L7 Disruption

Tools For A New Political Economy

Disrupt “Business As Usual” & Pro-Capitalist PR Campaigns

(Excerpted from
Escaping the Failures of Capitalism)

Perhaps most importantly for an actionable vision of how a post-capitalist society will look and feel, there needs to be a clear path – a series of concise steps with comprehensible metrics – that illustrates how we can overcome any and all resistance to movement away from the status quo. This resistance is of course one of the greatest impedances to change. On the one hand there is the lukewarm inertia of many ordinary folks who do not share a keen sense of urgency or danger regarding the destructiveness of commercialist corporationism, and instead who may feel rather resentful at challenges to their current way of life. And on the other hand there are the well-fortified interests of power and privilege, who are acutely threatened by the prospect of change to a system that has, after all, generated wealth, influence and a sense of security and advantage for that ruling elite. From this latter group, we see concerted and sustained efforts to undermine any alternative approaches to the government, banking system and marketplace that have so facilitated their success, as well as well-funded and sustained marketing and PR campaigns to maintain the lukewarm inertia of a cooperative electorate.

In order to formulate an effective change mechanism, we must recognize both why the current flavor of feudalistic capitalism has been so successful, and also why it has been so resistant to more positive, systemic evolution. Both of these conditions can be ascribed to the prevalence of five factors among the general public – that is, the worker and consumer base that, often unwittingly or as the result of endless hoodwinking, supports the ruling elite:

1. Ignorance and gullibility. That is, having a limited understanding of self, community, government, technology and economics, along with a conditioned receptivity to deception.

2. Moral immaturity. That is, an inability to see a bigger picture beyond one’s own selfish reflexes and small sphere of self-absorption.

3. Indifference and callousness. As an emotional response to negative economic externalities, or as a general disposition towards others, this expresses a profound lack of compassion and empathy.

4. Habituation and addiction. Whether from force of habit, or because of a physiological or psychological dependency, this result is an inability or strong unwillingness to attenuate destructive behaviors.

5. Blind ideological tribalism. As a consequence of social conditioning, a need for belonging, or an irrational and sometimes inexplicable conformism rooted in fear, this often overrides all other, more evolved instincts.

In our current environment, these five factors are targeted by multi-million-dollar marketing and PR campaigns that deceive, misinform and make false promises in order to amplify the factors, manipulating them in favor of consumerism, cronyism and pro-capitalist religious and political ideologies. In other words, commercialist corporationism obstinately encourages and rewards these factors. This is why young people become habituated to tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and video games; why farmers have come to rely upon pesticides, excessive fertilizer and monoculture; why so many consumers believe that everything from GMOs to Teflon cookware to farm-raised fish are completely safe; why rural landowners invite fracking onto their property; why so many are convinced that climate change is a hoax despite sound science to the contrary; why countless unnecessary medical procedures are performed each year; why millions of people who don’t need certain drugs end up demanding them from their doctors; why many companies compulsively and pointlessly upgrade their computers or software on a regular basis; why an endless tide of consumers and workers around the globe become sick or die from unsafe products and manufacturing practices; and so on ad nauseum.

So because of these five factors – ignorance and gullibility, moral immaturity, indifference and callousness, habits and addictions, and blind tribal conformance – human society has rushed headlong into a massively self-destructive phase of existence by consuming things it really doesn’t need and, more importantly, things it didn’t even know it wanted until extraordinary amounts of money were expended to persuade consumers that profit-serving lies were true. And so any change mechanism must address these factors with the same vigor and scope that commercial enterprise has done…else the gentle, calm voice of reason will simply be drowned out by artfully orchestrated, massively funded bread and circuses the plutocracy keeps in play. This then becomes an even greater uphill effort when we consider that the “business as usual” status quo is so firmly rooted in most people’s psyche that any new direction can be perceived as an affront to core values, to the perks of affluence, to nationalistic exceptionalism, or basically to “all that is good.” Beyond this, what eagerly shores up such popular sentiments (for its own benefit, of course) are deeply rutted patterns of control by the wealthiest elite over governments, political processes, the press, mass media and some of our most influential religious institutions. Through carefully engineered lobbying efforts and campaign financing that favors the wealthy, by weakening the rule of law with activist judges, through favorable legislation and laissez faire politicians, and by stoking a populist frenzy for “small government” and “freedom from regulation” with endless propaganda and religious zeal, the de facto oligarchs have masterfully established a bulwark against any change that might threaten their power.

So what is to be done? At first glance, the answer seems obvious: we must introduce alternative, healing countermeasures for each of these factors, as well as alternatives to the commercialist engines that sustain them, so that society will change of its own accord as it grows and matures. To that end, the following might begin to define such countermeasures:

1. Educating people about economics, technology, the functions of government, and what is actually healthy and helpful for individual and collective well-being and happiness, all-the-while exposing the deceptions and misinformation that are mercilessly disseminated in service of profit.

2. Encouraging moral maturity, compassion and empathy through revised interpersonal standards, better awareness of multidimensional nourishment (see the Notes on Integral Lifework & Civic Responsibility section below for more detail on this), and inspirational modeling.

3. Holding accountable those government officials, businesspeople, and average citizens who persist in indifference and callousness, and doing this through moral education, social expectations and the rule of law, while also eliminating the social and economic incentives for this behavior.

4. Promoting holistic approaches to well-being that undermine addictions and self-destructive habits.

5. Creating new institutions that “compassionately tribalize” all of these more evolved, sophisticated and morally responsible values, and create a safe place to reinforce and propagate the most proven and constructive ideals.

Anyone who has endeavored to promote these or similar countermeasures has invariably faced the entrenched interests of the powers-that-be, along with the draconian defense mechanisms of that class. Even so, there has been progress and immensely positive examples of how alternatives to plutocratic state capitalism could evolve. Again I am reminded of democratic socialism in Europe, the Mondragon experiment, direct democracy in Switzerland, Canadian credit unions, etc.

But here’s the real problem: despite these advanced examples, the engines of state capitalism continue to accelerate and dominate all around the globe, subjugating every attempt at escape. There is no exit from the prevailing influence of commercialist corporationism currently in sight. And as an echo of Debord’s “society of the spectacle” or Herman and Chomsky’s “manufactured consent,” there is both astonishing complicity in mass media and debilitating complacency among the general public to remain placated, coddled and entitled by the status quo; there is every reason to remain on the sidelines and be entertained, and very little will to turn away from the calming, infantilizing teat.

So again, what can we do…?

At this juncture, it seems that a five-pronged approach will likely be necessary to promote and actualize the countermeasures above, with each prong entailing its own unique flavor of collective activism. These prongs include:

Disrupting Misinformation and Pro-Capitalist PR Campaigns

There are many ways to do this, some more aggressive and confrontational than others. I remember years ago, when I lived in Germany, each TV advertisement was followed by silly stick-figure cartoons that made fun of the ad. After watching those cartoons, it was impossible to take the commercialistic rhetoric in the TV ads seriously, and a question mark was introduced to even the least attentive viewer about both the veracity of product and service claims, and the persuasiveness of the ads themselves. This sort of gentle cajoling that pokes holes in the effectiveness of advertising lies at one end of the disruption spectrum. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum we have documentaries like The Billionaires’ Tea Party, The Corporation, Food, Inc. and so on that strip the veneer off of the pro-capitalist PR to reveal its demeaning calculations. There are also activist street artists who undermine or subvert commercial messages in the public’s eye (via “graffiti,” public art installations, amended billboard advertisements, etc.), promoting alternative viewpoints that similarly bring corporate messaging into question. In a slightly more aggressive vein, there are the whistleblowers like Ronald Goldstein, Jeffrey Wigand, Nancy Olivieri, Stefan Kruszewski, Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins, Courtland Kelley, David Graham, Bunny Greenhouse, Richard Bowen, John Kopchinski, Samy Kamkar and countless others who have brought corporate malfeasance to light, in many cases changing the course of commercialist corporationism itself in certain industries through high profile lawsuits, new regulatory legislations or large monetary settlements and punitive fines.

Beyond these selective, narrowly targeted efforts, there have been more sweeping attempts to curtail plutocracy through the rule of law. Among these are things like campaign finance reform, regulatory legislation and enforcement, the creation of consumer protection agencies like the CFPB, appointment of pro-consumer or pro-labor judges (as opposed to pro-corporate ones), and so on. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these efforts depends almost entirely on who has the most political influence in a given moment, and advances are easily undone. In the course of the last forty years, some of the most successful and longstanding components of the federal regulatory bulwark in the U.S. were either obliterated or left unenforced – a feat accomplished by both political parties. Consider what by any objective measure have been the disastrous consequences of banking, agricultural, communications and transportation deregulation during that time: rampant monopolization and decreased competition in every one of these industries; the S&L and subprime mortgage crises; deterioration of transportation quality, availability and infrastructure, where a previous abundance of options that had never been profitable, but were nonetheless greatly needed, have completely vanished; plummeting worker wages and evaporation of living wage jobs; a precipitous decline in the U.S. agricultural trade balance; the extinction of family farms; an ever-increasing digital divide; the rapid decline of independent, well-funded news sources; increasing costs to the poorest consumers for the most basic of commodities; and of course the destruction of many previously successful companies that delivered higher quality goods and services. Combining deregulation with a series of SCOTUS appointments that similarly empowered corporations over people, along with an astounding dearth of Congressional productivity, and plutocrats have effectively given themselves free reign over the American economy and electorate. Add to this the correlating state-level cascade of carefully orchestrated legislative gridlock, anti-labor sentiments, pro-corporate judiciary and deregulation in much of the U.S., and it is easy to see why this momentum has exacerbated wealth inequality, exploitation of American workers and consumers, depletion or destruction of countless natural resources, and enrichment of the One Percent.

Keeping this in mind, what then remains at the more extreme end of this particular spectrum of activism? Should hacktivists be encouraged to alter corporate messaging on websites and multimedia, thereby revealing repulsive truths about a particular company’s products, services or labor practices? Should the broadcast of deceptive and manipulative pro-capitalist propaganda (as, for example, many of programs offered by FOX News) be interrupted or sabotaged in some technical way? Because influence and even “information” has become so asymmetrical, perhaps an asymmetrical response is warranted. I have long promoted the idea of a publicly funded information clearinghouse, where users could query the profiles of various politicians, judges, public officials, companies, or even foreign governments regarding their performance history according to user-specified political ideologies, values hierarchies, economic strategies, labor relations ideals, consumer protections, etc. In this way, voters and consumers could easily and quickly identify individuals, businesses and resources that demonstrate a proven resonance with their own beliefs. But one carefully coordinated media blitz by Rupert Murdoch or his ilk could quickly paint such a clearinghouse as untrustworthy, the tool of a fringe political agenda, or an outright threat to “the American way of life,” so that its role is discredited, defunded and squashed before it even comes into being. Sure, adequate information for rational decision-making is already available on the Internet for those with patience and persistence…but the corporate elite are ruthless in their efforts to steer the unsuspecting toward their version of the truth; even as communications monopolization reaches an historical peak, net neutrality itself has been under threat, leaving little doubt that the battle for information control is just beginning.

Destabilizing “Business as Usual”

In 2013 David Holmgren wrote a provocative paper entitled “Crash On Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future.” In it he suggests that if only 10% of the world’s middle class reduced its consumption by 50% (and shifted 50% of their assets into community/household investments), this could result in an unrecoverable crash of current financial systems, opening the way to more responsible and sustainable scenarios. His overarching reasoning goes like this: “It seems obvious to me that it is easier to convince a minority that they will be better off by disengaging from the system than any efforts to build mass movements demanding impossible outcomes or convincing elites to turn off the system that is currently keeping them in power.” Now plenty of folks have tried to poke holes in Holmgren’s arguments, including some in the Permaculture community that he helped foster, but I think that they are missing the central concern of his proposal, which is that we cannot wait any longer for incremental changes to occur. It is profoundly significant, I think, that someone who has been so committed to gradual, bottom-up change for so long is now willing to promote a more radical and rapid undermining of the status quo.

For however we achieve it, the complete destabilization of “business as usual” must become part of the discussion, as it is likely an inevitable stepping stone for any meaningful change. We must make way for radical and rapid transformation, even if our methods eliminate creature comforts for a majority of consumers – and perhaps the middle class in particular, since their consumption is so much greater than anyone else’s. In fact, we could say that this disruption of creature comforts is in itself a worthwhile goal, since it could be argued that such comforts are really part of the “bread and circuses” that have inoculated the masses against both dissatisfaction with the current system and any awareness of its most harmful externalities. Promoting the same spirit as successful boycotts from the past, Holmgren proposes that a shift in consumption and investment habits from 10% of the global middle class could create the desired disruption, but of course this is only one proposed means to an end. It may in fact be possible for an even smaller number of folks to have an even greater impact. What if every commercial shipping company found it impossible to deliver goods to major ports around the globe for six months? What if all Internet based e-commerce was disabled for a similar amount of time? What if a series of banking system failures at regular intervals coincided with an abundance of community-based banking and investment opportunities, so that a panicked withdrawal of personal assets from those banks could be locally re-channeled? What if energy delivery from commercial utilities became so unreliable that households and communities would be selfishly compelled to switch to locally produced solar and wind? In other words, I agree with Holmgren that only a minority needs convincing. . .the question for me simply becomes what minority can do the most, in which contexts, by what means.

Now there is a major ethical dilemma embedded here, and that is which of these means are the most skillful, just, and indeed will bear the most constructive fruit over the long run? Personally I am wary of any methods that do not conform to the character of their proposed outcome. For example, a violent revolution intended to achieve peace, or deceitful propaganda intended to bring about more open and transparent civic institutions, or oppression of one group of people in order to liberate another, or a temporary inequality that aims for ultimate equality. Not aligning the integrity of our current efforts with the intentionality of proposed solutions is a recipe for failure, in my view (see
Revolutionary Integrity for further discussion of this). Yet clearly everyone must decide these things according to their own conscience, and, just as clearly, actions need to be taken swiftly, without the paralysis and disempowerment of avoiding self-contradiction at all costs – especially since the costs here may include the survival of our species, along with a wealth of life on our planet. For further discussion, I offer some avenues to this kind of decision-making in the essay “Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism.” Ultimately, however, the message must become clear that the accumulation of wealth – and in particular accumulations that result the manipulation of government and consumers, the exploitation of workers, and the destruction of natural resources – will no longer be rewarded. . .and, in fact, will no longer be tolerated.
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