Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beware of MOVEMENTS!

Some folks will take up any cause, if it has the word "NO" in it.

Many people today waste a lot of their personal energy devoted to "movements" and "causes". These can be a fine thing. H owever, before you jump on a bandwagon, make sure it isn't headed off a cliff!

And make sure the "movement" you are joining is not just a cover for some corporate interest, using you to advance their own purposes and motives.

Surprised?  Don't be.  Throughout history, the powers that be, and people struggling for power, have used people as pawns in their movements, in order to consolidate power, gain power, or push through agendas.

The Soviets had a term for people who followed movements such as Communism - "Useful Idiots". This term described people who got caught up in the Communist ideology, but were not smart enough or trustworthy enough to use as spies or agents.  They could, however, be counted on to help shape public opinion and show up at meetings or protests.

Many folks got caught up in the Communist Party in the 1930's, at a time when "sharing the wealth" seemed like a good idea, and the propaganda coming from the Soviet Union showed a worker's paradise.   Most, however, got disillusioned and drifted away, once they saw what the excesses of Stalin really entailed.

American businesses were slow to co-opt the movement business.   At first, businesses felt they were on the opposite sides of reform and labor movements, and tried to crush them with raw power and violence.   It largely didn't work.

But, then they discovered that such movements could be co-opted to work in their favor.  Today, unions will accept a 50% cut in pay for new workers (as happened to me) so long as those new workers still paid their union dues.  Management and Union were on the same side, it turns out, both exploiting workers for their own ends.  Once management realized that Unions could be co-opted, the "problem" of unions largely became a thing of the past.   No need to hire thugs or scabs - just bribe the officials.

Corporations also discovered that they could create movements from whole cloth, in order to push through a piece of legislation, or to simply gain or hold power. And like in the old days, many "useful idiots" are drawn to such movements, which is an added bonus for them.

Before you latch onto the latest in trendy movements, ask yourself who is really benefiting from the movement, and why, and whether they have a vested interest in the movement and are not in fact, funding it.

For example, the "teabagger" movement in the US is turning out to be more of an "AstroTurf" movement than a grass-roots effort.  Several right-wing and Republican lobbying groups, it turns out, are behind many of these groups as well as the efforts to consolidate such groups.   Their goal? Merely to create discontent and crowd noise - to shout down the Obama administration, so that they can again wield power and re-take the Oval Office and also win mid-term elections.

And like many movements, it is working out well for them.  The "useful idiots" attending the rallies all have different agendas - from anti-gay rights, to tax-deniers, to John Birchers, to Gold Bugs, to unemployed auto workers, to birthers, to end times theology nuts. They fail to realize that their positions are often at cross-purposes to one another.  But the managers of the movement are sure to keep the agenda as vague as possible.   The goal is to shout out "NO", without offering any alternative.

And that's the utter beauty of a movement!  You never have to offer an alternative, only be against something.  So you can protest a new building, or parking lot, or new law, but you don't have to answer the questions as to where everyone will live, park, or whatever.  All you are doing is merely protesting for the status quo!

Some movements involve political causes from countries on the other side of the planet, that many movement adherents know little about, other than what they read in a newspaper article or on a news show. I had a friend go on about the injustices in "East Timor" while she hardly knew anything about it. Maybe there are injustices there, I don't know. But I am not willing to take up someone's cause based on one newspaper article.

Many young people latch onto "The Dali Lama" because anything Tibetan sounds really cool. They think he is this Ghandi-like character, when in fact he spends most of his time shuttling between his various vacation homes around the world. And, oh by the way, he's homophobic, a political view he quickly learned to hide, after an interview after a fund-raiser in San Francisco. Are the Chinese bad and the Dali Lama good? I don't know. But the same people who are pro-Dali Lama are often anti-Taiwan. Go Figure. What I do know is that I am not sure I need to support a millionaire anti-Gay political figure who claims he is being persecuted. And no, I don't mean Pat Robertson.

Or take the Mujaheddin. During the first Afghan war against the Soviets, we all supported them (literally, through our tax dollars), not realizing that the political views they espoused were so backward, misogynist, and anti-democratic. Once they won, and took power, well the result was 9/11 and a continuing war in Afghanistan. Charlie Wilson took up a cause, all right, and look where it got us. The romantic view of the little guy in the turban with a hand-held rocket launcher, fighting the Soviet threat was too good to pass up. Who knew we were just pawns in a larger war between superpowers?

And of course, we are now being asked to jump on a "war on terror" bandwagon, with predictable consequences. Powers that be say, "trust us, we know what is your best interests, and it is in your best interests to hate Arabs". And then politicians vie for votes based on their anti-terrorism stance. And people buy into this, convinced their trailer park in Nebraska will be the next "Ground Zero" unless we vote to suspend the bill of rights.

Corporations have use such movements on smaller scales to affect local politics as well. For example, in the 1980's the cable television industry was threatened by the proliferation of large satellite television dishes, which allowed users to get the equivalent of cable TV for free.

Suddenly, overnight, "Concerned Citizens to Stamp Out Satellite Dish Blight" committees sprang up across the country, to lobby for zoning regulations to prohibit large Satellite dishes. And in many jurisdictions, they were successful in their efforts.

And, you guessed it, the spontaneous "movements" were not spontaneous at all, but rather were orchestrated by the Cable Television companies, who often packed rowdy Zoning Board meetings with their own employees, masquerading as "concerned citizens".

And, as with any movement, they were sure to attract some local nutjobs who would jump on the 'We hate satellite dishes" bandwagon, without realizing that they were being used.

Since the protest era of the 1960's, Corporate America has been proactive in creating movements, co-opting movements, and generally using psychology, not brute force, to steer public opinion. And in many instances, the gullible public goes along with it - often not realizing that the "movement" they have joined, was paid for, lock, stock, and barrel, by big industry.

Some "movements" are pretty transparent. The so-called "smoker's rights" movement was clearly an artifice of the tobacco companies. But there are enough smokers out there who will sign on to such a movement, once it is created.

The "coalition for vehicle choice" is merely a lobbying group for domestic carmakers who would rather sell profitable gas-guzzling SUVs than compete with more expensive foreign technology. And yet some folks jump on that bandwagon, adding their voice to that of GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

The telcos and the cell phone companies routinely employ fake citizens groups to support or oppose various communications legislation. Both put ads on TV arguing that the other guy's position will result in higher phone bills and "less competition". The problem with these groups, other than they are entirely fake, is that both can't be right. Like the cable folks, they can take a rate cut and turn it into a rate increase, and keep a straight face.

Lately, we are hearing noise about "Fattie Rights" - rights for the increasing number of overweight and obese people in this country. I suspect the Potato Chip and Snack Food Association (yes, it does exist) might be behind this, if not just pleased it is moving along.

Some attempts at faked movements are clumsy and backfire. For example, the corn industry tried to run a number of ads defending High Fructose Corn Syrup to consumers, by making opponents of the product come off as uninformed doofuses. It backfired in a big way, because the ads looked too much like slick corporate propaganda from a tobacco company. And the parodies of these ads on YouTube have become viral video phenomenons.

The coal industry is finding itself increasingly under attack, not only for its environmental record and mine safety, but also economically from competing energy sources. The minuscule threat of wind power, for example, was enough for them to prepare a press release and graphics making the argument that wind power will increase global warming rather than decrease it (It is a convoluted argument that basically goes "Well, when the wind isn't blowing, we'll have to burn more coal!").

Silly? Well, people in Ithaca, New York, bought into it. A city that is twice daily brought to a standstill by coal trains bisecting the major roads. The local "alternative" paper ran the story, complete with the accompanying graphics bearing the coal industry lobbying group logo, and did so with a straight face.

The latest gag in Ithaca is "Fracking". Gas companies have been exploring for gas in the Finger Lakes region and propose drilling for gas. Overnight, neatly printed signs have blanketed the area, saying "No Fracking" - arguing that such drilling and fracturing will cause the contamination of ground water.

Now, it is possible these might be valid claims. But the speed with which the opposition organization was formed and the expensively made signs laid out raises some interesting questions. For a "grass roots" organization, they appear to be remarkably well-organized and funded. And many people in the area jumped on the bandwagon, without a second thought, based on information provided by one side of the argument.

Because, lets face it, in Ithaca, New York, all you need to do is hand out a signs saying "NO" on it, and an army of useful idiots will pick it up. And routinely, such protests occur, with little or no effect. Trees are bulldozed for parking lots, Wal-Marts and housing developments are put in willy-nilly, with protests duly noted.

Real change, in the form of trying to alter or control the destiny of such projects, by having a real voice in how they are implemented, never occurs, because the position is always "NO", not "Let's make this work responsibly". "NO" people are never stakeholders in the final negotiations.

In this regard, it is interesting to note how conservative some liberals can be. Almost every movement in the ultra-liberal Ithaca area is based on preserving the status quo. No movement exists to say "YES" to anything, but if you put "NO" on a sign, Ithacans are all-too-willing to pick it up without question.

So the coal trains will continue to run through town, because that's the way it's always been done (since an era when no one protested coal trains). No thought is given to the actual cost of coal - in terms of carbon emissions, destruction to the environment, and even real dollar cost. It is the status quo, and it must be preserved at all costs. These liberals are remarkably conservative!

I was on Facebook recently and someone brought up this issue. The response reminded me of George Orwell's "Two Minutes Hate" in his novel 1984. In that novel, Big Brother organizes, via television, periodic hate sessions, where citizens get all riled up and scream at the TV. It is a catharsis, and allows people to release their pent-up tensions in a socially acceptable manner (socially acceptable to Big Brother, of course).

The same is true today, unfortunately, with most of these "movements" and the people who join them. On the Facebook listing, people fell all over themselves to declare their hatred of "Fracking" - based entirely on one article they read.

Many other "NO" movements work the same way. In the little town of Aurora, New York, a small group of people get together to spit their hatred of one woman, Pleasant Rowland, whose crime it was to remodel the local Inn and then donate it to the local college. They even have gone so far as to put a float in the local parade and hang her in effigy.

Hey, let's face it, it feels good to hate! Hate those Iranians, or Arabs in general. Hate those Commies. Hate those Republicans! Hate George Bush! Hate Obama! Hate Pleasant Rowland! Shout slogans! Hurl epithets! Start a riot! Hate! Hate! Hate! It is a real ball.

But, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, "Is this really helping my bottom line?" The amount of energy people put into "movements" at the expense of their own personal lives or even sanity, is questionable. And as I have noted before, when you point this out to them, they will say things like, "How can I be concerned about things as unimportant as my personal life, while George Bush is in the Whitehouse!!" (or whatever, insert your own ludicrous "cause" here).

Yes, there are some movements worth supporting. But you have to ask yourself carefully what the motivations are behind each movement, and whether you, by participating in a movement, are playing into someone else's hands.

For example, when Jane Fonda came out against the war, that was making a political statement. But to travel to North Vietnam and be photographed wearing military gear and sitting on an anti-aircraft gun, well, that's just letting someone use you for their own political purposes. And in retrospect, she has retracted many of her statements from back then, realizing, perhaps, that she was used as a political pawn in a much larger game.

Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, but nobody wants to see yours. The two most important and powerful political powers you have are your VOTE and your MONEY. And ironically, many of these "movementarians" do not regularly vote or donate money to political causes. Many are convinced that their protests and sign-waving are enough to change public policy and opinion.

Politicians do like to get out ahead of public opinion, and they will cater to and court various movements - before they co-opt them to their own ends. Oftentimes, movements that start out to do one thing, end up doing just the opposite.

For example, the public outcry over increasing cable bills lead politicians to draft new legislation designed to limit the price for "basic" cable service. The cable industry co-opted this effort, and turned the new "sub-basic" cable pricing decree into an excuse for a "government mandated fee increase" - adding on this new flat rate pricing to the regular basic cable bill of many Americans.

And "Movements" can be wrong - dead wrong. In the case of the "We Hate Pleasant Rowland" group, many of the feared consequences of her remodeling efforts never came to pass. And in fact, the improvements she financed out of her own pocket turned out well, making the village into a more attractive place to visit and stay. On the other hand, the projects successfully blocked by the "just say NO" crowd did not evolve into any useful alternatives or act to preserve anything at all. In fact, one of the most vocal opponents of Rowland built one of the ugliest over-sized mini-mansions, right in the center of the Aurora historical district. The irony, is, of course, lost on them.

And "Movements" have an end point. Once the "We Hate Pleasant Rowland" group lost on nearly every single issue (and Pleasant Rowland sold everything and left town) the group turned its bitter hatred on other community members, creating a laundry list of complaints as well as an enemies list of folks thought to be disloyal to the cause. It has gone on far enough, but no one knows how to stop it. The infighting, bad blood, and lawsuits continue, unabated, pitting neighbor against neighbor, friend and against friend, and to what end? Nothing has changed, nothing is accomplished, nothing is "preserved".

Many movements become so successful that they create their own organizational empires. The National Rifle Association has won nearly every battle is has fought, for example. Yet they continue to push for even more ludicrous gun rights - simply because they have to, as an organization, or lost their raison d'etre.

The Gay Marriage movement is another example where an organization (the Gay rights movement) has met with such success that it pushes further than perhaps it should. And this also may be a "movement" that has been co-opted by the far right. The push for Gay Marriage gets out the fundamentalist vote - Republicans may be against Gay Marriage, but they are not against the movement. It is like money in the bank to them.

The same is true with Abortion rights - a sure vote-getter for both sides of the aisle. You won't see this issue ever go away, as it gets out the vote from both right and left. Nothing gets out voters like a nice, festering, "issue". You can elect all your crooked buddies to the legislature, because the sheep-like voters will vote from them based on some asinine criteria like their stand on abortion rights or Gay marriage.

The list goes on and on. And people will do silly things like vote for a local dogcatcher based on his view on Israel and the "Palestinian Question" - while ignoring his prior felony convictions.

I am not saying you shouldn't consider such questions or movements. On the contrary, I suggest you study them very carefully, with a skeptical eye - so you can figure out what their hidden agendas may be and likely are. Nine times out of ten, the "issues" these people push are a form of baiting - getting you to think emotionally, not rationally. Once they can do that, they have you, lock, stock and barrel.

Think about the real issues that affect your life, as well as the candidate running and their qualifications and real motives. And then cast your vote or donate to the candidate of your choice. But don't drag down your own life trying to make yourself "important" in someone else's movement. At the end of the day, you may just discover that you are little more than a pawn in someone else's game.