Activist patterns

I posted this in a discussion about The Grim Meathook Future over on Warren Ellis’ new Die Puny Humans site.

I find all this talk of leaders and critical masses and movements fascinating. To my mind, everything keeps getting more fractured and more complicated and we can’t put it back in a nice tidy box. Simple, reductionist, comprehensible viewpoints only lasted until we built machines that could handle thousands of variables at once. Now look how many things actually have thousands of variables at work. Practically every news story boils down to “it had more consequences than we thought.”

I don’t think any kind of movement will gel. These problems are bigger than human minds can handle, at least the way we’re used to thinking. When, before now, have average peasants fancied they might figure out how to alter the course of every society on earth in this level of detail? I think progress will be about learning to deal with complexity, and not just the parts with catchy names like “emergence” or “the long tail.” Parts like “a land war in Asia” or “we’re all getting cancer.”

Lots of fields have formal techniques for dealing with complexity. “Scale later” in software, etc. I’d be really curious to collect similar patterns from activists or politicians.

Then I immediately thought of a bunch of possible patterns and places to find them. I’m going to post them here, before I go see to what degree my comment has been eviscerated by other puny humans. I can’t believe I said “practically every…” on the internet. Bring on the nitpickers!

These are mostly about compassion.

  • The Fog of War documentary about Robert MacNamara by Errol Morris talks a lot about understanding your enemy and understanding that war is very complicated
  • Cory Doctorow says, “If your popular revolution demands that we give up on popular entertainment it won’t be very popular.” I think that’s a big part of the problem facing environmentalism these days.
  • The Ethical Slut gave me a lot of ideas about getting what I want without imposing on other people, and about finding ways to collaborate.
  • Fernando Flores gave me ideas about using trust as a tool for change, and as a good partner for criticism. I wish his books weren’t so ’80s.
  • I’d really like to hear Heather Corrina’s ideas about patterns for activists, because she spends so much time and energy on activism.
  • Lots of people talk about 80/20 rules, but I like Umbra Fisk’s explanation best.
  • Women, Passion and Celibacy is really angry and ranty, but it had a lot of good ideas about doing without things, in this case sexual relationships. The author compared celibacy to vegetarianism, which actually blew my mind. I like to compare both those things to atheism, and reduced consumerism.