John Robb: The Hidden Logic of the Occupy Movement

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John Robb

OCCUPY NOTE 11/20/11: The HIDDEN logic of the Occupy Movement

This is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population  James Fallows, the celebrated American author and columnist.

It appears that Occupy’s extreme non-violence/passivity has finally generated a social system disruption.  Videos and pictures showing policemen using violence against passive protesters have gone viral (UC Berkeley students, Grandma, and open mouth were the leading examples).  Stories about this violence are now sweeping the media (7,910 news stories over the last 24 hours).  Is this going to have a strategic effect?

Let’s look at this from the late, great American strategist John Boyd‘s perspective.  The dynamic of Boyd’s strategy is to isolate your enemy across three essential vectors (physical, mental, and moral), while at the same time improving your connectivity across those same vectors.  It’s very network centric for a pre-Internet theoretician.  Here’s more detail what disconnection looks like:

  • Physical isolation is accomplished by severing communications both to the outside world (ie. allies) and internal audiences (ie. between branches of command and between the command organization and its supporters).
  • Mental isolation is done through the introduction of ambiguous information, novel situations, and by operating at a tempo an enemy cannot keep up with. A lack of solid information impedes decision making.
  • Moral isolation is achieved when an enemy improves its well being at the expense of others (allies) or violates rules of behavior they profess to uphold (standards of conduct). Moral rules are a very important reference point in times of uncertainty. When these are violated, it is very hard to recover.

Was it effective?

Using John Boyd’s framework as a guide, this media disruption did have an effect across all three vectors:

  • Physical.  No isolation was achieved.  The physical connections of police forces remained intact.  However, these incidents provided confirmation to protesters that physical filming/imaging of the protests is valuable.  Given how compelling this media is, it will radically increase the professional media’s coverage of events AND increase the number of protesters recording incidents.
  • Mental.  These incidents will cause confusion within police forces.  If leaders (Mayors and college administrators)  back down or vacillate over these tactics due to media pressure, it will confuse policemen in the field.  In short, it will create uncertainty and doubt over what the rules of engagement actually are.  IN contrast, these media events have clarified how to turn police violence into useful tools for Occupy protesters.
  • Moral.  This is the area of connection that was damaged the most.  Most people watching these videos feel that this violence is both a) illegitimate and b) excessive.  Watch this video UC Davis Chancellor Katehi walking from her building after the incident.  The silence is eerie.

This can be counted as a win for Occupy and a loss for totalitarianism.  However, we’ve been sliding towards totalitarianism for decades (from caged protest zones, storm trooper attire, urban tanks, bans on pictures in public spaces, a plethora of laws/regulations against assembly, Presidential assassination lists, closed courts, no warrant searches, CCTV coverage, attempts to ban private ownership of weapons, SWAT for even tiny cities, indefinite detention, rendition, etc.).   So, in relative terms, this is a very small win.