Book Review by Pontiac: "Understanding Social Movements" Feb 25, 2019 3:14:06 GMT
Post by qpooqpoo on Feb 25, 2019 3:14:06 GMT
The following review is submitted for publication on this website by a correspondent of mine who writes under the pseudonym "Pontiac." I urge everyone seriously interested in the anti-technology cause to read it, and to study the works it recommends carefully:
January 31, 2019
Steven M. Buechler, Understanding Social Movements: Theories from the Classical Era to the Present, Routledge, New York, 2016.
This book is a sorry piece of work that exemplifies the wretched condition into which the social sciences have sunk in America today. Nevertheless, the book can be extremely useful, as we will explain further on.
Let's begin by noting that Buechler (pages 1-2) excludes from the study of social movements everything that preceded the 18th century. Thus, he approvingly quotes Neidhardt and Rucht, who claim that the "idea of conscious collective activity having the capacity to change society as a whole came only with the era of enlightenment" (that is, with the 18th-century philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment). This statement reveals a profound ignorance of history, for there are plenty of examples predating the 18th century of "conscious collective activity" that aspired to "change society as a whole." One crystal-clear example is that of the Wat Tyler Rebellion, also called the Peasants' Revolt, of 1381, in England.1 Other examples are the movement led by Thomas Müntzer during the Reformation and the movement described by William TeBrake.2 And Trotsky, among others, has noticed that during the Middle Ages, heretical movements which superficially seemed only to challenge religious doctrines were in reality movements for social change.3 The exclusion of pre-Enlightenment social movements from the sociologists' field of study is not merely a formal matter; it subjects us to the risk of missing insights that might have been reached if the earlier movements had been taken into consideration.
The pathetic state of sociology today is nicely pointed up by Buechler's statement (page 27) that "social action always produces unintended and unanticipated consequences. The general principle is one of sociology's most profound insights... ." Profound insight? It's no more than a special case of the commonplace observation that a substantial change made in any complex system will have unintended and unanticipated consequences.4 If sociology has achieved no insights more profound than that one, then it hasn't achieved much.
On page 86, Buechler sneers at Eric Hoffer's acknowledged classic, The True Believer, calling it "reductionistic and sensationalistic." Here Buechler reveals a mediocre professional's jealousy of an amateur who, unlike himself, has real ideas and insights. There is nothing sensationalistic about Hoffer's True Believer other than the fact that it discusses the "sensational" revolutionary movements of the earlier 20th century such as communism and fascism. Is every book that discusses these movements to be labeled "sensationalistic"? The claim that The True Believer is reductionistic is just plain silly. Hoffer explicitly disavows any attempt to reduce the truth about mass movements to any given set of facts or principles. In his preface he writes: "this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths as long as they seem to hint at a new approach and help to formulate new questions." And in § 43: "[This book's] explanations—all of them theories—are in the nature of suggestions and arguments even when they are stated in what seems a categorical tone." Thus, Hoffer claims to be expressing no more than some part of the truth about mass movements, and even that part only on a speculative basis.
The charge of reductionism could more plausibly be leveled at the professional sociologists themselves. For example, many sociologists have aspired to reduce the study of social phenomena to "genuinely scientific," mathematical explanations "on a par with the natural sciences."5 It is hard to believe that sociologists could be so naive, yet many have been. Physics and chemistry were able to develop mechanistic theories that actually worked, and worked reliably, only because even the most complex phenomena explained by these theories are extremely simple in comparison with an entire human society. The complexity of human societies guarantees that they will react in unpredictable ways, as Buechler himself notes on page 27. Even where sociologists have not been naive enough to try to reduce the study of social movements to statistical data and mathematical equations, a reading of Buechler reveals a tendency on their part to try to reduce the study to one or another theory, such as the resource-mobilization theory or the political-process theory. In fairness, it should be pointed out that many sociologists have recognized that any one of their theories forms only a single strand in a complex skein and that, in the study of a given movement, elements taken from different theories may need to be combined.
But there is a critical deficiency in the work of most6 present-day American sociologists: it is the absence of any explicit recognition of what is far and away the most important7 social movement of the last half-century, namely, leftism, or, as some would prefer to call it, the "progressive" movement. In a general way, Buechler does recognize the existence of leftism and the presence of leftist elements in sociology, for he writes:
Many current... scholars [who study social movements] are former movement activists who subsequently acquired academic credentials but still draw upon their activist biography to define the agenda for social movement scholarship. (Page 4)
[The sixties] witnessed one of the most significant waves of social, economic, political, and cultural protest in the entire history of the United States. ...These sociohistorical events changed sociology.... The discipline became academically popular and its rapid expansion dovetailed with a more politicized, leftward drift among many of the baby boomer generation who entered sociology.... (Pages 109- 110)
[During the 1980s and 1990s] the areas of race and ethnicity, class and power, sex and gender, peace and justice became particularly popular as reflected in the growth of the American Sociological Association (ASA) sections in these areas. These also tended to be more politicized areas of study that eschewed ‘objectivity’ in favor of a more partisan approach. (Page 178; see also pages 125-26, 179)
Thus Buechler recognizes that the new movements and the sociologists who study them have something vaguely in common (a "leftward drift"), but he nowhere acknowledges the obvious fact that these movements are in reality branches of a single, unified movement, as shown by their mutual cohesion and by the marked tendency of the individual activists to support all of these movements simultaneously.8 Buechler shows not the slightest interest in exploring the nature of this movement as a whole, or investigating the motivations of its adherents. The reason, of course, is that Buechler, like the great majority of American sociologists today, is a leftist himself.
One might be tempted to conclude that the book we are reviewing is useless. But in fact this book can be of great utility as a guide to the rich literature on social movements.
Today, millions of people all over the world are coming to realize that modern technology has us on the road to disaster, but as scattered individuals they can accomplish nothing. The most important task that confronts us is to organize these people into an effective movement. To that end we need to understand, as far as possible, the dynamics of social movements, and we need to learn techniques of organization. For these purposes the works cited by Buechler and listed in his bibliography can be extremely valuable. Pontiac therefore advises every serious opponent of modern technology to undertake an earnest exploration of Buechler's bibliography. Pontiac himself has thus far had opportunity to read only a few of the works listed therein, but has every intention of reading many more in the future.
Some of the books listed in Buechler's bibliography are the work of bygone generations of scholars, yet still are useful today. However, the texts most useful for our purposes appear to be those written by left-wing activists or by sociologists who entered the field after the 1960s. As one would expect, these works—at least those that Pontiac has seen—have a leftward slant, sometimes an egregiously leftward slant. For example, Harvey Molotch9 gives a wildly distorted picture of what the media have said about "activist" movements, completely ignoring the strong—in fact, dominant—element of sympathy for the goals of such movements (though not always for their methods) commonly shown by the media.10 William G. Martin's compilation11 reeks of leftism throughout; his collaborators attribute all evil to "savage capitalism" and portray all politically incorrect actions by "oppressed" groups as having been somehow forced on them by capitalists.12 And Martin explicitly describes himself and his collaborators as "scholar activists."13
But the authors' leftism by no means destroys the utility of these works for anti-tech purposes. In their statements of fact related to past and present social movements one must of course be alert to the possibility of ideologically motivated distortion, and it will often be advisable to check their facts against less politicized sources. But, by and large, their information about techniques of building social movements can be assumed to be relatively objective, because these authors would like nothing better than to help activists build movements, so they have every reason to provide accurate descriptions of effective techniques. If their techniques are in a few cases affected by the fact that their goals are leftist, such cases should be easy to spot.
Here are a couple of examples of what anti-techers can learn from these authors:
• A critically important requirement for the cohesion of a radical organization is the existence of strong opposition to it.14 Therefore the anti-tech movement should not try to avoid, but should actively seek the hostility of mainstream opinion.
• The achievement of subsidiary goals—that is, goals that are steps along the road to an organization's ultimate goal—helps to raise the organization's morale and maintain its cohesion. So in order to establish the credibility of a nascent organization and build its members' morale, one needs to set short-term subsidiary goals in pursuing which the organization will have a high probability of success.15
Of most immediate utility for anti-techers today are techniques of direct personal interaction with people whom they want to recruit and organize. This kind of information can be found in W.A. Gamson, B. Fireman, and S. Rytina, Encounters with Unjust Authority, Dorsey Press, Homewood, Illinois, 1982; Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1989; and O.M. Collective, The Organizer's Manual, Bantam Books, New York, 1971.16 These last two works are unequivocally and unabashedly leftist, and Pontiac is acquainted with a gentleman who, having read Alinsky's book, dismissed it as useless solely on the ground that Alinsky was a leftist. We may suppose that if this gentleman were a military engineer during wartime, he would scorn to learn useful technology from captured military equipment solely because the technology had been developed by the enemy. We would be fools if, like the gentleman in question, we scorned to use effective techniques of recruitment and organization merely because we had learned them from leftists.
One may reasonably ask, however, whether the utility of the books we've been discussing (other than Buechler's) is impaired by the fact that most of them were written four or five decades ago and therefore are "dated." The majority of the techniques they describe are based on constants of human nature, and therefore are likely to remain valid until human beings have been replaced by machines or by biologically engineered freaks. But in some respects the techniques are indeed out of date; for example, contacts through the mail or by telephone now will be mostly replaced with contacts through the Internet. For this reason, Pontiac strongly advises anti-techers not only to undertake a careful study of older books like those we've mentioned here, but also to conduct a diligent search for information about the use of modern electronic media for recruitment and organization. On this subject see Buechler, pages 220-22.
Once anti-techers have been alerted to the existence of this rich literature on the strategy and tactics of organizing and building social movements, failure to explore that literature can only be attributed to laziness.
1. See, e.g., Dan Jones, The Plantagenets, Revised Edition, Viking, New York, 2013, pages 447-453.
2. William H. TeBrake, A Plague of Insurrection, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1993. See page 10, referring to "the rebels' professed goal of ridding the countryside of all privilege."
3. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Pathfinder, New York, 1980, Vol. Two, pages 66-67.
4. This point has often been noted. See, e.g., Roberto Vacca, The Coming Dark Age, Doubleday, 1973, page 13; Bill Joy, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us," Wired, April 2000, page 239; Kaczynski, Anti-Tech Revolution, Chapter One, Part II; ISAIF, paragraphs 101-05.
5. Buechler, pages 76, 97; Mayer N. Zald & John D. McCarthy (editors), Dynamics of Social Movements, Winthrop Publishers, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1979, pages 212-237.
6. Most but not all. The sociologist Paul Hollander, The Survival of the Adversary Culture, Transaction Books, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1988, not only has recognized the existence and importance of the leftist or progressive movement (which he calls the "adversary culture"), but has pointed out its overpowering influence on academic sociology in America. See, e.g., pages 14, 26, 142, 282. Regrettably, Hollander's book does not seem to have received the attentions of a copy editor or a proofreader; it is loaded with misspellings, typographical errors, etc.
7. Most important if one does not consider science to be a social movement.
8. See, for example, ISAIF, paragraph 229; Kaczynski, Technological Slavery, Preface to the First and Second Editions, point 3, and "The System's Neatest Trick;" Anti-Tech Revolution (2016), page 97.
9. Zald & McCarthy, op. cit., pages 77-80.
10. Compare "The System's Neatest Trick," in Kaczynski, Technological Slavery.
11. William G. Martin (coordinator), Making Waves: Worldwide Social Movements, 1750-2005, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder, Colorado, 2008.
12. Ibid., e.g., pages 83, 132, 139, 140-41, 147-149, 152-53.
13. Ibid., page 179.
14. Zald & McCarthy, op. cit., pages 181, 187.
15. Ibid., pages 30, 72, 183.
16. These last two books are not cited by Buechler, but are cited in Zald & McCarthy's book, which does appear in Buechler's bibliography.