So What Do We Do?

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Complaining about the decaying freedom in the U.S. is all well and good, but recognizing the problem is only the beginning. The real question is: so what do we do? How do we go about halting the attack on civil liberties, and changing the world so that such attacks stop coming in the first place? Here is an attempt at answering that question: First and foremost, spread the word about the problems in the existing system - to people who you normally wouldn't talk to politics about. I'm not saying get into a hardcore rant in the middle of work, but this stuff is definitely more worthy of 'watercooler chat' than the latest episode of [Insert Horrid But Popular TV Show Here]. Let family and friends know. This is the kind of thing people should talk about, because it gets to the heart of our government and the dangers of not just this administration but any administration which would seek to stomp on the basic protections all civilized societies should offer their people.

The fact is, while a letter writing campaign or something traditional like that might have short term impact, it simply will not hold up to the onslaught of time (because these things keep on coming, and once defeated, they often slip by later in another form). The only way to really, truly change things for the better is to change peoples' perception, change the way they get and process their information. The mono-media certainly doesn't do it for us (the FCC, which sets media ownership rules, is in bed with big media), so we need to find a way to wake people up to reality and try to get people to think for themselves - and that means spreading information. If you're going to have even the slightest tiny spark of hope for humanity, you have to assume that a lot of people out there are really potentially reasonable at heart - they just have to be woken up and pulled away from the easy uncritical path, and they will recognize the state of things and react reasonably.

Spread information and you break down the system that is built upon the control of information.

More importantly, I think those who really care about these things need to try to think of new ways to spread information. Sure, letter writing can be helpful, as can word of mouth (especially word of mouth - because many people just won't expose themselves to mediums that challenge them), but we need to find new ways. I definitely don't have all the answers, but I'm damn willing to keep calling for action in the hopes that someone does.

I think the Blogosphere has potential in the phenomenal speed of the spread of information as well as the ability to dissect and criticize 'official sources', to spread independent investigation and expose opinion to critical review (much like scientific peer review). Some of the shit I've seen go down in the Blogosphere recently just rocks my world. And I don't just mean the stuff linking to troublesome ABC or CNN news stories, but the stuff that actually digs down deep and finds hidden links: digs up FOIA documents, discovers campaign contributions no one noticed before, finds out who owns stock in what company, publishes information those in power would rather remain hidden (like executive policy memos), exposes the quieter workings of Congress, watches as Bush changes his past speeches and his aides quietly "update" the White House webpage history to reflect that. I mean, blogs have major fucking power. But then the internet has always had power; what blogs add is speed and involvedness. With blogs, this stuff can catch on like wild fire and lead to real and independent publicity, and thus real change.

What else? Television and radio campaigns would be cool, but there's not much money to be made in protecting freedom, just in assaulting it, so you won't find a lot of money laying around for these causes. But I think there's hope in culture jamming and subvertising. Anything to break down the system - the real world structure itself, and the isomorphic system in peoples' heads.

Again, this seems like small gesture stuff, but the more I think about it lately, the more I'm becoming convinced that that is the very key to real organization. It's why I like anarchic theory: in the traditional idea of organization (the statist mold, we'll call it; or the hierarchy paradigm) people organized based on threat of force and the occasion promise of reward. It's a fundamentally corrupt system at its very heart because people are acting on these base impulses, not reason - they may think they're acting in their own best interest, but game theory tells us that's not really the case.

No, real organization is the kind that's held together firmly by bonds of choice and responsibility (not enforced responsibility, I should clarify). "Anarchy is order" - the meaning behind this term is that real order can only come about by choice, not threat of force, not by coercion. "What is an anarchist?" Ursula LeGuinn asks. "One who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice."

The point is, to get an effective system that isn't corrupt like all traditional ones have been, we need to throw out the idea of top-down, hierarchical, enforced organization. We need to get rid of the idea that order is something to be imposed by an authority at the top, something that individuals below have to conform to to avoid punishment.

Instead, we need a world where the individuals at the bottom all make the choice, the conscious choice, to organize, to order. And that is why small actions - little things like informing people you know or subverting the system locally with culture jamming - work. They are at the individual level, they don't try to change things from the top-down (we've seen how well that works!). They try to change the world from the bottom up.

And that, I think, is the key. It jives with systems theory and all the cool work that's being done in science these days on how amazingly complex and successful things can come about from a conglomeration of simple individuals. Ant colonies don't succeed because queens issue orders of who needs to be where (the queen never even communicates with most of the ants up top doing the work) - they succeed because ants all have a basic behavior pattern built in and evolved to where from the simple rules of their behavior can emerge complex outcomes like a functioning hive. None of the individual ants is capable of ordering things around, there is no boss - yet things get done.

I'm not saying it's a direct analogy, but there's an important similarity there. From simplicity, even complex things can emerge. The world doesn't need an uber-designer to make complex organisms like humans - just some natural laws and a fair helping of time can build up to us (and further). Likewise, if we want to change society, we don't need to get in control (or convince those in control to act such and such a way) - we just need to change the rules at the bottom, and changes will build up to the top on their own. Theories of emergent complexity are huge in science right now, and I think they hold some powerful applicability to culture and society if only we'd start to recognize.

So in answer to the question 'what do we do?', I'd say we need to try to work on the individual level to subvert the old ways and offer new alternatives. Spread the memes, share the information, get people to think for themselves and inform themselves and become critical skeptics, and the pieces just fall together from there. Granted, it's important to work on a larger scale in concert with local work, but I think the real change will come from below, come from turning on peoples' brains all around us. Not just debating the people who are deathly opposed to us (that rarely gets anywhere) nor participating in circle-jerks with those who agree with us - but everyone. We need to bring critical politics and more importantly critical thought in general to everyone we know, because when every individual in society adopts a free mind, society itself will become free.

There, that's my idea. I'm not saying it's the end all be all of the subject, just some thoughts I'm throwing out there. I honestly don't know if anyone can change the world, make it better. Maybe it's all hopeless. But I've tried and I just can't resign myself to such a fate, so for now I'm gonna keep on trying to do something, to find some way that has some glimmer of hope, even if it's a long shot.

Originally Written: 09-05-03
Last Updated: 01-23-04