A Better Way to Occupy

Yesterday I introduced the idea that the greatest transformative potential for any social initiative lies in creating feedback loops between OS1 and OS3. By OS1 I mean oral culture and technologies and by OS3 I mean digital culture and technologies. I also said that in order to effectively implement such strategies, which I refer to as Interactivist strategies, it’s necessary to relinquish unproductive and outdated OS2 values and objectives that reflect literate culture.

Here’s a concrete example of what I’m talking about:

The Occupy Movement has been, in my opinion, an utter failure. Born of righteous indignation at the outrageous inequality that threatens our democracy and insults human morality, the movement has achieved nothing whatsoever in terms of changing the actual situation we face. I don’t believe that the 1% ever felt any concern that they, their assets or their rules were at risk in any way from the Occupy Movement.

Why? Why was this protest movement, which generated so much passion and enthusiasm and popular support, so utterly impotent? The answer is that rather than embracing a genuinely radical approach, it fruitlessly replicated OS2 values and tactics, yielding every situational advantage to the established powers. Let me explain how this happened:

OS2 is defined by literate tools, literate institutions and literate values. Chief among these values is ‘fixity’. In OS2 culture, literacy fixes words on a page and those words cannot be altered, they do not respond to context and they both codify and rule human behaviour. Contracts and constitutions and deeds and a thousands other varieties of literate administration are all based on the principle of ‘fixity’. Fixings things in place is the essence of OS2 culture, and OS2 power.

OS1 (oral) and OS3 (digital) cultures, on the other hand, do not value fixity at all. In fact they reject it completely. Nothing is fixed in the oral world, where words disappear on the breeze and all meaning is constantly renegotiated through interpersonal interaction. And similarly, in the digital sphere, iteration is infinite. Ever web page, every database, every app, is constantly being updated, constantly updating itself, and nothing is expected to be the same from one moment to the next. OS1 and OS3 are both defined by the process of exchanging information, by conversations and dialogue. OS2, on the other hand, and the monological culture that it has generated, is built upon products, artifacts, on facts. OS2 is defined by fixity.

And this is why the Occupy movement was such a failure. The 1% live in a world defined by the manipulation of monological literate facts. They control policies, laws, ledgers, accounts, shares, newspapers and more. The only hope of disempowering them is to shift the battlefield, to redefine the struggle so that fixity is a disadvantage and not an overwhelming advantage. And there are easy ways to do this. Powerful ways. But the Occupy Movement did not use them.

The first mistake was to attempt to permanently occupy a piece of land. This aggressive pursuit of fixity was doomed form the outset. Consider the nature of this conflict. One side (the 1%) literally owns the land, controls the laws and bylaws that administer it, and directs the massive forces that patrol and police it. All around Zucotti Park, in New York, were 50 and 60-story towers where fixity (in real estate law, in building systems, in convenience, in security, etc.) is pursued with a sophistication that makes a mockery of the Occupiers sad little shantytown next door. How could their attempt to claim a space quasi-permanently ever hope to overcome the all-powerful machine for fixing space and meaning that surrounded them? I was there myself in the early days and saw the phalanxes of barricades and police on all sides, just biding their time. It was clear then that it was never going to work.

What would have worked? What other strategies were available to channel the immense popular resentment against the thieves robbing America blind? Well, as I said yesterday, the first step is to relinquish one’s allegiance to stagnant and impotent OS2 values. In this case that means abandoning the notion that ‘permanence’ or ‘fixity’ are useful strategic goals. They are not. They are in fact the opposite. They are traps. On the contrary, what would have worked is the embrace of impermanance, of transience, of roving iterative in-the-moment manifestations of revolt. Rather than compelling the same individuals to stay in the same place for weeks on end, where predictability gave the game away to the lords of order, the aim should have been to weave a fabric of unpredictability, of constantly shifting loci of protest, where everyone and and anyone was welcome to lend their voice and networks for a minute, or an hour, and then to leave.

In other words what was needed was Flash Mobs. No Zucotti Park. No actual permanent occupations anywhere. But constantly appearing, reappearing and disappearing flash mobs of protest, evading the forces of control by suddenly appearing 500 strong at Citibank at 2pm, then 300 strong outside a Moneymart in Harlem at 3pm, then 1,500 strong in front of a federal tax building in Queens at 4pm. Inviting everyone to join in at any time, because the 99% were ready to protest, they just didn’t feel like camping out downtown. Who could blame them?

And in this way, by sacrificing fixity and permanence and embracing a viral feedback loop between the in-person physicality of oral OS1 culture (an actual crowd actually marching and chanting and celebrating its popular power) and OS3 (the hyper-efficient organizing power of the web combined with its power to disseminate media from each event through networks in real-time) the result would have been a constant flow of new opportunities for engagement in the real world, combined with an endless stream of inspirational media showcasing the passion and power of other popular protests near and far. This model is essentially what proved so successful in Egypt and Tunisia. The goal was not to replicate the institutional power systems but to overturn them with a different agenda altogether.

Now I don’t know what the result of 1,000 Occupy Flash Mobs would have been, but I do know that it would have made real change a far more legitimate possibility, because the 1% would have been forced to take notice. If only because those 1,000 Flash Mobs would have directly discomfitted a huge number of wealthy people, just as they would have inspired countless more to join the throngs of protesters. But new possibilities would surely have emerged. And they would have been informed by a far more empowering experience of how the predictable power of fixity can actually be challenged and disrupted through new tools, new ideas and new possibilities. Moreover protesters would have a clear understanding of how these possibilities can be conjured from the social ether by the potent combination of real people in real time and real space using digital tools that transcend time and space to upend fixed and predictable social hierarchies that generate economic injustice.

This is an example of an Interactivist strategy. Such strategies can be developed in every social sphere, and can be applied for good or bad. They require a willingness to abandon traditional thinking and values – traditional in this case meaning OS2. This strategic reorientation of thinking and of values is the greatest challenge any individual or organization faces in effecting real change in our changing world. My blog – and my book – are all about that reorientation.

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