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«GUIDE TO THE LEADERLESS REVOLUTION CARNE ROSS Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the ...»

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.*


hings do not seem to be going as planned. The system is

broken. Meant to bring order, it foments instead disorder.

We need something new.

The end of the Cold War was supposed to presage the triumph of democracy and, with it, stability. Globalization was supposed to launch everyone upon an eternally rising wave of prosperity. Some called it “the end of history.” But history has instead opened another, unpredicted, chapter.

*William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming,” 1921.


While the opening of markets in India and China has released hundreds of millions from poverty, globalization has also triggered violent and uncontrolled economic volatility. Trillions of dollars shift from asset to asset (or from debt to debt), sometimes faster than a human can press a computer key—for it is an algorithm that controls the trade. Banks and whole countries crash, almost without warning. Meanwhile, the gap between a tiny number of the very rich and everyone else has accelerated rapidly, in every region and in every country.

The profits of this modern economy flow to a minuscule minority  that holds the wealth closely. All the rest—the middle class and the poor—have seen their incomes stagnate over the last decade or so. And stagnation in reality means decline, as food and energy prices, driven by rising shortage, have risen faster and faster. And for those in the bottom 10 percent, incomes have declined in absolute, as well as relative, terms. Though they live cheek by jowl with the rich and share the same cities, the poor are getting poorer. In New York City, one in five children is dependent on food stamps for survival.

In every profession and trade, global competition means that jobs and careers once thought of as safe are no longer. Industries that have stood for generations can collapse in a few years. Few people now can look forward to a secure retirement.

The promise of capitalism seems more and more hollow. As its benefits are ever more unevenly shared, it has created a culture that cherishes much that is worst in human nature. Too much modern work is demeaning or humiliating, or simply boring. Little offers meaning.

In the exhausting yet often banal race to get ahead or at least to iv


make ends meet, there is little time for others, for the community that seems ever more fractured, or for an ever more poisoned planet.

Nature is no more, there is only what we have made of it. As The Economist recently put it, we live in the Anthropocene era: an Earth formed primarily by man.

Despite the dismal familiarity of these problems, credible solutions are hard to come by. Celebrities launch simplistic “single issue” campaigns, absurdly claiming that an e-mail to a representative will solve the problem. Each new cohort of politicians offers to fix this malaise, but they are less and less believed by others, and, one suspects, themselves (for they too can sense the mounting unease). Indeed, the political class now appears more part of the problem than the solution. Even politicians complain about “politicians.” In Britain, politicians and media crow over the humbling of press baron Rupert Murdoch, but barely admit that both estates were grossly corrupted by him, and for decades. In Washington, needless political bickering has managed to worsen America’s debt problem— and increase the cost paid, eventually, by all Americans. “Washington” has become synonymous with ugly partisan argument and deadlock.

In democratic systems, it has become evident what is more obvious in autocracies—power is monopolized by the powerful. In the U.S., corporate lobbyists far outnumber legislators (there are now lobbyists for the lobbying industry). Legislation is sometimes created simply for political parties to extract rents from corporate interests.

Big business donates to all parties, careful to ensure that its interests are protected whichever prevails. For it is still money that wins elections, and it is still large corporations that contribute the most.

In the 2008 “credit crunch,” irresponsible and untransparent lending by banks and inadequate legislation (loosened by well-funded


lobbying of both U.S. parties) combined to wreak massive and lasting damage on the world economy, affecting the poorest most of all.

But despite this disaster, there is little sign of effective rules, national as well as global, judged by impartial experts as effective.

Banks lobby country by country to water down regulations, arguing that national competitiveness will be undermined—even though all the biggest banks operate in many markets at once. And at the international level, as so often is the case, governments are unable to agree on anything but the lowest common denominator, and even then often fail to implement it—as is clear with the so-called Basel III rules, which are claimed to bring banks back under control. In another equally important forum, after years of elaborate multitracked negotiations involving thousands of delegates in hundreds of meetings, there remains little prospect of international agreement on the necessary measures to limit carbon emissions.

And of the mounting evidence of this fundamental ineffectiveness and indeed corruption, the most striking piece of all is that the wealthy pay less tax, proportionately, than the poor. Returns on investment, such as hedge funds, are taxed at a far lower rate than the income tax levied on ordinary wage earners. Striking too is that complaints about this gross inequity are almost never to be heard in our supposedly representative parliaments.

So what is to be done? Voting for someone different at the next election seems a pathetically inadequate response—and it is. In Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street protests have been centered, few have demanded different politicians or new laws.

Instead, the protesters have shown, by the nature of their movement, a new way: debates and decisions that include everyone, a culture of collaboration and sharing, and a belief that there are many changes,


not one, necessary to make a better world. No one claims the right to lead this movement: There are many voices that want to be heard.

But although Occupy Wall Street is a sharp cry of anger echoed by many across the U.S., and indeed more widely around the world, the protest alone will not be enough.

What is needed is a much more fundamental, wholly new method of doing things. No longer should we look for change to emerge from untrusted politicians, arguing in distant chambers. As turkeys will not vote for Thanksgiving or Christmas, these institutions will not reform themselves. We have to accept the painful reality that we can no longer rely on government policy to solve our most deep-seated and intractable problems, from climate change to social alienation. Instead, we need to look to ourselves for the necessary action.

There are four simple ideas at the heart of The Leaderless Revolution. Together, they suggest a radically different approach to conducting our affairs.

The first is that in an increasingly interconnected system, such as the world emerging in the twenty-first century, the action of one individual or a small group can affect the whole system very rapidly.

Imagine the world as a sports stadium, where a “wave” can be started by just one person, but quickly involves the whole crowd. Those most powerful are right beside us; and we—in turn—are best placed to influence them. A suicide bomber acts, assaults his enemy and recruits others all in one horrible action: a technique with such effect that it has spread from Sri Lanka to Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, Bali, London and New York within a few short years. But the same lesson is taught, with greater force, by peaceful acts, a truth shown


by Mahatma Gandhi as well as the heroic young women, some still unknown, who refused to move to the back of the bus in the 1950s and 1960s American South. Modern network theory shows how one action can rapidly trigger change throughout the whole system. One person becomes a group, then becomes a movement; one act believed in and repeated by others becomes material, dramatic change.

The second key idea is that it is action that convinces, not words.

New research is now demonstrating what good theater directors have always known: Show, don’t tell. The actions of those people closest to us—and not government policy or even expert opinion—are the most influential. This means that Internet petitions are not likely to bring about fundamental change, although they might make the signatory feel better (which may indeed be the purpose). Likewise, social media may help organize and inform larger groups in ways that have never been available before, but unless this organization is used for a purpose—to do something—it is worthless.

In contrast to asking for or voting for someone else to do it, action can address the problem directly. There is an education intrinsic to action—you have to learn about the problem to solve it, for most problems are complex. This education reverses the infantilization and ignorance that authority encourages: You need not worry about the details, because we will take care of it. Equally, it demolishes the common notion that ordinary people are somehow incapable of making intelligent decisions about their own circumstances. Again, evidence shows this to be an arrogant fallacy—people know their own circumstances best of all.

The third key idea is about engagement and discussion. Again it is a simple idea: Decision making is better when it includes the people most affected. In the current Western model of representative


democracy, we have become accustomed to the idea that politicians, elected by us, should negotiate among competing interests and make the necessary compromises to produce consensus and policy. In Washington today, it is painfully clear that this is the opposite of what is actually happening, while in Europe political consensus around the social democratic model is breaking down. The far right is emerging once more as a significant political force, in reaction to the largely unpredicted and sometimes violent changes that the world is now experiencing. In times of uncertainty, the false appeal of those who loudly proclaim certainty gains luster.

In Brazil, Britain and New Orleans, a better way of deciding our affairs together is emerging (and it is not the Internet, or on the Internet). It resembles democracy in its earliest and purest days— people gathering together, not in chat rooms, to make real decisions for themselves, not voting for others to decide on their behalf, or merely ventilate their frustrated opinions in town hall meetings or on the World Wide Web. When lobbyists fill what used to be called the people’s parliaments and congresses, this alternative “participatory” democracy offers something unfamiliar yet extraordinary.

When large numbers of people make decisions for themselves, the results are remarkable: Everyone’s views are heard, policies take all interests into account (as all lasting policy must), and are thus fairer. Facts and science are respected over opinion. Decision making becomes transparent (and thus less corrupt), respectful and less partisan—people who participate in decisions tend to stick to them.

More responsibility and trust in society can come about only by giving real decision-making responsibility to people. If you do not give people responsibility, they tend to behave irresponsibly, and sometimes violently. Happily, the converse is also true: Give people


power and responsibility, and they tend to use it more wisely—and peacefully.

This hints at the fourth idea that suffuses the argument throughout The Leaderless Revolution: agency—the power to decide matters for ourselves. We have lost agency. We need to take it back. We have become too detached from the decisions most important to us; we are disconnected, alienated, including from one another. This has contributed to a deeper ennui about modern life: What is it all for? Where is the meaning? What is the point? And in the solution to this crisis, which is both personal and political, something profound may be available.

If we take back agency, and bring ourselves closer to managing

our affairs for ourselves, then something else may also come about:

We may find a fulfillment and satisfaction, and perhaps even a meaning, which so often seems elusive in the contemporary circumstance.

These four ideas form the core of the philosophy of The Leaderless Revolution. Adopt these ideas, above all act upon them, and things will change. The book is intended as a guide and not a prescription.

It sets out a method of doing things and taking action, and not what the outcome of this method should be. That is for everyone—acting together—to determine, and no single individual can pretend to know it, let alone a writer tapping away on a laptop. No one can claim to know what others truly want. These needs and concerns— and dreams—can be expressed only through action, shared decisionmaking and discussion with those most affected, including those who might disagree. But this method is the essence of a new form of politics, indeed a new way of living together on our crowded planet.

How might these ideas play out in practice? While the aspirations of this philosophy are grand, the steps needed to embody it are simple: small steps, things that everyone can do, every day.


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