Thursday, October 21, 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 fourth chapter is entitled “The Education of an Organizer”.

Alinsky recounts some of the problems he had with training folks to be organizers. Labor organizers , he says, don’t make good Alinsiky-ite organizers: they were “used to set-piece, fixed-point campaigns but couldn’t handle the fluid and fast-moving operational milieu of ‘mass organizing’” which is “a different animal … not housebroken … no fixed chronological points or definite issues”. (p.66)

It’s strange, when you think of it, that the classic American labor-organizer, mainstay of the great labor struggles from the 1890s to the 1930s, wasn’t any good at what Alinsky was doing. But Alinsky was doing ‘revolutionary’ organizing, not labor organizing: there was no reality principle involved, no absolute focus on some quantifiable and palpable goal like so much for weekly salary and this right and that responsibility … all of which could be put in a contract.

Instead, Alinsky is looking to agitate for ‘issues’ – and it really makes no difference to him what the ‘issue’ might be, as long as you can get folks worked up over it. And, conversely, if you can get enough folks willing to get worked up about something, then that something has to be a ‘real issue’ because so many people are worked up about it.

In the SO Mania, it’s an open question as to which came first: the real ‘issue’ or the ‘necessary-issue’ that had to be nursed along like a poisoned-plant in a dark castle’s laboratory.

He isn’t impressed with ‘social worker types’ because they work to clear away “four-legged rats” and call it quits, whereas he wants to get rid of the four-legged rats so that “we can get on to removing two-legged rats”. Vivid imagery, and is speaks volumes of his essential approach and mindset: you get the sense of that demonization that was necessary (and understandable) in the Russian Revolution and in Soviet thought and practice: those who ‘oppress’ (or even those who simply ‘oppose us’) are bestial enemies and anything that has to be done to destroy them or shut-them-up is Good.

This is not a mindset or a heart-set that belongs in a democratic polity and it will eat through the structures of a democratic politics like a highly corrosive acid.

And notice how quickly ‘demonization’ of one sort or another had to be created as an ‘issue’: the Family and the Male, as well as Authority and Tradition and Structure, were attacked in the Domestic Violence Regime and then, of course, all the stops were pulled out and the ‘Sex Offender’ was created (eerily, much as ‘Sadaam’ was later created as a ‘mastermind’ of 9-11 who owned ‘WMD’).

I don’t blame Alinsky himself for all this, but this is where his Approach has led Us all.

It goes to show, I think, that the opposite of ‘liberal’ is not ‘conservative’; rather, the opposite of ‘liberal’ is ‘illiberal’ and I can’t see how the Nanny Regulatory State is anything but illiberal and how it can deliver or create anything except the most fundamental illiberality (although, of course, in a reeely reeely Good cause).

And though the Left and the Right made some sort of common cause in the Sex Offender Mania Regime, yet the thing made ‘illiberals’ of them all.

Typically eager to demonstrate the creds of his own Approach, Alinsky quickly asserts that “Actually, Socrates was an organizer … the function of an organizer is to raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern”. And so far so good – it’s precisely this type of awareness that fuels a democratic politics.

But Alinsky then reduces the famous Socratic injunction to ‘know thyself’ to the Flattened sense of ‘knowing’ that you are a Have-Not and thus being extorted and oppressed by the Haves. Socrates, therefore, was not “carrying out the first stage of making revolutionaries”. Socrates worked in a Larger world, whose planes of existence included an Interiority and perhaps even a Verticality; the human self was a cosmos and constituted a ‘new world’ and a genuine ‘frontier’ the hidden reaches of which every human being had to enter, explore, and master.

To Alinsky, as to all materialistic revolutionaries, energies directed toward the mastery of Interiority constituted nothing less than a dangerous distraction, a siphoning off of human energies that should – must – be better spent changing the material, external world. Interiority is the enemy of every revolution.

“Imagination” is necessary to an organizer. Alinsky means that the organizer should be able to place himself through imagination in the heart of the problems that people face. And so far so good.

But then, he says, having felt their suffering, “you organize rebellion”. In other words: having gotten yourself good and mad, then you forget about the democratic politics (which is just part of the ‘status quo’ and on top of that was developed – like the ‘opiate’ of ‘religion’ – just to sedate the Have-Nots as they were extorted by the Haves). You ‘war’ on everything that’s part of ‘the Establishment’ (and, therefore, anything that’s established).

But are some of those established type of things essentially carrying walls or foundational elements of the Constitutional ethos? Of a democratic politics? Of a functioning democratic republic? Can you simply Just Get Mad and then figure that whatever you do is going to be Good and Will Work Out OK and Be Progress … ? I think that in the run-up to the Sex Offender Mania Regime an awful lot of ‘elite’ types did think this. (Just as they later did in the run-up to the Iraq War.)

“Contradictions are the sign-posts of progress”, he says. Phooey. This is not only dumb but so shrewdly self-serving as to be sleazy. If you try to move in a direction and run into a contradiction – either a conceptual problem where your theory doesn’t seem to correspond to reality, or a problem of other people opposing you by contradicting what you’re claiming – this is not a ‘sign of progress’. This is a sign that either you’ve got a theory that isn’t quite ready for prime time or else you’ve got one that isn’t receiving the support of the people who are going to have to live with it.

And when you get these ‘contradictions’ therefore, you can’t simply insist that your theory is ‘Right and Good’ and then dismiss everyone who isn’t so sure as people ‘who just don’t get it’. Nor can you, in a democratic politics, figure that you can just do an end-run around folks. (Although, in a world-class historical development that will be talked about by historians in generations to come, the government itself participated and supported the ‘revolution’ against a democratic politics.)

And so in the SO Mania Regime you see legislators making ‘Findings’ that were hugely dubious when they were proclaimed and have since been greatly discredited by serious analysis and research, and yet the legislators refuse to see it. And feel that in taking such an irrational approach they are Right and Good.

(Although at this point I’m going to imagine that there are more than a few legislators and staffers who realize what a mess they’ve gotten themselves (and the rest of Us) into but can’t figure out how to back away without admitting they made a huge mistake. THIS was the type of situation that kept the Vietnam War going. LBJ was being told as early as 1965 by some of his own advisers that the US should get out of there but he couldn’t see how to ‘back off’ without looking ‘soft on Communism’; so he made the Vietnam situation his own and then made it a ‘War’ for all practical purposes. And Nixon inherited the mess. In this view, so many of those caught in the toils of the SO Mania Regime are like the casualties of that War who were destroyed simply because the Beltway didn’t want to admit it had made a huge mistake.)

Alinsky, equally moved by sorrows, equally angered, chooses not a robust democratic organizing but a darkly-tinged organizing for civic-war based on the assumption that Haves and Greed will outweigh any possibility of common-weal. Like Machiavelli, his surrender to the dark potentials as not only ‘real’ but as the constitutive ‘reality’ of American – or any – politics, has led him to assume (eerily, so much like Bush-Cheney would claim 30 years after his death) that Evil must be warred upon.

Alinsky then says that “With very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons. It is futile to demand that men do the right thing for the right reason – this is a fight with a windmill. The organizer should know and accept that the right reason is only introduced as a moral rationalization after the right end has been achieved, although it may have been achieved for the wrong reason – therefore he should search for and use the wrong reasons to achieve the right goals. He should be able, with skill and calculation, to use irrationality in his attempts to progress toward a rational world”.

And can you imagine a piece of advice more suitable for erecting the SO Mania Regime? On top of what else I have been noting here, Alinsky-ite legislators and staffers can sleep easy at night knowing that it’s OK to ‘do the right thing for the wrong reasons’ – although in the SO Mania Regime there’s absolutely no conclusive evidence that it was the ‘right thing to do’ in the first place, and an awful lot of indication – topped now by increasing research evidence – that it was indeed very much the wrong thing to do.

I am NOT here trying to create an impossible Good Position from which ANY less-perfect efforts can be simply dismissed as Bad. This dimension of existence, this Plane of existence, is by its nature incomplete and imperfect. (Alinsky reduces the cause of that to Greed, which, nicely, in the Christian and the comprehensive Catholic worldview, is a sin – and Sin is the factor that continually derails human efforts at achieving a lesser-incompleteness through efforts at improvement.)

I say ‘lesser incompleteness’ rather than using the term ‘fulfillment’ because I think We’ve had enough hyper-agitated excitements based on this or that group’s assurance that if only this or that Agenda is established, then Fulfillment will be reached. Politics is the effort of a human group to determine a course, necessarily imperfect and incomplete, by which the polity might move a bit more forward. But it is not in the Catholic (although it is in the Fundamentalistic Christian) view possible to ‘fulfill’ anything in this dimension or on this Plane of existence.

But it is precisely the Method of Stampede that you claim that your Outrage-Emergency is soooo bad that anything less than ‘total’ solution will be an insensitivity and a re-victimization and that in the face of Pain (to the extent that it genuinely exists) you must do ‘whatever it takes’. Driving the ambulance, then, at 120 mph you run it into the trees – or ram it into the by-standers. This is not wise and it really doesn’t help matters. And, as We are seeing, it actually creates more problems and worse problems.

But as I have said previously, Alinsky – following the Flat materialist and reductionist worldview of Marxism and Leninism – must force all possibility of fulfillment into this dimension and squeeze it onto this Plane alone, and consequently must invest any efforts he makes with the Aura of Fulfillment in order to motivate and justify his followers.

Alinsky also urges “multiple issues” because “single-issue” organizing doesn’t last long. And from that flows “continuous issues”, meaning that a ‘successful’ Advocacy (the new word for Alinsky’s ‘organizing’) has to ‘keep the pressure on’ (and keep itself in business) by continually coming up with new ‘issues’ (meaning new ‘emergencies’ and new ‘outrages’).**

And so a continuous stream of SO ‘laws’ to ‘take the next logical step’ and to ‘close loopholes’ and to ‘refine’ and so on and so forth. And if nobody puts a stop to it then the dynamic, like a low-frequency radio wave, will just keep going on forever.

An organizer must also have “Ego”, which Alinsky defines as “unreserved confidence in one’s ability to do what he believes must be done”. (p.79) And if this isn’t a description of the Bushist-era’s ‘real men’ then I don’t know what is. You don’t need to ask questions, you don’t ‘think’, you ‘just do it’ – because you are the ones that really ‘get it’ and you are the ones who are on the cutting-edge of History and indeed are making History while the rest of the chumps – those who ‘just don’t get it’ – are passively sitting around trying to ‘think’ and ‘deliberate’ and see if there actually any justifiable and coherent grounds for what you are Just Going To Go Ahead and DO!

And, I note, this is a pretty good description of most of the organized Advocacies as well, for the 30 years before Bush-Cheney got control of things; by their time, the whole Standard Operating Procedure had been in place inside the Beltway for decades.

And you can imagine legislators being urged precisely to ‘Just Do It!’.

But in this regard, I note that there has been so much shifty maneuvering even in legislatures (no committee review, comments only allowed to be made on the floor, voice-votes) that I think there were a lot of legislators who had (probably still do have) serious reservations, and that it was against THEM that a lot of this skullduggery – often in violation of the letter or spirit of the legislature’s own rules – had to be deployed by the ‘organized’ supporters of this or that Bill.

Alinsky concludes the chapter saying “Finally, the organizer is constantly creating the new out of the old. He knows that all new ideas arise from conflict; that every time man has had a new idea it has been a challenge to the sacred ideas of the past and the present and inevitably a conflict has raged”. (p.79)

Again with tossing around ‘sacred’.

But he also presumes a) that anything new is by definition ‘better’ (and ‘workable’) and that b) that everything ‘new’ must come from conflict.

Yes and no but mostly no.

Humans are always going to Kick Tire when something ‘new’ comes along, especially if they sense that the novelty has to do with profound and vital matters such that screwing around with them might yield baaad and dangerous and expensive consequences indeed.

But THAT’S WHAT a democratic politics is for: to work through all that and achieve some workable outcome that everybody can live with (and that the structure of the polity and the culture can handle without buckling or caving in).

Alinsky’s Approach – so much the revolutionary approach of Lenin – is for those who have decided that they ‘get it’ and that everybody else ‘just doesn’t get it’ to organize to attack and undermine and ‘take the low road’ in order to do whatever it takes to get what they demand. All the while deceptively spinning their activity as just a little ‘change’ and ‘reform’ and ‘tweaking’ – until they can be in a position, as Lenin famously observed and Alinsky proudly recalls, ‘ballots can be exchanged for bullets’.

There is a violence (even if in America it hasn’t come to actual physical bullets) to Alinsky’s Vision and his Approach and his Technique. Nor is it sufficient to assert that since ‘oppression’ is violent then you have to take the low road and be as violent as you need to be yourself.

The SO Mania Regime, true to its Alinsky-ite influences, has gone to ‘war’ against ‘the sacred’. By that word I mean not so much its religious connotations (although Charity and Prudence would certainly count here) but its metaphorical connotation: the Constitution and the Constitutional ethos and the democratic polity and its deliberative politics … these are ALL ‘sacred’ in the sense that they are simultaneously both vital structural components of the American culture, society, and civilization and also important and (rightly) treasured values whose stature reminds Americans of just how valuable and important a heritage We have received from those who have gone before.

To ‘war’ upon all that is indeed ‘revolutionary’, but it is in no way a good or commendable idea: it is not ‘progress’, it may be ‘transgressive’ but it is not ‘progressive’, and it is more of a betrayal than an ‘enforcement’ of what the American Vision and the American Experiment is all about.

And in the course of human events, Bush-Cheney came along and asserted that since they were dealing with violent and dark and irrational and truly evil folks, then the US government and its troops also had to ‘take the low road’ and “walk on the dark side” and be just as violent and dark and irrational and – alas – evil. But of course, America being God’s Deputy, then – in the accents of Nixon – When America Does It, It’s Not An Evil.



*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.

**Just this week, up in Boston, following an Obama visit over the weekend, the Attorney General – she who pushed the Shanley recovered-memory case to its sad end and on behalf of whose election-bid for the US Senate the State Supreme Judicial Court chose to pretend that recovered-memory was a professionally-accepted scientific fact – held public hearings to dramatize ‘internet child porn’.

This internet-child-porn Emergency is part of the recent Bill that has quietly been constructed to back the government away from the ‘classic’ Sex Offender scenario BUT creates a different one. If you follow this I think you will see all the old SO Mania gambits now being deployed all over again. I put up a Post on the new internet material here.

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