Sunday, April 6, 2014

Updates about missing posts (4th of 5): “What the Occupy Protests Mean: A TIMN Interpretation (Part IV) — Consequences and Implications”

This is the fourth in a retrospective series about five missing posts from years gone by. It continues my balky effort to revisit the prospects for finishing those posts. See the first post in this series for context and explanation here.

Perhaps a highlight of this post is the implication that Occupy and related movements serve to strengthen trends toward “monitory democracy” and “commonism” — hopefully in ways that will help stem America’s apparent drift toward patrimonial corporatism. Another highlight may be the concept of “sedimentary networks” that operate in the background.

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What this post — “What the Occupy Protests Mean: A TIMN Interpretation (Part IV) — Consequences and Implications” — was going to say

Initially, my 2011 series about Occupy and related movements was going to have only two parts: the first one about causes, and a second one about consequences and implications. But then I spotted lots of commentaries about network organization, strategy, and tactics, including swarming — so that became the focus of the second post. And then I found myriad remarks about the space-time-action orientations of the activists — so that became the focus of the third post, with a nod to STA (this blog’s other theme). As a result, I kept postponing turning to consider Occupy’s potential long-range consequences and implications.

Even so, I started a draft for Part IV before my momentum dissipated for reasons at the time and I turned to other matters. My remarks here are drawn from that draft. Whether or not I ever write more than this update, the topic itself is far from finito.

My lead-off paragraph from early 2012 still looks good; indeed, it’d make a good lead-off for all the unfinished posts in this series that focus on TIMN:
TIMN points behind this series remain as follows: The network (+N) form is on the rise. Thus the advanced societies are beginning to move from having market-oriented triform (T+I+M) systems, toward crafting network-oriented quadriform (T+I+M+N) systems. As this evolution proceeds, a new sector will take shape and gain sway around the +N form, alongside the existing public (+I) and private (+M) sectors. Indeed, maturation of the +N form depends on its capacity to define a new realm, not just its capacity to affect other TIMN forms. As this happens, new political philosophies and ideologies will evolve as well; and whether one leans Left or Right will matter less than whether one becomes a quadriformist or stays a triformist.
Thus this unfinished post was going to affirm that,
The pro-democracy protests of 2011–2012 fit into this framework. A TIMN thesis guiding this series of posts is that the emergence of the +N form of organization lies behind the worldwide upheavals — it is one of the causes. The Occupy-type movements [are serving to] express and propel the rise of the network form; and they will succeed to the extent that they continue to do so, presuming it’s in a constructive manner.
In my TIMN view, these pro-democracy upheavals — notably, Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street — were occurring in societies where the protestors wanted to replace decades of patrimonial corporatism with something more democratic (as in Egypt); or to stem a slippage away from liberal democracy toward patrimonial corporatism, in order to create a newer better kind of democracy (as in the U.S.). In TIMN terms, the activists were out to rectify the downsides of what had happened to both patrimonial corporatism and liberal democracy — the 20th century’s winningest T+I+M systems — and move in directions that would begin to add +N.

The young cutting-edge protestors lacked clarity (and still lack it) about how to do so. They were convinced that their countries’ aging triformist systems were too far gone — too compromised, grid-locked, polarized, unjust, unable to self-correct or be corrected — to continue tolerating. They typically blamed arrogant corrupt capitalism (but not necessarily the market system per se) for much of this. They were also very wary of trying to work through established institutions, particularly political parties and labor unions. And many were hungry for new ideologies to arise around the network form. They hoped to achieve radical change by affecting civil society, more than state or market conditions.

(I may have over-generalized when I drafted that back then. In some cases (e.g., Egypt?) further analysis may reveal that anti-democratic forces helped mobilize and manipulate the pro-democracy protests for ulterior purposes, including to bolster their kind of patrimonial corporatism. Moreover, a documentary I recently watched on Aljazeera America (what an informative station!) narrated by Hernando de Soto claimed that most Arab-Spring protesters were driven by poor economics, not political idealism — they were small struggling vendors fed up with being compelled to operate in the informal economy, battered by corruption and blocked from opportunities, like credit, that existed in the formal economy.)

The series’ first three parts had already made such points. The key challenge for this post was/is to identify more specific consequences and implications that reflect TIMN. The series’ main theme was that these movements (or whatever they were) substantiated the unfolding of the +N form. Looking ahead, two sub-themes — the growth of monitory democracy, and the rise of pro-commons views — seemed particularly ripe for emphasis regarding long-range consequences and implications.

As a background point, I assumed that Occupy-related activism settles into a “background network”, or what I now see should be termed a “sedimentary network” — a fragmented bedrock network. As Andrew Chadwick, writing in Political Communication (2007) explains,
“Sedimentary networks are important because they make it much more likely that older organizations will be revived or existing ones reconfigured on the fly, in response to new demands or a perceived desire to shift focus to new issue areas. They are characterized by an absence of centralized control and relatively autonomous but highly connected subunits.” (p. 294)
This is an important point. It certainly applies to how our old RAND study once explained the speedy ease with which the pro-Zapatista networks arose; they were latent in pre-existing networks that had formed to oppose NAFTA as well as U.S. policy in Central America. Then later on, sediments from the pro-Zapatista networks morphed into the pro-democracy NGO networks that helped open up Mexican elections during the 1994-2000 period. Not to mention a lot of other effects later and abroad, including the “Battle of Seattle.” (source)

The recent interesting paper that caught my eye on this was by Daniel Kreiss and Zeynep Tufekci in Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies (2013). It offers further points about sedimentary networks:
“The Occupy movement may now be melting into a sedimentary network (Chadwick, 2007) of activists that will hang together through new media technologies and reconstitute itself around symbolic events in the coming years ― as it did in protest events at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.” (p. 166)
“After the initial flare of the movement’s mediated publicity, the political context in the United States has changed to one that requires political organization able to engage and challenge institutional politics to advance an agenda forward. If Occupy is deeply divided about its engagement with pragmatic, institutional politics and fails to build meaningful ties to unions and civil society and advocacy organizations during the president’s second term it will be a wasted opportunity. Occupy’s redemptive energy, for instance, would be well directed towards the organization of a progressive, “Occupy Congress” voting block inside Congress that can hold Democrats to account for its aims.” (p. 166)
What I most like about this concept — sedimentary network — is that it is an organizational concept, not just a social one. The +N part of TIMN is about organizational networks, more than social networks.

Now, As for John Keane’s concept of monitory democracy, my earlier Part II post had indicated its potential significance for Occupy et al. Accordingly, Occupy activists, full of criticism for representative democracy, tried to promote direct democracy in their assemblies. But from a TIMN perspective, the results looked more like a problematic recursion to tribal/T forms than a promising advance toward network/+N forms of democracy. As Part II argued,
“[A] key to the next phase transition may be “monitory democracy” … If Occupy’s background network (or set of networks) is headed in this direction, it could make a significant contribution to the emergence of the +N phase.”
It’d still make sense for Part IV to make this point. Few activists have ever explicitly called for monitory democracy. And today, with Occupy-like efforts on hold, evidence is sparse that its activists or sympathizers are working to develop new sensory and organizational apparatuses for scrutinizing and appraising what is going on in our society — à la Keane’s concept — in order to generate policy inputs that require better accountability and responsibility from state, market, and civil-society actors. But while I lack a good sense of the data, and of the extent to which such developments may extend even from the spirit if not the fact of Occupy, more may be going on than I presently sense. The promotion of sousveillance and coveillance is certainly gathering momentum, whether or not as a consequence of Occupy. In any case, the possible rise of monitory democracy will surely be a slow-moving process, fraught with fits and starts deep into the future.

As for pro-commons ideas, they’d begun to take hold around the edges of Occupy and related movements, but too late to have widespread effects at the time. Since then, over the past year or two, pro-commons efforts have grown significantly, as seen in the number and variety of websites, blogs, conferences, speeches, books, and articles advocating pro-commons views and activities, including for the eventual organization of a commons sector. This rise of the commons, like that of monitory democracy, will surely be a slow-unfolding process. I gather it would have begun without Occupy ever occurring, but the experience of Occupy has added to its momentum.

While it shouldn’t be difficult to be in favor of both monitory democracy and “commonism” to some degree, the two endeavors also seem at odds, even somewhat contradictory. Developing monitory democracy requires engaging with “the system” so as to change it and add a new layer. But for Leftist proponents of the commons, building a commons sector is more a way to work outside “the system” — to break with old dialogues about states and markets, globalization and capitalism, and create a rather separate new existence, for example through cooperative business endeavors, until such time as “the system” falls and can be supplanted. Thus, whereas monitory democracy may assume that the fabled “1%” are reachable, commons proponents seem to regard the “1%” as utterly unreachable. The contradiction resembles that between “Tocquevillian associationalism” and “Marxist autonomism” — or so I read (here).

Beyond monitory democracy and pro-commons innovation, I hadn’t settled on a third implication. But my notes indicate I was going to forecast a prolonged sharper struggle between the forces behind America’s drift into patrimonial corporatism, versus forces across the spectrum that wanted deep change, be that to revitalize our aging triformist democracy or to develop +N and thus a quadriformist democracy. Perhaps as a fourth implication, I’d also have forecast a greater usage of swarming and counter-swarming strategies and tactics if protest movements grew anew (e.g., see this 2013 interview with Paul de Armond, by David Solnit). The likelihood of this may increase if, as I once forecast (1991, pp. 77-78), people continue to become more oriented to the networks than to the nations to which they belong. These still remain viable themes about the future from a TIMN perspective.

Finally, my notes indicate that I meant to close Part IV with a speculation that the time was nigh for a Quadriformist Manifesto. Since all sorts of other manifestos were cropping up in connection with Occupy, I was starting to think TIMN might as well have one too — but I’m not there yet.

However much I wanted to finish this Part IV, I soon turned instead to write separate posts about Keane’s monitory-democracy writings (here and here), and later a post about the concept of the commons (here), without saying much about Occupy and related movements in them. Even so, these posts, including this missing one, were all oriented toward mutual themes: that +N’s rise depends on the capacity of the network form to define a distinct realm, and not just on its capacity to combine with or counter other TIMN forms; that much will depend on the extents to which the old forms feed into shaping the new, or the new reshapes the old; and that the new +N form may well revolve partly around old values, such as equity or freedom, but it will add new meanings and possibilities.

So at least I got something done in the interim about Occupy’s implications, even though this specific post has remained unfinished. To do much better than this update I’d have to do a lot of new background reading, including in what look to be interesting publications about Occupy (e.g., Nathan Schneider’s Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse (2013)).

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My first three posts in this series about Occupy had huge addenda containing scores of quotes, mostly from activists, that helped substantiate points made in the main text. This Part-IV post, if finished, would surely have a huge addendum as well. Some of the dozens of quotes I saved for it are illuminating. Here, for the interim, is a brief sampling, hastily selected and trimmed:

Kevin Carson:
“Far more important than anything Occupy Wall Street achieves as a pressure movement, is what it will achieve as an education movement, teaching people ways to sustain themselves through peaceful production, cooperation, sharing and trade with other producers — all outside the corporate system. Far more important than what the demonstrators brought with them to Zuccotti Park will be what they take back home with them — a toolkit for fighting the system from where they live. Or as I put it in my previous column, “a general strike producing for ourselves.”
“So the real significance of OWS is not as a political movement to pressure anyone else to do anything, but that itself is the nucleus of a new society …” (source)
Alpha Lo:
“The Occupy network is a set of experiments … in many different locales. Each locale can test out different techniques, ideas, and facilitation processes. The best practices can then spread to other locales or nodes. The whole nodal network is thus tapping into its distributed collective intelligence to evolve new forms of socio-economic-political systems that are more horizontal, self-organizing, participatory, democratic, and sharing based.” (source)
Jules Lobel:
Five main attributes of OWS have contributed to its massive success and provide the basis for its continuation as a radical alternative in the future. …
“5. Creating Alternative Models of What a Democratic Egalitarian Society Might Look Like …
“Hopefully OWS can create organizational forms that combine its democratic, egalitarian origins with audacious, ongoing direct action, an overall narrative that continues to express values of solidarity, equality and democracy, and political independence and survive as a model of how a just society would operate. If OWS can do so over the long term, it will have made a major contribution, not simply to transforming the public dialogue, but to birthing a new society.” (source)
David Bollier:
“The Occupy movement is beginning to discover the commons, and the result could be a rich and productive collaboration. …
“Like the Occupy protests last year, this gathering did not focus on what government might do for the American people. That is considered a lost cause for now, or at least, a secondary focal point. It is clear that the market/state duopoly is so entrenched and collusive that “working within the system” will yield only piecemeal, marginal gains. As the fights on climate change, finance reform, food, energy and countless other issues have shown, the only way to really meet people’s needs and save the planet is to strive for systemic change: …
“[T]he commons can help Occupy expand from its stance of resistance and protest to one of building positive, constructive alternatives.” (source)
Tim Rayner:
“OccupyWallStreet is not a political movement in the traditional sense. It is a countercultural swarm. We need to see it as a swarm to understand why people are drawn to it, and what makes it the most important political force on the planet today.” (source)

[This post replaces an earlier version from several months ago, now deleted.]

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