Chris and I were listening to NPR the other day on the way out to the Net Squared Conference, where Paul Hawken, author and environmentalist, was talking about his new book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.
What he was saying tied all of my own scattered pieces together in my head: The reason why today's changes are so much more powerful is because we are NOT a big, singular organization. Change is taking place because we are incredibly loosely joined...unique, diverse and driven. It is impossible to stop what one cannot pinpoint.
Back in the 60's, people organized rally's and formed united fronts and organizations. There were 'movements' and one self-identified with these movements, taking on nearly monolithic characteristics and, when that didn't work, the movement would branch off into slightly smaller compact movements. For instance, were you a Liberal or a Radical Feminist? Were you for Black Power or a member of the Civil Rights Movement? What party line do you tow? Identity politics ruled and it often became a 'are you with us or against us' sort of choice. Even in the 90's, in the height of post-modernism while I was taking Cultural Studies, identity lines were there...although they became 'performative' instead of real. It felt as if I needed to subscribe to everything if I wanted to stand behind something...sort of like buying the right cable package. If I wanted Discovery Channel, I'd have to take TSN.
But somewhere along the way Identity Politics took a radical downturn.
Over the past 10 years, personal publishing has become way more democratized and distribution of our content has become plentiful. There are all sorts of ways to write and reach an audience and, as David Weinberger stated in his brilliant book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, we all have audiences, albeit smaller and more distributed. I also attribute much of the decline of Identity Politics to the hyperbole that is the American Red vs. Blue battle that has played out over the past 7 years or so. Bush's "You are either with us or against us," has left millions to raise an eyebrow. People are interesting creatures and, when told to make a hard choice, will often stubbornly refuse.
Just over a year ago, I wrote about the Collective Unconscious...the idea that there are people all around the world who are simultaneously thinking the same thing but not knowing that one another exists. Sure, they are conscious of what they are thinking, what they believe in and what they want to accomplish, but they forage ahead, not knowing that they are on a very similar path to someone a world away.
The idea that there is a single unique thought is preposterous. The idea that anyone 'owns' or 'leads' or 'runs' a movement defeats the purpose. That we even require a united front is unimaginable. When a team needs to develop a piece of software, sure, direction and united purpose can improve the process. However, when we are talking about doing something as widely defined as stopping global warming or creating world peace, a more haphazard strategy is better.
When I look around at the 'movements' I've been part of over the past year, those that had less leadership and more guidance tended to fare better. The more small pieces loosely joined these are, the faster they grow. They don't need a marketing plan at all, they just need a clear benefit and full autonomy.
So, in order to keep this clear in my own head, I've started to jot down some of the differences between the Movements of the 60's and the movements (little 'M') of today...
|United Front||Small Pieces Loosely Joined|
|Specific tasks||Undefined change|
|Diversity slows down||Diversity makes stronger|
|Needs strong leadership||Needs lots of self starters|
|Requires total altruism||Gives loads of agency|
|Everyone needs to get along or things fall apart||Most of the participants have never met|
|Heavy recruitment is needed to grow||Growth happens organically. No numbers to count.|
|Externalized motivations||Intrinsically motivated|
|Specific responsibilities||Distributed and loosely defined responsibilities|
|Ordered and trackable||Unpredictable...chaotic|
Taking a look at this list, the small pieces loosely joined resembles and even transcends The Starfish organization. This is a very powerful concept as it is nearly impossible to stop the forward movement of a starfish organization, let alone one that doesn't even realize its various 'legs' exist.
I haven't been able to start Blessed Unrest as of yet, but the example that Hawken drew from in his NPR interview was the shift towards 'green', a shift he refuses to call a movement at all (and even has trouble using the small 'm') because it really is about individual choice and agency. It doesn't simply exist along party lines. If you recycle and replace the light bulbs in your house, you don't have to be 'left wing'. If you prefer to eat local and organic, you don't have to believe in Communal living. One can wear leather pumps and still eat vegan because of health. OR one can smoke and eat vegan because of preference.
And with this less rigid approach to the world, more and more people are changing their own behavior in their own way on their own time, which is better than a world filled with hard lines, unforgiving rules and loads of angst and guilt from people who 'don't meet the requirements'. And that is why it is a truly unstoppable 'movement'.