Thursday, October 14, 2010


I continue with an SO-specific look at Saul Alinsky’s 1971 book “Rules for Radicals”*. There is a corresponding Post on my other site here.

As I’d said, the Master Post for this 4th installment contains a discussion with all the page quotations, and you can access it here.

In this Post I will simply deal with the SO-relevant material.

His third chapter is entitled “A Word About Words”.

“Politics”, he says, is “generally viewed in a context of corruption”. Without asking if such a generally held – presuming that it is, which is a big presumption – assessment is accurate, he builds on it; it serves his case well. Because if all politics is indeed reducible to nothing but corruption, then corruption is normal or at least the norm.

Legislators, especially under the pressure from Alinskyite-trained advocates, didn’t need to hear that what they were being pressured to do, which would probably garner them some votes, was the ‘normal’ thing to do whether they had once been taught to think of it as ‘corruption’. Because in Alinsky’s approach, the idea is to use that life-defining corruption in the service of some Good Cause (and thereby ‘baptize’ it, to use my term).

And so what happens in the SO Mania, I would say, is that ‘good’ corruption (ignoring the Constitution and its ethos) is deployed against ‘evil’ corruption (the monstrous Sex Offender). And so ‘corruption’ is embraced with something approaching a clear conscience by people sworn to know better and faithfully “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution.

It’s a clear indicator of how far astray Victimology has led the country that so many average readers and even legislators themselves might immediately assume that their job was to “preserve, protect, and defend” ‘victims’ and ‘prevent victimization’. As I have said before on this site, not even Hitler or the SS got up in the morning saying “today we are going to continue to wreck Germany and the world”; no, they were sure that they were preventing the further victimization of the German nation and people.

And by the time it dawned on many Germans what had really happened, it was too late: the rot was in too deep or they had committed such treacheries and crimes that it was impossible to step back from the abyss.

But Alinsky advises that the good organizer must learn to “use other words – words that mean the same but are peaceful, and do not result in such negative emotional reactions”. Words, as Orwell says, are designed to convey realities; and if you are up to something that you’d rather not admit, then you have to use words that precisely will NOT convey the reality of what you are up to.

Because people might have adverse reactions and get all worked up against what you’re trying to pull off. And why create that problem for yourself if you can avoid it by sidestepping the truth of what you’re doing by using nicer words that don’t get people all worked up and that actually sort of assure them and keep them calm.

Thus ‘change’ and ‘reform’ are better choices.

After all, most people ‘just don’t get it’ anyway, so why waste your time and energy fighting opposition you didn’t need to rile up.

But emotions have to be part of the political process because they are part of people, not to put too fine a point on it. Emotions are NOT the whole of the political process, but things have to start there. IF you are going to do things democratically and tell the truth to The People.

But Alinsky’s approach has that covered: since most people ‘just don’t get it’ then whether they know it or not they are collaborators with or enablers of the Haves. So since this is a ‘war politics’ then they are the ‘enemy’ – or at least dupes of the enemy, and so you have to move around them or move them around.

And if the ‘words’ aren’t enough – avoiding ‘emotions’, then you can whip up other emotions that will be more useful for achieving your Objective. Thus create an ‘outrage’ and thus an ‘emergency’. Monsters will do nicely for this type of work; anybody who has watched villagers in a Frankenstein or vampire movie knows that.

The trouble is: the average American never imagined that Americans would be treated so widely, deeply, consistently, and with malice aforethought as the ‘villagers’ in a horror flick. But that’s where Alinsky is going with this. And he thinks it’s a good idea because making civic-war against the Haves is a Good Cause.

Do people – some or a lot of them – have negative emotional responses to a proposal? Do they ‘get a bad feeling’ about what you want to do? That’s where persuasion and deliberation come in. That’s what a democratic politics is all about – otherwise for all practical purposes it’s not a democracy. Which is OK with Alinsky since he thinks democracy as an Ideal is just baloney, an ‘abstraction’ deployed by the Haves to continue extorting the Have-Nots. BUT if you can use the processes of a democratic politics, and the nice words that are attached to it, in order to neutralize or sidestep a whole lotta people who ‘just don’t get it’, well that’s fine and dandy. It would be treason to the Have-Nots to stir up time-consuming problems that you didn’t have to on the way to getting what you want.

“We begin to dilute the meaning”, he smiles with satisfaction.

And so in the SO Mania (and now in international affairs as well) ‘words’ have been so twisted and diluted that nothing means what it says. Look at the SO Mania Regime laws: to read them and to read far too many of the court opinions, it all sounds so reasonable and assuring. And yet, when you look at what is actually THERE, what thing has actually been erected on the basis of all those nice words, it’s a monstrosity.

What you want to do with words, he teaches, is to create “an aseptic imitation of life”.

‘Asepsis’ means “free from the living germs of disease, fermentation, putrefaction”. So, much like Lenin advising his cadres that until they had real power they would have to say they supported ‘ballots’ – when they got power they would use ‘bullets’, Alinsky wants to use words merely as a Trojan Horse to get inside the heart of the political process. Tactically, then, as the Greeks saw long ago when they built the Horse, you want to lull your enemy’s senses, so that you can get inside with the least amount of time and effort. Once inside, well – that will be a different story.

‘Democracy’ is, in Alinsky’s vision, far too messy, infected with the feelings of far too many people who are too stupid or greedy to see what he sees: that Nothing Is On The Level, that everything is the result of Greed (economic in his actual vision, but as adapted by follow-on Advocacies it could be, say for example, the Greedy desire to steal sexual satisfaction by violent means).

He gets close to an uncomfortable democratic truth – without knowing it perhaps – with that “fermentation”. There is a ferment in democratic politics: people with feelings BUT ALSO with reason debate and disagree and hammer out some sort of agreement or maybe decide a proposal is just too wrong or at least too unworkable to be adopted.

For Alinsky this will never do. You organize precisely because you know you have identified something that you are sure needs to be ‘changed’, and you can’t let yourself get stopped by the mere fact that there are enough people who ‘just don’t get it’ to constitute, this time around anyway, a majority. You go around them, sidestep them, sweet-talk them, stampede them, or maybe – for the most outspoken – you attack their credibility or their personal integrity. You do ‘whatever it takes’. Otherwise you are a lukewarm and wishy-washy failure.

It’s all about Power: the Haves have it and the Have-Nots must “wrest it away from them”.

Power isn’t good or bad – it’s a fact of life, in Alinsky’s view. It can be “a man-killing explosive” or it can be “a life-saving drug” – and who would want to pass up the opportunity to administer “a life-saving drug”?

But he stops at that point and doesn’t pursue the point to where I would say the real question lies, the question that much more closely lies at the heart of the awful problems that have now deranged the country’s politics: what happens, Dr. Alinsky, if you give the wrong drug to the patient? Or in the wrong dosage?

Because there is no such thing as a Universal Life-Saving Drug: a drug that might save one patient might kill another patient. A dosage or frequency of administration necessary to save one patient might kill another patient.

Alinsky’s ‘analysis’ is wayyyy too simplistic and juvenile.

And so I say that Alinsky’s All-Purpose Life-Saving Drug – organizing to wrest Power through ‘change’ – is indeed powerful. But it is soooo powerful and so complex a ‘drug’ that it needs to be very carefully administered, if indeed a comprehensive diagnosis justifies giving the drug to the patient at all.

And in the SO Mania Regime I say that the ‘drug’ chosen was doubly toxic: not only was it administered in far too high a dosage and far too frequently, but that the ‘drug’ itself – demonizing people as monstrous Sex Offenders and then setting up police-state regimes (though merely ‘civil’, ‘administrative’ and ‘regulatory’ – those nice nice words) to control the monsters – was fatal to the body-politic of a working, living democratic polity.

Alinsky, as I have said in earlier Posts, made the simplistic equation between the ‘established’ and ‘status-quo’ of the Imperial Czarist autocracy of early 20th century Russia and the American Republic and its democratic polity of the mid-20th century. To him a ‘status quo’ is a ‘status quo’; the approach specifically designed to destabilize the Czarist government could be with equal justification be applied to the American democracy of the 1950s and 1960s.

And, of course, those trained in the Alinsky-ite method, or those who simply accepted it as the ‘new cutting-edge wisdom’ that ‘everybody knows is right’, assumed the same thing and came to the same wrong-headed conclusion. After all, weren’t ‘men’ just like the Russian czars and aristocracy? Weren’t they just sexually greedy the same way that the wealthy Haves of the Russian Empire were economically greedy?

And isn’t ‘sex’ even more important than ‘economics’? (You can look around you at the country this very day and ask yourself if the advocacies, the legislators, and the assorted elites answered THAT question correctly on the exam.)

And if all that weren’t bad enough, Alinsky exhorts and warns: “to know power and not fear [using it] is essential to its constructive use and control”.

To use the polite British diplomatic usage of a bygone age, this assertion is rather distressingly extraordinary.

Only youth – un-ballasted by the experience of consequences and their own mistakes, un-burdened by the experience of friction and the un-controllability of events once they are set loose – could imagine that it is a good thing not to fear Power. In the obvious sense of the word ‘fear’ – that you have a deep concern that this thing will take you and others to an unintended and possibly dark place – or in the scriptural sense of ‘respect’ – that you understand that Power, like fire, can serve or destroy depending on how well you handle it … well, ‘fear’ in both those senses is an absolutely essential component of maturity and that seriousness that the Framers were so concerned to secure in government service.

The ‘real men don’t waste time thinking’ bit is a shiny bit of immaturity that We saw in the 1960s among the Boomers and in the 1980s in wayyyy too many ‘patriotic’ shoot-em-up fliks.** This is a characteristic of American society, especially since the Age of Industrialization began to go into high gear after the Civil War.

Alinsky doesn’t seem to pick up on this synergy too much. He is content to emphasize the brassy self-assurance of the committed organizer, who is really just a watered-down version of the revolutionary cadres of Leninism that had attracted Alinsky in his own youth.

But both dynamics came together in the Sex Offense Mania, offering politicians a chance not only to pander to ‘demographics’ but also to ‘prove’ that they could ‘protect’ the womenfolk and children just like any frontier settlers who didn’t have a sheriff handy. Except – of course – that by the 1990s there was no frontier and there was a Constitution. But then – ‘real men’ don’t waste time thinking too much.

‘Morality’, he says, is simply the nice-word cloak for covering up the naked self-interest that abides in all status-quo situations. And if ‘morality’ can get tossed aside so quickly, and reduced to being merely a ‘cover’ for baaad things, then Constitutionality is surely not going to fare any better. And it didn’t in the SO Mania Regime laws.

There is a thick stream of this Alinsky-ite assumption underlying the Regime, and it’s been taught in law schools (yes, Alinsky-ite visions excite the profs there) for decades: the Constitution is merely the cloak behind which the Haves hide.

Which, marvelously, gives so-called ‘liberals’ the chance to prove that they too are ‘real men’ (of either gender): ‘real men’ don’t let the Constitution stand in the way of doing ‘whatever it takes’, because the Constitution is really only an ‘opiate’ (as Marx would say) and ‘democracy’ is ditto: a cover for ‘oppression’.

He concludes his chapter with some thoughts on “Conflict”. The word has gotten a bad rap, he thinks.

He blames, firstly, the Advertising Culture in America (he’s writing in 1971): it has given people the idea that you should always be polite when, really, life is a war between Haves and Have-Nots.

I’d say that the problem goes deeper: the Advertising Culture was concerned for appearances, not for substance, and wayyyy too many people got used to simply ‘being nice’ in an outward way without really accepting the burden of truly respecting the dignity of other human beings, their fellow (and sister) Citizens. But then – Alinsky isn’t going for the ‘mutual respect’ route, and doesn’t seem to think that humankind is capable of reliably sustaining such a mature achievement.

A sentiment and conviction that sustained the ‘war-politics’ without which the SO Mania Regime could never have gotten started. And by which it is now continued.

He blames, secondly, “organized religion” with its insistence that one must “turn the other cheek” (which, of course, is not what you do in a war).

This surely fits in with the Victimologists’ insistence that ‘closure’ requires a vengeance (a huge legal regression in Western history) administered by the State on behalf not of the common-weal, but on behalf of the ‘victim’. ***

And as far as ‘turning the other cheek’ goes, I recall that the Australian author, J.M. Coetzee, notes this in his 2007 book of essays entitled “Diary of a Bad Year”. In the vision of Hobbes, the world without an organized State and the rule of law is a rat’s nest of “internecine warfare without end (reprisal upon reprisal, vengeance upon vengeance, the vendetta” (p.3)****

While there is a modest – but hugely incomplete – psychological value to seeing somebody ‘paid back’, Coetzee later points out that as best he can make out after watching the world – and especially South Africa after apartheid was abolished but Identity grievances crept back – ‘vengeance’ or ‘revenge’ simply continues the cycle of offense-revenge that locks BOTH perpetrator and victim into a darkling level of existence.

(In a later chapter, Alinsky will lustily relate how the ‘reaction’ of the Haves, of the ‘enemy’ you have chosen, is absolutely vital to feeding the dynamic you need to force ‘change’ and ‘wrest power’. And, as you may imagine, the ‘reaction’, the ‘conflict’, is what drives the melodrama of the ‘story’ for the media.)

And that a polity where the Citizens are constantly at war among themselves is doomed.

In that regard, by the way, Coetzee – no ‘religious nut’ – comes to the sober conclusion that Christ really is the only one to get it right by advising that one must ‘turn the other cheek’ lest the cycle of violence in interpersonal and societal and national and international affairs simply continue ad infinitum.

Governments have many options open to them besides considering themselves in a ‘war’, diplomacy being not the least.

Individuals have an even larger range of options, which in a democracy include uniting together and working for change. The nation as a whole is not the South of the Jim Crow Era nor is it Russia of the Romanovs only with warmer weather.

Alinsky’s Approach is the equivalent of driving a vehicle equipped with heavily-studded tires, suitable for a winter in Montana, on the roads of Florida. Or of driving an entire State-full of vehicles so equipped over the Florida roads. Or maybe, the equivalent of driving a main battle tank with its heavy treads on the roads; war is hell on roads.

And this reflection of Coetzee’s about Christ would no doubt be taken as heresy by the Alinsky-ite school, but there it is.

And thus the cycle of offense-vengeance would be broken.

But breaking the cycle of any outrage is precisely what the Alinsky approach does NOT want to see happen. You need the ‘outrage’ to continue to fuel the war-politics.

How at this point legislators are going to ‘back away’ is an interesting question – and one of some real urgency.

I am not at all proposing that Alinsky’s ‘war’ be met with ‘war’ by the SO community. But there remains a great and necessary service that the SO community is well-placed to perform for the country: to roll-back this monstrous Regime and in the process help the country regain balance and integrity.


*My copy is the paperback Vintage Books/Random House edition that reprints the original 1971 edition. The ISBN is 0-679-72113-4. All my quotations and page references will be taken from this edition.

**If you need some good reading, I’ve just finished “The Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America 1877-1920”, by Jackson Lears. It’s a meaty read, and a great story, and it’s out in paperback for less than $20. He talks about the tremendous anxiety among American elites of that forgotten generation that had been too young to fight in the Civil War but had to find a way of ‘proving themselves’ to be as strong and grown-up and ‘masculine’ as the generation of 1861-1865.

***For those interested, it is sobering – if not also stunning – to read Anthony Rhodes’s 1974 book “The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators: 1922-1945”. There, especially on pages 207-209, he recounts the campaign undertaken by the Nazi Reich in 1937 after the Pope, Pius XI, issued his encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern), that expressed to the world his deep anxiety over what was happening in the now-4 year-old Reich. Immediately, Hitler declared “I shall open such a campaign of propaganda against them in the press, radio, and cinema that they won’t know what’s hit them”.

But he instructed his underlings not to make martyrs out of the priests; “It’s better to show that they are criminals”. Attacks, Rhodes recounts, were made on priest’s morals, as the Nazis had done from time to time, “but they were nothing compared with the new accusations and mass trials”. At Koblenz, 170 Franciscan monks were arrested forthwith and put on trial for “corrupting the youth and turning the monastery into a male brothel”. As Rhodes notes from the record, the trial excluded the public and “most of the witnesses were children”, which “raised doubts as to its equity”. The Nazis accused the friars of running “orgies”, cartoons appeared in the Nazi press in which an adult male in priestly garb beckoned to young boys over the scriptural quote ‘Let the little children come unto me’. Goebbels himself (who would, in April 1945 kill his own six children with poison before killing his wife and himself) announced in a speech that he came before the German people as a concerned parent and father himself, attacking those parents who still believed in the Church, allowing “their most precious treasure delivered to the bestiality of the polluters of youth” by letting them go to Catholic schools rather than the Reich schools.

(Marvelously, the German Consul in Caracas reported regretfully to Berlin that in light of the well-publicized homosexual incidents among the Imperial German General Staff in the time of Emperor Wilhelm 30 years before (one high ranking general died of a heart attack at a costume party dressed in a pink tutu and by the time anyone thought to get the corpse more suitably attired in its uniform rigor mortis had set in and bones had to be broken) the Venezuelans were referring to homosexuality as ‘the German vice’. Could we not please, he asked, have some heterosexual incidents? As if on cue, reports began to come out of Berlin of priests ‘caught’ with women. In case this all sounds like too much, Rhodes quotes the volumes of the Nazi diplomatic archives captured intact after the war. The pink-tutu episode is related at length in Raymond K. Massie’s history of the Edwardian era, “Dreadnought”.)

It’s sobering to read all this in light of recent American excitements.

**** Coetzee, J.M. “The Diary of a Bad Year”. New York: Penguin: 2007. The edition I am using is the paperback: ISBN 978-0-14-311448-2. This book is curiously structured: each page is divided into three sections, with the top section being his essays. They are well worth the read, especially his reflections on Thomas Hobbes and his vision and the consequences that flow from it.

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