October 6, 2009
The Shifting Political Sand PileBy Publius Valerius Publicola
Why did the Tea Party / Town Hall protests surprise so many in the political establishment? Why did they make Democrats recoil in horror and send Republicans running for cover when confronted by them? Why did the White House claim to be unaware of the protests and the media feel compelled to ignore and diminish them even when they mobilized hundreds of thousands in demonstrations around the country?
Why did the NY Times find "unnamed ‘Republican officials'... fret over a backlash" to the Tea Parties and downplay their significance? Why are Republicans "wary of the anger directed at all politicians"? After all, the politicians that this strong, passionate grass-roots movement are mostly angry with are Democrats.
The answer may be found in something called "Complexity Theory".
Complexity Theory deals with understanding the processes which are involved in the workings of highly complicated, interrelated systems in various areas: ecology, sociology, economics, computers and many other disciplines.
To better understand the relation of Complexity Theory to politics, let's examine a deceptively simple system: a pile of sand.
Imagine grains of sand, all exactly the same size and weight and all being dropped at the same rate onto a flat metal dish one grain at a time. At first there appears to be no organized symmetry to the placement of the grains which spread all over the dish. Eventually however, the grains "self-organize"; that is, they tend to pile up in the center of the plate. As more of the grains are dropped, the pile eventually grows into a small cone in the center of the dish. Of course, the surface of the cone is the most easily visible part of it, but it represents a minority of the entire pile which exists inside the cone.
With each new grain of sand placed on the surface of the pile the stresses on the internal grains, pushed and pressured against each other by the increasing number of new grains dropped on the surface, grows. One internal grain pushes on another nearby; that grain, under its own pressures, presses against one in close proximity to it that exerts pressure on a series of grains in some direction. This incredibly complicated and virtually unpredictable interconnecting pressure and counter-pressure ultimately releases itself someplace on the surface, causing a mass movement of grains in a "landslide". The location of the "landslide" on the surface of the cone can't be predicted nor "controlled" no matter how much one tries to tinker with the weight of the grains or the location where or the rate at which they are dropped. The internal sand grain stresses are as completely invisible to those grains on the surface as subterranean fault lines are invisible to surface dwelling people that are affected by them during an earthquake.
Surface dwellers continue on as usual, ignorant of the pressures on the grains which will eventually cause their placid world to wildly shift. Some of those surface grains will be buried in the "landslide" released by energy resulting from internal pressures. Should the pressure on the internal grains be very powerful and widespread, the entire shape of the sand pile cone may drastically destabilize and appear greatly changed.
Applying this model is useful in explaining the current political reality.
Since Barack Obama announced his presidential campaign, a series of events have dropped like grains on top of the sand pile of American politics
These events and issue "sand grains" include Obama's personal story, his radical associations, TARP 1, wide-scale Republican defeats, the Mortgage Crisis, the Recession, AIG, the Auto Industry and Bank bailouts, the multi-trillion dollar stimulus, the pork-laden omnibus spending bill, the apology tour, the worsening war in Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program, the unread 1000 page bills, the numerous unconfirmed "Czars", media complicity in the Obama personality cult, the rancorous Health Care debate, ACORN and more...
With each new grain dropped the underlying stresses grew more intense until certain interior political grains, which constitute the overwhelming majority, began to move, unseen and undetected by those enjoying a false stability on the surface.
Pressures caused them to press against each other because of the weight of the issue and event "grains" being dropped above. The pressure grew until the unseen series of interactions between interior conservative and progressive grains caused an unexpected reaction on the surface.
For example, "Right Principles", was a conservative grassroots "sand-grain" created in reaction to events taking place on the surface. It posted an innocuous memo on an obscure website regarding how to get noticed by disdainful politicians in Town Hall meetings, which was randomly picked from the millions of internet interconnections and distorted by a Leftwing interior grain (ThinkProgress.com) on the other side of the sand pile that propagated the memo virally.
This shift was neither deliberate nor controlled. But once set in motion, it made its way to the surface and caused a tremor. Seeking to exploit the Think Progress distortion the Democrat National Committee, which currently dominates the surface crust, decided to "take control of the story" and change the narrative from one of genuine protest into one of manufactured conspiracy theory.
They sought to control events and use it for their own ends via the de-legitimization of all conservative "grains", most of which were totally unaware of Right Principles itself before the memo was popularized by the DNC.
Instead of control they fueled a grassroots revolution.
Stresses between the subsurface grains destabilized the conditions on the usually tranquil surface causing an uncontrollable landslide which is now threatening to engulf Obama's health care plan, his popularity and a slew of swing district Blue Dogs in its wake.
Although initially stunned, the surface dwellers reacted as usual: they attempted to control the landslide with kneejerk, bare-knuckled tactics. But tactics that were very successful in a 20th Century media environment of newspapers, "Fairness Doctrines" and network television are not adapted to the far more open, interconnected and decentralized nature of a 21st Century encompassing multiple cable TV stations, Talk Radio and limitless internet sources.
The Big Lie technique worked with one family radio in the 1930s or 3 TV stations in the 1970s or a few cable channels in the 1980s. But now everyone with a laptop in the basement is a reporter, every Mom is a celebrity on Facebook and everybody with a website is an activist.
In this environment the DNC's lie was completely exposed in 3 days and galvanized the conservatives.
The more those on the surface, especially Statists who are defined by their desire to control, tried to manipulate the uncontrollable (by attempting to disparage and de-legitimize conservative protest) the more intense the protests grew.
The Republicans face a similar situation, but also have an opportunity... if they are smart enough to seize it.
While they gloat over the Democrats' problems they are fearful for their own electoral safety since they dread that what is occurring on the Democrat side of the surface will happen to them. Their own outdated attempts to control or co-opt it may prove equally inadequate; surface landslides may also engulf them.
But they cannot control the landside and attempting to do so will destroy them in the process. It cannot be comforting for Republicans to look out at 100,000 plus people on the Washington mall, who should all be part of their natural constituency, booing any mention of their last presidential candidate and cheering speeches that proclaim their movement is not "Republican". This begs the question: "Why isn't it?"
Republicans must understand that interior constituencies are creating new surface configurations; to survive in those configurations requires abandoning their delusional fiction of a Big Tent and understand that establishment Republicans In Name Only (RINOs) may find themselves becoming extinct in this new environment.
After all, can anything be more existentially futile than trying to ride an extinct animal to victory?
Uncontrollability is the essence of complexity. When unexpected sub-surface interconnections shift, all its pent-up energy shakes the surface of the political sand pile. Attempts to deny or control this are doomed. An organic political movement can't be channeled or "led" anymore than an unsuspected landslide can be channeled or "led".
It isn't "led"; it leads.
This de-centralized, interconnected, uncontrollable movement is 21st Century politics. It has made the top-down mentality increasingly irrelevant or obsolete. To survive and prosper, one must understand that the only certainty is that the very nature of modern society precludes political certainty.
To succeed one must understand decentralized, organic power is NOT subject to the sclerotic thinking associated with the centralized control mentality of the 20th Century.
This obsolescent mentality plagues the political outlook of both dinosaur parties, who arrogantly think their ability to control events is permanent. It blinds them to the tectonic political plates shifting below which can, quite suddenly, alter the entire shape of politics in this country.