Process small-d democrats?
"Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real Liberty." --Roberts Rules of Order
Another important post from The Archdruid. It's all good, but this point on process caught my eye:
After months of circular debate that never quite managed to result in meaningful action, the vast majority of the [Occupy] protesters were convinced that their concerns would not be addressed and their efforts were wasted, and simply went home. This would be significant enough if it was new; in point of fact, it’s been the outcome of nearly every attempt at organized protest since the early 1980s, when the current suite of manipulative* pseudoconsensus methods were adopted across most of the activist Left. If you want to know why the Left accomplished next to nothing for thirty years, while activists on the right were getting candidates into office and laws on the books, that’s an important part of the reason.This is all the more embarrassing in that the toolkit of democratic process has been sitting on the shelf the whole time, waiting for somebody to notice that liberal and radical groups in the past used to use methods of organization that, however unfashionable they have become, actually work. There are a lot of details, and entire books in fine print have been written on the minutiae, but the core elements of democratic process can be described in a paragraph.This is how it works. Everyone has an equal voice and an equal vote, but the right to participate depends on willingness to follow the rules, and members can be ejected for abusive behavior; the chairperson of the meeting, and the handful of other people needed to make it work, are elected to be impartial referees of the process, and can be overruled or removed by vote if they abuse their positions; one person speaks at a time, and the chairperson determines who speaks next; an overly longwinded speaker can be told to shut up by the chairperson, or by vote of the members; once a vote takes place on any issue, the issue can’t be brought back up for debate again without a 2/3 majority, to keep a minority with an agenda from holding the meeting hostage; and the goal of the meeting, and of every part of the process, is to come to a decision, act on it, and get home at a reasonable hour.
That’s democratic process. It evolved organically over many centuries from its origins in the rough but functional practices of Anglo-Saxon tribal assemblies, and like other organic systems, it looks much sloppier but works much better than the idealized abstractions cooked up by radicals on either end of the spectrum. It’s easy to compare it unfavorably to one or another of those idealized abstractions, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating; those who want to demonstrate that some other system is as effective as democratic process are welcome to use that other system on smaller scales, with voluntary organizations and local communities, and prove that it works. That was, after all, how democratic process emerged as the default option in the Western world: in actual practice, in an assortment of voluntary organizations, local communities, political parties and protest groups, it proved to be more effective than the alternatives.
As I remind people periodically, I'm a writer, not an organizer. So, from the Barcalounger: When we went to OccupyDC, I was very impressed by the ability of three or four people to bootstrap a crowd into a general assembly, using nothing other than their own voices. That said, the meeting was almost immediately disrupted, and it wasn't clear what the meeting accomplished other than bootstrapping itself (again, no mean feat). And in some ways that pre-figured the fate of Occupy in the coming year. Maybe, as the Archdruid points out, given the current baseline for dialectic and rhetoric in the general population, that's the best we can do: Keep bootstrapping , and... and...
The history of Roberts Rules of Order is a propos:
[Robert]'s interest in parliamentary procedure began in 1863 when he was chosen to preside over a church meeting and, although he accepted the task, felt that he did not have the necessary knowledge of proper procedure. In his later work as an active member of several organizations, he discovered that members from different areas of the country had very different views regarding what the proper parliamentary rules were, and these conflicting views hampered the organizations in their work. He eventually became convinced of the need for a new manual on the subject, one which would enable many organizations to adopt the same set of rules.
So, the social context for Roberts Rules is America's westward expansion (slaughtering as we went, I grant): That's how we ended up with a requirement for a lot of new organizations, all over the country, to adopt rules, and to adopt consistent rules, because geographical and social mobility meant that meetings would find it harder than they otherwise might to get themselves bootstrapped. Notice that Occupy faced an equivalent organization problems: A sudden or at least new requirement to organize meetings on a continental scale, in a context of geographical and social mobility. The 1860s solution was to write and distribute an operating manual or rule book. (This was the solution for AA in the 1930s as well.) The Occupy solution to bootstrapping, so far as I can tell -- readers with more experience please correct! -- was to rely on volunteers with practical knowledge to initiate the bootstrapping process; sometimes these volunteers were enthusiastic newbies; at other times, they came from other Occupations, in a form of apostolic succession. (I'm guessing that when the history of Occupy is written, Occupiers traveling between cities, by bus, bike, or on foot, will seem more important than they do today. [Adding: See this "Eulogy for Occupy"] The problem with Occupy's approach is two-fold: (1) It relies on the personal authority of whoever bootstrapped the meeting, and for myself, I'd rather have a rule book to refer to;** and (2) it doesn't, based on outcomes, scale continentally. As a result, Occupy seemed like a canopy fire that, paradoxically, never reached the ground and burned out prematurely.
As FDR said, "Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another." There's something to be said for using proven techniques that have worked for thousands of years. The Manual certainly seems to be a highly concentrated form of social capital and we might do well to adopt one such as a means of transmitting values and practices. Other posts at Corrente on Roberts Rules: Here***, here, and especially here.
NOTE * The writer doesn't explain what they mean by "manipulative," and it would be interesting to know. (It's worth noting that "power structure" and "the state" are not synonyms.)
NOTE ** Imagine baseball with umpires but no rulebook.
NOTE *** This reference is to the DNC's 2008 shenanigans. When you've got a rule book to look at, you know when you've been violated. Not so with looser structures.