Ok ok, that title is a little baiting.
Though OWS is a hard thing to look at and write about without getting political, I’m going to try my best. What I mean by that title is, in my opinion the way for the 99% community to strengthen (and I’m taking that to mean in some way progressing towards achieving its goals) is to not view itself as a totally egalitarian community. In fact as history shows, and I fully admit to getting much of my history summary from Adam Curtis’ documentary which I spoke briefly about in my last post, operating exclusively as a non-heirarchical network of individuals, though passionate and believing in the same ideals will only ensure that the 99% community is toothless to affect systematic change.
In his film, Curtis draws a straight line from the commune movement of the 60’s and 70’s to the use of social networks in organizing political revolutions. The people who built communes viewed themselves as nodes in a network, without hierarchy, and applied feedback to try to control and stabilize their societies. How much power do our communities have to affect political change if we entangle ourselves exclusively in social networking tools and analytics, and build these communities around the egalitarian ideals of nodes and networks? As Curtis states in his film:
The failure of the commune movement and the fate of the revolutions [Kyrgyzstan & Georgia & Ukraine for example], show the limitations of the self regulating model. It cannot deal with the central dynamic forces of human society, power and politics. The hippies took up the idea of the networked society because they were disillusioned with politics. They believed that this alternative way of ordering the world was good, because it was based on the underlying order of nature. But this was a fantasy. In reality what they adopted was an idea taken from the cold and logical world of the machines. Now in our age, we are all disillusioned with poitics and this machine organizing principal has risen up to be the ideology of our age. But what we are discovering is if we see ourselves as components of a system it is very difficult to change the world. It is a very good way of organizing things, even rebellions, but it offers NO IDEAS ABOUT WHAT COMES NEXT. And just like in the communes it leaves us helpless in the face of those already in power in the world.
-Adam Curtis All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace part 2, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts
As much as we’d like to, we can not ignore the human constants of power and politics. Hoping to ‘free’ ourselves from those constants through social networks built on faceless tweets and votes and likes will only ensure that we fail to change anything. What the 99% needs now is good old fashioned hierarchy and leadership.
That is all to say, twitter has been an amazing tool to spread the word. The social flow article does a great job of analyzing how topics trend on twitter, concluding that the algorithm rewards velocity around a topic over volume. So it’s OK, there is no conspiracy of censorship, #OccupyWallStreet is simply experiencing a slow and sustained growth in volume. The Movement is growing, and word is spreading.
The danger is to only focus our efforts on that. Here’s a Mashable post on OccupyWallStreet hackathons, which on the surface seems like a great use of online tools to harness decentralized knowledge and resources to build tools to progress the movement. But what are they building? I’d say some good stuff and some dangerous stuff.
The good stuff are the tools that serve the very practical purpose of building membership or reaching more people: a video-editing platform that doubles as an advertising platform / an app that can use multiple cellphones in a small area to amplify one person’s voice. The dangerous stuff? Well I’d argue that the dangerous tools are the ones like a decentralized decision-making platform called OccupyVotes, which simply asks users to cast votes for one of two movement goals with the hope being that eventually this approach will sort out what the decentralized group as a whole finds important.
The Cybernetic Dream, according to Curtis, is that computer networks can create order in society without central control. The irony is that ideology is what lead to the new economy and the global financial system and directly to the financial crisis the 99% are rallying against.
Slavoj Zizek said that what we are witnessing in Zucotti Park and around the world is the end of the marriage between democracy and capitalism. But I would say that the more toxic marriage is the one between the global economy and machine thinking. Unless we remove ourselves from the machine thinking that gave rise to the new economy, and re-humanize the movement, aren’t we just forever pieces of the machine of global economics.
If we crowd source our capacity for thinking and conceptualizing a new world order, aren’t we just going beyond the extremely useful application of social networking tools to build and organize a movement and heading straight back into the paradigm of human beings as only nodes in a network. The 99% should not manage itself as a commune with better smartphones. The hard part now, in sustaining this community that was built in no small part with the help of social networks, is to enable those tools to help build a hierarchy and leadership structure and not fall into the trap of egalitarian ideals.
After all, what’s the difference between being pieces of twitter volume and being pieces of a housing bubble?