Chapter 6 (Part 3)
Chapter Six – Removing The Veil (Part 3)
Melt The Guns?
A question bugging me while planning and writing this lengthy piece of work is whether there are ways of speeding up the undermining process that don’t rely on feedback loops. Can we, for instance, stop the violence committed upon the members of civilized society through one mass act of undermining? This idea has its roots in the various Peace Move-ments that reached pre-eminence in the 1960s – the concept that without weapons of mass murder being “in the system” then there can be no mass murder, and thus a peaceful and just society can become a reality. On a superficial level this would seem to be the case.
Relentless acts of physical violence committed upon the populace by those who wish to gain power are a clear expression of perhaps the most direct Tool of Disconnection, “Abuse Us”. It seems that the earlier along the civilized road a society is, the more likely the use of more direct forms of control and disconnection – “crude” methods, for want of a better term – are used. Forced labour, forced incarceration, forced religion and other direct manifestations of physical abuse and coercion, have historically been in the gift of those who have the most effective arsenal of weaponry, be that in terms quantity, quality, ability…whatever it takes to be pre-eminent in the power stakes. Later on in the civilized story the means of controlling a population tend towards the more subtle, initially using the fear of violence as a natural reaction to prior actual violence, then moving towards much more overarching system of behavioural control encompassing all the Tools of Disconnection required for the purpose of long-term cultural management. For all this latter subtlety, the potential for systemic violence remains, and is used whenever anyone threatens the normal running of the industrial machine.
Ultimately though, is it the weapons per se that act as those initial and reserved control mechanisms? In a world where the AK-47 and M16 have superceded the machete and the firebrand as the killing tool of choice for young, oppressive regimes, it would seem obvious that to stop the manufacture and supply of weapons would also reduce the level of oppression. To a certain extent this is true; but what of the machete? This multi-purpose, ostensibly peaceful tool is used under a variety of different names (panga, cutlass etc) for clearing brush across the world. During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 the machete was responsible for at least half of all of the recorded 800,000 murders.1 Stopping the flow of machetes from Europe and China may have reduced the scale of the massacre, but who is to say that other potential weapons such as clubs, axes and rifles would not have been used instead? And anyhow, 84% of households already had a machete 10 years before the massacre took place – it was and still is predominantly an agricultural tool. As a friend of mine pointed out, “A knife in a bushcraft setting is an invaluable tool; in an inner city a threat of violence.” He went on to add an important proviso: “Weapons can be used as much for self-defence against aggression as for committing aggression for dominance.”
It seems that the problem of weaponry as a tool of mass control is not so much with the nature of the arsenal, as the nature of the people controlling that arsenal. We know that people can be persuaded to kill with sufficient authoritative systems in place, and thus a far more effective means of undermining the use of weaponry in any society is to remove the authority that controls the level of abuse on a mass scale. Later on, in Chapter 7, the indus-trial machine, which includes the systems of weapon manufacture will be challenged head-on, but first and foremost, it’s authority we need to look at for all sorts of reasons, not just how people are ordered to kill others.
Not at Home to Mr Smith
Once or twice a week I go into peoples’ houses and fix their computers. On most occasions they will pay me a bit of cash; on a good day they will have something to barter for my work, but more of that later. Sometimes I need to call up internet service providers or telephone companies, and without fail the person on the other end of the phone refers to me either as “Sir” or “Mr Farnish”. It makes me squirm. Not on my behalf, although I would love to have my first name recognised as a significant part of my identity, but on behalf of those I am speaking to. If I get the chance then I will ask to be called “Keith”, which happens at first, and then reverts to type, partly because these empodded souls are having their calls carefully monitored for any etiquette aberrations, partly because they have been conditioned to be subservient to the customer.
The point of titles and the various forms of address inherent in civilized society is to impose order upon its members. Debrett’s, the “modern authority on all matters etiquette, taste and achievement” lists literally hundreds of different forms of address depending on the form of communication being used and the relative “positions” of the various people engaged in that communication. With reference to meeting the Queen of the United Kingdom etc.2 Debrett’s suggests:
Upon being introduced to The Queen, and on leaving, a bow or curtsy is made. The bow is an inclination of the head, not from the waist. The curtsy should be a discreet but dignified bob.
In conversation, address The Queen as ‘Your Majesty’, and subsequently ‘Ma’am’ (to rhyme with Pam). When conversing with The Queen, substitute ‘Your Majesty’ for ‘you’.
When introducing another person to The Queen, simply state the name of the person to be introduced: ‘May I present Mr John Smith, Your Majesty?’3
Given the opportunity I would love to speak to a member of royalty, ideally a monarch, and address them by first name. In the UK and other sovereign states of Europe there are no punishments for this simple act of rebellion, but in some parts of the world you would be advised to tread carefully. Tempting as this would be, whether you keep your head or not is not really an issue because the true undermining that needs to take place is about addressing attitudes to compliance. Challenging, as I wrote above, the idea that compliance is normal and non-compliance is abnormal.
The civilized world rests on layers of hierarchy from those it considers to be at the very top – the elite financiers, politicians, media moguls and landowners – right down to those it considers to be irrelevant. There are others that exist on the edges that it would consider to be a threat to its existence should they appear on the radar of that multi-layered entity. You are on the edges. You need to help dissolve the hierarchy.
The problem is that no single event not of the system’s own making can force that hierarchy to collapse. Force is not necessary, though. Like our faith in the goodness of the industrial economy, the existence of this great stacking monster depends on belief: if people stop believing that a hierarchy is necessary then it will collapse under its own weight, the glue of belief having magically dissolved away. How do you undermine this belief?
Task 5: No Authority by Proxy
Whenever we look up to someone in a social sense then we are accepting their authority over us in whatever context this “looking up to” is set. For example, when I was about four years old I had somewhere acquired a very large pencil which I was gently throwing up in the air and catching while walking back home with my mother. Across the road walked a policeman and a policewoman, coming in the opposite direction. Apropos of nothing, I dropped the pencil which would under normal circumstances have meant just picking it up and carrying on my way. But something odd happened: I felt ashamed, and so carefully picked the pencil up and glanced across almost as though I was seeking permission for this act of recovery. No one had explicitly told me that this was the way to behave in the presence of the police, but this shy deference to public figures of authority seemed nonetheless embedded in me. Many years later I would find myself on Tower Bridge in London asking a police constable exactly which law stopped me approaching the entrance to an airline industry party in one of the two engine towers and personally addressing each attendee in turn as to what exactly they were celebrating.
Let’s be clear, politeness is a good thing in most circumstances, as is diplomacy in the general sense. I was both polite and diplomatic in addressing this PC; I was not, on the other hand, deferential. He was telling me not to do something; I was asking him under what authority and section of public law he could demand this of me. Somewhere along the line I had changed from being a person who blindly accepts authority to someone who questioned it on every occasion I came across it. My father put it best: “After the age of 13 I never called anyone ‘Sir’ again.” And why should he have?
And why should you; or anyone else for that matter?
The title of this section is “No Authority by Proxy”. The word “proxy” is important; I am not saying there should be no authority at all. Anyone can earn authority, at least for a specific instance such as a crisis in which one person may take on a role that needs leadership. “Authority” in the civilized world, though, is almost always Authority by Proxy; in other words that which is given over because we have been taught that hierarchy is the natural state of things. Thus, the police officers4 I deferred to when I dropped that oversized pencil were actually given their authority through my act of deference.
To some readers this might come as a bit of a surprise. Surely authority is something that is imposed by force. Well, yes, but only until force no longer has to be used because the subjects of that force now accept that authority. What I am effectively saying is that without acceptance of authority then that authority cannot exist. We are talking about a change in mindset here; a mental re-routing that by its mere happening effectively undermines the system of Authority by Proxy that civilization depends upon to control the behaviour of its subjects. So, how can we remove this acceptance?
If you were thinking along the same lines as me a couple of pages ago then you may already have a few ideas in mind. First, I would say, we return to language. Earlier in the chapter I gave an example of changes in language that can be made in attitudes to education and work. The same approach can be taken for attitudes to authority, but I won’t go through dialogue again: your job is to find a situation where you are either in the presence of an “authority” figure or discussing matters that relate to “authority” and undermine the pretence that authority can be handed over simply by virtue of someone’s position in a fixed hierarchy.
Go on, have some fun – just watch the reactions.
The ideal here is for these language changes to “go viral”, such that the change is passed on from person to person, and eventually becoming embedded in the language of the people you are able to verbally influence. Going back to the Toolbox, we find that Communication (obvious) and Tenacity (not so obvious) are key skills that will need to be applied in equal measure. The words themselves depend on what you normally use in conversation and, probably more important, the way you use them. So I may talk about a certain politician in scathing terms – don’t we all? – but there is more to it than that. We may think Politician X is an idiot, but he is still given deference owing to his position in society. Expressing that in a non-deferential way is harder than simply saying “Politician X is an idiot”. The same goes for the concept of hierarchy itself. Make a point of breaking down the layers of “authority” in your mind: remember that social strata can only exist while you accept it.
A Cultural Side Note: Japanese Social Hierarchy
Writing with as what one would have to call a Western perspective, it comes as no surprise that the focus of this book is predominantly European and North American, with various English-speaking southern hemisphere nations making an appearance. I take no great pride in this, though as I have made clear identity is critical to personal freedom, and thus I cannot ever identify with anything other than the place where I live and the people I relate to. Unfortunately this makes it impossible for me to address some of the more problematic areas that need to be undermined if the industrial system is to become a thing of the past.
One of these is Japanese social hierarchy.
Briefly, the relationship between different members of Japanese society is complex, but significantly derived from Confucian principles. Thus, “in order to seek harmonious relationships with others, which are the precondition of social integration and stability, individuals should respect and follow tradition and social hierarchy”.6 Such principles are common in other nearby nations, including the birthplace of Confucius, China, but in Japan the totality of hierarchy – particularly in the workplace – makes undermining far more significant than in less obviously hierarchical societies. The seemingly easy act of being less deferential to your “boss” or a politician challenges centuries of hardwired order that only the most liberated Japanese individual could begin to shift.
I can only provide general assistance with this. More specific, culturally-targeted undermining is something that this book is not able to do. The growing legion of Underminers needs to include a host of cultural emissaries, perhaps like you, who can take the struggle back home and into the heart of their own form of Industrial Civilization.
When you have taken the mental bulldozer to the upper classes, the ruling elites, the company executives, the people who seem to have a certain standing simply because of who they are rather than what they have done; then you are in a position to talk to your friends about everyday things, but with a slightly different edge. And after that any chance you get to address the mass media; in your normal workday communications – assuming you still work for the system; face-to-face…
There is bound to come a time when you will have the opportunity to level the hierarchy in a physical sense, just like my PC on Tower Bridge who shamefacedly deferred to his Sergeant (how do you like it, mate?) in finding out exactly which law I was breaking. As I said, politeness and diplomacy are fine; but if you can make the other person, the “authority” figure, feel like you are equal to them then you have just collapsed a layer – if temporarily. If you can do it in public, then that collapse may last.
Diana Gould [on monitor in studio): Why, when the Belgrano, the Argentinian battleship, was outside the Exclusion Zone and actually sailing away from the Falklands – why did you give the orders to sink it?
Margaret Thatcher [in studio]: It was not sailing away from the Falklands, it was in an area which was a danger to our ships and to our people on them…
DG: …outside the Exclusion Zone…
MT: …but it was in an area which we had warned [turns to presenter] – at the end of April we had given warnings that all ships in those areas, if they represented a danger to our ships, were vulnerable. When it was sunk, that ship which we had found was a danger to our ships. My duty was to look after our troops, our ships, our navy. And my goodness me, I live with many, many anxious days and nights…
DG [interrupts]: But, Mrs Thatcher, you started your answer by saying it was not sailing away from the Falklands; it was on a bearing of 280 and it was already west of the Falklands so, I’m sorry, I cannot see how you can say it was not sailing away from the Falklands…
MT [interrupts]: When it was, when it was sunk [DG: When it was sunk] it was a danger to our ships…
DG [interrupts]: No, but you had just said at the beginning of your answer that it was not sailing away from the Falklands, and [shifts confidently in chair] I’m asking you to correct that statement.
MT: Yes, but it’s within an area outside the Exclusion Zone, which I think what you were saying is sailing away…
DG [interrupts]: No, I am not…
Presenter [interjects]: I think we are arguing about which way it was facing at the time.
MT: It was a danger to our ships.
DG: Mrs Thatcher, I am saying that it was on a bearing 280, which is a bearing just north of west. It was already west of the Falklands, and therefore nobody with any imagination can put it sailing other than away from the Falklands.
MT: Mrs…I’m sorry, I forgot your name [Presenter: Mrs Gould]…Mrs Gould…
DG: Erm, you know…
MT: When the orders were given to sink it, and when it was sunk, it was in an area which was a danger to our ships. Now, you accept that, do you?
DG: No, I don’t.
MT: Well, I sorry, it was… [DG: Erm, no Mrs Thatcher] …you must accept that when we gave the order, when we changed the Ex…the rules, which enabled them to sink Belgrano…
There is probably no better example of levelling, of undermining, the hierarchy than when Diane Gould faced up to the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher on a tea-time television magazine programme. Through this simple act she not only made Thatcher look vulnerable, she wrung out an admission that the rules had been changed and the Exclusion Zone was just a parody of fairness. Too bad there were not more people like Diane around at the time to repeat and build upon her exceptional attack.
A little jolt. It’s easy to get high on the act of undermining, and that’s no bad thing, but at the back of your mind must remain some idea of why you’re doing this at all. Civilization is unsustainable at any scale, and the more resource intensive the civilization the shorter the time it can last. However, we have to bear in mind that the construct called Industrial Civilization is actually a composite of a great number of different – albeit not very different – civilizations that have collided and merged into one enormously destructive entity. It is only because of the huge scale of Industrial Civilization, being able to take what it needs from anywhere on Earth, with our tacit approval, that it has lasted as long as it has.
In the absence of civilizations, there is no reason that any self-contained indigenous tribe cannot last for as long as the environment it lives within the limits of, remains stable. Give or take an ice age or two, there is no reason formerly civilized human beings can’t do the same. However, it would take a complete change in psychology to make this possible, such as removing the perceived “need” for societies to have hierarchies with certain people being more powerful simply because they have felt the desire to grab power from others. I make this point because the next example of undermining derives from the ancient, egalitarian5 traditions of the most durable societies on Earth.
The foam-pie-in-the-face (other glutinous substances are also available) method of getting one over on people who clearly need to be brought down to size, intentionally or not can be traced back to certain means by which many tribes maintain a flat societal structure. An enlightening case recorded by Richard Borshay Lee in the presence of the !Kung Bushmen of the African Kalahari describes how he wished to show gratitude to the group of !Kung he had been studying for a year by slaughtering the largest ox he could find and sharing it out. However, Lee, because of his research method of not sharing the food he had brought with him in order to maintain a controlled study environment (ironic, given his presence would have affected the outcome anyway), was already open to “accusations of stinginess and half-heartedness”. When he came to mention his “Christmas gift” to the Bushmen, he was continually told that the magnificent ox was skinny and only good for soup from its bones. Despite – though, in hindsight, it would have been because of – his constant claims of the beast’s high quality, the accusations continued right until the slaughter, upon which the true quality of the animal was revealed.
/gaugo had been one of the most enthusiastic in making me feel bad about the merit of the Christmas ox. I sought him out first.
“Why did you tell me the black ox was worthless, when you could see that it was loaded with fat and meat?”
“It is our way,” he said smiling. “We always like to fool people about that. Say there is a Bushman who has been hunting. He must not come home and announce like a braggard, ‘I have killed a big one in the bush!’ He must first sit down in silence until I or someone else comes up to his fire and asks, ‘What did you see today?’ He replies quietly, ‘Ah, I’m no good for hunting. I saw nothing at all [pause] just a little tiny one.’ Then I smile to myself,” /gaugo continued, “because I know he has killed something big.”
“In the morning we make up a party of four or five people to cut up and carry the meat back to the camp. When we arrive at the kill we examine it and cry out, ‘You mean to say you have dragged us all the way out here in order to make us cart home your pile of bones? Oh, if I had known it was this thin I wouldn’t have come.’ Another one pipes up, ‘People, to think I gave up a nice day in the shade for this. At home we may be hungry but at least we have nice cool water to drink.’ If the horns are big, someone says, ‘Did you think that somehow you were going to boil down the horns for soup?’
“To all this you must respond in kind. ‘I agree,’ you say, ‘this one is not worth the effort; let’s just cook the liver for strength and leave the rest for the hyenas. It is not too late to hunt today and even a duiker or a steenbok would be better than this mess.’
“Then you set to work nevertheless; butcher the animal, carry the meat back to the camp and everyone eats,” /gaugo concluded.
Things were beginning to make sense. Next, I went to Tomazo. He corroborated /gaugo’s story of the obligatory insults over a kill and added a few details of his own.
“But,” I asked, “why insult a man after he has gone to all that trouble to track and kill an animal and when he is going to share the meat with you so that your children will have something to eat?”
“Arrogance,” was his cryptic answer.
“Yes, when a young man kills much meat he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”7
In the modern form of flan-flinging, comedic parody and highbrow satire, such Levelling Mechanisms do appear to work at least on a temporary basis. Certainly politicians have been brought low by vicious satire, as demonstrated during the popular heights of the British magazine Punch in the mid 19th century, and the later television show Spitting Image, but whether such an approach can alter the attitudes of an entire society definitely needs more work – after all, both Punch and Spitting Image were the products of the same culture that they mocked, and could easily have been stopped had they truly overstepped the mark. Pure ridicule, as opposed to the more highbrow satire, on the other hand is certainly something that could, as with the tribal example above, be very effective in the right hands.
Taking the levelling further, Peter Gray took the following from the studies of Christopher Boehm in explaining how indigenous tribes maintain their flat social structures:
“Hunter-gatherers are continuously vigilant to transgressions against the egalitarian ethos. Someone who boasts, or fails to share, or in any way seems to think that he (or she, but usually it’s a he) is better than others is put in his place through teasing, which stops once the person stops the offensive behavior. If teasing doesn’t work, the next step is shunning. The band acts as if the offending person doesn’t exist. That almost always works. Imagine what it is like to be completely ignored by the very people on whom your life depends. No human being can live for long alone. The person either comes around, or he moves away and joins another band, where he’d better shape up or the same thing will happen again.”8
In a community it is a significant step to take from just ridiculing a person’s attempts at self-aggrandisement, and ignoring them entirely to the point that they are sent away. In undermining terms the difference is nowhere near as great because the objects of the undermining are unlikely to be within your community, and there is little chance of “sending them away” except in a virtual sense. Thus it would make sense to apply whatever approach suits your own talents. Just concentrate for now on finding ways of levelling hierarchy through humour, parody, ridicule and especially the ways in which people can be encouraged to collectively turning their backs – but not turning a blind eye – to the systems of power that keep us looking upwards. There will be plenty more opportunities for using these in a later chapter when we explore the joys of subvertising and related activities.
Task 6: We Are Worthy
There is a common, if slightly icky, phrase that is used in certain areas of political and corporate activism and reflects the nature of hierarchy perfectly: The Shit Always Rises to the Top. “No”, you say, “it’s the cream that rises to the top, isn’t it?” In the minds of those already at the top then that may be the case, but we only have to look at who is running nations, corporations and other more ethereal entities and it becomes clear that those at the top most definitely share more characteristics with lavatory excrement than lactate emulsion. There is a question that really bugs me that people sometimes ask. It goes something like, “What would you do if you ruled the world?” It’s a great question if you have any aspirations towards ruling the world, but given what was in the previous section it’s clear that “ruling the world” is hardly something that anyone with any morals would want to do. Share the world; now that’s another thing entirely.
That makes the response to another, related but even more common question, pretty simple too. “What if women ruled the world?” Gut reaction? A nicer place, I suspect most will think. Social activist and academic, Riane Eisler puts this into perspective in her book The Real Wealth of Nations in a passage concerning the configuration of top-down systems of domination. Among the four “core” components she sets out (three of them being authoritarian structure, high levels of abuse and violence, and justification through cultural beliefs and stories) is the “rigid ranking of one half of humanity over the other half” exemplified across a wide range of cultures and belief systems, not least the economies of the industrial West and more recently emerged East. She writes:
This superior/inferior view of our species is a central component of inequitable, despotic and violent cultures. It provides a mental map that children learn for equating all differences – whether based on race, religion or ethnicity – with superiority and inferiority.9
Riane goes on to describe the high cultural value given to “masculine” qualities and behaviours, such as “heroic” violence” and “manly” conquest, over “feminine” caring and nonviolence; perhaps implying that the opposite would be preferable. But given that the idea of any population group being predominant implies power and hierarchy then it is highly questionable whether any such change would be a change for the better. What we need to avoid in our undermining, therefore, is elevating people through any kind of hierarchy because – as I have said – in civilized society, the shit always rises to the top and who wants to be considered a piece of shit?10
Now obviously that creates a bit of a conundrum. If we are keen to collapse hierarchy, and thus create a situation where people are not under the jackboot of unearned authority, then we will need to carry out a very important task, in addition to bringing down the layers above, that does not simply substitute one group for another. In other words: ensuring there are neither layers at the top, nor layers at the bottom. The key to this lies in the methodology, which is essentially helping people who feel they are at the bottom of the civilized pyramid to feel wanted and worthwhile. That includes you.
How do you feel today?
Pretty crappy, I would guess if you are an employee of a large organisation that exploits its employees and anyone else that it needs to create money for itself. Not too good, either, if you are someone who is a victim of a society that insists that to be “someone” you have to have money, material possessions, good looks, ambition, drive, and be born the right gender, colour and with a silver spoon in your mouth (or a dipstick up your arse). Sorry to remind you of this – maybe you were feeling ok until that point. Well, here’s the alternative view: you are a human being, just like everyone else. The fact that you are reading this means that you probably give a shit – which is more than most people who are further up the hierarchy can say – and you want to make things better. That makes you a decent person. And consider the civilized world in general: do you really want to “excel” in the way that this toxic system defines excellence? If not (and if not, then we’re here to help) then you don’t need to feel bad about not being or having the things that society says you should be or have. The people at the top are never content: it is their lack of contentment that has driven them to the top, and kept them there. Imagine always having to be richer, more influential and more erudite than everyone below you just to stay there. Imagine having to maintain a vast network of flunkies and always being ruthless in your activities in order to get just one rung further up.
How do you feel now?
This is the kind of feeling that needs to be passed on. Remember the analogy far, far back in the book that described removing bricks from the bottom of the building in order to destabilise it. That’s what creating real self-esteem is about. This needs to be defined properly. Building self esteem in the civilized sense is about elevating someone within the existing social structures and rules that define what it means to be a worthwhile person. Real self esteem is about ignoring these existing structures and rules and raising someone’s opinion of themselves in an objective sense, i.e. regardless of what other people might think.
Some forms of therapy do this, but to pick your way through the minefield of pop-psychology and commercially-driven analysis that masquerades as “making people better” is no easy task. Real self esteem is the domain of the good friend, someone who is really trusted. And it’s self-reinforcing: by giving people the help they need to collapse the mental layers above then you will also become trusted by others that know the person you are helping; it’s also a very lovely accelerant, for those who have been helped are almost certain to pass on that help to others who trust them. Before you know it there is a rapidly spreading fan of people who feel better in themselves, regardless of anything imposed by a system that seeks to put people in “their place” in order to create the kind of desperate needs that drive economies.
I’m leaving this task open, as personal relationships of the sort that are required for this to work are as different as individual people. What works for one relationship might not work for another. But the basic message is clear: as individual human beings, we do not have to subscribe to whatever social structure has been imposed on us, nor do we have to aspire to those goals that have been put in place simply to create an appetite that can never be sated. We are better than that.
The previous section leads neatly into the fourth major aspect of Removing the Veil of Ignorance: that of, to use the imagery at the beginning of the chapter, removing the tiger’s need to keep pacing the invisible cage. To be clear, we are addicted to industrial civilization. Not just the material trappings, the dream we are sold, but the meaning of civilization as the only one right way to live.
The distinction is important because we actually have two discrete problems to deal with, and it is only the first of which has been addressed at all, and will be further addressed later on. That addiction to the material dream, the consumer paradise, will be further taken up at length in later chapters as it is difficult to avoid in any day-to-day dealings with institutions in the civilized world.
The meaning of civilization; now that’s a more subtle problem.
Task 7: Loosening Civilization’s Mental Grip
We return to words again, and to a piece I wrote some time ago called The Problem With…Civilization. At the time of writing I was working through the process of getting a book published and realised, with some disappointment, that I had not pinned down with any kind of accuracy, not so much why civilization is a bad thing, but why it is not a particularly good or special thing. To put it another way: Civilization…meh!
The expectoration “meh” is an indicator of being able to take it or leave it, coupled with polite boredom. For such a tiny word, if we can call it that, it is remarkably disarming. Take the following exchange:
“Have you seen ______’s11 latest outfit? It’s amazing! The hat! The SHOES! I can’t stop talking about it!”
With just three letters the previous explosion of sartorial lust has lost all its importance. The same approach needs to be applied to Industrial Civilization and the complete acceptance we have that this is the One Right Way to Live; acceptance that is so complete that we don’t know, as a culture, what civilization even means. It has become so fundamental to our belief system that we treat its existence much as we do our heartbeat: it just happens. For sure we have to keep it healthy, by learning how to become good citizens and then plugging ourselves into the job market and the consumer culture, but apart from the occasional dire warning that the economy might be in trouble we have little awareness of what this thing actually is on a day-to-day basis. And that’s how the system would like it to remain.
It’s such a grand term: Civilization. But it is really just a word, like “leaf”, “stone” or “baby”, that has defined itself in the highest sense possible – “civilization” speaks to us with such importance because it demands to be heard, and hear we do, by defining ourselves in its image…
They all mean the same thing, in truth: City Dweller. The most obvious physical manifestation of civilization is the city, something totally alien to any uncivilized culture. Cities are one manifestation; there are others that are less physical, but no less integral for all that. According to the influential but now sadly defunct Anthropik Network there are five key features that are common to all civilizations:
1. Settlement of cities of 5,000 or more people.
2. Full-time labour specialization.
3. Concentration of surplus.
4. Class structure.
5. State-level political organization.
The four other features all require structures and systems in order to operate as effectively as possible so, for instance, in order to concentrate surplus food (so it can be given out, or rather sold, on demand) you must, as a civilization, have storage and distribution systems, the means to generate that surplus in the first place (i.e. mass agriculture), accounting processes and, of course, a means of asserting authority over that surplus. This feature and, in fact, all of the five features listed, point to the primary function of civilization: a tool through which power and wealth can be accumulated by a select few.12
You see that? It’s just a “tool”, but a very significant one because it is the sum total of all of the Tools of Disconnection. Civilization is disconnection. In those terms it is obvious that we cannot possibly tackle it head-on, which is why the whole process of undermining is discrete, based around different elements of this culture. But as a symbol of everything we experience, everything that doesn’t connect us to the real world, the meaning of civilization is something that can and must be tackled. So first, we understand what it is so that the nature of civilization is revealed in its true, and to be frank, rather mundane if abhorrent colours. Then we take the essence of that understanding and try to unpick it, in the most public ways possible.
It’s quite an odd thing, when you think about it, that we do not usually hear the word “civilization” in normal discourse. It tends to be reserved for discussions about history or documentaries that revel in the Great Civilizations of the past. Yes, we hear the word “civilized” a lot, but the meaning of that is false: good, moral behaviour is not civilized; it is just good, moral behaviour. We also here the word “citizen”, again in purely positive terms as someone who abides by the rules of society and is generally a well-rounded person: but someone who abides by the rules of society and is generally a well-rounded person is not a citizen; if they are a citizen they just happen to be a subject of civilization. But we don’t hear the word “civilization” much.
We also don’t hear the word “white” much. For as long as Industrial Civilization has existed, white people have been the rulers and only under exceptional circumstances are people of any other race permitted to be in a position of relative power, in which case this is noted. Barack Obama is/was a Black President. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were not White Presidents. By not identifying a person in power as white, the default, we are effectively made to ignore the fact that white people run civilization. By not identifying the society we live in as civilization, we are effectively made to ignore the fact that we are subjects of the Culture of Maximum Harm.
There are special categories of Underminer, and this task requires one of them: professional communicators. The effectiveness of this task is heavily dependent on the reach of the message. The term “reach” indicates not necessarily the raw number of people communicated to, although that is important, but also the proportion of the most malleable groups of people. I know that referring to people as malleable sounds rather sinister, but let’s be honest: there are plenty of people who are such deeply controlled civilization victims that it will take a special effort to change their minds, and in many cases it may be just too late.
On the other hand children at school and people who are already distrustful of the system, such as the long-term “unemployed” or those who feel they have been generally shat on by society, are much more likely to be influenced by a message that goes against the grain. This ties in with the Diffusion of Innovations concept I wrote about at length in Time’s Up! – the idea that you have to start change with a very small group of receptive people (Innovators) who then influence a larger group of less receptive people (Early Adopters) and so on. Of course, if you can send a message out to a huge number of people in one go then you are likely to capture a similar sector of people without having to work so hard targeting your audience. Both approaches are definitely useful.
Regardless of approach, the message has to be consistent. For example:
• Unless we are talking or writing about all humans as a species then we refer to human beings as “civilized humans” or “civilized people”. So, it is civilized people who are causing climate change; it is civilized people who are sucking the oceans empty of fish and filling the waterways with pollutants; it is civilized people who are consuming global energy supplies at an expanding rate. The scientifically accepted phrase Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is wrong – hell, I have used it over and over again without realising I was tarring an entire species with the same brush. The correct phrase is Civilized Global Warming (CGW).
• The same applies to societies. Unless we are purposely referring to indigenous and/or non-civilized societies, then we must refer to large groups of people as “civilization” and more specifically “Industrial Civilization”. So, it is Industrial Civilization that is melting the polar ice-caps; it is Industrial Civilization that is concreting over and clear-felling natural habitats; it is Industrial Civilization that is causing mass economic slavery across the globe.
• People in their daily lives are not “citizens”, they are people. When you are referring to someone who willingly submits to the rules and norms of civilized society, including turning a blind eye to the behaviour of governments and their corporate masters, then you can talk about citizens. Otherwise, you talk about “people” or, for more impact “human beings” or perhaps “non-citizens”.
Word substitutions are, in fact, all that comprise the “message” I was referring to. The context of the message is entirely up to you, so long as you are completely consistent in your approach. Tempting as it might feel, you must resist all urges to refer to ordinary people as citizens (to my horror I hear even some of the most radical environmental and human rights groups doing this), and you must differentiate between civilization and the rest of human existence to the point that it becomes first-nature.
These word substitutions need to be inserted across the mainstream media: newspapers and magazines, widely read blogs, television, radio and suchlike. If you are a writer for a mainstream outlet then there is no reason you should not do this immediately, for the sake of accuracy if nothing else. An editor may question the changes – though if you are an editor then you should be questioning people who don’t make these changes – to which you say, “anything else would be inaccurate.” If you have complete control over your output then just go for it. In television and radio then there are all sorts of opportunities to push something out that will have even more immediate impact. You might not be a presenter or newsreader – if you are then that’s wonderful – but as an “expert” in something then you might be called upon to speak on a topic, during which there should be ample opportunity to substitute words. As a teacher or other person who engages an audience over a long period of time then you can make that word substitution pretty much permanent.
The goal of this is to distinguish between civilized living, and all other types of living: a distinction that, as I have said, most people have absolutely no awareness of. The idea that civilization is just one particular way of living needs to be repeated, and repeated. As your undermining efforts develop then you can make this distinction between real, connected living and civilized life in ever more strident terms. Over time, and with sufficient effort from many quarters, people will inevitably become deprogrammed from a passive acceptance of the culture.
Once deprogrammed, they can stop pacing and start walking away.
Quick Win: The Phone-In
Even as a caller to a phone-in then you can have some impact, especially if the show either has a huge audience or is targeted at people who are in the Innovator or Early Adopter categories. Be prepared for a few nerves. When I call up my favourite targets for undermining I tend to get a bit hot under the collar because I probably take things too seriously, and to be honest if you are too earnest about what you are saying then listeners are less likely to take to you in a positive way; so go into the call with a little levity and a smile and you should be fine.
As to the content of the call, it’s amazing how easy it is to slip purposeful word substitution in, as well as making some other points that could undermine the Veil of Ignorance. Most day time phone-ins are related to some social or political topic, and given that almost all social problems are rooted in civilized life, and politics in general is a civilized beast, then your message is bound to be relevant on some level.
Don’t be afraid of correcting the presenter, either. If they refer to “society” or “people” then respond, “Don’t you mean civilization / civilized people?” If they shrug this off then insist; if they engage you in your argument then push ahead. You can’t really fail because in any case you will have exposed the civilized world for what it is in some way.
If you’re not too busy, then do it again, on some other show.
The Information Clearing House
On a computer of mine I have a file called insurance.aes256. I am not the only one. Nor am I the only one to be helping other people to obtain this file and store it on their computers to be shared out to others. I don’t know if this file contains anything important, it could be empty, but there are people who desperately, urgently want to know its contents. Some of those people are petrified that it contains information that they want to keep secret and that somehow it may have slipped, unnoticed, out of the back door. These people will do all they can to ensure that information is never revealed – but what can you do about a file that is so deeply encrypted that the most powerful computers in the world would take until beyond the end of the Earth’s existence to crack the cipher? Remove every copy of it? Some chance – the genie is well out of the bottle. And if you do decide to pursue this crazy dream then what if it is empty?
The idea of a heavily encrypted file being widely shared that might contain valuable, confidential information is a tremendously simple form of undermining. Freedom of Information is complex and far too large a subject to be covered here in any detail: if you want to get some decent background information then I recommend you plunder the archives of both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the general freedom advocacy group Article 19.13 From an undermining point of view though, as we have seen, the apparently benign act of Exposure can be the endgame in certain undermining acts. Take the example of Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 was finally – after years of research and lobbying – able to see his wishes of a full release of the infamous Pentagon Papers come to fruition.
The Pentagon Papers detailed the many lies and cover-ups made by a succession of US government administrations during the course of the Vietnam War; acts that helped ensure the public remained largely on side during a campaign that killed untold thousands of innocent people in the pursuit of a political ideology. It is common knowledge today that the Vietnam War had almost nothing to do with protecting people; instead it was about ensuring that America continued having political and economic influence in South-East Asia. Ellsberg would have preferred to have remained an anonymous source, but this was never likely given the number of parties he offered the Papers to, and he was to have an uncomfortable few years in exchange for his whistle-blowing efforts. Nevertheless, as former Senator Birch Bayh stated:
The existence of these documents, and the fact that they said one thing and the people were led to believe something else, is a reason we have a credibility gap today, the reason people don’t believe the government. This is the same thing that’s been going on over the last two-and-a-half years of this administration. There is a difference between what the President says and what the government actually does, and I have confidence that they are going to make the right decision, if they have all the facts.14
If Bayh is right, then the release of the Pentagon Papers was one of the most significant acts of undermining ever carried out; for it turned a public otherwise slavishly observant of everything civilized governments say, into a public that would always be distrustful of anything said by representatives of those same governments. That Ellsberg did not lose his life, as some less fortunate whistleblowers have, is testament to keeping the story and the main protagonist in the public eye once it became obvious who that protagonist was. The same applies to the modern, if rather conceited, version of Daniel Ellsberg – Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, who has been outspoken in his aims, and remained in the public eye in order, most likely, to keep himself alive.
We must be careful in highlighting certain cases that have become globally known. Whistle-blowing and associated acts, such as the leaking of documents, are taking place all the time with few repercussions upon the protagonists themselves. Undermining in terms of making information that should be available, available, is not just random whistle-blowing or leaking, though; it has two specific purposes.
First, we have to bear in mind that without useful information, most types of undermining will stall at the Investigation stage. A corporation, media outlet or government provides only the information that it wants you to see, which is not likely to be the information you want to see. The information you want to see could be anywhere, and could come from anywhere; thus, there needs to be some way of reducing this information entropy so that Underminers can get what they need. Centralisation is not necessarily a desirable aim, as a centralised system is easy to shut down compared to a distributed system15, but something is required that suits the needs of the Underminer. Whatever that is, it has to make the release and propagation of useful information easy, efficient and relatively risk-free. The risk-free element is important because those who have privileged information are unlikely to even want to risk their jobs, let alone their safety.
Second, we want to make it impossible for those that would keep information from the people whose world is being destroyed as a result of our failure to know what is going on, to keep information in a privileged manner at all. In other words, there needs to be no point in keeping things secret because the information is bound to come out anyway. This is perhaps a less realistic purpose, given the nature of commerce and politics, but it is truly within the spirit of undermining that the foundations upon which something is built are made so weak that further building becomes a hazardous task.
Both of these purposes are closely entwined in such a way that they can be addressed under one task heading; albeit a huge task that is already engaging millions of people across the world and has already caused untold fallout both good and bad.
Task 8: Information Freedom
Imagine a perfect system of information exchange.
Maybe you have a better imagination than me, but I am struggling to come up with anything that would qualify as “perfect”. Even saying something to the person standing next to you, in a clear voice, within a quiet, otherwise unoccupied room is subject to misinterpretation. So you say everything twice, and ask the other person to repeat back to you what you said and what it means; and then they get hit by a car on the way out.
So let’s not try and imagine something perfect, instead build – at least in theory – something that fulfils the information needs of the Underminer, while also making the lives of those who withhold privileged and damaging information very difficult indeed.
The first observation is that any system of information exchange has to be “media neutral”. Useful information can come in the form of the spoken word, symbols and signs, written text or illustrations, printed matter, recorded materials in a dizzying array of formats, electronic data either in physical storage or in transit, and everything in between. Clearly the vast majority of available useful information comes in electronic form at present, but so does a tsunami of useless, and potentially offputting, data; meaning that it is actually very difficult in the age of electronic communications to sort out what is useful and what is not. Other forms of information may be far more useful, but more difficult to deliver – such as printed confidential documents or physical recordings made covertly. We potentially need it all.
Second, the system has to observe the maxim that any information may be potentially useful, and thus the provision of information is a matter for the provider, and the use of that information is a matter for the user. It is not down to any intermediary, i.e. whatever might be transporting the information from the source to the destination, to decide whether something is worth transporting. Obviously whoever provides the transportation means has the right to opt-out of fulfilling their role based on potential risk, but ideally the transportation process will be one that negates the need to make that decision.
Third, there has to be provision for any party that requires protection from detection, to at least put some protection in place; although it is preferable that protection should exist regardless of whether special efforts are made by the various parties involved. This includes allowing for information to be “scrubbed” of any handling evidence, be it electronic headers, fingerprints, background noise that might identify who recorded the information or any other incriminating artefacts. As a side note: nothing can be completely “idiot proof” and as I have pointed out repeatedly, Underminers must always be aware of the risks to themselves and others, and take appropriate steps to reduce those risks.
Finally, any system must make it technically easy for information to be deposited and retrieved to ensure that no-one, within reason, is excluded from the process. As described in Part One, it is often the people who are in the most lowly (but also critical) positions in society who have access to some of the most useful information. If any obstacles are placed in the way, such as requiring knowledge of data authentication keys or having to travel vast distances, then the information may be lost at the first hurdle.
This is sounding like a horribly complex task, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s say, for instance, that the information an Underminer needs is held in a particular building or on a particular computer server. The system put in place only has to account for the needs of those that are in contact with that resource. The above list is idealistic to a certain extent, but so long as the general principles are observed within the context of the information required then a viable system can be put in place with only a little effort. The following example of the Dead Letter Box exemplifies this well, but with a couple of important provisos:
DLB is an acronym for dead-letter box. It is also called a dead drop. A DLB is a physical location where material is covertly placed for another person to collect without direct contact between the parties.
Good locations for dead-letter boxes are nooks and crannies in public buildings, niches in brick walls, in and around public trash receptacles, in and around trees and shrubs, a third-party’s mail box, between books in a public library, inside the paper towel dispenser of restaurant washrooms, and so on. The key to success is ingenuity. If the item being passed can be disguised as a discarded candy wrapper or hidden inside a cigarette butt, etc., so much the better.
Step 1: The ready-to-fill signal
Let’s suppose that you need to deliver a document to your contact. The first thing you do is transmit a “ready-to-fill” signal. You need to tell your contact that you’re ready to fill the DLB with your material.
For example, you might place a piece of chewing gum on a lamp post at a pre-arranged location at a pre-arranged time (perhaps the second Tuesday of each month at 1:30 pm).
The trick is in using signals that can be easily seen by a lot of people. This means that your contact does not have to compromise his/her security while reading your signal.
Step 2: The ready-to-pickup signal
When your contact sees the ready-to-fill signal, he/she will send a ready-to-pickup signal. Again, this signal must be sent at a pre-arranged time and location, say at 2:00 pm. It might be a chalk mark on a traffic signpost or back of a park bench.
When you see the ready-to-pickup acknowledgement, you must fill the DLB within 15 minutes (ie by 2:15 pm). After placing your materials in the DLB, you immediately return and remove your ready-to-fill signal, thereby indicating to your contact that the box is filled.
Step 3: The all-clear signal
Upon seeing that your ready-to-fill signal has been removed, your contact goes to the DLB and retrieves the material that you’ve placed there for him/her. This must be accomplished before a pre-arranged deadline, say 2:30 pm. Your contact then returns and removes his/her ready-to-pickup signal, indicating that the box has been emptied.
When you see this all-clear signal, you leave the area. However, if you don’t see the signal by a pre-arranged time, you return to the DLB and retrieve the material in order to prevent it from falling into unauthorized hands.
This system of signals can be made even more secure by using positive acknowledgement signals instead of simply removing existing signals, of course.
Providing security for your DLB
To maintain watertight security for your DLB, simply weave a number of fake DLB locations into your routine on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Narrow passageways between buildings, covered pathways in public parks, nearby dumpsters behind restaurants… all these are ideal.16
What is evident in the description is that each party has to have arranged something in advance and thus will have some connection, even if only indirectly. This increases the risk to both parties, so I would add to this the need to utilise an existing secure method of communication to instigate initial contact. In addition, this method assumes the materials will not be intercepted, whereas in other systems this is almost a certainty, so it is important to decide in all cases whether the materials need to be laundered in some way to reduce the risk of tracking back to the originator.
So long as anything put in place observes the general principles then it can be as small and simple or as large and complex as you want. If you want to provide a way for others to leak information about nothing but pesticides, then so long as that is stated then you are providing a valuable service for those that can provide and use information about pesticides. Furthermore, you may be – and most likely only ever want to be – a contributor to the general purpose of information openness; so if you are able to host a few files, or act as a node for information to pass through, or perhaps help with sifting information into relevant areas, then that is still vital work. I won’t go into the technical details of doing this, but rest assured there are plenty of opportunities for carrying out this kind of work, some of which I have already hinted at, and this leads onto how it is possible to fulfil the second purpose of this undermining task: that of making information secrecy obsolete.
Sheer volume and ubiquity of normally privileged information is the key. Prior to September 2011, the information freedom group WikiLeaks had only been releasing a small portion at a time of the now historically significant Cablegate data. Yes, it is tedious work verifying the integrity of such information and removing personal details where innocent parties would be put at risk, but in many ways the Cablegate release was a PR effort made to continue the promotion of Wikileaks. More significant is the unknowable quantity of useful information sloshing around the edges of the Internet; in unsecure office filing cabinets and unlocked drawers; in the hands of “lowly” administrative, delivery, processing and disposal workers; in the heads of the same people, and far more who just happen to have been entrusted with the information because they are willing workers who would never betray the trust of their masters. All of this and so much more are waiting to be made available at the touch of a button and the passingof a memo. Such a huge volume of information requires a huge range and number of different outlets and methods of transmission, any of which you may be able to create or be a part of.
The tipping point comes around when the amount of useful information that is freed exceeds the amount of information that is kept out of view. If a company or a government cannot plug the leaks through normal means then they have three choices:
1) Sack and/or have everyone arrested as a possible suspect, thus making continued operation impossible without a complete restaffing of new people, who will incidentally already be exposed to the possibility of leaking information.
2) Make conditions so draconian that anyone who operates within their orbit will truly feel like a slave and will be unwilling to continue.
3) Make all information openly available.
If you know where I am coming from you will already have realised that by making secrecy an unattainable goal you are actually making industrial civilization completely untenable. Civilization thrives on peoples’ ignorance, which is what this entire chapter has been about redressing. Hierarchy and edifices of power can only exist where people are unaware of their true aims and methods of attaining these aims. Do you really think that corporate slavery would be accepted in human society if people were not led to believe it was for their own good rather than the good of those who sit at the very top?
I am not saying that through the vital tasks in this chapter that the whole of civilization will be able to look at itself and roundabout, and understand with startling clarity what the truth is. For one, we, the Underminers, are but few at the moment. But I do know that with ingenuity, courage and effort we will start to remove the Veil of Ignorance from the minds of those who continue to believe that Industrial Civilization is the one right way to live.
This will make what is to follow a whole lot easier.
CLICK FOR CHAPTER 7 (PART 1)
1 Philip Verwimp, “Machetes and Firearms: The Organisation of Massacres in Rwanda”, Jour. Peace Research (2006), 43, 5-22.
2 Full title: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
3 Debrett’s, “How to Address The Queen”, http://www.debretts.com/forms-of-address/the-royal-family/communicating-with-the-queen/addressing-the-queen.aspx (accessed June 2011).
4 I use the term “police officer” and “policeman/policewoman” interchangeably here, but in some jurisdictions there is a distinction, with police officer implying an official of a corporation (a state, an incorporated police force, a private force etc.) and policeman/policewoman implying someone who only deals in Common Law. Rarely in civil society are the two considered as separate roles.
5 “Chinese Cultural Connection: Chinese values and the search for culture-free dimensions of culture”, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology (1987), 18, 143-164.
6 Egalitarian is simply the opposite of hierarchical. It differs slightly from anarchy, in that anarchy also refuses to permit the presence of leaders who have not earned that position according to the rest of the group over which that leader has power, however temporary. In practice, where there is no hierarchy there are unlikely to be any de facto leaders.
7 Richard Borchay Lee, “Eating Christmas in The Kalahari”, Natural History, December 1969.
8 Peter Gray, “How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways: Three Complementary Theories”, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201105/how-hunter-gatherers-maintained-their-egalitarian-ways-three-complementary?page=2 (accessed July 2011).
9 Riane Eisler, “The Real Wealth of Nations”, Berrett Koehler, 2007.
10 Bear in mind that shit is also of genuine practical use, as described in The Humanure Handbook (http://humanurehandbook.com, 2005) and, to further defend myself against accusations of misuse, this refers to excrement in its raw, floaty state – not something to be enjoyed!
11 Insert name of latest A-list fashion victim here.
12 Keith Farnish, “The Problem With…Civilization”, The Earth Blog, 2008 (http://earth-blog.bravejournal.com/entry/27929, accessed August 2011).
13 To be found at, respectively, www.eff.org and www.article19.org.
14 “1971 Year in Review: The Pentagon Papers”, UPI, http://www.upi.com/Audio/Year_in_Review/Events-of-1971/The-Pentagon-Papers/12295509436546-7/ (accessed August 2011).
15 Note that “system” in this context does not necessarily mean Computer System; it could be anything that has a structure that enables information to be processed in some way, be that word of mouth and ideas, physical documents or electronic data.
16 “How to set up and use a dead-letter box…”, originally published by Spy & Counterspy, republished at http://www.ncmilitia.org/spycounterspy/fs015.html (accessed September 2011).
Version 1.01, published 24 October, 2012