Saturday, June 20, 2015

End austerity now? On protest, change, and how to infiltrate the "left".

Watching the livestream for the #EndAusterityNow protest in London today. It throws up some interesting questions, although the most obvious one is "So what now?"
  1. Protest online is really hard to turn into change. A tendency to follow the rules of the attention economy means the symbols of popularity - hashtags, slogans, soundbites, opportunistic images - can easily take over from other measurements of success. Numbers are no longer (were they ever?) a guarantee of power.
  2. "Austerity" is a really hard meme to fight against, as it's the end result of so many other power factors. The cash in your hand is so many steps away from massive, global financial powerplays. Sitting behind the day-to-day stuff is often, for instance, the balance between local and central government, or consumer technology, the tech consumer industry, and national states.
  3. The difficulty of fighting "Austerity", like fighting "poverty" or "terror", is that everyone has their own idea of what it is and how to fight it. 1,000,000 marching is A Good Thing in terms of awareness and networking, but until terms, solutions and fundamental philosophical notions about what happens next are brought together (and that shit is hard), it can often be like attacking a beach with water.
  4. The rhetoric remains on the "left" around "left vs right". The livestream has Billy Bragg's "Which side are you on?" playing (live?) right now, but IMHO, setting up more barriers smply reinforces class divides which have already been won. The left is in trouble because the right - with its global networks - took to the rest of the world, to more advanced economics, to routing around things. The right routed around and under the left, leaving it adrift. Production has been moved to poorer countries. Management has been sold off to richer countries. Education and infrastructure have been outsourced. GAME OVER.
  5. Or is it? Depends on your point of view. If the protests carry on in their "traditional" way - gather numbers, organise pamphlets, get people angry, create a war, and try to win by force of emotion x people - then yes, it's over. These tactics are old, it's like Russian army forces trying to take on a nuclear blast. It doesn't make sense. The rules have changed, and traditional forms of protest are ineffective.

    But there are lots of symbols to take forward this century that indicate alternatives. The networks created by Western elites are slowly leveling out. (I've just finished reading A Crowd Of One, which has some good points to make on this.) Any form of change needs to work out opportunities to use these new networks (mass decentralised autonomy, anonymity, frictionless power, etc), while simultaneously being aware of the dangers the networks can bring (increased surveillance, dependency on industries, etc).

    In short, the "left" has to rethink its approach to the "struggle" if it wants anything to change. In many ways, the left has to give up its own identity.
  6. If you care about change, there are some simple things you can do:
    • Forget numbers, in terms of popularity and audience. Control over mass audiences was done in, like, 1950.
    • Learn new skills, new technology, all the time. Change comes from other change, and the struggle now is a struggle of adaptability. Be prepared to forget what you know at the drop of a hat. Don't be afraid to experiment. Fail fast.
    • If you think something has merit, do what you can to support it. Effort, funding, even spreading the word. Put your being where your heart is. Nothing will happen if it's left up to a few.
    • Read up about decentralised organisations, ecosystems, and love (in a "for the human race" kind of way). Organising any more than about 10 people is really really hard, so if you're desperate to get something done, then get serious about the people you'll be working with. Empower them. Empassion them. Get off your stick, lose your own sense of identity and pride, and think about things from the network perspective.
    • Get away from the negative - stop fighting stuff that you think is shit. Instead work out what you want, what would be useful, and then get on with creating it. "No alternative" is not an alternative. And that alternative had better work.
    • Stop getting distracted.