Occupy Wall Street Activist Slams Fox News Producer In Un-Aired Interview

As the various Occupy protests fan out around the world many of us are trying to make sense of them, and to ascertain into which particular mental box these protests ought to go.

This interview of Jesse LaGreca, a vocal member of the Occupy Wall Street protests and writer for the Daily Kos, by Fox News is fascinating. It gives an insight into the kinds of problems Jesse is interested in addressing. Of particular interest is his desire to not have the movement end with a specific goal in mind:

“As far as seeing this end, I wouldn’t like to see this end. I would like to see the conversation continue. This is what we should have been talking about in 2008 when the economy collapsed.”

This video comes courtesy of Kyle Christopher from OccupyWallSt.org media team.

Also worth a read is another article: Jesse LaGreca: The Smartest Man on Wall Street?

London riots: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

It seems strange watching the sad events unfolding in the United Kingdom from such a distance. With the spreading riots, looting, and mob violence it is apt to recall the words of Charles Dickens describing turbulent times past:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

From A Tale of Two Cities

There will be discussion, analysis and commentary dissecting these events for months to come. And that will do nothing to change what has happened: the people injured, the homes burned, the businesses destroyed.

But in turbulent times such as these we can expect some people to behave as if the bonds of community have been severed. We can expect those bereft of hope in material gain in the normal course of things to turn to other ways of acquiring goods that are out their reach.

It makes me wonder what we can do to ensure that people in our local communities do not feel like this. And it makes me wonder how we can recreate the communal bonds that build up a society for the common good.

I also wonder what role government can play in this. Not as a benevolent Santa Claus doling out material benefits, but as a builder and facilitator of a civil and inclusive society in times of economic constraint. And what about the role of government 2.0 in all of this too?

Mostly at this time I hope that people in the UK can stay safe and well; and that actions by people of goodwill can outweigh the actions of the others.

More thoughts on revolutions #Egypt #Tunisia #Bahrain #Iran #Libya

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Source: The Crisis, 23 December 1776, Thomas Paine

As the wave of people’s uprisings sweep across North Africa and the Middle East it is fascinating to watch from afar in Australia.

We are safely ensconced in our comfortable homes distant from the terrible decisions that people are making in those far off places. And what terrible decisions they are. Taking to the streets to reject tyranny – perhaps risking death, torture, or even the lives of your family – is a terrible decision for anyone to make.

The gallant reporting of Al-Jazeera and others, together with the incredible real time feeds from citizen journalists and media journalists via Twitter, bring the action close to those far away. And this kind of transparency makes these revolutions quite different to those of the past.

Never before have the eyewitnesses to a revolution been able to report in real time to such a broad an audience across the world about the events taking place. And now on Twitter we have people who are acting as relays of that information – people like @acarvin @AJEnglish @AJELive @shervin. The network amplification effects of Twitter are playing a significant role in uncovering and shining a light on the various regime’s responses to the uprisings.

We can see how the regimes view the internet now, as a tool of revolution, by the way that they move to block the people’s access almost immediately. They do this in an attempt to cover up their next step, which is typically their attempt to crush the uprising of the people.

In the past the reaction of a regime to an uprising usually happened in an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion. But now, while the confusion remains, the reaction is happening in a more transparent way. It is hard to hide a vicious crackdown when everyone in the crowd has a mobile phone with a video or still camera.

Modern democracy has always posited that governments should govern at the will of the people. And there are many regimes around the world that do not govern at the will of the people. Many of these regimes do not govern for the people at all. Instead they govern for a corrupt few – the worst kinds of oligarchies or dictatorships. The despotic rulers of those governments must now be fearful that they too are vulnerable to the will of the people in ways that were unthought of only a few months ago.

It is worth reading Thomas Paine on the matter of government if you’ve never done so: Dissertations on First Principles of Government, The Crisis, or Common Sense. Thomas Paine’s works were highly influential in the development of the American democracy, which many have come to assume is the natural form of democracy in the world today. By the way, I can only assume some of the conservatives who quote Paine so admiringly have never actually read any of his works.

Some preliminary thoughts about revolutions

There is a lot of talk about revolution happening now in online communities given the unfolding events in Tunisia and Egypt. This has got me thinking about the nature of revolutions. There’s a rather nice list of revolutions and rebellions on Wikipedia for those who are not up to date with the history of revolutions.

Revolutions come in different forms. Revolutions in ideas and thinking have changed our society and belief patterns. Political revolutions have reshaped our polity. Revolutions can be peaceful, dangerous, bloody. But rarely are they run according to a plan and rarely do they achieve a set outcome. And many times the unintended consequences shape the future as much as did the intentions of the revolutionaries.

This issue makes me think back to one of the seminal thinkers about the nature of scientific revolutions – Thomas Kuhn. He wrote before many of us were born; and one of his most controversial and revolutionary works was a monograph called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In this work Kuhn argued that scientific progress was discontinuous and driven by human subjective behaviour that was not always entirely rational.

Kuhn proposed the notion of “paradigm shifts” (which were later adopted by various business gurus with gusto) that were driven by what kind of things were thinkable at a particular time. And it is this part of his thinking that seems important about revolutions. A revolution moves through a cycle where the unthought becomes thought and then is manifested in action.

Some might also base their thinking about the start and spread of revolutions on Dawkins’ notion of memes and the associated idea of memetics.

Unless certain external factors have shifted then new ways of thinking (which go on to drive behaviour) are not possible. An interesting example of this is the recent death by self-immolation of a protester in Tunisia. The Guardian outlines the sad story whereby Mohamed Bouazizi was so angry and disenfranchised within his society that he set himself on fire. This action inspired other young men who felt similarly to commit suicide in protest. And within days this had translated into riots in the capital Tunis.

Thus we see that the idea of rioting in the streets of Tunis went from not-thought to thought-and-action within only a few days. And that this process leached into the political process in nearby Egypt very quickly afterward.

None of the political revolutions of history has occurred in a vacuum. In each case there is political and economic disequilibrium. And, at some stage a tipping point is reached that enables the unequal people in the system to think and act against their situation.

In a Kuhnian sense this is often a visceral movement, not rational and not driven by clear aims and objectives. I think that this is the kind of revolution we are seeing spread through the middle east now. The result of this kind of revolution is hard to predict since it is often not driven by clear ideology or consolidated group goals.

The other kind of political revolution is that driven by an opposition party or parties who share in the political process but have been disenfranchised in some way. Perhaps locked out of power by a despotic monarch or leader, but still the opposition is part of the existing power structure.

Revolutions are driven by feedback loops and these revolutions occur within systems. Taking a systems approach to thinking about them can be helpful. I’m re-reading a number of thinkers about systems theory and strategy at the moment in response to the popular uprisings in the middle east.

Strangely enough thinking about revolutions and systems theory led me to re-read Aristotle. In his Politics Book V Aristotle outlines the reasons why people turn to revolution and it seems a strangely contemporary list:

  • …Insolence and avarice on the part of government officials
  • …one or more persons have a power which is too much for the state and the power of the government
  • …Either men have committed wrong, and are afraid of punishment, or they are expecting to suffer wrong and are desirous of anticipating their enemy.
  • …a disproportionate increase in any part of the state
  • …the slightness of the change
  • …difference of races which do not at once acquire a common spirit
  • …in oligarchies the masses make revolution under the idea that they are unjustly treated, because, as I said before, they are equals, and have not an equal share, and in democracies the notables revolt, because they are not equals, and yet have only an equal share
  • …Revolutions in democracies are generally caused by the intemperance of demagogues
  • …There are two patent causes of revolutions in oligarchies: (1) First, when the oligarchs oppress the people [or] …the personal rivalry of the oligarchs, which leads them to play the demagogue
  • …In aristocracies revolutions are stirred up when a few only share in the honors of the state
  • …Constitutional governments and aristocracies are commonly overthrown owing to some deviation from justice in the constitution itself