Posts Tagged ‘Brand Obama’


February 13, 2010


Is anyone feeling a bit uncomfortable? Wondering whether you should make an excuse and leave? I ask, because if you are highly educated and/or have enjoyed a successful managerial or academic career, you will probably have agreed with both the world view of the power elites AND the alternative, ecological world view.

I can see heads nodding. It’s odd isn’t it. Here we have world views that are incompatible, yet many people can happily agree with and argue for both of them. What’s going on? Well here’s where our Theories of Action split into two parts. “Espoused Theories” and “Theories in Use

Theories-in-use govern our actual behaviour and tend to be so internalised that we don’t really know they are there. They are a complex set of analytical rules we have acquired since the womb and use to understand ourselves, other people and the world we live in and decide what actions to take. Deep down, our ‘Theories in Use’ provide us with a set of what we take to be practical guidelines, rules, methodologies, that add up to a science of everyday life.  The more educated we are the more complex  our Theories in Use are likely to be.

Our Theories-in-use always determine the extent to which we can act upon our Espoused Theories.

Thus we can espouse an ecological and/or socialist or even anarchist world-view, but live by theories in use that make it impossible to turn our alternative world view into a reality.

The more radical the world view we espouse, the more important it is to examine the world view we actually use to go about the business of our daily lives. Going back Mandela for a moment, was INVICTUS any use when it came to choosing his economic Ministers and advisers? Many of the years he and his fellow-prisoners had spent reading and discussing the great thinkers would have been dominated by the ideas of Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, Gramsci, Che, Castro and other revolutionary theorists.

Then, just as they got the chance to put their ideas into practice, the whole Communist-Socialist project implodes and turns to the USA and its allies for advice as to how to adopt and implement free-market policies. What a bummer!! All the theories in use they had been acquiring in their prison university had been shown to be useless in the real world.

The only other alternative, Keynesian social democracy (aka capitalism-lite), had been more or less abandoned in the USA and its friends and satellites in the 1980s. So, Mandela’s speeches on economics – like Obama’s today – reflect the hard-line free-market Theories in Use that have dominated the USA and its friends since the 1980s.

The failure of Mandela, and every other would-be radical leader to deliver the revolutionary agendas that they genuinely believe when they espouse them, stems from their lack of Theories in Use that fit with and enable them to implement successfully, their ideals.

And this applies at every level and in every sector of society. None of us could have reached maturity without Theories in Use that are mostly rooted in the distant past, a past dominated by the ideas of – to name but a few – Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, John Locke, Adam Smith, James Madison, Karl Marx, Abraham Lincoln, J.M. Keynes, and a few dozen other great thinkers. But all of those great thinkers were theorising at a time when no-one had articulated, still less adopted, a world view in which human societies had to learn how to co-exist with the ecological systems on which they depend and are a part. Concepts such as ecology,  theories of action, viability, systems thinking, complexity, self-organisation, participatory democracy, problem-posing dialogues, learning organisations, sustainability, were totally unknown to them.

Yet those concepts and methodologies need to be the core components of the “Theories in Use” through which we can co-create Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies Enterprises Organisations and Communities.

For the moment, we don’t need to begin to  discuss how our current Theories in Use have affected the way we act and behave and think.  That  can wait to our next meeting. For the rest of this evening we just need to run through what we mean by Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies Enterprises Organisations and Communities.

Let’s start with “GAIAN” after we’ve stretched our legs and had another glass of something.


Dissolving the USA’s Utterly Broken Systems

January 18, 2010

No-one skewers the con-men and phonies as well as Naomi Klein. Introducing the new edition of her classic “No Logo” in Saturday’s Guardian, she goes after “Obama” as a global brand with panache and precision and righteous anger.

For 4500 words, Ms. Klein itemises the sickening truth of how the global popularity of this super-cool political brand has facilitated – at least for a time – the seamless continuation of the particularly brutal form of crony capitalism that led George W. Bush and his neo-con crew to be so universally despised and the USA itself to be justifiably reviled,

For Ms. Klein, as for me, Obama is a lost cause, But what of the millions of people worked so hard to get Obama elected?

[They] do not want markets opened at gunpoint, are repelled by torture, believe passionately in civil liberties, want corporations out of politics, see global warming as the fight of our time, and very much want to be part of a political project larger than themselves.

Will disappointment with Obama persuade many of them that there is no point in becoming politically active? As Obama plumbs the depths of betrayal (or smiling impotence) ever more deeply, will the most idealistic of them

succumb to a mood of bitter cynicism and do what young people used to do during elections: stay home, tune out

Perhaps not, because, as Bernard Weiner , points out, once the veils have been removed

One sees the system exposed, all the warts, jerry-rigged structures, thievery, manipulation, corruption, etc. We saw American capitalism naked, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Still, these financial players (“too big to allow to fail”) rule the roost, along with similar behemoths in the fields of energy, pharmaceuticals, insurance, the military-industrial complex, etc.

Congress takes no effective action even while smoldering rage and resentment and desire for political vengeance is building around the country,

Or as Ms. Klein puts it:

… the economic model that dominates around the world has revealed itself not as “free market” but “crony capitalist” – politicians handing over public wealth to private players in exchange for political support.

What used to be politely hidden is all out in the open now. Correspondingly, public rage at corporate greed is at its highest point not just in my lifetime but in my parents’ lifetime as well.


the system itself is utterly broken.

So, where is all that rage, that resentment, that desire for political vengeance, that new understanding that the whole system is ‘utterly broken’, to find a meaningful expression?

Here’s where the clarity and intelligence that Ms. Klein, Dr. Weiner [and others it has to be said] bring to their accounts of the veil-stripping consequences of the Obama-Cheney-Bush-Greenspan-Geithner- Bernebanke-effect loses traction.

Ms. Klein tells us that

… transformative goals (sic) are only ever achieved when independent social movements build the ­numbers and the organisational power to make muscular demands of their elites.

Say that again!!

“.. independent social movements build the ­numbers and the organisational power to make muscular demands of their elites.”

Hello??!! This makes no sense.

What is meant by “their elites”? Their country’s elites? Are these the same elites that Obama is fronting for? If those ‘elites’ are not somehow part of the movement then why should they listen even to the most ‘muscular demands’? Who are they? Why are they still – evidently – in power, still running the system that we all agree is ‘utterly broken’? If they are, why should they change the way they think and act? They’ve got much more ‘muscle’ than any independent social movement ever had.

If the best that progressive movements can do is make ‘muscular demands’ on the existing elites controlling the ‘utterly broken’  system, then the kind of energy, anger and awareness that she and Dr. Weiner describe will be betrayed again – and again and again and again.

Why shouldn’t the elites that are in power actually belong to those movements?  Why should they not have been elected to represent those movements? Why can’t they be committed to changing the system to one that is genuinely democratic and just and sustainable?

Dr. Weiner goes a little way down this path and says:

We have to organize the anger and show our fellow citizens (using what we’ve now learned) who the real villains are and how to send them packing.

That may (MAY???!!!) mean running for office, actively helping choose and support good candidates, organizing locally around local issues, contributing money, taking our money out of the half-dozen largest banks and investment houses and putting in into local community banks and credit unions… founding bartering societies and community gardens, launching affinity groups, writing letters and articles, organizing creative demonstrations, using the internet to communicate political ideas more widely, and …

evidently as an afterthought,

beginning to think seriously about the founding of a broad populist-democratic party, whatever.

Doncha love that final “whatever”?

It says, perhaps, that apart from the myriad of practical difficulties there would be very real physical dangers in trying to found a broad populist-democratic party. From the outset, its founders, supporters, workers and candidates would have to confront the malignant hostility of the jackals who serve the elites who run the USA’s current system. Remember the FBI’s murderous COINTELPRO programme against the Black Panthers in the 1960s? That was 40 years before the draconian provisions of the Homeland Security Act defined peaceful protesters as potential terrorists, and thus the prospects for those who take the path Dr. Weiner suggests are not a little terrifying,

That may also be one of the reasons why Ms. Klein fails to mention Dr. Weiner’s electoral politics option, even as an afterthought. But, from my reading of her work over the past decade, there is another, far more profound, reason. Engaging in electoral politics is incompatible with her basically anarchist value-system. As with the anarcho-syndicalism of Noam Chomsky, many leading progressives and environmentalists oppose forming political parties, oppose contesting elections, and above all, oppose taking political power.

In her Guardian piece, Ms. Klein refers fondly to

Tens and then hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were making their case outside trade summits and G8 meetings from Seattle to New Delhi, in several cases stopping new agreements in their tracks.

From all of those events, Ms.Klein argues elsewhere that the emergent activist model mirrored,

the organic, decentralized, interlinked pathways of the Internet .. a model of coordinated decentralization that is entirely lost on those looking for leaders and puppet masters. (My emphasis)

She describes a model of protest that is ‘a coalition of coalitions’ mostly made up of

NGOs, Labour unions, students and anarchists. (my emphasis)

Look again at that little list. Ms. Klein is suggesting that anarchist groups are qualitatively the same as NGOs, labour unions and students. She seems not to see that anarchists bring with them, and act within the framework of their very particular political ideology, whereas the other three types of organisations are invariably issues-led.

There is a strong whiff of musty  top-hats and elastic-sided boots when Ms. Klein says,

If neoliberalism is the common target there is also an emerging consensus …that participatory democracy at the local level — whether through unions, neighbourhoods, farms, villages, anarchist collectives or aboriginal self-government — is where to start building alternatives to it.’ (my emphasis)

Whatever the reason, in her thousands of articles, interviews and speeches, Ms. Klein has consistently rejected even the very limited electoral strategies that Dr. Weiner suggests. Dr. Weiner’s tentativeness is understandable because, as he says, it is only:

once every 10 or 20 years, at least in America, the veils part a bit and we can see the scarifying reality of how our government really work: the Army/McCarthy hearings in the 1950s, Watergate and the Pentagon Papers in the early-1970s, Iran-Contra in the early-1980s, and the Cheney-Bush era of the past eight years.


Now Obama’s the object of anger. There is major anti-Administration activism coming from both the Left and the Right, including even a budding Know-Nothing party or faction forming on the tea-bagging extreme — all signs that indicate the presence of major seismic activity under the tectonic plates of the American political process.

It is still early days for those who are trying to think what they should do about the horrific reality that the parting of the veils has revealed. Moreover, the revelations that flow from this parting of the veils are different from those of the past. Today’s revelations are not just about particular villains or policies or even institutions, they have to do with the basic properties of the US system of government.

There is no way to fix a system that is “utterly broken” by “making muscular demands” on its elites. Obama did not break this system. Nor did the Bushies, nor Clinton, nor, even, Reagan and the neo-liberal ideologies he brought back into power A new Roosevelt backed by a quasi Social-Democrat Congress to implement a New-New Deal could tinker with the system and try to make it less corrupt, less inhumane, less inefficient, less destructive, less unjust, less flat-out dumb. But they would not succeed because, to paraphrase Bucky Fuller,

you cannot fix a system that is utterly broken by fighting the existing reality. To change a broken system, you have to build a new model that makes the broken system obsolete.

These appalling realities that have emerged from behind the veil, arise from and are embedded in the hugely complex nature of the socio-political-technological- ecological systems that have co-evolved over the past 400 years. None of those complex, ill-defined, loose-boundaried  systemic problems are  ‘solveable ‘ in the traditional conventional sense.

As the great British cybernetician Stafford Beer put it, such complex, systemic problems can only be ‘dissolved‘ , not ‘solved’.

Thus the new political movements that will emerge in the USA, and the governments they form at every level,  will succeed where the 19th and 20th Century models will fail, because,  using the rules of systems and cybernetics in participative processes, they will fundamentally reconfigure the unjust and unsustainable systems that are giving rise to today’s appalling problems.

To paraphrase the 1992 Clinton campaign, “Its the system, stupid“.

Thus, though the spirit underlying what Dr. Weiner says is admirable, the fundamental flaws in the USA’s broken systems of politics, business, economics and governance can only be addressed by developing models that are attuned to 21st Century realities and knowledge rather than 20th Century models and myths. And indeed, the people of the USA and the human family in general, deserve nothing less

What those 21st Century models of politics, business, economics and governance could be is the topic of a future essay. At this stage, I will merely preview say that they would consist of a global network  of diverse and self-organising VIGDEOCs: Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies Enterprises Organisations and Communities.