Saturday, June 28, 2008

Estimate of the Situation

Whenever I am asked to advise or intervene in social conflict, I ask myself, "What's the deal?" Because conflict is almost never what it seems.

Most activists don't do this. Most activists assume that conflict is based on misunderstandings or misguided good intentions, when in fact they usually involve malice and fraud.

As an example, the plethora of post-9/11 homeland security programs were never intended to address security, but were put forward as budget scams by agencies and political appointees to capitalize on public fear and confusion. That's why we always conduct background research on key players and their connections as the first step in developing an estimate of the situation.

The government is not intimidated by lawsuits. They do, however, fear anything that threatens their power or influence, i.e., losing out on an appointment, promotion or election that provides
them the ability to extort bribes (aka campaign contributions and other revolving-door perks).

Open source research (publicly available information) is the best place to start, and often provides leads for deeper digging. Few realize how easy and effective open source research can be, although it usually involves visits to public agencies rather than relying on the small amounts of information available online.

Discussing the Future

Operating from the assumption that government and industry will continue to act irresponsibly, we might want to ask what we can do in our own communities to inoculate our neighbors and ourselves against public panic. One activity we've used to good ends is having discussions based on the future we expect, rather than on the future we hope for. This is not something fundable, nor especially popular, but nevertheless essential to effective community organizing.

Leadership emerges organically out of social conflict, and is aided by good research and education. As an adjunct to inherited wealth, the non-profit industry does not create leaders, but largely promotes those lacking innate ability and initiative into managerial positions. The managerial mindset, which undergirds this sector, is completely syntonic with that of the power elite.

If you're looking for an example of organic leadership, I would recommend reading first hand accounts of SNCC and Mississippi Freedom Summer. These people were fighting for their lives, not for better payroll benefits for manipulating other people's emotions.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Information-based Trauma

(Reading A New Dark Age by our colleague Phil Williams yesterday, I was reminded of our efforts in September 2001 to combat media-generated post-9/11 trauma. As man-made crises become compounded in our everyday lives, critical incident stress can easily trigger widespread panic. Countering the consequences of this irresponsible conduct by media and government propagandists then becomes the arena for what is called convergent responders--ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. In September 2002, Public Good's Paul de Armond sent the following letter on the topic to the editor of Scientific American.)

"Combatting the Terror of Terrorism" (Scientific American, August 2002) proposes a highly medicalized clinical model for dealing with the informational pathology of terrorism. Public health approaches seek to prevent trauma, minimize risk, and reduce harm. Public health regards well-being as a public good that cannot be selectively dispensed and must be provided universally. Clinical approaches, on the other hand, make prevention an individual - as opposed to a public - responsibility and the treatment of illness an economic activity.

Some public health approaches to terrorism might include community-based education on the causes and prevention of information-based trauma, training national and local media to stop treating terrorist assaults as a form of sensational entertainment and putting in place public service announcements about how people can reduce the harm from Critical Incident Stress (CIS) to be broadcast immediately as these incidents unfold. None of these things will be done as long as mass-casualty terrorism is viewed as a medical, rather than a public health problem.

A public health approach would look to eliminate terrorism entirely, while a medical approach would seek only to treat its effects. Terrorism is a criminal act that - like the crimes of genocide, torture, biological weapons production, slavery or mass rape as a tactic of war - is impermissible anywhere in global civil society. As long as terrorism is considered an extension of statecraft and warfare, it will continue to be a preventable evil that we could stop but instead choose to continue.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nazis Racists Militias Oh My

Nazis, racists, militias, oh my. Another cycle of scare campaigns appears underway. SPLC must be house-hunting for a larger mansion.

Right-wing violence is serious stuff, and deserves to be treated seriously--not rolled out as canned campaigns targeting consumer demographics to build fat bank accounts.

Unfortunately, gullible Americans consume scary news exactly like children consume ghost stories, only as pseudo adults they are willing to shell out serious money to wallow in the spooky spins that pose little danger to themselves. Effectively engaging in their communities to prevent bigotry from gaining a foothold, however, is almost totally outside the framework offered by the scary story industry.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Rare Breed

As with leadership and heroism, there are different types of courage: courage to learn, courage to change, courage of convictions. There are also different levels of courage; the Freedom Riders had courage, as did the SNCC organizers and the boycotters in apartheid Mississippi.

But the greatest courage is that displayed by those who know in advance they will have to suffer the consequences of exercising their human dignity---people like the black parents and children of Hattiesburg who helped to create Mississippi Freedom Summer, and their counterparts in the deep delta who had no official protection from the Klan and the White Citizens Councils.

Those who demonstrate the greatest courage are those we rarely hear of; they are not the ones on the covers of magazines, not the ones with foundation grants, not the ones pacified by sinecure. They are the ones who risk all just to have a decent life--a rare breed indeed.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Vital Discussions

Several great bloggers in the last couple years walked away and let all their work disappear without any sense of the importance of archival continuity. It's annoying enough that commercial outlets let news articles expire, but it is truly exasperating to see vital discussions lost forever, as if there was no tomorrow.

All I can say is that I hope others will maintain their URLs so our links to their posts won't die. Maybe if they viewed this form of social exchange as learning houses they wouldn't be so cavalier about dumping the efforts that went into these informal seminars.