Oblique Strategies For Causing Social Revolutions
A sketch written mostly for my own entertainment, and to see what happened if I wrote with a relatively constrained form on a one hour sprint.
Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency
A sure shot, really. If nothing else the abuse we’re heaping on the planet seems sure to cause social revolution. We’ve effectively broken the food chain. We have huge amounts of the global economy invested in cities that will wash away in a bad storm, and bad storms are becoming increasingly frequent. The social order of the world is not going to remain unchanged in the face of that. Carrying on is, in fact, going to work.
Do the words need changing?
We may, after all, want to direct things. Perhaps we want “a revolution,” but odds are we have some of the details in mind. Given this, it’s useful to frame the question. Magicians call this a statement of intent. Yours may vary. Let’s suggest something fairly generic like a utilitarian model of social good.
Social revolution is a complex thing, not a discrete event. Major upheavals to the system come out of aggregate causes from initially diverse areas of society. It is perfectly imaginable that something you are already doing is contributing to a massive social change, whether passively as you blast increasing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere or actively as you participate in thriving artistic communities. As strategies go, “do what makes you happy” isn’t that bad.
Overtly resist change
Certainly a popular strategy, especially in terms of the close links between white heterosexual male power in the world and environmental devastation. The fact of the matter is that the economic right and the outright radical right (who in fact promote change, but frame it in the recapture of a fictitious past) do offer a viable model for complete social revolution.
Make something implied more definite (reinforce, duplicate)
An increasingly viable avenue is the changing of the everyday in the expectation that political change will follow. Steubenville essentially functioned like this, though with dramatic blowback. The existence of dramatic blowback is interesting, however. The prospect of coverting what is de facto normal in the world into law is oddly terrifying to those who wield power in the world. This is what transparency and leaks do, after all – reveal the applications of human nature to the mechanisms of power. Proceed carefully, but embrace.
The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten
There is a critique of ideology that suggests its most destructive effects are on the level of language and thought. It is not the things that the society loudly and overtly forbids us to do, nor even things like “give peace a chance” that we reject out of hand, but the things that we do not ever think to do in the first place that are society’s most effective form of repression. In this regard we might consider that spiritual enlightenment is a form of social revolution inasmuch as the social only exists on the level of its interaction with individual consciousness. Modify that and everything else changes.
Not building a wall but making a brick
Social revolution implies a very large society. We ought remember that our social life is a smaller sphere. Community scales, and the newspaper stories about the mechanisms of power are but oblique forces affecting our day-to-day life. Consider – how much of Congress have you ever met? How many Presidents? The mechanisms of power are no more real to you than The Simpsons. Social revolution can start on a neighborhood level. Go have a cookout and give burgers away to your neighbors. See what happens.
Ask people to work against their better judgement
Another reasonably frequently enacted strategy on the right, in which our sense of what is best for us and what is empirically demonstrable as best for us diverge. Active engagement of this tendency in humanity can be used to control it. This may seem counterrevolutionary, but remember – stasis is a viable strategem.
When exactly did you want this revolution? On a scale of centuries human understanding of the world transforms completely. You absolutely do not think like someone from 1513. The resemblance between your worldview and that of someone from 1013 is next to nil. Even on the small scale of a lifetime this is true – the world of 1913 was profoundly different to that of 2013. Even if we solve every practical problem facing contemporary civilization with no major transformations to its social configuration the basic sweep of time will still accomplish the task.
Emphasize the flaws
Political protest remains a fascinating phenomenon. It is difficult not to feel a thrill go up the spine as one watches anybody demonstrate loudly in the streets from a safe distance. Even when it goes to rioting, there’s a secret thrill. Clearly we want to root for this side, despite no clear mechanism of action or explanation of how Occupying Wall Street and overthrowing the global financial system are going to be causally linked. Again, the basic principle that if you’re spooking the people in power you’re probably doing something effective seems to apply. If the NSA is interested in it, it must be cool.
You don’t have to be ashamed of using your own ideas
Let’s presume you’ve already focused on internal consciousness as the sphere of your revolution. You still have to get up off your zen meditating ass and take a shit from time to time, so you may as well apply your perfect understanding to the real world. Even if you haven’t gotten the whole blessed and highest level of evolutionary consciousness thing down, you still may as well apply some of that rich inner life of yours to the real world. Which is to say that if you’ve got a revolutionary idea, revolute, baby, revolute.
Repetition is a form of change
History does have a habit of repeating itself. In this regard even the most progressive figure can learn from the radical right. Historical methods of enacting social change probably still work. The Situationist International almost overthrew France. The lesson to learn from this is not “well that doesn’t work,” it’s “fine tune that and try again.” On a more prosaic level, consider that preserving elements of society is as effective as destroying them in changing it.
Don’t be afraid of things because they’re easy to do
Easy solutions do exist. Turn out the lights in rooms you’re not in. (The Woman laughs.) Pay more attention to where your food is from. Volunteer in your local community. The obvious things people do are worth investigating.
Take a break
I am, in fact, out of tea.
There are people who have spent a lot of time thinking about many things that you may be interested in changing. Expertise is a tricky business, but it exists. On a basic level, listening to what scientists have to say about climate change is probably a good idea. Listening to what engineers say about the long-term viability of Miami’s urban infrastructure is probably smart. It’s terribly unlikely that you are the first person to try to solve this problem.
There is more appeal in the Berlin Cabaret approach than the description suggests. It may well be that a life of decadence is the best route, particularly if you frame decadence as an ideology and not as an act of selfishness. What it lacks in surefire success (and remember, anything’s a surefire success) it at least makes up for in fun.
Are there sections? Consider transitions.
Are there sections? Before we consider any social transitions, we should perhaps figure that out. Contemporary social justice theory suggests a focus on intersectionality. On a basic level, this consists of the observation that most people who are screwed are screwed in several ways. On a more complex level it suggests that progress in one sphere is likely connected to progress in another, such that feminism and economic justice are natural allies. Which is to say that we should consider the possibility that there are not, in fact, sections. Equally, we should consider the fact that any given section is necessarily connected to another, and that working on two problems at once is not a bad idea, while working on all of them at once is.
Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them
As we’ve previously observed, leakers are not entirely beloved by the establishment. Journalism might well be the answer. On the other hand, did phone hacking bring down News International? Did the Guardian’s PRISM scoop end NSA surveillance? Still, Havel’s injunction to live in truth seems useful and worth keeping around.
Would anybody want it?
Social revolution can be thought of as nothing more than a sales job. Does anybody want communism? Is libertarian anarchism a lot of people’s dream? Moving something into the realm of the possible is the first step in accomplishing it.
Find the problem. Destroy it. There’s a certain simplicity to it. You can identify something wrong in the world. Go try to stop it.
Which elements can be grouped?
Of course, intersectionality is only interesting inasmuch as its a practical tool. If everyone’s getting it in the neck that’s all well and good, but what can we do about it? Who are our viable allies, and what do our alliances constitute? Social revolution necessitates the social. You don’t get to do this alone.
Think – inside the work – outside the work
Social revolution is not the whole of society. Even when everything is changing there are aspects of society distinct from the Revolution. If you have no awareness of what those are, what you are pursuing is not the Revolution. If you have nothing that is not the Revolution you have not become the Revolution, you have become nothing.
The first step is deciding to do something. Passivity is merely one choice. That others are scary does not rule them out. If you want radical change, you may have to actually make one.
Humanize something free of error
Religion is an aspect of society. It is worth considering whether there are gods that might be of direct use to you. Consider this both purely and in terms of intersectionality.
Always first steps
The end game is uncontrollable from the beginning, after all. You’re not solving the end of the problem right now, you’re starting a revolution. Even if the Revolution is underway, you’re still at the beginning of the future. A focus on the here and now is not counter-revolutionary.
It does seem likely to be one of our most fundamental political issues, doesn’t it? Whether it be the water that’s going to wipe coastal cities out, the water the Middle East doesn’t have, or the water that increasingly more places are losing, this would appear to be a hot-button issue.
The inconsistency principle
Again, social revolution necessitates change. Changing things for the sake of it is not as frivolous a strategy as one might think. If there is nothing in your life that can viably change your life’s direction you are almost certainly not contributing to a social revolution.
Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance
Prioritize the weaker enemies, in other words. You probably can’t end economic injustice, but you probably can alleviate the sharpest ends of it for some of the people around you. The political causes that can be won right now are not replacements for ones that are further away, but that doesn’t mean taking out the easy steps first isn’t productive. A hot-button political issue is one worth weighing in on.
Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
It is worth remarking on the fact that con men have a romance to them. And more to the point, a romance that seems necessarily adjacent to the political revolutionary. Perhaps fakery and lies are a more valuable tactic than we think. Alternatively, perhaps superficial change is all there is. As the advice goes, never waste a good crisis.
Make it more sensual
Alan Moore’s famed argument about how sexual liberation coincides with particularly nice periods of history does have some appeal to it, though one has to stack the deck a bit. We ought consider the possibility of sexual freedom, particularly if we remember intersectionality.
Abandon normal instruments
There is something to be said for outright personal radicalism. The commune in the woods, as it were. Certainly inasmuch as society is the thing you’re experiencing around you this would constitute a revolution.
It is of course theoretically possible that the structures of power can only be altered through violence. Virtually all historical social change has coincided with violence, although correlation is not causation. Still, armed and violent revolution should not be discarded as a possibility. We might also consider “fight dirty” as a corollary of this.
Go outside. Shut the door.
Two major themes here have been nature and collaboration. Both likely exist outside of your house and day-to-day life. If we do not want to completely cede the fight on environmental issues, this is outright necessary.
Gardening, not architecture
Aside from describing an environmental cause, we should note that social revolution is about cultivating what exists and nurturing it, not about building new structures. The world will change. Revolution is thus not about causing that, but interacting with it.
Is it finished?
No. It never is.
July 23, 2013 @ 1:35 am
The main problem I have with revolution is that it really sucks to have to live in the middle of it.
And yes, I completely understand the horrible paradox of wanting major change but not wanting to actually have to endure it. Pretty much the only thing I learned from studying history was that you do need a war or a revolution to change things but the price is a bit high. It's sometimes argued that the worst thing that happened to the US (and the UK) was that we won the Second World War – the result was that our social rebuilding was nothing like as extreme as in other places. In the UK we managed to pull off a National Education, Health and Welfare Service but that was a fluke and we've spent the last 50 years trying to dismantle it.
(Incidentally, in the UK we are far more likely to interact with our "leaders" because we're a pretty small country. I have, in fact, met one Prime Minister and one Monarch (and one Pope!!), although not to have a serious conversation with!)
July 23, 2013 @ 1:51 am
Amazing, Doctor Phil I don't know where you find time to just dash off works of genius in amongst all the other stuff you're writing, not to mention your own life outside this blog. (You do have a life don't you? Don't forget to have a life). In a remarkable piece of synchronicity I was just showing and demonstrating Eno's Oblique Strategies cards to my girlfriend this weekend. They blew her away and we were inspired to discuss how they might be used outside of an artistic/creative environment. This post demonstrates perfectly how they could be used to promote material social progress.
July 23, 2013 @ 3:22 am
Yes! Inner Change = Outer Change. As above, so below, as below, so above.
July 23, 2013 @ 3:23 am
My captcha: "hatesgov". An omen!
July 23, 2013 @ 3:52 am
Hullo. First time commenter.
I think the bit where you state that "The resemblance between your worldview and that of someone from 1013 is next to nil" would benefit from you showing your workings. A cursory reading of the Bible, to take an example of a really old text, leaves one with a definite feeling that much of the human experience has remained strikingly unchanged. People get up in the morning, go to work, try to provide for their loved ones, grieve when crap happens, look up at the sky and wonder about things, and go to bed somewhat bewildered. That's my daily life two thousand years on, to be honest.
July 23, 2013 @ 4:57 am
That bit troubled me, too. There's a case to be made that the last significant social change was the introduction of agriculture; everything else is just tweaking the results of that.
Of course, there's also a case to be made that the resemblance between your worldview and that of the person whose worldview is most similar to yours is next to nil. It's all in how you put your emphases.
July 23, 2013 @ 4:58 am
No. Inner change can be necessary to create outer change, but they are not equivalent. To simply change oneself without trying to change the exterior world is not social revolution, it is withdrawal.
July 23, 2013 @ 5:13 am
Phil has a laptop permanently grafted to his forearm. Yes, it's a bit clunky, but he couldn't afford one of those slick tablets.
July 23, 2013 @ 5:17 am
In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?
(GRRM, A Song of Ice and Fire)
July 23, 2013 @ 5:18 am
Let’s suggest something fairly generic like a utilitarian model of social good.
Ah yes, nothing quite so inspiring as a world without rights or dignity.
Prioritize the weaker enemies
A case for the opposite.
July 23, 2013 @ 5:21 am
Shorter La Boétie.
July 23, 2013 @ 5:28 am
You've got me thinking of Carse's Finite and Infinite Games, which is hardly a bad thing as it's one of my favorite books.
July 23, 2013 @ 5:45 am
Three craven young men set out to avenge the death of their 4th, a fellow taken by that horrible murderer known only as "Death." An older fellow informs them that Death can be found by an old oak tree just outside of town. Upon arriving, the three men instead find a huge pile of gold, enough to last them all the rest of their lives. To celebrate their good fortune, they send the youngest man back into town to buy food and wine. The remaining two conspire to kill him once he returns, to increase their share of the already vast fortune. However, the young man has a plot of his own, and decides to poison the wine and bread he is bringing back, that he might have the fortune all to himself. When he arrives back at the tree, the other two fall on him and stab him to death. They then proceed to drink to their good fortune, and die slow, painful deaths.
(Chaucer, summary version of The Pardoner's Tale)
July 23, 2013 @ 6:58 am
La Boetie (along with the anarchist and libertarian movements in general) ignores one important fact and either ignores or is ignorant of (anthropology is a young science) another: First, that there is no such entity as "the people," only a great many individual people. Anything that requires all of them to act in concert of their own will is guaranteed to fail–and it only takes one asshole to ruin an anarchist or libertarian society.
Second, the natural state of being for any hominin–the way in which they will instinctively organize themselves in the absence of powerful countervailing forces–is a rigid and brutally enforced hierarchy based on violence, intimidation, and bullying. Look at any chimp troop, or American high school for that matter: in the absence of something powerful enough to stamp out those behaviors, a hierarchy forms–and as with any hierarchy, most of the individuals in it are on the bottom.
People do not necessarily submit themselves to government because they are weak or lazy or have never thought about the alternatives; most do it because they have come to a rational conclusion that they are better off with government than without, because at least with a government it takes a bunch of assholes working together to fuck things up, instead of just the one you need in a laissez faire market or anarchy.
July 23, 2013 @ 7:01 am
Of course eventually the assholes will find a way to hack the social system and take over. That's why flexible, self-modifying governmental systems are preferable, and why even there it's necessary to invent new systems of government periodically. One way to view history is as a never-ending arms race between assholes and asshole control systems. Anarchy and libertarianism both amount to, "Assholes have figured out our current system. Let's return to systems different assholes figured out a long time ago!"
July 23, 2013 @ 7:05 am
only takes one asshole to ruin an anarchist or libertarian society.
That's absurd. All that's needed is critical mass, not everybody. And critical mass doesn't even need to be a majority, which makes it more practical than electoral politics. And if you think it never happens, well, have you watched the news lately?
Second, the natural state of being for any hominin–the way in which they will instinctively organize themselves in the absence of powerful countervailing forces–is a rigid and brutally enforced hierarchy based on violence, intimidation, and bullying
If you rely on a one-sided, skewed sample, sure. And I don't believe in "instincts." Nor in astrology.
at least with a government it takes a bunch of assholes working together to fuck things up, instead of just the one you need in a laissez faire market or anarchy
It's just the reverse — government magnifies the destructive power of individuals.
July 23, 2013 @ 7:08 am
The fun thing about utilitarianism (if by "fun" you mean "the thing that makes it completely useless as a prescriptive approach") is that utility is fuzzily defined, and as such you can say "I'm unhappy when my rights aren't respected or I'm denied dignity, therefore utility must include such things."
More usefully, a multiethical approach that combines goals derived from utilitarianism and virtue ethics with limitations derived from virtue ethics and deontology manages to both avoid the pitfalls of any one metaethic and match how most people actually think when they're making ethical decisions, with the relatively minor cost of abandoning any pretense to internal consistency. (But then, as a human creation rather than a natural phenomenon, there's no particular reason why ethics should necessarily be expected to be entirely consistent.)
July 23, 2013 @ 7:10 am
If everyone changes who they are within then is society really the same? If everyone in (as an example) America looked within themselves and found a love for their fellow man regardless of (as an example) race, would not the fabric of the country be fundamentally different?
July 23, 2013 @ 7:18 am
It really depends on how we consider worldview. How we think about the place of our government, church, our intrinsic rights and the treatment of people who are "othered" in our society would be how I define worldview. In which case I would hope mine is significantly different from someone in 1013.
Tithe to the Church indeed.
July 23, 2013 @ 7:24 am
It takes more than one asshole to ruin an anarchist society. But I think there's a more fundamental problem to be had – I don't think that it's accurate to treat the support for government as a conscious decision simply because any sense of a self that makes decisions is always already formed within the context of that society. Althusser is revealing here – our sense of self is already formed within the context of ideological systems. Which is to say that most of us agreed to the tenets of the state without realizing we were doing so, and without even being capable of that realization.
The nature of "rejecting your government" is not merely a pragmatic one, but a fundamental transformation of consciousness.
July 23, 2013 @ 7:27 am
The most important thing to understand about political ideologies is that most people don't care.
Whatever your ideals – socialist, anarchist, libertarian, liberal, communist, Nazi – there will be a small group of like-minded individuals who are terribly enthusiastic about it all, and a vast bulk of the population who just don't give a toss.
One way or another, if you're going to achieve some political change you're going to have to get a large chunk of people on-side.
What people mostly want is for tomorrow to be more or less like today, and to have some kind of livelihood that supports their day-to-day needs.
Wars are often associated with political change because they create fear, uncertainty and desperation, which can spur people to back political movements that they otherwise wouldn't bother with. Economic failure can do the same, and is at the root of the Arab Spring.
Absent that, your would-be agent of political change is going to have to find some way of getting support from the unengaged.
One effective way is "pavement politics" – becoming a local champion who sorts out small-scale problems. Mrs Miggins might now care about your theories of freedom and justice, but she'll vote for you if you sort out her bins. This was the practice that led the Liberal Democrats in the UK from near-oblivion in the 80s to coalition government.
Another method is to identify yourself with an ethnic group, and make it clear to members of that group that failure to go along with your revolutionary programme will result in them being beaten, kneecapped or shot. In the UK context this would be most closely associated with the Provisional IRA, although it has far wider applicability worldwide.
The failure of most fringe political groups is that they have neither the dedication required for the unglamorous pavement politics approach, nor the ruthlessness required for the shootings-and-kneecappings method.
"How do I get support from loads of people who don't give a shit" is the key question that anyone interested in social change has to answer.
July 23, 2013 @ 7:37 am
I'd like to point out that there isn't a single academic out there that hasn't relied on "a one-sided, skewed sample" at some point. And I respectfully disagree on the lack of "instincts". And the comparison to astrology is slightly disingenuous of you. We have seen instinct in living creatures, but only man has invented astrology.
And Government also magnifies the good men can go as well. It's a double edged sword (but a necessary one).
July 23, 2013 @ 8:05 am
Yes, but see my comment in response to BerserkRL below: Any plan that relies on everyone to act in unison of their own free will is guaranteed to fail.
July 23, 2013 @ 8:12 am
"The most important thing to understand about political ideologies is that most people don't care."
As the kids say, THIS.
The USian right wing has hit on a particularly ugly version of the shootings-and-kneecappings method, which is to convince people that if the moderates win, they will start shooting and kneecapping rightwingers.
July 23, 2013 @ 8:15 am
You're seriously comparing anthropology to astrology? And claiming that humans don't have instincts? How do you think you walk!? Seriously, go drop the ideology for five minutes and read something by people who actually study humans by looking at people and what they do, instead of sitting around in parlors imagining what they think people might be like.
July 23, 2013 @ 8:19 am
The point in contention was that inner change causes outer change. And it can. Saying that something "is guaranteed to fail" is rather defeatist.
July 23, 2013 @ 8:29 am
Oh, in the long run everything is guaranteed to fail.
The point in contention was that inner change can cause outer change via mystical "as above, so below" means, which it cannot. You are never going to have, by pure chance, everyone changing themselves in the same direction at once; it's a statistical impossibility. If you want to accomplish social change in any kind of intentional way (that is, anything other than waiting around for ecological collapse), you have to get out and push.
July 23, 2013 @ 8:38 am
As a wise muppet once said: “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” There is more to life than the cold hard statistics of existence as determined by men in dim rooms.
What we do have is people over time changing themselves and then that change manifesting in society. Gay Marriage in America is a good example. While some people were out pushing the vast majority of people kind of just came to the point that it wasn't such a big deal after all for gay people to get married.
July 23, 2013 @ 8:39 am
The further they get up their own asses the less of a problem I have with that.
July 23, 2013 @ 8:47 am
Societal change may have been a gradual thing, but it's no less significant because it occurred in slow motion.
Travel and communications have changed to an incredible extent in just the last century, and society is changing as a result. Sure, the basic underlying world view is still Rise, work, make money, go home, eat, sleep, screw (if lucky), defecate, repeat until death. But how we are working is changing drastically. I commute to an office, but an increasing number of my co-workers commute from their laptop.
I live 4,000 miles away from half of my family, but communicating with them is as easy (if not easier) than it was when I was 40 miles away, and 1000 years ago even a 40 mile gap would have been of vastly more significance overall than my 100 fold increase of distance.
Art has massively changed in the perception of the average person – it has never been so available, nor so ignored as passe (thanks to photography and general availability), and so has the written word (my six year old can now read better than all but the most educated person of a few hundred years ago).
Outlook on our place of the universe has changed to an extent that likely could not be imagined 1000 years ago (We are just a tad less important in the grand scheme of things ;)).
So while the basics haven't changed, everything else has, and there is probably more diversity in how those changes effect individuals also (Given the speed at which change is occurring in the fields of technology right now), and we have more time to actually cultivate a worldview than we did – We live about twice as long.
Mind you, for some cattle herder raised in the middle of Africa it's entirely possible that their worldview is essentially the same as that of someone doing the same thing 1000 years ago, but that person isn't reading this blog.
July 23, 2013 @ 9:22 am
And I don't believe in "instincts."
Why do baby sea turtles crawl towards the sea? Why do sticklebacks hate anything red when they're aroused? How does a joey know to climb into it's mother's pouch? How do human babies know to suckle?
Whether we are slaves to these impulses is an entirely separate discussion, and one which is worth having, but to deny their existence entirely? The evidence does not support Locke's complete tabula rasa.
July 23, 2013 @ 9:53 am
I don't think assessing a utilitarian model of social good necessarily means endorsing utilitarian criteria of actions. A utilitarian model of social good refers to distributions; rights refer to stops on actions or entitlements to actions.
The main problem with a utilitarian model of social good is that it relies upon utility. Utility is a quantity in terms of which the objects of all desires are commensurable. There is just one known quantity that fits that description, namely money. So a utilitarian model of social good is one in which the amount of money in the economy is maximised regardless of the distribution of money. Which, arguably, is the situation we are in.
July 23, 2013 @ 10:04 am
"As I've said many times… The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."
July 23, 2013 @ 10:08 am
I presume the point about 'instinct' is that the word covers a whole range of different behaviours, of rather different types and responsiveness to culturation.
You can't generalise from chimpanzees to human beings. An alien primatologist that had studied chimpanzees could tell with one glance at a corpse that we are far less aggressive towards our conspecifics than chimpanzees. A chimpanzee infant has to cling to its mother constantly; if it lets go it will be killed in passing by the first adult male that happens across it. Human beings do not have body hair. There is nothing for human infants to cling to. (In our child-rearing behaviour we are more like marmosets than any other group of primates. Marmosets are matriarchal.)
July 23, 2013 @ 10:37 am
I would venture to say that some of the people who were pushing deserve at least some of the credit for that particular change.
July 23, 2013 @ 10:49 am
It is difficult not to feel a thrill go up the spine as one watches anybody demonstrate loudly in the streets from a safe distance. Even when it goes to rioting, there’s a secret thrill. Clearly we want to root for this side
If by "thrill" you mean "chill of dread," and by "we" you mean "some people," then I can agree.
Even when I find myself sympathetic to the cause, riots and demonstrations terrify me. Maybe it's because it's so easy to imagine them being carried out for causes I'm not sympathetic to, and I don't ever want to be on the receiving end of the mob's fury.
Even marching in Pride parades feels deeply uncomfortable for me. And chanting? Forget about it.
July 23, 2013 @ 11:07 am
Well, that depends on how you define the word. There's a host of instincts and reflexes possessed by infants that are entirely unlearned (indeed, they could not be learned based on how primitive an infant's senses and brain are), and testing these is incredibly important to pediatricians for determining future development and potential problems. Some, especially rooting and suckling, help keep the child from starving to death. Here's a list of them:
Notably, most of these disappear as the child develops into an adult.
If by instincts you mean "humans are by nature selfish creatures," "love is nothing more than a neurological impulse designed to facilitate procreation and the protection of the subsequent child," or "free will is an illusion" then there's a great deal of debate to be had. These questions are far from settled.
July 23, 2013 @ 11:13 am
The most effective force for tolerance of homosexuality is direct contact in the context of family and friends. While activists got the issue on radar, until Tom, Dick and Sally on the street are in favor or ambivalent about it, activism is kind of moot.
July 23, 2013 @ 12:39 pm
"Being on the radar" is what enables Todd, Dennis, and Samantha to come out to Tom, Dick, and Sally in the first place and establish that "direct contact" in a non-furtive and positive context. There are lots of things that have to happen to make that an act of anything less than the utmost courage, including decriminalizing homosexuality, getting openly gay characters on TV, etc. These gradual (and often generational) changes happen against a backdrop and as a result of long years of hard-won cultural shifts.
I'd say inner change and outer change both have to happen for anything lasting to take root, and are interdependent.
July 23, 2013 @ 12:50 pm
I am forced to disagree with you, if only because I have never found a single Todd to be worthy of respect. Seriously. 100% Fail thy name is Todd.
No but in all honesty I do agree. Things and symbols there of are connected. Symbolic Links have significant meaning.
July 23, 2013 @ 1:47 pm
I'm not denying that infants have unlearned behaviours e.g. suckling. And we call that an instinct. But then we say that hierarchical behaviour amongst teenagers is also an instinct. That's a bit different in nature and kind from the natal suckling behaviour. In fact, it's sufficiently different that if you use the word 'instinct' for both then, at any level deeper than vague generality, you're liable to be committing fallacies of ambiguity if you try to argue from the presence of instincts.
You can put together a list of human behaviours you might call instinctive. But the differences will outweigh the similarities.
July 23, 2013 @ 3:52 pm
Inner Change = Outer Change, Outer Change = Inner Change. It's a two way street! Look at what Phil's saying below: "our sense of self is already formed within the context of ideological systems."
The mystical was never meant to be taken "literally", in the vulgar sense. It's more like a metaphor which can be taken any number of ways, a rule of thumb. In this case it refers to the system of the self and reality – reality influences the self, the self influences reality. As above, so below, as below, so above.
July 23, 2013 @ 5:04 pm
(Please note that I'm playing devil's advocate here to keep discussion going, as I certainly don't believe in biological determinism, with its attendant baggage and justifications for horrific behavior, but I do believe that thinking about where our ideas, impulses, opinions, reactions, and such come from is worthwhile)
Is it sufficiently different? Were you to say the same about wolves or lions, there's no argument that their pack and hierarchical behaviors are instinctual. No one teaches birds their mating dances or bees to sway in the direction of food. The animal kingdom is chock-full of examples.
Really, what evidence do we actually have that humans are that much more advanced? Beavers and ants build homes and alter their environment to suit their needs. Monkeys and elephants can paint. Dogs and cats play with one another. Dolphins hunt and kill things for fun.
Have you ever had the impulse to do something without knowing or understanding exactly where it came from? Could free will really just be a convenient lie we tell ourselves to sleep easier at night? Or is it the case that we certainly possess instincts, the colloquial "lizard brain," against which we can rebel due to our possession of higher brain functions and the capacity for self-reflection?
What about in certain cases of mental illness, where a chemical imbalance within the brain causes involuntary actions and desires that the possessor does not wish, actions which either go away or become manageable when the chemical imbalance is treated with medicine, surgery, and/or therapy?
Is this situation made any better if these things aren't innate instincts, but are instead cultural values we've internalized through osmosis and learning, and which will require a great deal of effort to overcome, if, indeed, one can even be convinced to change?
And oy, that's a lot of heavy questions. For the sillier version of this discussion, see here:
"Mittens saved baby penguin! If Mittens chose to save baby penguin based on his beliefs, and Mitten's beliefs are not in his direct control, does Mittens really have free will?"
July 23, 2013 @ 7:45 pm
I would add to your list:
Listen (truly listen, not just talk to, and definitely not talk at) the most vulnerable, oppressed, and non-privileged in society. This may differ depending on your society, but can include children, elderly people, LGBTQ people, racial minorities, and/or women. This is particularly important if you are not part of those groups, if these people have a fundamentally different perspective or experience from you. Unquestionably, you will have internal change – you will not be able to avoid it if you truly listen. Ideally, you will also take action that reflects this internal change as well.
July 24, 2013 @ 5:13 am
The thing is, it's not a two-way street. It is entirely a one-way street, until you add in action, the only means by which the self can influence reality. Changing oneself can change how one views reality, but that's still entirely a change to the self.
As a wise muppet once said: “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”
Nope. Entirely 100% wrong, that muppet is. If we are luminous (a point I would not dispute most days, but I'm grumpy so I'm phrasing it as an if today), it is because matter is luminous. We are talking meat, which is not a degredation of us but a statement of how amazing meat can be. The spiritual is a function of the physical, not an independent realm, is what I'm saying.
July 24, 2013 @ 5:19 am
So a utilitarian model of social good is one in which the amount of money in the economy is maximised regardless of the distribution of money.
That's not necessarily true. Some forms of utilitarianism do pay attention to values other than net global utility (such as the median, the Pareto coefficient (may be misremembering my terminology), etc), or assign a negative utility to poverty. You can also use self-reported happiness in lieu of money as your equivalent to utility, at which point transferring money from the wealthy to the poor becomes a major way to increase utility.
Why the hell am I arguing in defense of utilitarianism?
July 24, 2013 @ 5:49 am
And plugged directly into his brain. He's a Cyberblogger!
July 24, 2013 @ 5:53 am
As Above so Below. As Inside so Outside but surely we should all agree that change can be bigger on the inside.
July 24, 2013 @ 5:55 am
In the immortal words of Sparks – 'The future's got it covered, with what will be discovered.'
July 24, 2013 @ 7:29 am
Yes, repeating catchphrases over and over will make them true. That is completely how that works.
July 24, 2013 @ 8:28 am
You ignore the possibility that inaction makes a statement or sign to others. Which is simply not true. Decisions not actions influence reality. People not doing things can indeed create change.
And there is more to mankind than meat. We are more than the base mechanics of digestion and fornication. The elation felt while playing music or the tears one can be moved to by a piece of art…the peaks and valleys of human experience are incredible. It's people coming together as community in the face of disaster. It's people dedicating their lives to making society a better place for others. These things are more than simple survival. There is significantly more to life, the universe and everything.
July 24, 2013 @ 11:04 am
In this context, it might be interesting to look at the research into how physical actions begin before the conscious decision to perform them:
July 24, 2013 @ 12:05 pm
You're splitting hairs. Yes, it is possible on occasion to influence others by taking no action, but it is much more common that inaction results in the continuation of the status quo, which is to say increased decay.
Also, you denigrate meat by implying it is not capable of those things. Meat sings. Meat flies. Meat swims and runs and nurtures and kills and hunts and plays and loves. Everything you describe is a function of one of the universe's most fantastically complex substances, meat. It's astounding stuff, and one of my beefs (if you'll pardon the pun) with mysticism is the way in which it regards meat with contempt.
July 24, 2013 @ 1:20 pm
I'm arguing on the internet. Of course I'm splitting hairs. It's like complaining if I went to a Sushi place and used the Japanese names for the fish. Inaction is a meaningful choice.
I don't denigrate meat at any point. I'm saying that the human experience is more than the base mechanics of day to day survival. The experiences that the meat provides are valuable, but I think a certain part of our being is beyond that.
Also meat gets old and decays. I look forward to the day I can cast off the tyranny of flesh for a skin of steel and a body that will never age.
July 25, 2013 @ 4:40 am
I'm saying that the human experience is more than the base mechanics of day to day survival.
And I'm not disagreeing with that, I'm just arguing against your implied dualism. A human being is not a soul riding around in a meat vehicle; the meat is the soul. As such, that skin of steel and body that will never age can only work insofar as it mimics the functions of meat necessary for what you think of as "you."
And metal gets old and decays, too. Everything gets old and decays, from microbes to universes. Your options are to ignore it, pretend it isn't true, or accept it and move on.
July 25, 2013 @ 7:28 am
And I disagree. I believe that mankind's meat form is a shackle. A stepping stone to something better. It exists to transport the important bits. We develop newer technologies and upgrade all the time. This is no different.
Yes metal decays, but we can develop new bodies. Metal is my go to example, because most people look blank when I describe transfer of consciousness to specially developed body-forms. Think of it: Forms for space travel or Forms to live on the bottom of the ocean. Death will only come when we wish it to or by catastrophic accident. I firmly believe that we will eventually get to this point and I look forward to it.
July 26, 2013 @ 3:29 am
… And then the solar flare hits, and the data warehouse that stores your brain is sorry to inform you that your subjective experience of being is actually a reconstruction from backups that only came into existence a second ago.
You'd think that this would upset you, but it won't. I guess the original you was the sort of person who always trusted data warehouse companies… Funny original-you never mentioned or talked about that before.
(see also Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)