I confess I’m not much of a joiner or activist, in the sense of attending demonstrations. In my experience the fastest way to get anyone to do anything is for me to try persuading them to do the exact opposite.
What I do is analysis and writing, extrapolating from trends and correlating them, and tying ideas together in explanatory frameworks. I put other people’s ideas together in new structures.
The main subject of my research is networked resistance movements, the use of network communications technology as a tool of asymmetric warfare, and the ways in which networked associations of free people are supplanting authoritarian state and corporate hierarchies and becoming the nucleus of a new society.
I keep track of what networked movements like the Arab Spring, the Indignados, Madison, Occupy, etc., are doing, and the tactical innovations they develop, and try to draw as much attention as I can to the significance of it.
Ever since Wikileaks published its huge cache of U.S. State Department cables, I’ve watched with growing hope as it sparked first the uprising in Tunisia, then the Arab Spring, Occupy, and who knows what’s next. This is the most hopeful time I’ve ever lived in.
Most of my analysis of the Revolution 2.0 movements around the world can be found, in far more coherent form than I could reproduce here, in my news commentary columns for Center for a Stateless Society. So I’ll try to summarize here, but provide links to a more readable analysis.
The beauty of all these networked movements is that they’re stigmergically organized – that is, organized on a module/platform basis – so that individual cells can act independently on their own initiative without waiting for permission, or waiting for the administrative apparatus at some legacy institutionalized social movement to get everyone on the same page before anyone can do anything.
As with Wikipedia, there’s a long tail in contributions. That is, there’s no minimum size to the contribution one can make, and no entry barrier or transaction cost in making any contribution one wants. A networked organization can leverage large and small contributions, that previously wouldn’t have been worth aggregating. This “long tail” also applies to the direction of activism, as local cells and spinoffs can attack any target or cause that suits their own grievances and inclinations, using the basic “Occupy” brand as a common platform to support their own modular movement.
Also like Wikipedia, the transaction costs of propagating and adopting tactical innovations falls to zero. Any innovation developed by any node in the network, based on its own expertise and interest, immediately becomes the property of the whole network, to be adopted by any node that (on its own initiative) finds it useful. To take the example of an earlier (and not so nice) stigmergic movement, Al Qaeda Iraq, when any local cell developed a new form of Improvised Explosive Device, it was rapidly adopted by cells all over Iraq. The record industry mistakenly thought it only had to make its DRM good enough to thwart the average user, and the geeks capable of cracking it would be too numerically insignificant to matter. The problem was, as soon as the geeks cracked it it immediately became available for anyone in the world who understood how to do a torrent download.
The same is true of the networked resistance movements that sprang up in 2011. A hierarchical, administratively mediated system – like Homeland Security, the TSA, the MPAA/RIAA, local police forces confronting demonstrators, etc. – has enormous transaction costs involved in analyzing a situation and formulating a response to it, or in developing and approviing innovations. A networked movement, in contrast – because of the stigmergic organization mentioned in the previous paragraph – adapts and changes with the speed of replicating yeast, and throws off new innovations like a plutonium atom throws off neutrons.
Because of networks’ lightning-fast reaction time and agility, they are (in the phrase of the late military strategist John Boyd) able to “get inside the OODA loop” of authoritarian institutions. That is, they react faster than do hierarchies, and stay one step ahead, so that hierarchies are always off balance and trying to react to whatever’s already happened instead of taking the initiative.
For example, some local Occupy movemets, in response to camp shutdowns by riot police in heavy combat gear, realized that they themselves were like light infantry, whereas the riot cops were the equivalent of slow-moving heavy infantry with a cumbersome supply train. So all they had to do was evacuate a park or square, lead the cops on a wild goose chase through town, then move quickly back to the park and wait for the cops to return hours later. Lather, rinse, repeat. A lot like Mao’s rules for a guerilla army–retreat when the enemy advances, and attack the enemy where he is not.
Another example of rapid innovation that has caught “authorities” by surprise is the Occupy Our Homes movement to put homeless or foreclosed people in vacant bank-owned housing.
A great quality of these networked movements is that they’re simply platforms empowering the nodes that participate in them, rather than an institutionalized “movement” with a set of demands. Critics of Occupy on the traditional Left, who say it has no leaders and no demands, miss the point. Occupy is a platform and a brand. It is united only by its common hatred of neoliberal corporate capitalism, but has as many specific agendas as there are walks of life among its participants. So they can pursue their own particular agendas and grievances against the corporate state, like a swarm of piranha, using the common platform of Occupy for their own purposes.
Occupy is also important as the seed for a new society. Less important than what the big Occupy camps do in their protests is what they do among themselves, as associations of the people in a given community. I hope they will evolve into something like the neighborhood assemblies of Argentina – schools for living, or fairs, that propagate toolkits for building new local economies and counter-institutions outside the framework of the corporate state. Far more important than the original Occupy camps is what the movement will do, like dandelion seeds dispersed in the wind, now that the sites are shut down.