The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century Reprint Edition, Kindle Edition
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As a child Carne Ross dreamed of being in the British Foreign Service. The dream slowly turned into a nightmare as he became convinced that governments and organizations of governments are the problem and not the solution. He thinks people need to represent themselves and set the agenda. Representative democracy represents the elite and the power structure. Our representatives say "elect me and I will solve the problem". But Ross says they cannot. Only we can set the agenda and define what we need and what needs to be done. When we defer to authority we abandon our personal integrity, humanity and empathy. Then we can do terrible things. Stanley Milgram's experiment [...], had actors playing the role of both the authority and the victim but the person being asked to give a "potentially fatal dose of electricity" believed it was real. The experiment showed that ordinary people, if told by an authority to give a "fatal" dose of electricity and if the authority took "full" responsible for the result, 65% would give the potentially "fatal" dose of 450-volts and only one participant refused to go beyond 300-volts. At 300-volts the supposed victim screamed and begged for the experiment to stop.
Ross was one of only two British Foreign Service members to resign over the lies that led to the second Iraq war.
In his preface Ross says, "Things do not seem to be going as planned. The system is broken. Meant to bring order, it formants 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 eternal rising wave of prosperity. Some called it "The End of History". But history has instead opened another unpredicted chapter... 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 make ends meet, there is little time for others, for the community that seems ever more fractured, or for an ever more poisoned planet... The political class now appears more part of the problem than the solution. Even politicians complain about "politicians." ... In democratic systems, it has become evident what is more obvious in autocracies - power is monopolized by the powerful." Ross then goes on to say... "There are four simple ideas at the heart of The Leaderless Revolution. Together they suggest a radically different approach to conducting our affairs. First is that in an increasingly interconnected system, such as the world emerging in the 21st century, the action of one individual or small group can affect the whole system very rapidly...The second key idea is that it is action that convinces, not words... 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 ... 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... 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... No one can claim to know what others truly want. These needs and concerns and dreams can be expressed only through action, shared decision-making and discussion with those most affected, including those who might disagree... We have been silenced by the pervasive belief that there is no better system than the current one of profit-driven capitalism and representative democracy, when in fact our democracy has been hijacked by those with the largest profits."
I was reminded of a cartoon in the New Yorker with two Russians, in large furry caps, walking by the Kremlin Wall and one says, "Life must be a terrible in democracies with nothing but choice-choice choice all the time". I think the problem that Ross does not address is that most people most of the time are terrified of choice and responsibility and we welcome anyone willing to act like an authority. Even though we constantly complain about what "authority" does, we humans created political structure, and if it survives, it has uses. Perhaps some of its value is psychological. We all know, at least unconsciously, that we have a very dark side. If you have any doubts about the dark side than look at the movies we watch, the plays we see, the books we read and the dreams we have. We do some very interesting things with our dark side. One is that we project our sinister qualities into other people and then feel we must punish or control them. If we face our dark side and struggle with it we often get depressed. Paranoia is a great though temporary relief for depression. But, as in our childhood nightmares, something is constantly following us and we cannot escape. So authority gives us the illusion that the leaders can control the bad in other people and ourselves. Like rebellious adolescents we constantly complain about what government etc. does, but quickly retreat to submission out of fear of our own inability to control ourselves and our even greater fear that others won't control of their behavior. I suspect this is the reason that most idealized, democratic and altruistic social experiments (including primitive Christianity) fail. Altruistic social groups that rely on consensus and self-control, Communism for example, usually degenerated into a system of rigorous and punitive control and it was even worse than what existed under the czars. Most revolutions that aim to change social custom end in unacceptable chaos followed by repressive dictatorships. Even non-violent revolutions fail more often than they succeed.
On the other hand I was lucky to be part of three leaderless groups-and all were successful. However they were small groups of 5 to 8 people with similar goals and from similar backgrounds and cultures. Also there was nothing to be gained or lost by being either a leader or a follower. What happened in these groups was that the leadership shifted depending on the topic and everyone seemed to accept this quite easily. Above all we were friends first and discussants second. Is this possible in a large group like church or business or a small city or even a country? I think that is an interesting question. I suspect that if enough of us saw, accepted and adequately trained our dark sides it would be possible. Time will tell.
I do not believe for a minute that the riff raf in the streets were anything but that. Opportunistic vultures, looking for something to do and free stuff for the taking.
The author does point out the starts of past change, The White Coat chapter is especially thought provoking. The common person will blindly obey totally wrong leadership. I see it all the time in local bureaucracies, always accompanied with "I'm just doin my job".
If you think your government is doing fine, you aught to have read. If you think somebody aught to do something about societies ills;
This is something to chew on. Maybe that somebody is you.
This book came out shortly before the Occupy movement really took off, and its inception must have come long before that. When it first came out, I recall thinking that the book perhaps owed something to the 19th century British anarchist, William Godwin. Ross's take on the troubles on modern society were acute and perceptive, but his suggested cures seemed more suitable for the small, agrarian, Kibbutz-like "anarchy" advocated by Godwin rather than the modern world. Occupy, however, at least briefly suggested these ideas might have a place in a globalized age. The subsequent history of the movement has, of course, been choppy. Ross himself has taken some hits for supposedly compromising on its principles. I think, though, that if you read this book you'll see these moves (such as the "Occupy Debit Card") are not compromises; rather, they are utterly in line with Ross's aim of imposing workable structures on an otherwise chaotic concept.
In short, it's worth reading if this is your first encounter with it, or with Ross. And it's worth re-reading even if you're already familiar with the author.