Welcome back, Angry Black Book Chatters!
I hope you enjoyed having last weekend off as much as I did. And a special shout-out to the members of #TFY who met up last Saturday night for churrascaria in Long Beach, where we completed our plans for world domination while eating endless supplies of grilled meats.
But the work waits, and it’s time to continue our radicalization with Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. You know the drill: a chapter a week, I post a summary, you weigh in with comments about what you took away from the chapter, or how it applies to current events.
Chapter Three: A Word About Words
THE PASSIONS OF MANKIND have boiled over into all areas of political life, including its vocabulary. The words most common in politics have become stained with human hurts, hopes, and frustrations. All of them are loaded with popular opprobrium, and their use results in a conditioned, negative, emotional response. Even the word politics itself, which Webster says is “the science and art of government,” is generally viewed in a context of corruption. Ironically, the dictionary synonyms are “discreet; provident, diplomatic, wise.”
The same discolorations attach to other words prevalent in the language of politics, words like power, self-interest, compromise, and conflict. They become twisted and warped, viewed as evil. Nowhere is the prevailing political illiteracy more clearly revealed than in these typical interpretations of words. This is why we pause here for a word about words.
In this chapter, Saul Alinsky takes a few moments to clean the detritus from some of the most important words for political organizers, so that we readers understand what he means, and does not mean, when he uses them.
Let us look at the word power. Power, meaning “ability, whether physical, mental, or moral, to act,” has become an evil word, with overtones and undertones that suggest the sinister, the unhealthy, the Machiavellian.
The ability to act. How simple, really. How profound. Why, that sounds like something that even I might have! And you! And you, and you! Power isn’t just some evil coercive force that governments use against defenseless victims — it’s what we all do every time we act.
Power must be understood for what it is, for the part it plays in every area of our life, if we are to understand it and thereby grasp the essentials of relationships and functions between groups and organizations, particularly in a pluralistic society. To know power and not fear it is essential to its constructive use and control. In short, life without power is death; a world without power would be a ghostly wasteland, a dead planet!
In all the reasoning found in The Federalist Papers, no point is so central and agreed upon as “Rich and poor alike are prone to act upon impulse rather than pure reason and to narrow conceptions of self-interest…” To question the force of self-interest that pervades all areas of political life is to refuse to see man as he is, to see him only as we would like him to be.
Of all the questions an organizer must be prepared to answer when encouraging another person to get involved, to take up a cause, to make a phone call or knock on a door, there is really one question – “What’s in it for me?”
If your answer sounds something like, “What’s happening is wrong and immoral and needs to be stopped!” — you’re an activist, not an organizer.
I’m just going to give you Alinsky verbatim for this brief section.
Compromise is another word that carries shades of weakness, vacillation, betrayal of ideals, surrender of moral principles. In the old culture, when virginity was a virtue, one referred to a woman’s being “compromised.” The word is generally regarded as ethically unsavory and ugly.
But to the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100 per cent, then compromise for 30 per cent, you’re 30 per cent ahead.
A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises — which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and on ad infinitum. Control of power is based on compromise in our Congress and among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian. If I had to define a free and open society in one word, the word would be “compromise.”
Alinsky notes that we have muddled together the concepts of ego and egotism in our language. It requires self-confidence to act. One must believe that one has the capacity to make change before one can begin.
The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monumental than the ego of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. The organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach”to create, to be a “great creator,” to play God.
We’re constantly taught that conflict is something to be avoided if at all possible, and when it erupts, it is a negative thing that must be “resolved”. Bullies know this and take advantage of it. If you speak up when a bully treads upon your toes, he pretends that it is you who has breached a social norm by complaining about it.
Alinsky points to the use of organized religion as a way to inculcate obedience to authority, and our mass culture’s obsession with selling us products to make sure that our bodily functions and odors don’t offend.
Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to project the democratic way of life in the form of a musical score, its major theme would be the harmony of dissonance.
Thus concludes Chapter Three: A Word About Words. Oh, and because you’ve been extra good book chatters, here’s a bonus shot of our own Imani ABL and @thescottfinley glamorizing The Abbey with their presence.
Alinsky notes, “Pascal, who was definitely not a cynic, observed that: ‘Justice without power is impotent; power without justice is tyranny.’” Libertarians criticize governments for their exercise of power by pointing to injustices that occur. But is their real agenda to deprive governments of any power at all?
Compromise. Obama. Organizer. Discuss.
Have you been made to be the bad guy because you’re not going with the program? Being disruptive? Sowing conflict? Then come sit next to me! Tell us about your experience raising hell.