Comments: Fight! Fight! Fight!

Perhaps I'm foolishly optimistic, but I believe people will learn from the horrendous mistakes they'll surely make. And even if they don't, giving it a shot is the only way they have even a possibility of doing so.
brother...ain't it the truth...

Posted by konopelli/wgg at December 31, 2007 06:03 PM

That partial statement makes less sense when IOZ's central premise is omitted.

It occurs to me that much of the political evil in the world is enabled by the persistent belief that doing something is necessarily better than doing nothing, and, paradoxically, that doing nothing is not doing something. That's a first principle. Abstention is sometimes honorable.


People don't learn from perseveration. They get good at making useless efforts. Not making useless efforts is an excellent place to start for people who want to do something good.

Posted by Scruggs at December 31, 2007 06:38 PM

Dude, it is so on.

You won't often find me knocking the Chompster, blessed be his name and peace be upon him, but "community of concern" is awfully wooly by the prof's exacting standards. Wouldn't Who Is IOZ? count as one of 'em? Wouldn't you and the Children of a Tiny Revolution. Aren't we interacting? What is activism?

A month or so ago, I wrote a series of posts in response to all those demands for What To Do. I said that the roots of real dissidence in a totalizing state are small acts of disobedience: breaking the law; buying on the black market; lying on official forms; or, in the hated metaphorical shorthand: driving slow in traffic. As you'd expect, the response was "But that would be an inconvenience!"

Posted by IOZ at December 31, 2007 06:47 PM
It occurs to me that much of the political evil in the world is enabled by the persistent belief that doing something is necessarily better than doing nothing, and, paradoxically, that doing nothing is not doing something. That's a first principle. Abstention is sometimes honorable. Sometimes, on the forced march, the most radical act possible is to sit down in the snow until the rifle cracks the side of your skull, until they drag you to your feet and force you onward.

Bingo. You don't piss on the guy that's on fire, if you really want him gone. I'm with IOZ here -- doing nothing is a valid course of action, and requires significantly more discipline than doing just something for the crowd's sake.

OT: can we talk Arvin into creating a suitable banner graphic for the "Masturbate for Peace" movement? Nothing too explicit that would offend the sensibilities though...

Posted by Ted at December 31, 2007 06:48 PM

But Ted, I've found doing nothing to require very little discipline, just my personal discouragement and perhaps a touch of laziness. Am I perhaps the special exception to this rule?

I wonder if this "do nothing" principle will find an adherent in our own Mike Meyer?

Posted by StO at December 31, 2007 07:16 PM

StO makes a good point. If doing nothing is so difficult, why do so many people do it?

Remember, the people IOZ is going after, the starry-eyed libs volunteering for Obama, are a tiny, tiny, minority of the population. The vast majority of Americans are already following IOZ's advice - and what has it gotten them?

Some forms of nothing-doing I'm all for. The College Republican who doesn't enlist because he as "other priorities" is doing as much to end the war, by denying the military the needed cannon-fodder, as the most committed conscientious objector. Thank you, College Republican!

But I still have respect for the person who joins a streetcorner vigil with a "Bring Our Troops Home" sign. No, I can't tell you how that's going to end the war, but all social movements are made up of millions of individual actions like this, each essentially an act of faith. History that tells us that these small, seemingly ineffective actions really do add up to something.


Posted by SteveB at December 31, 2007 07:49 PM
But Ted, I've found doing nothing to require very little discipline, just my personal discouragement and perhaps a touch of laziness. Am I perhaps the special exception to this rule?

I think you're using the Aristotelian view when you say that.

It's the quality of doing nothing that counts. If it's discouragement or laziness that drives you to do nothing, that's not the same nothingness I'm talking about. It takes a lot of discipline to drown out the imperative to move/act when obvious necessity mandates it. In other words, it takes quality effort not to be Pollack, if it's easy to be Pollackian.

Am I perhaps the special exception to this rule?

Since you ask a faux-zen question, I'll address it with a faux-zen answer.

So the Zen master steps up to the hot dog cart and says: "Make me one with everything."

The hot dog vendor fixes a hot dog and hands it to the Zen master, who pays with a $20 bill.

The hot dog vendor puts the bill in the cash drawer and closes the drawer.

"Where's my change?" asks the Zen master.

The hot dog vendor responds: "Change must come from within."

Posted by Ted at December 31, 2007 08:11 PM

STO: Making a PHONECALL is as close to "doing nothing" as it gets in the physical sense. I can only guess YOU don't have 50 cents to make the call with. (afraid YOU may or maynot disturbe Nancy???)

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 31, 2007 08:27 PM

If YOU can afford it and have a minute to spare call 1-202-225-0100 and DEMAND IMPEACHMENT.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 31, 2007 08:30 PM

Nope. Can't believe calling La Nan will make one bit of difference. And, given thhat every single political leader who would replace a Bush/Cheney regime basically beleive in American exceptionalism and our "right" to invade, corrupt, or destroy whoever we want to...so who cares if these criminals are impeached. Clinton, Reagan, Ford, Carter, Johnson, and Kennedy should have been impeached, too.

Posted by Brian at December 31, 2007 09:18 PM

A PHONECALL is just about as close to "sittin' on yer ass and pushin' a button" as it gets in 2007/2008. Hey, if YOU got a cell phone, YOU can go outside and get a breath of fresh air with YOUR 50 cent investment in YOUR FREEDOM. (face facts, If YOU can't even put ONE MINUTE of YOUR time and 50 cents of YOUR money toward YOUR freedom, well------

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 31, 2007 11:17 PM

I'm with IOZ here -- doing nothing is a valid course of action

Only if, to best of your understanding of the situation at hand, doing nothing causes less harm than any other available option.

It takes a lot of discipline to drown out the imperative to move/act when obvious necessity mandates it.

There is nothing spiritually rewarding or admirable about passivity in the face of actions/situations you find repugnant. Ghandi was a passivist, but he stood in front of the British guns enact change.

This is just cynicism, which is a convenient way to recede from engaging in problems, problems which you yourself also desire solutions to.

Posted by scudbucket at January 1, 2008 12:18 AM

I freely admit to being part of the 'do something' tendency. Scruggs and IOZ and some others may have the analytical skillz to see how pointless are the actions of the earnest activists, but as the Chompster correctly assesses, most people learn more effectively from experience.

And while 'doing something is better than doing nothing' is an unreliable credo, it's doubtful that 'do nothing' is always the best guide, either. Discernment is a precious, hard-won skill.

Posted by Nell at January 1, 2008 12:35 AM

Happy new year, Jonathan, Bernard, and all!

Posted by Nell at January 1, 2008 12:41 AM

The hot dog vendor responds: "Change must come from within."

At which point the Zen master says "Fine. It can come from within your drawer."

Posted by LarryE at January 1, 2008 01:45 AM

I can embrace that sentiment. Bonne année!

Posted by IOZ at January 1, 2008 01:46 AM

For me this monumental blogspat comes down to the struggle between optimism and despair.

Ted, I was more sincere in your question than you suspect. I probably lack the rhetorical skill to be effectively Socratic. I also appreciated the story. In all seriousness, what are some good ways of doing nothing?

Mike, I've called Nancy. I can guarantee the message wasn't communicated to her, and if it was, nothing could make her care what I said, because she's totally complicit. But I honestly admire your optimism, even if I think that particular form of protest is hopeless. And your consistency in voicing it on ATR is, in its own way, strangely comforting.

Posted by StO at January 1, 2008 01:58 AM

My comment about the Zen master joke is actually relevant here. The original joke relied on different meanings of "change," mine on different meanings of "within."

Much of the discussion here seems to slue around a pivot of the word "nothing." When IOZ says that

[s]ometimes, on the forced march, the most radical act possible is to sit down in the snow until the rifle cracks the side of your skull,

he is not advocating doing "nothing." Sitting down under those circumstances is making a conscious choice to resist.

So yes, sometimes not doing something is actually doing something. Not paying war taxes, for example. Back in the day, not cooperating with the draft was another good example. I also recall that in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the resistance there had a list of I think it was 10 "don't"s, such as "don't offer," "don't help," "don't know," and so on.

Still, I join with Jon here, not least because even as I extol the virtues of passive resistance, I can't help but find more than a whiff of a condescending world-weariness (or better yet, worldliness) in what IOZ says, a sigh for the poor benighted fools who believe they can actually do something. And I can't say I can develop much empathy with someone who would seriously use a phrase like "the self-satisfied perseverations of the soi-disant progressive community."

Actions like "buying on the black market; lying on official forms; or ... driving slow in traffic" are, in societies where no greater action is possible, excellent for "keeping hope alive" and holding on to your for lack of a better term soul. But they are not about change and bluntly we as a society are not yet at that point.

Posted by LarryE at January 1, 2008 02:23 AM

I said that the roots of real dissidence in a totalizing state are small acts of disobedience: breaking the law; buying on the black market; lying on official forms; or, in the hated metaphorical shorthand: driving slow in traffic. As you'd expect, the response was "But that would be an inconvenience!"

No, what most of the dissenters pointed out was that acting on your own without attempting to tie your actions in to those of a larger group, or, at the very least, communicating what it is you're doing and why, is useless - or, being a dick, in the other metaphorical shorthand. Carrying out your own little private rebellion and sneering at all the chumps who don't intuitively figure it out just seems like a way to stroke your own ego. Might as well wear a Che t-shirt while you're at it.

You used examples like a general strike or the WTO anarchists to back your point up, but I found it hard to believe that you didn't realize even the Starbucks-vandalizing kids in Seattle were acting within the context of a larger protest that everyone understood. Whether people approved of their actions or found them counterproductive, they at least knew why they were there and what they were doing.

Posted by blognoscenti at January 1, 2008 06:03 AM

I think IOZ is pretty persuasive when he argues for non-participation in Presidential politics, or even Congressional politics, for that matter.

But why the need to expand this into some unified theory of Better Living Through Inaction? Why does non-participation in one political sphere need to mean non-participation in all organized forms of political activity? There are lots of actions people can take that are effective and don't involve placing your faith in the Democrats (OK, not lots, but a few).

Working within your local schools, for example, to limit the access that recruiters have to students. If you're a parent, or even a student, so much the better - set up a "Truth in Recruiting" table when the recruiters come to your school, distribute "opt-out" forms to students, so the military can't get their contact info, etc.

And, if you're doing all that, why not run school board candidates on a platform of restricting military access to the school? Or, if such candidates already exist, why not volunteer with their campaigns and vote for them?

You see, the line between electoral politics and other forms of activism isn't always so clear. If you're going to vote for Barack Obama because you're relying on him to end the war, then you're a moron. But if you dogmatically refuse to engage in any electoral politics, well, that's not very smart either.


Posted by SteveB at January 1, 2008 09:57 AM

StO:

I don't think that doing nothing can be a movement; I think of it as a personal philosophy. As Nell said, it's about not acting at carefully chosen times, not all the time.

This is just cynicism, which is a convenient way to recede from engaging in problems, problems which you yourself also desire solutions to.

Yes, I desire solutions too, we just diverge on strategy. Your interpretation of what is cynicism is a point of view and one used to paint those identified with helping the opposition as a result. Nothing new there; heard it before. You call me a cynic and lethargic. I call you naive and hopped up on emotion.

But, I genuinely tend to see it differently -- activity, those half-assed attempts, with the required infighting on pedantic issues (like the progressives are fond of) doesn't actually fix jack except as a single step along a long continuum that nudges the course left or right almost imperceptibly. People make a disproportionately big deal out of being the solution because groupthink directed them to act. Not to act is cowardly or condescending. That idea maybe fuels nationalism too.

I find this view of anti-nothing too logical, too dependent on western thought, and too predictable. For one, you become a chump for marketers (political and consumer) by the predictability inherent in following a roadmap. For another thing, doing just something (to feel better and get group kudos) can actually be counterproductive because it drags the problem along, on life support. I'm fully aware that tamping down "democratic" enthusiasm for activity can be viewed as harshing the buzz of idealistic progressives.

The real problem we have is that there's a strong philosophical difference, where you equate nothing with passivity and ridicule those that want to terminate the sickness, while we think that arguing against pollyanish progressives is a valid way of warning them that the bogeyman is still not dead (and please stop reviving him so he doesn't get us -- and them -- in the last scene).

Now, that's just a personal philosophy. I may well join you on the ramparts if there's nothing good on TV and there's hot babes with properly proportioned dimensions that are fond of lethargic slackers.

Mike has his Nancy, Mistah Charley has his MICFiC, and I'm the guy that says passivity and laziness is a virtue. We all have our brands to build.

***********

One more thing: Someone up above said that doing nothing is what got us where we are today. I strongly disagree with that -- exceptionalism and western thought with its attendant logic and the goodness of initiative, got us where we are today. Enthusiastic problem solving got us where we are today.

Posted by Ted at January 1, 2008 10:10 AM

IT'S ONLY A PHONECALL, folks--50 cents and 1 minute of your time. Of course, the world doesn't turn on just one call, if it did OUR 2 leaders would have been IMPEACHED on MY call alone. Democracy takes PARTICIPATION and a lot of it. Lack of participation, 'doing nothing', is EXACTLY what got us here. (EXAMPLE: AMERICAN exceptionalism does NOT include LACK OF HABEAS CORPUS)(1-202-225-0100 call often, spread it around, DC business hours only)

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 1, 2008 12:29 PM

Ted said

Mistah Charley has his MICFiC...We all have our brands to build.

It's true that I'm pushing this acronym, and it seems the vanguard is beginning to adopt it. Props should go to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 Farewell Address (and to the first public use of the term "military-industrial complex" in 1914 by the Union of Democratic Control, formed by Sir Charles Trevelyan in the United Kingdom), to the 2005 documentary Why We Fight, and to Jim Garrison's 1967 Playboy interview, brought to my attention here by our fellow commenter Bob in Pacifica:

[The gradual growth of Fascism in America is] based on power and on the inability to put human goals and human conscience above the dictates of the state. Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we've built since 1945, the "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of war conditions, and we've seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution. In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. --Jim Garrison, 1967

I want to popularize this pithy encapsulation of an analysis of what's wrong, and why, because I think the American people need to understand this to wake up from their trance, to go from sheeple to citizens.

Maybe Kurt Vonnegut's pessimism in his later years was correct - there is not a chance in hell that America will ever become a humane and reasonable nation. Or he might have been wrong. If we don't try to get to where we think we want to go (metaphorically speaking), we lose whatever chance we may have to get there.

MICFiC is an acronym for

M ilitary
I ndustrial
C ongressional
Fi nancial
C orporate Media Complex
-

a conspiracy to use, abuse, and confuse the people, to "milk, shear, and slaughter the sheeple", in a figurative sense - except the slaughter is literal.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at January 1, 2008 01:40 PM

more wisdom from IOZ especially the last line .
word !

Ken has the idea that America has some sort of vestigial committment to liberty and freedom and Whatever. That's the flaw in his analysis. "We are an empire now. We make our own reality." America doesn't need the consternation of the global fucking village, friends. America needs Visigoths at its gates.

Posted by badri maliwal at January 1, 2008 02:41 PM

more wisdom from IOZ especially the last line .
word !

Ken has the idea that America has some sort of vestigial committment to liberty and freedom and Whatever. That's the flaw in his analysis. "We are an empire now. We make our own reality." America doesn't need the consternation of the global fucking village, friends. America needs Visigoths at its gates.

Posted by badri maliwal at January 1, 2008 02:41 PM

IS PELOSI still Speaker of the House? And isn't 1-202-225-0100 the phonenumber for the Speaker of The House?
Then isn't the REAL question IMPEACHMENT? Or fear?

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 1, 2008 03:50 PM

America needs Visigoths at its gates.

*cough* I think you mean Ostrogoths.

Or Huns. Carn the Huns!

Posted by RobW at January 1, 2008 08:30 PM


An Analogy:

Let's say you have an irresponsible
and stupid daughter (America) and she
has two suitors, slacker dude who is
unemployed and lacks a backbone
(The Democrats), and complete psycho
dude who had a good job and is very
hard working (The Republicans).

Personally I would encourage her to
pick the slacker dude (he might at
one point get a job) and discourage
her from picking psycho dude as he
would most certainly would make her
life a living hell.

My point is that Republicans and their
supporters in general tend to be much
more hard working then their counterparts.

"Doing nothing is not an option."
- George W. Bush

Exactly, the Republicans and their
supporters will always *do* something,
even if it backfires, they just go
onto the next thing until they get
it right.

While liberals are much more interested
in being entertained and coming up with
sophisticated arguments for why inaction
is the spiritually superior "action".

Posted by Terry at January 1, 2008 11:31 PM

Sorry about the *triple* post, and thanks for taking down the extra!

Posted by Terry at January 2, 2008 12:34 AM

also you have to know what you want and how best to get it. iraqis who are pissed by the invasion are slowing down traffic by killing ordinary people. success! that sounds like a cheap comparison of dissidence with murder campaigns, but it's not. what i mean is, if you're refusing, general strikes work; wars of attrition work; the middle ground is full of sob stories and drunks.

rosa parks didn't act alone....

Posted by hapa at January 2, 2008 06:13 AM

Exactly, the Republicans and their
supporters will always *do* something,
even if it backfires, they just go
onto the next thing until they get
it right.

When they get it right, let me know. Gracias.

Posted by cthulu's mom at January 2, 2008 08:59 AM

Exactly, the Republicans and their
supporters will always *do* something,
even if it backfires, they just go
onto the next thing until they get
it right.

When they get it right, let me know. Gracias.

Posted by cthulu's mom at January 2, 2008 08:59 AM

IT'S ONLY A PHONECALL, folks--50 cents and 1 minute of your time.

I'm starting to hear Sally Struthers' voice when I read Mike's post.

Posted by anon at January 2, 2008 09:11 AM

general strikes work...

What you're missing is that every successful strike, general or not, is preceded by years of patient (and usually unsuccessful) organizing.

People become ready for an escalation of tactics when they've tried everything else, seen it fail, and decide they have nothing left to lose. Having some guy in the internet tell them to skip steps A-Y and jump directly to Z doesn't work.

But that was Jonathan's whole point, wasn't it?

Posted by SteveB at January 2, 2008 10:15 AM

the internet is a fantasy place. jumping to Z is what made the transistor! so it must also be possible to make giant social leaps in your garage.

anyway yes i agree, adding that organizing a society filled with goals of personal (after)life satisfaction is a tough thing. here is a clear explanation of corporate america's opinion of the effectiveness of isolated, individual action:

"tort reform"

Posted by hapa at January 2, 2008 03:37 PM

"But that would be an inconvenience!"

my dad uses the same logic when he sees people go on strikes(oh yeah they still do that around here). i try to tell him that that is the damn point, but he never seems to respond to that

Posted by almostinfamous at January 2, 2008 09:45 PM