A couple of days ago I was taking a walk with my wife in Alameda's shoreline, near the Veterans Memorial Park area. During the weekends we like to take walks in different places. Sometimes we walk around Lake Merritt. Or sometimes we go to one of the beautiful parks here in the San Francisco Bay Area. But of all the places we go, the Alameda Veterans Memorial Park area is one of my favorites. As we walked by the shoreline, on occasion I will notice flocks of birds rising up and flying in unison (murmuration), spontaneously. As I observed them flying with such precision, the answer to one question I've been pondering for a long time revealed itself through their collective actions: It is indeed possible for highly coordinated action to occur spontaneously and without directives .
So anyways, thinking about this led me to do a little research about this type of collective behavior and I have to admit I was stunned by what I found (given the fact that what I'm about to discuss has everything to do with predators). And so, during my research, I stumbled upon this term: Collective animal behavior. Here's what really got my attention:
Collective animal behavior describes the coordinated behavior of large groups of similar animals and the emergent properties of these groups. Facets of this topic include the costs and benefits of group membership, the transfer of information across the group, the group decision-making process, and group locomotion and synchronization...
Social interaction: Support for the social and genetic function of aggregations, especially those formed by fish, can be seen in several aspects of their behavior. For instance, experiments have shown that individual fish removed from a school will have a higher respiratory rate than those found in the school. This effect has been attributed to stress, and the effect of being with conspecifics therefore appears to be a calming one and a powerful social motivation for remaining in an aggregation...
Protection from predators: Several anti-predator functions of animal aggregations have been proposed. One potential method by which fish schools or bird flocks may thwart predators is the ‘predator confusion effect’ proposed and demonstrated by Milinksi and Heller (1978). This theory is based on the idea that it becomes difficult for predators to pick out individual prey from groups because the many moving targets create a sensory overload of the predator's visual channel. Milinski and Heller's findings have been corroborated both in experiment and computer simulations..
Here's why I say that I was stunned to find these definitions: Throughout the many years I've been thinking about the predations of the fast-rising Corporate State and about how it seems to dominate and control the entire population, I found myself thinking about the concepts of non-hierarchical collective action and flocking as potential counter-measures.
More recently, as new revelations about the mechanisms the ruling elite uses to control, manipulate, and exploit the citizenry are made public (thanks in part by the efforts of people like political prisoners Chelsea Manning, and Jeremy Hammond, and activists and journalists like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Julian Assange), I've come to the conclusion that the non-hierarchical but highly-coordinated (or synchronized) direct action approach to resistance and opposition against the Corporate State, represents one of the best options.
Let's take for example suppression and divide-and-conquer strategies against social justice activists (and groups) revealed in Stratfor leaked documents from the WikiLeaks "Global Intelligence Files." Here's the breakdown on one of the methods the Surveillance/Security State uses to neutralize activists and social justice groups:
- Radicals : Radicals, who see the system as corrupt and needing transformation, need to be isolated and discredited, using false charges to assassinate their character is a common tactic.
- Realists : The Realists can be convinced that transformative change is not possible and we must settle for what is possible.
- Idealists : Idealists can be convinced they have the facts wrong and pulled to the Realist camp.
- Opportunists : Opportunists are in it for themselves and can be pulled away for their own self-interest.
These revelations are important because they give us a glimpse into the actual machinations of the vast corporate spy network working to thwart the efforts of social justice activists, as reported by The Los Angeles Times:
Corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups they view as potential threats with little fear of retribution, according to a new report by a corporate watchdog group.
The large companies employ former Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, FBI, military and police officers to monitor and in some cases infiltrate groups that have been critical of them, according to the report by Essential Information, which was founded by Ralph Nader in the 1980s.
"Many different types of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing-home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups," the report said.
As the predations of the Corporate State become more apparent, and the consequences more destructive to society and to the environment, many people ask about why much of the population remains passive in the face of such atrocious abuses. I argue that the main reason is because the ruling class has mastered the art of divide-and-conquer propaganda (as the result of having consolidated media ownership into corporate conglomerates). The same way in which these corporate PR/Spy networks cognitively infiltrate the social justice movement, the ruling class has also mastered the art of manipulating the population by bombarding the mass media landscape with propaganda carefully-designed for each social class strata.
There is a long history behind how the American Corporate State became so adept at spreading highly manipulative propaganda. The documentary, "The Century of Self," provides historical background. The Propaganda Model advanced by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky are also good references on this topic. Also, there is a long history of the CIA involvement in propaganda, as reported by Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Berstein in "The CIA And The Media."
And of course, all these anti-democratic forces, decades in the making, found their raison d'etre as the result (and in the aftermath) of the Powell Memo, as reported by Greenpeace:
Historian Kim Phillips-Fein describes how “many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices.” In fact, Powell’s Memo is widely credited for having helped catalyze a new business activist movement, with numerous conservative family and corporate foundations (e.g. Coors, Olin, Bradley, Scaife, Koch and others) thereafter creating and sustaining powerful new voices to help push the corporate agenda, including the Business Roundtable (1972), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC - 1973), Heritage Foundation (1973), the Cato Institute (1977), the Manhattan Institute (1978), Citizens for a Sound Economy (1984 - now Americans for Prosperity), Accuracy in Academe (1985), and others.
As these anti-democratic corporatist forces were coalescing into this new business activist movement, they came to embrace Lewis F. Powell's advice:
Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations. [Emphasis added]
In the ensuing years, as these corporate cartels came to take over the levers of power (through a sophisticated system of legalized bribery), including the entire political establishment of both major parties, they began to put into place a surveillance and police state infrastructure meant to consolidate their control over the population. This is where the revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden come into play. The total information awareness surveillance police state has become a sort of "Faucault's panopticon," one more tool to control (and exploit) the population. Here's how the late (she passed away in 2012) freelance researcher Moya K. Mason saw it:
The Panopticon was a metaphor that allowed Foucault to explore the relationship between 1.) systems of social control and people in a disciplinary situation and, 2.) the power-knowledge concept. In his view, power and knowledge comes from observing others. It marked the transition to a disciplinary power, with every movement supervised and all events recorded. The result of this surveillance is acceptance of regulations and docility - a normalization of sorts, stemming from the threat of discipline.
Suitable behaviour is achieved not through total surveillance, but by panoptic discipline and inducing a population to conform by the internalization of this reality. The actions of the observer are based upon this monitoring and the behaviours he sees exhibited; the more one observes, the more powerful one becomes. The power comes from the knowledge the observer has accumulated from his observations of actions in a circular fashion, with knowledge and power reinforcing each other. Foucault says that "by being combined and generalized, they attained a level at which the formation of knowledge and the increase in power regularly reinforce one another in a circular process" (Foucault 1977).
[The emphasis is mine]
The reason I've taken the time to share these findings so far is to back up one of the most important points I want to make in this essay: The ruling elite has mastered the art and science of mass population manipulation through propaganda, and they are using that knowledge as a weapon against the citizenry. I argue that is one of the principal explanations regarding the apparent passivity of the vast majority of the population in the face of mass looting, pillaging, oppression and criminality by the contemporary ruling elite in America (and other countries that embraced the Neoliberal philosophy).
And so the mechanism of control starts with the most important one: an assault (attack) on our senses (on our cognition) in the form of the relentless propagation of half-truths, false narratives, outright lies, and propaganda through the mass media corporate conglomerate. Other means of control include induced poverty and economic insecurity (i.e., austerity measures), induced distraction (i.e., reality TV, people glued to the iPhones, spending countless hours on Facebook, etc.), and cognitive infiltration in multiple realms (physical space, online, surveillance).
Now, keep in mind that while all the nefarious actions, the scheming, the planning, the strategizing, are taking place behind the scenes during a decades-long period, average people have been going about their business thinking that those in power, the politicians, the captains of industry, have the country's best interest at heart, or at least are not doing things to purposely subjugate and oppress the population. In other words, until very recently (before the Occupy Wall Street movement), people thought that those in power were doing the best they could, even if they weren't perfect.
But in reality, if one considers everything the tiny ruling elite has been doing during the last few decades, it is no hard to come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a truly malevolent social class. In reality, they are predators . Although the process by which the parasitic ruling class came to usurp democracy (by buying off the political establishment) and dominate the citizenry seems convoluted, and the efforts they've put into it seems extraordinary, in the final analysis what we are talking about is tyranny, exploitation, and greed. Something that has been going on for millennia.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning.
They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.
The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal... [The emphasis is mine]
- Frederick Douglass / 1857
In other words, what this situation points to is that the only way a tiny sociopathic ruling elite can dominate an entire population so completely is through deception and manipulation; by creating myths and memes that seem honorable, but that are in fact self-serving propaganda.
And throughout history, the role of the activist, of the revolutionary, of social justice movements, has been to expose the myths of the ruling class for what they are: self-serving lies. Here's what the late Bill Moyer had to say about this process in his book "Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements":
Social movements involve a long-term struggle between the movement and the powerholders for the hearts, minds, and support of the majority of the population. Before social movements begin, most people are either unaware that a problem exists or don't believe that they can do anything about it. They believe the powerholder's societal myths and support the high-sounding official policies and practices, all of which seem to be consistent with the culture's deeply held held values and beliefs...
The strategy of social movements, therefore, is to alert, educate, and win over an ever increasing majority of the public. First the public needs to be convinced that a critical social problem exists. Then it must be convinced that policies need to be changed. And then a majority of people must be mobilized into a force that eventually brings about an acceptable solution.
And so a very important aspect of the struggle for the hearts and minds of the population involves the propaganda peddled by the ruling class in order to reinforce self-serving myths and the counter-propaganda (exposing the lies) efforts of activists and social justice movements.
I can't emphasize enough how important this is, for imagine if a large-enough segment of the population came to a full understanding of how predatory the system is, and how malevolent those who have captured the levers of power are.
And this is why the American Police State brutally suppressed the Occupy Wall Street movement during its embryonic stage.
You see, the way the Corporate State keeps control of the population is by cognitively isolating people. What that means is that as long as people are manipulated into believing the (self-serving) myths and memes handed down by the ruling elite, they can continue functioning in society without representing a threat to the Corporate State hegemony. They can work, go to sporting events, attend houses of worship, and carry on with their lives. They can watch TV, go to music concerts, join book clubs, spend hours on end looking at their Twitter feed, or keeping track of what their friends are doing in Facebook.
And as the consequences of the predations of the system spread, its victims start facing economic insecurity first, followed by poverty or even homelessness. Once they fall through (the safety net) cracks, they become virtually invisible to the rest of society--and powerless.
There are other strategies and tactics the ruling elite uses to divide and conquer, including pitting groups against each other (religious fundamentalists vs. secularists, anti-choice extreme religious fundamentalists vs. pro-choice activists, pro-gun nut-jobs vs. anti-gun activists, etc.). You have to understand, the issue is not that as human beings we can all have biases; the issue is that the ruling class actively works at exploiting those differences, biases, prejudices, with the intent of creating (or exacerbating) further divisions among the population, a condition which then makes it easier for them to manipulate the citizenry.
I argue that the Corporate State propaganda must be seen as a powerful weapon being used against the citizenry; it's the first (and most effective) line of defense of the oligarchs. And here's the challenge this situation creates for activists and social justice groups: Once activists become aware of the true nature of the system (fraudulent, malevolent, exploitative, illegitimate, predatory), after a while they can start feeling isolated as average people around them seem to be carrying on with believing the myths propagated by the ruling class. Eventually it can become an incredible burden. Their own family members don't get what they're trying to say (about the true nature of the system); their co-workers would look at them as "strange" if they start talking about the root causes of the social dysfunction; and even when they try connect with other social justice activists, there seems to be confusion when it comes to connecting the dots as they try to understand the true nature of the system.
Again, the reason for these dynamics is because the citizenry is under constant attack by the ruling class (cognitively, induced economic insecurity, induced ignorance, induced distraction). If one thinks about this situation carefully, an enslavement metaphor emerges: The ruling elite has mastered the art and science of controlling the population through mass manipulation, with the use of highly advanced propaganda techniques.
How can we begin to remedy this situation so we can unite in solidarity and grow a mass social justice movement capable of dislodging corporatist cartels' control over the levers of power? Again, a good answer to that can be gleaned by looking at the ferocity intensity with which the American Police State went after the Occupy Wall Street movement: They want to prevent people who have become aware of the true nature of the system from assembling in mass in public areas, for that is one of the few actions that have the potential of cognitively liberating large numbers of people from the mental enslavement that comes from believing in the myths propagated by the ruling elite.
Another reason the ruling class has to keep people from uniting under a common understanding of the true nature of the system is that by keeping social justice activists divided, each focused on their own cause, it makes it easier for them to control and manipulate the outcome (by implementing divide-and-conquer strategies against radicals, realists, idealist, and opportunists, as discussed above).
Given all these conditions, I argue that in the final analysis what we are talking about is this truism: A people united (in solidarity under a common understanding) will never be defeated. And what does it take to succeed (against the brutality of the Neoliberal Corporate State)? Again, here's what the late Bill Moyer prescribed:
To achieve the goal of winning over and involving the citizenry, social movements need to reframe by exposing and proving to the public that the powerholder's actual policies and programs violate the social myths . The best way to inspire the public to be actively involved in creating social change is to show continuously, over time, the gap between the powerholder's actual policies and programs and the culture's values and beliefs. Highlighting this gap is the most critical consciousness raising work and lies at the center of social movement strategy. [The emphasis is mine]
And how much involvement do we need from the population? Here's what university professor and researcher Erica Chenoweth found through her research: She finds (through her research) that when an average 3.5 percent of any given population engages in non-violent (civil) resistance on a sustained basis, "no single campaign failed." She also finds that "every single campaign that surpassed that 3.5 percent was a non-violent one." She goes on to say that "In fact, the non-violent campaigns were on average four times larger than the average violent campaign, and they were often much more inclusive and representative in terms of gender, age, race, political party, class, and the urban role distinction. Civil resistance allows people of all different levels of physical ability to participate. This could include the elderly, people with disabilities, women, children, and anyone else who wants to. If you think about it, everyone is born with a natural physical ability to resist non-violently..."
I argue that if one takes into consideration all these challenges, in the final analysis what we need to do (as a movement) is take the battle (for the hearts and minds of the public, and against the corporate state) to the streets! We need to meet face to face in the public square, everywhere. But there are smart ways of doing so. I'm going to share some ideas, but what I'm really interested in is in inspiring others to take on these questions and challenges, and to work together in finding the best way forward in the struggle against the increasingly brutal and oppressive Corporate State...
It looks like the challenges we face are related to corporatist cartels having taken over the state, which has in turned predatory. The total information awareness surveillance police state has been turned into a tool of oppression and control; a tool that's increasingly being aimed at those perceived as "leaders" in the social justice movement.
I argue that these conditions call for the movement to embrace non-hierarchical organizational methods, negating the Surveillance Police State the opportunity to target perceived "leaders" for manipulation, co-option, intimidation, and violence.
With this in mind, I came up with a concept I would like to share for consideration. I call it "100 Weeks of Revolt." The reason I chose 100 weeks as the time-span of the initiative is to call attention to the importance of sustainability when it comes to the movement. As I pointed out above, in order for a resistance movement to be successful it needs to be sustained over a long period of time.
A non-hierarchical movement can follow a moral compass for direction, just like flocks of birds are able to act in a highly-synchronized manner autonomously. And if we did so nationwide, we would be thwarting the efforts of the Surveillance Police State when it comes to the targeting of perceived leaders.
We all know there are many issues we need to address when it comes to dislodging the power of the Corporate State. We need to understand exactly how these undemocratic forces have taken control over our institutions; we need to understand exactly how the legalized bribery system works, who's making the payouts, which politicians are receiving the payments, what policies are they pushing nationwide with the help of anti-democratic business organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). We need to discuss ways of identifying bad corporate actors so they can be targeted for protests and boycotts. We need to find out which politicians are doing the bidding of the corporate paymasters, against the interests of the citizenry. And of course, we need to stay fully engaged with our causes, whether we're talking about alternative food productions, housing, helping the homeless, public education, LGBTQ rights, workers' rights, protection of the environment and climate change, government corruption, gentrification, protection of the commons, stopping harmful international trade legislation, or the myriad of issues being negatively affected by the rapacious greed of the ruling class.
Here's my appeal to all social justice activists, groups, and people of good will: No matter what our respected causes are, let's make a commitment to connect with each other in the public square for the next 100 weeks. We could engage in a number of activities, whether it is coalition-building, sharing information, conduct research about the mechanisms of control used by the Corporate State. But no matter what we do, let's find a way to integrate highly-visible protest rallies into the equation, as we continue working towards liberating ourselves from the oppression of the Neoliberal Corporate State.
I have no doubt whatsoever that we will be successful. All we have to do is unite in solidarity under a common understanding of the true nature of the system.