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A Time for Tactics

After the inaugural, some 3.7 million people took to the streets to protest the new president, or about 1% of the entire population. A dust-up ensued over how many attended the main event the day before, generally estimated at 0.5 million. Popularity is important in an era of perception, so the arguments over this are not going to stop soon.

More important than perception, however, is the immediacy of tactics. No one marching in protest believed anything is going to change immediately, but that was both the main point and beside the point. The marches are for nothing more than to hold on, to stop change, to paralyze. It’s not actually a strategy but a tactic.

We live in a time where actual strategy does not exist and there are only tactics – the raw emotions and gains of the moment. Nothing is actually going to change until that does.

What makes you think he's a bad boy?

What makes you think he’s a bad boy?

If there is one world leader meant for times like this, it is Vladimir Putin. Loyal readers know I have long feared him and his influence on the world while decrying him as nothing more than a petty thug – not the Don of the mafia state by and for the Bratva, but really its chief Enforcer. What may be more surprising is that I reluctantly have to respect him as a leader, but not for his actual leadership ability.

Putin is a terrible strategist, but an excellent tactician.

To me, a strategy is little more than a roadmap. It begins with a clear understanding of both a goal and the starting point, gradually fleshing out the lay of the land. It should never change unless there is information which tells you that the map is different than you thought. Tactics, by contrast, are what take you down that road and help you navigate the obstacles to the goal. They include such mundane items as “We advance 20 miles today” or the more involved “We take the side road to avoid construction.”

The incoming administration, like its apparent master Putin, is not one for strategy. They don’t care one bit what the road ahead is like, only that some advancement is made taking advantage of every opportunity that arises. It engages when it has to and pushes out a new tactic when it can, always bending the arc of the journey to its own will.

It's hard to see the endgame, especially when it's not all back & white.

It’s hard to see the endgame, especially when it’s not all back & white.

The opposition is stuck with the same game, sadly, engaging constantly with little clear vision of the goal or how it may be approached. While an excellent tactical game plan has been outlined, taken directly from the tactics used by the right for eight years, it should be noted that it is nothing more than a series of tactics. The unstated goal is hardly a goal at all – keep the losses to a minimum. The lay of the land? Unimportant. We are not moving anywhere, we are only fighting.

This is not a time for strategy. It is a time for tactics. Which is to say that we have already lost because we are stuck playing the other side’s game – a conservative game based on status quo, not on actual progress.

That didn’t stop anyone from marching, of course, because holding on is very important. Progressives are angry and afraid, and for good reasons. There is a lot to be fearful of as an administration bent on turning back the clock to a better time which never existed theoretically has to define just what that means. They won’t, of course, because they have no interest in strategy. This will be nothing more than conflict, nothing more than game playing.

Many people feel angry when the world gets away from them constantly.

Many people feel angry when the world gets away from them constantly.

Anger, for its own sake, is hardly productive. It is an essential response to the “gaslighting” wave of unreality which we are being bombarded with because it sets up a defensive perimeter for our own sanity. It is a moment when the adrenaline of “fight or flight” has not yet made a decision, and in that extended moment is both salvation and the poison. Neither of those instincts lead to real progress, which can only come from hope and love. But anger protests us from unreality and may yet motivate people to come together to create the hope and love and clear vision that demands a strategy to achieve it.

We aren’t there yet. These are times for nothing more than tactics, nothing more than marching, nothing more than showing up and freezing the moment. Nothing will change until we get beyond this and working with a clear strategy that makes clear not only a great vision but a path to achieving it.

These are days for tactics. As such, they are not days for progress. In this darkness frustration and fear may protect our sanity, but they will not sustain us for long.

18 thoughts on “A Time for Tactics

  1. A prisoner’s dilemma, if you will. Tit for tat. Has it ever really been any different, though? It is hard to deny evolutionary psychology that has been thrust into the 21st century.

    It seems we (as a society) have repeatedly been working to keep the status quo, even as the rules of the game changes dramatically. Oh, we can destroy everyone with weapons of mass destruction? Let’s not confront the real question (we’ve got to stop fighting), ban the use of nuclear arms, and get back to killing each other the old-fashioned way.

    Automation can pave the way for greater prosperity and bring us further into a post-scarcity society. Yet we avoid the difficult questions (providing actual equality and prosperity for all, and working to equalize the current wealth/resource distribution) and cling to what we know.

    The system isn’t the problem. We are. Let’s hope we take a little history and a little psychology into consideration, strategize a little, and do something about that. Otherwise, the game will just keep on grinding, even as the story and the system changes.

    • We are indeed the problem. A week ago, on MLK Day, I found this. I could never say it as well as he did in his Sermon to the Detroit Baptist Church on 28 Feb, 1954

      “The trouble isn’t so much that we don’t know enough, but it’s as if we aren’t good enough. The trouble isn’t so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind. The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man’s soul.
      We haven’t learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we’ve made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we’ve failed to make of it a brotherhood. And the great danger facing us today is not so much the atomic bomb that was created by physical science. Not so much that atomic bomb that you can put in an aeroplane and drop on the heads of hundreds and thousands of people-as dangerous as that is.
      But the real danger confronting civilization today is that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness. That’s the atomic bomb that we’ve got to fear today. Problem is with the men. Within the heart and the souls of men. That is the real basis of our problem.”

      • Ah, I remember you posting that quote. It was absolutely perfect. And it has likely been a catalyst for my thoughts as of recent — evidenced above. For all of our great achievements, we still haven’t learned to master ourselves. Although I am certainly not one to talk on that front.

  2. Saturday was the first day since the election that I had hope. With so many people marching together peacefully it was clear that the people can and will make a difference. I still do not understand how this happened but we will not let it stand. It’s not about just holding on to the rights we have now but that is where we have to start. Repealing the ACA will kill and injure so many people & make so much pain in the world that maybe then the rest of the country will wake up. I wish it didn’t take that to make things change but that seems to be what it takes. But we can and will make a difference just by being there and supporting each other & that is what matters right now.

    • If that is all it accomplishes, we have accomplished a lot. We can’t move forward without Hope first.

      I still say that we have to have clear goals and a path to reach them, but there is no doubt that energizing people is the first thing to do.

    • I think it has to be regular, too. But let’s not forget what Saul Alinsky* said, “A tactic which drags on becomes a drag.”

      * Use of the name Saul Alinsky can legitimately be considered trolling on my part. Sue me.

  3. There is a point to protest. Its the “action leads to hope” model. Its the “doing something is better than sitting at home doing nothing” model. Its easy to tut-tut at something, but the difficult thing is to turn that ‘tut-tut’ in to a movement which changes something. I’ve already said to people if there is an Obama legacy, its one of hope. I watched his farewell speech, so perhaps the protesters listened and followed his words. A protest is a gathering of like-minded people. Its as if the organisers say to themselves: “We want to change the situation and this needs more than just us. Lets see if other people want to get involved. We can take it from there.” We know people , but its not clear why they voted for Clinton – they could have been members of the “liberal metropolitan elite”. They might have voted to try and secure Obama’s legacy, in a legislative sense, rather than just in an ethereal “What do mean by hope? Hope doesn’t feed my kids/stop me from being shot” sense.

    Protests happen because hope can be realised by a person with the real power to change a situation in taking seriously the grievances, discussing the grievances with other people who have real power to change a situation and then taking the grievance and forming the pursuit of happiness and not just ‘the other’. When I photograph a protest, I hear various negative comments and some people even laugh at them. Protest and civil disobedience changed things for the citizens of India, the Middle East, South Africa and the United States (I accept that some, as in all movements, used violence too rather than just peacefully waving placards or sitting in the middle of a road or square). The protests might not lead directly to the change that lasts, but in Egypt, Libya and South Africa. There’s international protests in support of Palestine, but they haven’t been successful yet. People don’t protest to show “We live in a democracy.” The protests come out of a feeling of “I feel ignored” or “I can’t directly influence someone else’s situation, but I do care” or “My vote is a vote for my own oppression” or “My vote counts for nothing” “To change the ‘system’ we need a revolution to change the system, not just a change of political party who disagree with each other in the detail, rather than just the general principle” etc.

    Another reason protests happen is to get these issues talked about. A protest is one way to raise the issue to the people who are going about daily life in the location of the protest, who might read about the protest online or in tomorrow’s print run. I get protests are not organised to add to the Alamy, AFP, AP, EPA, Getty Images, Reuters, Zuma Press etc archive, but the media can also discuss these types of issues (as a feature, rather than #BreakingNews). Personally, I’d rather photograph the issue rather than the protest about the issue, but photographing the protest allows me to answer “What is the issue?” The reporter might not be reporting it because they agree with the protest, but that the media has a role to play in using privilege to help the less privileged, to act as a messenger (assuming the recipient doesn’t know and cares, about the protest and its issues). If nothing else, it should be reported as an objective record of what happened, as a “I disagree with what you’re saying or doing (and it may very well be pointless), but I defend your right to say it or do it since this isn’t even about me.” There is click-bait in for the modern media too: “Women’s March against Trump from around the world: In Pictures”, but someone who can’t read might ask (and, I do know a person who can’t read) “What’s going on?” Then the photographer can be a voice for the voiceless etc etc.

    Its not wrong to talk about “What said was contradictory/disgusting/divisive/incomprehensible/homophobic/Islamaphobic/misogynist/racist/Unpatriotic,” At least most of the protesters didn’t go to the level of “He doesn’t wear a suit, or even a tie” or “Doesn’t she have lovely shoes and trousers.”

    I understand that in terms of face value, protests are a pointless exercise. One person held a placard held a placard up in Manchester, UK on the Women’s March: “I want a dyke for President.” The best thing to do is to vote for ‘dyke’ to be President, rather than hold up a placard with that on.

    Also, jobs were an issue in the US Presidential election. I got bored of people saying “We disagree with Trump. We want a good person as President, someone who is nice” as if politics was about sweetness and light, as if the people protesting held the only view ever thought of. Politics might be about power, but politics exists because we all have competing interests and priorities. I can understand how people, in a coal mining area would vote for a climate change denier who wants a coal mining industry in the US, when the people voting are reliant on coal mining either for an income (as a direct or indirect income, given the ‘circular flow of money) or as a source of ‘cheap’ fuel – fuel poverty might be a relative poverty, but that poverty is real to someone choosing between heating their home or feeding themselves or their kids. What would you choose in that situation? That ‘home’ is where someone shelters from the worst of their environment. Some people don’t even have a home, or rather, that home is a doorway.

    Climate change scepticism is legitimate – to doubt the basis of the theories (there was a bit of a scandal when some climate models were found to be flawed, if not plain wrong), to doubt the extent and rapidity is also legitimate. I’ve look at the evidence, from alternative sources (mostly secondary, but some primary, sources) and reached my own conclusion, but I’m quite ‘happy’ to be proved wrong. Its meant in the way that scientific knowledge from the past has been proven wrong. Newton’s paradigm was replaced by Einstein’s paradigm and that theory is subject to, rather than science should be viewed as a fairy tale or an invention of fact. I don’t think its a ‘Chinese conspiracy’. An individual protest might not matter, might not change anything, but movements do. The environmental movement has led to the question of “Is climate change happening?” However, it could be down to President Obama doing something about climate change and President Xi not doing something, but that isn’t true: China and India are leaders in this field. The UK Government has removed its ‘Department of Energy and Climate Change’ and now its in the ‘Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’. That’s a consequence of the UK’s referendum, which has been interpreted as much a protest vote against the “liberal metropolitan elite.” Think of the Women’s Suffrage movement in the UK. They were prepared to die for their cause – either by going on hunger strike or as Emily Davison did by throwing herself under the King’s Hoarse. They weren’t in it for just themselves.

    Its one of the debates I had a University, that it might be all well and good getting rid of coal-fired power stations to “save the planet”, but in the short-run (at least) there will be immediate job losses in the power station, the coal mine and the transportation which carries the coal to the power station. I consider climate change to be a problem which needs tackling, immediately, but I don’t think that people who work in polluting industries should be treated as a form of unforeseen collateral damage and nothing should be done for them. Its less of a problem for Holland, than Bangladesh, due to Holland having the resources and institutions to invest in solutions, re-invest in new/other areas of the economy, flood defences and short-term social welfare for the people made unemployed or people who need to be re-housed. Put simply, Holland has the capability to not make this a life or death issue, but how does action for people in Tuvalu help the unemployed Belgian steel worker? One can just as easily say some votes for Trump were a protest. However, I do also accept that people who are homophobic, misogynist, racist etc probably also voted for Trump. There were probably people who voted for Trump as the Republican candidate, rather than as a vote specifically for Trump or any of his policies, like the Anarchists and Revolutionaries who always participate in protests.

    I’m not saying either points are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or that its wrong to question the validity of a protest, but that there is a palpable tension. This tension is where protests arise from. Its because the tension exists outside of the electoral cycle. Its better to shout through a megaphone, disrupt traffic for a day (if its big enough) or wave a hands or placards and hold banners in a central location than to go around killing people.

    Apologies, if it seems like I’m trolling, but I can bookmark the article and share my opinions with people who dismiss protests.

    • Ooops, noticed an incomplete sentence…

      “The protests might not lead directly to the change that lasts, but in Egypt, Libya and South Africa” should read: The protests might not lead directly to the change that lasts, but in Egypt, Libya and South Africa, the protests led to a change in international opinion which created the conditions, for want of a better phrase, for that change to happen (its slightly different in Libya because there was military intervention to stop a bloodbath in Benghazi).

      • You are correct that a big gathering is a great organizing tool. It is a start, and this clearly energized people. It left them with the feeling that they are not alone, and there is both strength and comfort in numbers.

        Again, this is a time for tactics. It’s not a truly progressive situation by any stretch, but it’s what has to happen.

  4. Like it because the writer has taken considerable trouble to write a stimulating & intelligent essay.

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