Sunday, November 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 7th 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 sixth chapter is entitled “In the Beginning” (a nice Biblical flourish).

When an organizer (or in today’s parlance: an advocate and consciousness-raiser) approaches a group that has been quietly targeted as needing its consciousness raised, s/he shouldn’t simply start in professing a general love of people (or democracy). No, instead, the organizer should immediately start “with a denunciation of exploiting employers, slum landlords, police shakedowns, gouging merchants” and so the organizer will be “inside their experience and they accept him”.

Come out swinging, come out denouncing.

So, in the Victimology setting, where the Have-Nots are ‘victims’ and defined as being extorted and oppressed by whatever ‘enemy’ the particular subset of victimism has selected, then Alinsky-ite Technique calls for the organizers/advocates to start right in denouncing whatever ‘oppression’ they have decided is going to define this group of victims whose cause they are going to create and use as a ‘pressure group’ directly on legislators.

The Citizens, as you can see, don’t really figure in except as a herd of half-witted observers who will only be needed to add a little extra oomph to the ‘pressure’ by stampeding in addled outrage after they’ve been force-fed selected (mis-)information that has been ‘discovered’ by the organizers/advocates. So much for democracy.

The SO community, recalling the early days of the Sex Offense Mania Regime, can easily recall this phase, and how well it followed the Alinsky play-book.

“Love and faith are not common companions. More commonly, power and fear consort with faith.”

And again, where he is going with this is that Pressure is a POWER, and can generate FEAR. And so FEAR is a form of POWER, if you know how to start it and then wield it as a tool to apply pressure on legislators.

For Alinsky, as you can see from his quoted statement immediately above, things like ‘love’ and ‘faith’ (religious concepts, interestingly) and ideals of any sort, are merely illusions. He is not correct in this: the power of belief and faith, the power of ideals, are precisely what religions seek to inculcate (which may be why – as so often has been the case in modern and even historical power-struggles with the Catholic Church – governments will seek to destroy or undermine the credibility of the Church: it is a rival for the credibility that the government or the revolution wants to take for itself).

This worked well in synergy with the Victimist approach, which is to reduce the ‘perpetrator’ to something (someone, really) purely evil and incapable of possessing any potential for love or faith or ideals or any reliable capacity for self-control or rehabilitation.

Just as Alinsky asserts that Nothing Is On The Level and that Everybody Who Is A Have Is An Oppressing and Lying Phony, so too does Victimism presume all that to be true about any society or culture that ‘permits’ (or perhaps approves!) victimization and about any designated ‘perpetrator’.

Malignant and violent sexual-evil is as natural to the Sex-Offenders as Greed is naturally the core and only real motivating dynamic of the Haves. (And if you toss in the radical-feminist insistence that all, or mostly all, sex of any sort is per se ‘rape’, then things only get worse.)

Alinsky’s rock-bottom assumption is that Imperfection or Incompleteness Rules, and that the ‘bad’ reality of that situation must be taken as definitive. As must the tendency of all humans – in their way – to try to get what they want and keep it. Given that core ‘reality’ as he defines it, then only the most dedicated but ultimately cynical approach to politics can be ‘realistic’. And so you get Alinsky’s sempiternal war-politics.

And all of this is ‘weaponized’ to a shocking degree in the ‘war-politics’ by which Victimist and other advocacies erected the Sex Offender and the Sex Offense Mania Regime.

And the target of those ‘weapons’ were The People, the Citizens, and the Constitutional ethos (which had been specifically designed to prevent this sort of thing and really really had to be forcibly twisted in order to make ‘space’ for this whole gambit).

There was a functioning democratic polity in America. The application of a revolutionary Method forged in non-democratic European polities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was not, I would say, called for – and indeed there existed huge possibility that the applications of that Method in this American polity would seriously derange it. Which, I think it can be seen by now, is exactly what has happened.

But as a hideous product of the synergy between the Left’s ‘progressive’ revolutionizing, and Victimology’s effort to redefine Alinsky’s Have-Nots as any species of ‘victim’ that some organizers were willing to ‘advocate for’, and the Right’s desire for law-and-order and some chance to stand up for ‘decency’ (which the Left had vigorously ‘deconstructed’ throughout the 1970s and the Flower Children and Hippies in the Sixties) … in that awful synergy the Sex Offender Mania Regime was forged, with something for all of the players whose ‘pressure’ cut them in on ‘the deal’ and whose lethal Technique sidestepped and then undermined serious and mature, widely-grounded public deliberation.

Alinsky continues that the Have-Nots have a limited faith in their own judgments while the Haves have all the ‘established’ truths going for them. Thus the Have-Nots must be encouraged to have confidence in their own judgments. This isn’t a bad approach up to this point. The Progressive-era efforts to ensure and support good education for the newly-arrived industrial working populations was precisely aimed at trying to realize the potential of those populations.

BUT the idea back then was to enable and ‘empower’ (to use a more modern term) those populations by educating them so that their judgments would serve them well in the democratic process of standing-up for their situation.

BUT it is precisely at that point that Alinsky – and far more the New Left incarnations of the “Have-Nots” – seeks to shortcut the whole ‘democratic’ thing by declaring that Nothing Is On The Level (including the American Vision) and therefore the Have-Nots must be encouraged simply to get mad and start applying whatever ‘pressure’ can be brought to bear. ‘Judgment’ doesn’t really enter into it.

The ‘revolutionary impatience’ that was so brutally evident in the Soviet approach, and even more relevantly in the ‘revolutionary chinoiserie’ of the New Left gaga-admiration for all things Mao in the late Sixties, had no room for democratic process. Because people can’t be trusted to function as The People, and additionally: since most people ‘just don’t get it’ then they aren’t going to do you any good if they retain the authority assigned to The People in the Constitutional Vision.


‘Victims’ – once their consciousness had been raised to ‘realize’ that they were victims and had been victims all along – were urged to get mad or – as they like to say now – ‘shocked’ and ‘outraged’. Then that shock and outrage could be used as a weapon or tool to exert pressure, backed up by the genuine fear whipped up in the public by the judicious public dissemination of selected bit of information or mis-information or dis-information.


None of the players in these Alinsky-ite scenarios, especially under the influence of direct importations of Leninist and Maoist revolutionary thought unfiltered through Alinsky himself, are interested in ‘empowering’ the larger Citizenry. The larger Citizenry – The People – are actually envisioned as a troublesome herd of ignorant lumps, complicit in the perpetuation of the ‘oppression’ even by something as ‘innocent’ as having a doubt about what was being demanded.

True to Lenin’s vanguard-elite theory Alinsky asserts that “One of the great problems in the beginning of an organization is, often, that the people don’t know what they want”. (p.104) He’s going to try to solve that in a democratic-type fashion by having the organizers ‘educate’ people into what’s good for them and what they need to do and what they want (“consciousness-raising sessions”, a New Left staple, are one of the tried-and-true expressions of this assumption).

But since he’s already undermined the basis for any genuine democratic process by the rock-bottom assertions that Nothing Is On The Level and that the Haves (however your group defines them) Are Never Going To Allow You To Be Free (or get what you want), then Alinsky’s Method is not at all going to strengthen democratic process. How could it? More relevantly, why should it? After all, a whole bunch of your fellow Citizens – and Americans – are nothing but treacherous and purposeful oppressors and extorters. This is the toxic brew bubbling in the Identity Politics pot and has been bubbling there from the get-go.

But he blames this state of affairs on the American democratic polity: “It is the schizophrenia of a free society that we outwardly espouse faith in the people but inwardly have strong doubts whether the people can be trusted”. (p. 104) Which is a pretty accurate summation of his own position. But this is the enabling fantasy that grounds his entire Approach.

The Framers themselves had their doubts: can people be trusted to function as The People? But the entire American system of government and politics is premised on the assumption that in the long run the answer to that Question is Yes. The entire European revolutionary premise is that they cannot and that the answer to that Question is No.

How could anybody imagine that Alinsky could be applied widely and liberally (so to speak) in this country and yet NOT undermine a genuinely democratic politics?

And THIS is reflected in the Sex Offender Mania Regime, which got started with a whole bunch of deliberately calculated public manipulation about the horrors of something that looked bad at first glance but seemed to dissolve when you tried to analyze it intelligently and carefully. And that even now, as the public senses that something is fundamentally wrong with it, the Sex Offender Mania Regime is clung to by legislators, jurists, prosecutors, and – of course – the organizers and advocates and everybody who has found a place at the government funds-trough thoughtfully provided to create a ‘constituency’ for the Regime whether it was useful or accurate or validly-grounded or Constitutionally compatible or not.

People, Alinsky says, need “to have a reason for knowing”, otherwise they’ll just fuhgeddaboutit (a post-Alinsky phrase that stems, as best I can make out, from New Yorkers who had given up on their City government ever being able to get anything right).

As it stands his statement is true indeed. Human beings were given the ability to Reason and so they have a built-in desire and thirst to know. That’s where the ‘free press’ bits come into the Framing Vision. And the stuff about a solid shared education and a common fund of knowledge necessary for any Citizen to function competently.

But all that Alinsky means by ‘knowing’ is knowing that you are being oppressed somehow. It is a politics of suspicion and based on – as the academy would say – a hermeneutics of suspicion.**

This is not only a Flat world. It is a dark and swamp-like world. It will lead to no broad sunlit uplands and anybody residing in it is going to wind up becoming, especially for political purposes, a swamp creature.

But Alinsky is not really interested even in the dignity or independence even of the people he has declared himself desirous to ‘liberate’ by ‘organizing’ them.

It is revealing to read him as he recounts one episode from his personal files.

There was a neighborhood that had a high infant mortality rate; the neighborhood had had an Infant Welfare medical clinic but a decade before Alinsky’s arrival the clinic had been kicked out because the neighborhood didn’t like its disseminating birth-control information. (As Alinksy shrewdly tells it, the neighborhood didn’t kick the clinic out, “the churches” did – yet in the next sentence Alinsky says that the neighborhood folks “had forgotten that they themselves had expelled” the clinic).

Anyhoo, Alinsky checked things out and found that all the neighborhood had to do to get the clinic back was to ask for it. “However, I kept this information to myself.” Instead, he called an “emergency meeting” and got folks whipped up to form a committee that would go down to the Infant Welfare Society’s main offices and DEMAND medical services.

So down they went. Alinsky gloats that “Our strategy was to prevent the officials from saying anything; to start banging on the desk and demanding that we get the services, never permitting them to interrupt us or make any statement. The only time we would let them talk was after we got through”. You start to form a certain impression of the gentleman.

Down they go to the offices of this volunteer clinic society, and there’s this “poor woman” at the desk. Somebody whose volunteer work or job is to get medical care to as many infants as possible.

“With this careful indoctrination we stormed in … and began a tirade consisting of militant demands, refusing to permit her to say anything. All the time the poor woman was desperately trying to say ‘Why of course you can have it – we’ll start immediately’. But she never had the chance to say anything and we ended up in a storm of ‘And we will not take No for an answer!’”.

When the organized had finished their script, Alinsky continues, the woman said ‘Well, I’ve been trying to tell you …’ and I cut in, demanding ‘Is it yes or is it no?’. Naturally, the woman said Yes and then immediately Alinsky brayed “’That all we wanted to know’ and we stormed out of the place”.

Thus Alinsky.

And he’s rather very much pleased with himself.

There’s something deeply disturbing about this story.

It’s repulsive on an individual human level: the neighborhood was purposely deceived; the woman at the desk was put through an unnecessary and unpleasant experience; and the neighborhood committee was then quickly herded out before it might stumble upon the truth of the situation. Even back in the days of Alinsky’s youth this story would repel.

Worse, you get a sense here of how American politics was deranged and debased in the past 40 years as Identity Politics took this basic gambit to stratospheric levels.

And in this sense the ‘neighborhood’ was the American Citizenry, who started off 40 years ago with a decent assumption that if other Citizens were going to bring a problem to public attention (by a ‘free press’ and quite possibly with the backing of an elected official or ten) then they must be on the level and the problem must be real.

BUT AS YOU CAN SEE … none of that applied then or applies at all in Alinsky’s Method.

Years and decades of this scam, amplified by a melodrama-hungry media, backed up by a band of braying or bleating pols … it stuns and it repels.

The ‘script’ has worked its dark magic. American politics is polarized, sensationalized, infantilized, emotionalized, and nothing but a shell of a robust democratic deliberative politics based on even a modest level of communal trust that Citizens all have the common-weal and truth as a shared goal and purpose.

And you can see ALL of that in play and at work in the Sex Offender Mania Regime. Because not only are the Sex Offenders painted creatively as the most monstrously awful of evil perpetrators, but the public (victims not IN Alinsky’s vision but OF Alinsky’s vision) is manipulated into fear-based hasty and ill-considered over-reactions. With the help of legislators who might well see it to their benefit and advantage for the public to be distracted from more valid concerns about the state of grave public matters.

And the consciousness-raised designated ‘victims’ themselves become caught up in the toils of this thing, their vital cooperation absolutely indispensable to keep the tracks of this runaway train clear and greased.

Alinsky draws lessons. “Therefore, if your function is to attack apathy and get people to participate it is necessary to attack the prevailing patterns of organized living in the community . The first step in community organization is community disorganization.” [italics Alinsky’s]

Once again, I point out how profoundly corrosive this strategy would be in any polity that sought some level of shared identity as a Citizenry. Confronted with this type of ‘balkanization’ assorted strong-men in Europe or Eurasia have imposed commonality by force (Stalin, Tito).

But in a democratic polity such as the United States, the effect of Identity Politics must by its own dynamics fracture any sense of common identity and shared purpose among the Citizenry: if for all practical purposes your primary identity-loyalty is not to your country but to some erected ‘group’ (based on race, gender, preferences as to this or that, level of ability or disability, and on ad infinitum) then the ‘common-weal’ and the ‘commonwealth’ is effectively undermined and it will dissolve into parts along the fracture lines of any group’s self-definition as an ‘Identity’. Balkanization in essence and in effect.

And again, it’s not possible to read Alinsky here without realizing that he really is conceiving of things in terms of ‘attack’ and ‘war-politics’. THAT’S his programme.

So in the Sex Offender Mania Regime, despite the public declarations of how these laws and Registries will hopefully keep communities ‘safe’, the plan from the get-go had to be to DISORGANIZE a community. A sense of trust, or confidence in the community’s ability to administer its own affairs, a sense of proportion … all of these had to be overridden in order to instill a sense of incompetence among the Citizens and in that profound sense ‘disorganize’ their community.

We are a Citizerny united only by a shared 'victimization'. We have no other qualities.

Worse, of course, the Constitutional ethos equally had to be ‘disorganized’ – it too was standing in the way of this Stampede.

“All change means disorganization of the old and the organization of the new.” [italics Alinsky’s]

And in the SO Mania Regime, as in so much else, “old” is presumed to be no-longer-good and “new” is presumed to be nothing-but-good. Huge presumptions, un-grounded and unproven. But THAT is exactly why they had to be rushed in under the cover of ‘emergency’ and ‘outrage’ and the dust raised by the Stampede.

Yes but no. On its most basic level it’s so obvious that it’s a truism. But where Alinsky might have meant ‘change’ as the Old Left would have meant it (palpable economic deprivation of Labor in the generally accepted sense of the term, clear to establish and demonstrate), ‘change’ didn’t begin to do justice to the agenda of the Victimology advocacy.

This was not Alinsky’s way. And that’s OK.

This was not what the Victimists wanted. And that’s OK – a democratic polity is set up to handle such developments.

BUT when the Beltway figured that their most rewarding course of action would be to put their full weight behind these things without further ado … THEN that was not OK. These demands were hugely dubious in terms of justification; quite possibly unworkable in terms of fulfillment; and in any case were going to require such broad and sweeping change – imposed by an increasingly impositional Beltway – that the entire Framing Vision and the mechanism of a democratic deliberative politics would be not simply temporarily thrown off-balance, but profoundly deranged and perhaps permanently undermined. (And in 2010, does any of that appear NOT to have happened?)

A broad-based, consistent, and profound multivalent campaign of “disorganization” cannot help but – ummmmm – disorganize a society, a culture, a polity, a country and – who knows? – an economy too.

And at some point in there you pass the point of ‘constructive disorganization’ in the service of a reasonable expectation of positive achievement that will strengthen and not weaken the common-weal. At some point you tip over into Deconstruction as a runaway buzzsaw that is simply chewing up and chewing up until there isn’t enough left to hold the whole together.

“No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiation.” [italics Alinsky’s] Who can forget the sage insight of that great American businessman and entrepreneur, Alphonse Capone, deceased: “You can get more with a gun and a kind word, than you can with just a kind word”. That’s an excellent maxim for conducting a Mob racket. But it’s hardly the type of advice likely to sustain a democratic politics.

Notice that We seem to have been frog-marched right past deliberation and persuasion. Alinsky is good at that sort of thing – recall his bravura performance in the matter of the children’s medical clinic.

Do you want to help a “low-income” community (Alinsky’s own example here) to see that they have a “bad scene” and then help them to see that it’s an “issue” that can be addressed? Sure. So long as you respect them as Citizens and give them good and accurate and worthwhile information and teach them genuine skills and don’t simply manipulate them so they can be herded around like a portable stampede that will do its thing on cue.

And introduce them to the democratic process and see where things go – that’s how a democracy changes without ripping itself apart.

“Organizations must be based on many issues … organizations need action as an individual needs oxygen.” But once you’ve started what must now be an endless series of emergencies and outrages and assorted confrontative manipulations, then any hope of a deliberative and serious democratic politics is thoroughly undermined.

After a while the Citizenry is simply bombarded with a steady stream of crises and outrages and emergencies until finally it is impossible to process them all, the government or the relevant elite ‘experts’ are left to do what they will, and folks – maybe even upon Presidential advice – just go shopping. (Ooops, that’s not going to work any longer, either.)

Thus in the SO Mania Regime the ‘problem’ can never be allowed to be solved, can never even be slowed down. So all sorts of tricks are deployed against the Citizenry: elastic definitions that are quietly changed although the public isn’t informed, skewed if not outright incompetent or jiggered ‘research’, ‘statistics’ that are as much a figment of deliberate imagination as they are anything else.

“Many issues mean many members.” Yes, and it’s the same principle as the old MIRV-ed rockets: you can stuff many warheads into one rocket nose-cone, and the more the merrier. It was a neat trick back in the Cold War but you can’t really call it progress.

Interests on the Left, interests on the Right, the government’s abiding interest in expanding its power to control and intimidate, the pols’ abiding interest in votes (when things look good) and avoiding responsibility (when things prove to have been badly enacted), the prosecutorial and jurisprudential desire to look like they’re earning their salaries, the many academics and cottage industries who make a tidy sum from all that government money.

An organizer must understand that “in a highly mobile society the word ‘community’ means community of interests, not physical community”. NOW you are really getting into some dark and tricky waters: it is possible, but by no means established, that a democratic politics will function beyond a certain level of complexity and Citizen familiarity: in that sense, all politics is local, as Tip O’Neill said.

BUT it is largely probable that a polity is not going to function well – if at all – when the ‘community’ is scattered all over the country and is united only by an ‘interest’ which – as in the Sex Offender Mania Regime era – may or may not be an exaggerated and manipulated ‘emergency’ or ‘outrage’.

And if the organizers are always going to have to be stoking the fires, coming up with more and more ‘instances’ and more expansive definitions of what the ‘emergency’ is, then this is going to turn into the type of defense-contractor tailspin where you make expensive military hardware, sell it to other countries as well as the US, and then claim that the US now has to pay you to develop even more ‘advanced’ weapons to counter what your company has scattered far and wide to other countries.

Not an actual ‘community’, and perhaps not an actual ‘issue’ – but still you want to sustain a reality-based politics? Did anybody in the Beltway think this thing through before they bought into this thing?

Alinsky concludes his chapter with a revealing bit of High Thought: the organizer must learn that “when we respect the dignity of the people, they cannot be denied the elementary right to participate fully in the solutions to their own problems”.

True indeed.

But how can he really believe this? After what he pulled, and proudly so, at the headquarters of the infant medical clinic?

The dignity of The People is the Ground of the Constitutional Vision: so much so that it is they who get to deliberate about what should be done and then respectfully if urgently seek to persuade the Citizen compatriots. And thus “participate fully in the solution to their own problems”.

But Alinsky is using code here. ‘Participating fully’ means that they get to say what the bureaucrats are going to do – which can work for a while or occasionally, but can’t become the default position of daily politics. They can use the vote, although – in the balancing mechanism of a democracy – this or that demand or wish may not be workable.

But there’s no other way to handle this sort of thing without manipulating people and relying on the government to impose the resultant ‘deal’ rather than build a broad consensus of support.

And in the long run you can’t sustain a robust and healthy democratic politics that way.

But then, at the end, Alinsky demonstrates just how Old Left he is: “Self-respect arises only out of people who play an active role in solving their own crises and who are not helpless, passive, puppet-like recipients of private or public services”. 

In the modern American politics that has developed in the decades since his death, Victimism has worked toward deploying Alinsky’s Methods and incorporating his presumptions into national policy and even law, BUT all the while creating not a more robust and productive Citizenry but a far less competent and far more dependent Citizenry.

This emphasis of Alinsky’s on the dignity of people is sincerely felt, I am sure. But it is impossible to reconcile it with his Methods and it is even less possible to accept what has happened now that his Method has mutated into the Sex Offender Mania phenomenon.


*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.

**The underlying principles of a methodical approach to understanding some topic. In this case, the underlying principle is that if you Suspect You Are Being Screwed and that a major chunk of your fellow Citizens Are Screwing You And Intend To Continue Doing So Until You Forcibly Stop Them then you are perfectly well –equipped to assess any public matter. For quite a while over the past decades, I would say, the Beltway fostered this so as to distract folks: people constantly agitated over suspicion of this that or the other group of other Citizens wouldn’t have time to suspect the government of anything at all. And here We are today – the failing wars, the economy a train-wreck, and a politics reduced to cartoonish levels of symbolism and appearances.

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