis of the generational democratic failure of late, I can sympathise with this. They do spend considerable energy slagging off the single interest liberal issue lobbyists who infest Washington, largely because they are willing to sacrifice their longer term interests  for advancing a short-term career advantage (NARAL were, rightly, especially criticised).

However, the underlying supposition remains that there is a party of Corporate interests opposed by a party of good hearted people who can be relied upon to do the "right" thing when in power. So single issue campaigns would be better off devoting their energies to getting the good people elected. Then all will be sweetness and light and we will all have cream buns. 'Cept, if don't work like that.

Political parties are, whatever their politics, essentially conservative institutions with battalions of power blocs, vested interests and preferred sources of money. All of them in a critical balance regarding who has access to what and who gets what enacted and  each of which regard new campaigners as threats to the ordered conduct of affairs. That is, they are entirely pre-disposed to ignore you and your concerns.

The only thing that will get their attention is voter concern and the way to get voter concern is to get on the news and the way to get on the news is to dress up a a corn cob and pull a stunt in a field full of GM crops. Cos that's the only time somebody will point a camera in your direction and your spokesman had better be able to say everything needed top stir the public conscience in precisely 15 seconds.

And you'd better have one big scary point to make about your one single issue. Forget complex ideas. Forget a basket of wider concerns. God, I hate to sound like a disciple of Karl Vader but scare the shit out of them. Tell them they are being attacked, denounce Monsanto for lack of concern and endangering the country's food supply. that's all you got time for, say it once, say it again and again. Never deviate, never hesitate.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 11:09:10 AM EST
I understand the point, and I don't even think it's cynical. But a big part of me says: if that is the only how political action can work in our society, then we need a new society. Because the final conclusion of your point is that rational concerted political action designed to identify and solve real problems such that situation (whatever it is) is in fact sustainable improved,  is not possible. It's all a matter of who can be more effectively frightening, and the Ruling Class will win that one every single time.
by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 12:33:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Because the final conclusion of your point is that rational concerted political action designed to identify and solve real problems such that situation (whatever it is) is in fact sustainable improved,  is not possible

that's right. When Money talks and bullshit walks, Righteousness won't get through the door.

Lobbyists buy politicians like so many baubles in the supermarket. The only difference between a Berlusconi or a Cheney and somebody like Brown or Merkel is not the willingness to follow the money, merely their shamelessness in doing so.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 02:56:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We need a new strategy. From a purely political perspective (that is, I am ignoring external problems that may in fact be more urgent), I think the only hope is to break the media monopolies. That seems to me a necessary condition for any progress. Of course, I don't know how this can be done, but even an impossibility proof would be helpful.
by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 03:27:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Single issue campaigns can be effective when the effort of publicizing the problem(s) is accompanied by a solution.  

Using GM crops as the example, at these protests a simple hand out listing producers and companies who have pledged to vend non-GM foodstuffs should be compiled.  By advertising these outlets the protest moves against the economic basis of GM production ending with, one hopes: if they grow it, they can't sell it.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 12:49:25 PM EST
That was the case when the EU refused both GM imports and GM cultivation. Then there was a global alternative.

Now it will become more and more difficult to produce non-GM (or non-contaminated by GM). It will be increasingly difficult (if not impossible) for grain handlers to maintain separate GM and non-GM lines. Same for meat producers and the food industry in general. Non-GM will be marginalised just like anti-GM protest. Guaranteed non-GM foods will be rare and expensive.

What most people will be able to buy will contain or have been produced using GM crops.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 03:39:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Food co-ops with the producer selling directly to the consumer.  

I've set those up here in the states and they work, benefiting both sides of the trade.  The producer increases their income by 100% and the consumer lowers their food bill by 10-25%.

I don't know the legal status of co-operatives in the EU.  In the states we were always able to find a way 'round stupid regulations, while maintaining food safety.  For example, we were able to get around some drastic restrictions on the sale of dairy products by carving a cow up into 10% increments which an "investor" would purchase to receive "dividends" in the form of milk.  The farmer was the "General Partner" who ran the operation.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 05:05:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know the legal status of co-operatives in the EU.

Differs between states.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 05:26:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ATinNM:
For example, we were able to get around some drastic restrictions on the sale of dairy products by carving a cow up into 10% increments which an "investor" would purchase to receive "dividends" in the form of milk.  The farmer was the "General Partner" who ran the operation.  

In other words , you accomplished on a "micro" scale almost exactly the type of "asset-based" finance I advocate.

You "unitised" the milk production.

It probably wasn't particularly scalable to do that on the basis of one Limited Partnership (as we call these things in the UK) per cow, anymore than it was scalable for a recent UK outfit that set up a separate Limited Company per house and sold shares in them. (and has now gone belly up)

But I believe it is possible with a bit of imagination to unitise production - and particularly land rentals - and thereby to replace conventional secured debt financing in a debt?equity swap on a massive scale.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 08:02:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup and that was years and years ago.  The goal was to save the farm from foreclosure by the goddamnbankers and we did.

(I come from a long line of prairie-raised rabble-rousing rabble-rousers  :-)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 11:26:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the annoyingly pissant non-social-democrat things I do is work with a local food distribution "co-op", which I'll write about some time to annoy the shit out of the Serious People who have their eye on the Big Picture.

:-D

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 06:15:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ATinNM,

That approach is too expensive. You can't do that for each issue that needs to be solved.

by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 12:12:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes fighting issue-by-issue is expensive.  It's much cheaper to fight at a higher level, which is why the Right is willing to fund their think-tanks.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 11:27:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's worth remembering, though (since it's been said a couple of times in this thread that the right doesn't do single issues), that abortion, homosexuality, "the family", creationism, are single issues the right fights, as is fear of foreigners/anti-immigration.

But the reason it dominates the overall discourse is of course the top level, the think tanks... and the almost exclusive control of the media. As we have said a thousand times on ET, a great deal of our frustration comes from this. And of course it should be the central thrust of what we try to do.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 02:04:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This article is tangentially relevant and interesting to this debate.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 01:07:35 PM EST
sp!ked review of books | The hole at the heart
of the Democratic Party
The knock-down, drag-out primary contest for the Democratic presidential nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has exposed serious divisions within the party. And the longer it has continued, the worse it has got.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 01:08:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent summary!

We are are stuck between people who want power but who have no freaking clue what to do with it and people who want to do all sorts of things (many of them quite harebrained, by the by) but who don't want to assume power, its responsibilities and its necessities.

by Francois in Paris on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 12:18:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think this is a debate also about the people who join the political process because of one issue that is important to them, but then become a part of a larger movement. Take students in the United States, for example, who identify themselves as democrats at a 2:1 ratio, precisely because Democrats address issues such as global warming and education costs - maybe not perfectly, but more so than the other side. Political movements and parties have been formed and shaped by like-minded people who joined together over time to advance their agenda. We may not always like it, but it is in our grasp through various grassroots activities to shape those movements and force them to address those "single issues" that may be important to us. For example, it's not simply a matter of fighting for the cause of climate change or genocide regardless of who is in power. Sure, some progress may be made even with people who oppose everything I may stand for, but how much progress? Would it not rather be productive to put in power the political party whose ideas are closest to mine and then pressure that political party to address my needs?
For all the talk of the Dems becoming too hawk'ish or too right-wing in the United States, one cannot help but observe a broad shift in rhetoric regarding free trade and international policy. It may all be lip-service to pander to the rank-and-file, for all we know, but the fact is, politicians hear people when people express their opinions with their wallets and their ballots.

Mikhail from SF
by Tsarrio (dj_tsar@yahoo.com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 02:36:11 AM EST
Interesting argument, but I bite.

  1. Democracy is not a system for getting the most able to manage the issues. It is about sharing the responsibility of decision. Or, to bring it to the point: share the blame. Even if your faith in a meritocratic technocrat elite is justified, their fewer mistakes (compared to the ill-informed decisions of the masses) will be theirs and will be their undoing.

  2. To take up a word used elsewhere in the thread, I think it's extremely naïve to believe that it's an in-the-know technocrat elite that makes the policy decisions (the decisions on the level of single-issue campaigns). The decisionmakers are politicians and public office holders. Their technical knowledge is on the same level as that of the general public.

  3. How are decisionmakers different from the general public? On the plus side, they do this job full-time, so in theory more time to read up and think it over. But, on the negative side, it is my impression that such people's general knowledge on issues is usually struck at the level they had developed when they entered politics.

  4. Worse, it's often not knowledge that decides, but as afew and others implied, the power of lobbies they listen to.

  5. Even without corrupting power from the economy, there is such a thing as bureaucratic inertia -- which affects the famed white knights of the technocratic elite proper, too. (To bring an uncontentious example from my field, railway chief designers may hold up the implementation of technical advances and the correction of recurrent problems by sticking to a dogma that was revolutionary and worked in their youth.)

  6. A single-issue activist campaign can be a great way to get the technocrats moving, and then the decisionmakers too.

  7. There are millions of citizens. There can be thousands of single-issue campaigns.

  8. One can get loose sight of the Big Picture when focusing on a single issue. But it is also possible, nay possible regular occurence, that the Big Issue gets completely emptied out as people are made to look the other way on a stream of single issues.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 09:56:08 AM EST
Stingy bonus point:

9) Isn't your thrust against single-issue campaigning motivated by single-issue campaigners you see as the main impedient to a single issue of yours?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 10:17:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like to thank everybody who has commented on this issue, I feel like I've heard a wide range of opinions concerning what was originally a reply to my comment, and to which I had no good reply. I guess I was commenting according to how I see things, but without properly laying it out.

I think the above most neatly sums up the way that I, and probably quite a few people I know, look at politics.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 11:53:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the argument against single-issue campaigns is just as fragile as the one for broad based activism.  Both are inevitable and both have their drawbacks and their strengths.

What I have experienced is that single-issue campaigns are often borne of necessity and spearheaded by those whose lives are being immediately and explicitly impacted by gov't. action or inaction on said issue.  If your mother is being deported, immigration is going to be your primary concern at the moment.  If your partner is not allowed to stay with you when you are in the hospital because he happens to be the same sex, equal rights for LGTB is probably what you are going to write your representatives about.  Etc.  Activism often starts when a single issue captures our attention, demands immediate action, etc.  And while everything in the universe is connected, starting small, focusing on tackling just one issue can have more impact.  You probably have a better chance of getting one company to stop using sweatshops than instituting a global living wage law and eradicating poverty.  And in theory, each small victory puts pressure on the holdouts to reform.  It creates leverage.  And in theory, those who devote themselves to a single issue begin to, after time, understand how and why larger issues contribute to the smaller one, and can then be more strategic in their attempts to tackle the broader issues.  And in theory, because everything is connected, those who oppose sweatshops will find themselves in meeting with those who are fighting for responsible energy policy and those whose primary cause is civil rights.  Because at the end of the day, it is the same people who bear the brunt of most injustices, those who are disenfranchised and are frankly dependent on issue-oriented activists/advocates to get their voices heard.  But coalitions do eventually form from these single issue campaigns.  There is power in numbers, and well, like anything else, it's all about who you know.  

The problem with fighting "inequality or lack of transparency" is that, while a good idea, it usually takes something tangible distinct to get people off their asses.  Activism, even outrage, requires a lot of time and energy.  A culture of corruption is rarely enough to get your average taxpayer to drop their day-to-day activities and demand an audience.  It's also a bloody pain to try to do anything about.  Come hang out in my state one day and tell me about fighting corruption and lack of transparency.  It's positively Sisyphean.  

A comment on street protests.  I don't really get the people who do them and ONLY them.  But I'm not against them even if they are not directly effective.  Firstly, they are sometimes a "gateway" to more serious activism.  Many many of the serious activists I now know say things like, "well, I wasn't political before, but I could not just sit back and watch Bush start this war.  I felt like I had to do something." So they marched.  And that got them out of their comfort zone enough, or they met at the march someone else who invited them to a meeting, etc ...  and now they are running for office.  Also, I spent a lot of time studying journalism of the 1960's, and while mass protests are largely embarrassingly self-indulgent and ineffective - can you IMAGINE if we did not have these images documented?  How else would we know anyone cared?  How many people would never have heard or Martin Luther King?  I think documenting outrage is vital.  Not because that outrage can change anything, but because those in power write the history books.  But anyone can film a protest.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 02:11:14 PM EST
What? There's a variety of tools for achieving aims? Who would have thought it?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 02:19:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not just that.  There are so very few people doing anything at all, that I just can't bring myself to criticise those stubborn folk who only improve the lives of others on the micro-level...

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 02:29:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup. If everyone did what they had the skills and time for we'd be in a much better place already ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 02:31:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I have experienced is that single-issue campaigns are often borne of necessity and spearheaded by those whose lives are being immediately and explicitly impacted by gov't. action or inaction on said issue.

Example of GM-maize-mowers: a well-known GM mower in Germany is a beekeeper, and beekeepers are very directly threatened: one quite logical measure to control the spread of GM is to bar the selling of honey with pollen from GM maize in it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 05:08:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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