Adonis Diaries

Politics and power: Any significant shift in the balancing act?

Posted on: January 31, 2017

Politics and power: Any significant shift?

“In the last 20 years, there has been a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the world.” What new power looks like?

This is Anna Hazare, and she may well be the most cutting-edge digital activist in the world today.

And you wouldn’t know it by looking at Hazare, a 77-year-old Indian anticorruption and social justice activist.

In 2011, he was running a big campaign to address everyday corruption in India, a topic that Indian elites love to ignore. So as part of this campaign, he was using all of the traditional tactics that a good Gandhian organizer would use. So he was on a hunger strike, and Hazare realized through his hunger that actually maybe this time, in the 21st century, a hunger strike wouldn’t be enough.

0:53 He started playing around with mobile activism. So the first thing he did is he said to people, “Okay, why don’t you send me a text message if you support my campaign against corruption?” So he does this, he gives people a short code, and about 80,000 people do it. Okay, that’s pretty respectable.

But then he decides, “Let me tweak my tactics a little bit.” He says, “Why don’t you leave me a missed call?” Now, for those of you who have lived in the global South, you’ll know that missed calls are a really critical part of global mobile culture. I see people nodding. People leave missed calls all the time: If you’re running late for a meeting and you just want to let them know that you’re on the way, you leave them a missed call.

If you’re dating someone and you just want to say “I miss you” you leave them a missed call. So a note for a dating tip here, in some cultures, if you want to please your lover, you call them and hang up. (Laughter) So why do people leave missed calls? Well, the reason of course is that they’re trying to avoid charges associated with making calls and sending texts.

When Hazare asked people to leave him a missed call, let’s have a little guess how many people actually did this? Thirty-five million. So this is one of the largest coordinated actions in human history.

It’s remarkable. And this reflects the extraordinary strength of the emerging Indian middle class and the power that their mobile phones bring. But he used that, Hazare ended up with this massive CSV file of mobile phone numbers, and he used that to deploy real people power on the ground to get hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets in Delhi to make a national point of everyday corruption in India. It’s a really striking story.

This is me when I was 12 years old. I hope you see the resemblance. And I was also an activist, and I have been an activist all my life. I had this really funny childhood where I traipsed around the world meeting world leaders and Noble prize winners, talking about Third World debt, as it was then called, and demilitarization. I was a very, very serious child. (Laughter)

And back then, in the early ’90s, I had a very cutting-edge tech tool of my own: the fax. And the fax was the tool of my activism. And at that time, it was the best way to get a message to a lot of people all at once. I’ll give you one example of a fax campaign that I ran. It was the eve of the Gulf War and I organized a global campaign to flood the hotel, the Intercontinental in Geneva, where James Baker and Tariq Aziz were meeting on the eve of the war, and I thought if I could flood them with faxes, we’ll stop the war.

Unsurprisingly, that campaign was wholly unsuccessful. There are lots of reasons for that, but there’s no doubt that one sputtering fax machine in Geneva was a little bit of a bandwidth constraint in terms of the ability to get a message to lots of people. And so, I went on to discover some better tools. I cofounded Avaaz, which uses the Internet to mobilize people and now has almost 40 million members, and I now run Purpose, which is a home for these kinds of technology-powered movements. So what’s the moral of this story? Is the moral of this story, you know what, the fax is kind of eclipsed by the mobile phone? This is another story of tech-determinism?

Well, I would argue that there’s actually more to it than that. I’d argue that in the last 20 years, something more fundamental has changed than just new tech. I would argue that there has been a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the world.

You ask any activist how to understand the world, and they’ll say, “Look at where the power is, who has it, how it’s shifting.” And I think we all sense that something big is happening.

Henry Timms and I — Henry’s a fellow movement builder — got talking one day and we started to think, how can we make sense of this new world? How can we describe it and give it a framework that makes it more useful? Because we realized that many of the lessons that we were discovering in movements actually applied all over the world in many sectors of our society. So I want to introduce you to this framework: Old power, meet new power.

And I want to talk to you about what new power is today. New power is the deployment of mass participation and peer coordination — these are the two key elements — to create change and shift outcomes. And we see new power all around us.

This is Beppe Grillo he was a populist Italian blogger (and still is?) who, with a minimal political apparatus and only some online tools, won more than 25 percent of the vote in recent Italian elections. This is Airbnb, which in just a few years has radically disrupted the hotel industry without owning a single square foot of real estate.

This is Kickstarter, which we know has raised over a billion dollars from more than five million people. Now, we’re familiar with all of these models. But what’s striking is the commonalities, the structural features of these new models and how they differ from old power.

Let’s look a little bit at this. Old power is held like a currency.

New power works like a current. Old power is held by a few. New power isn’t held by a few, it’s made by many. Old power is all about download, and new power uploads. And you see a whole set of characteristics that you can trace, whether it’s in media or politics or education.

we’ve talked a little bit about what new power is. Let’s, for a second, talk about what new power isn’t. New power is not your Facebook page. I assure you that having a social media strategy can enable you to do just as much download as you used to do when you had the radio.

Just ask Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, I assure you that his Facebook page has not embraced the power of participation. New power is not inherently positive. In fact, this isn’t an normative argument that we’re making, there are many good things about new power, but it can produce bad outcomes.

More participation, more peer coordination, sometimes distorts outcomes and there are some things, like things, for example, in the medical profession that we want new power to get nowhere near. And thirdly, new power is not the inevitable victor. In fact, unsurprisingly, as many of these new power models get to scale, what you see is this massive pushback from the forces of old power.

Just look at this really interesting epic struggle going on right now between Edward Snowden and the NSA. You’ll note that only one of the two people on this slide is currently in exile. And so, it’s not at all clear that new power will be the inevitable victor.

7:43 That said, keep one thing in mind: We’re at the beginning of a very steep curve. So you think about some of these new power models, right? These were just like someone’s garage idea a few years ago, and now they’re disrupting entire industries. And so, what’s interesting about new power, is the way it feeds on itself.

Once you have an experience of new power, you tend to expect and want more of it. So let’s say you’ve used a peer-to-peer lending platform like Lending Tree or Prosper, then you’ve figured out that you don’t need the bank, and who wants the bank, right? And so, that experience tends to embolden you it tends to make you want more participation across more aspects of your life.

And what this gives rise to is a set of values. We talked about the models that new power has engendered — the Airbnbs, the Kickstarters. What about the values? And this is an early sketch at what new power values look like.

New power values prize transparency above all else. It’s almost a religious belief in transparency, a belief that if you shine a light on something, it will be better. And remember that in the 20th century, this was not at all true. People thought that gentlemen should sit behind closed doors and make comfortable agreements. New power values of informal, networked governance.

New power folks would never have invented the U.N. today, for better or worse. New power values participation, and new power is all about do-it-yourself. In fact, what’s interesting about new power is that it eschews some of the professionalization and specialization that was all the rage in the 20th century.

9:17 So what’s interesting about these new power values and these new power models is what they mean for organizations. So we’ve spent a bit of time thinking, how can we plot organizations on a two-by-two where, essentially, we look at new power values and new power models and see where different people sit? We started with a U.S. analysis, and let me show you some interesting findings.

So the first is Apple. In this framework, we actually described Apple as an old power company. That’s because the ideology, the governing ideology of Apple is the ideology of the perfectionist product designer in Cupertino. It’s absolutely about that beautiful, perfect thing descending upon us in perfection. And it does not value, as a company, transparency. In fact, it’s very secretive.

Now, Apple is one of the most succesful companies in the world. So this shows that you can still pursue a successful old power strategy. But one can argue that there’s real vulnerabilites in that model. I think another interesting comparison is that of the Obama campaign versus the Obama presidency. (Applause)

I like President Obama, but he ran with new power at his back, right? And he said to people, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. And he used crowdfunding to power a campaign. But when he got into office, he governed like more or less all the other presidents did. And this is a really interesting trend, is when new power gets powerful, what happens?

So this is a framework you should look at and think about where your own organization sits on it. And think about where it should be in five or 10 years. So what do you do if you’re old power? Well, if you’re there thinking, in old power, this won’t happen to us. Then just look at the Wikipedia entry for Encyclopædia Britannica. Let me tell you, it’s a very sad read.

11:14 But if you are old power, the most important thing you can do is to occupy yourself before others occupy you, before you are occupied. Imagine that a group of your biggest skeptics are camped in the heart of your organization asking the toughest questions and they can see everything inside of your organization.

And ask them, would they like what they see and should our model change? What about if you’re new power? Is new power kind of just riding the wave to glory? I would argue no. I would argue that there are some very real challenges to new power in this nascent phase. Let’s stick with the Occupy Wall Street example for a moment. Occupy was this incredible example of new power, the purest example of new power.

And yet, it failed to consolidate. So the energy that it created was great for the meme phase, but they were so committed to participation, that they never got anything done. And in fact that model means that the challenge for new power is: how do you use institutional power without being institutionalized?

One the other end of the spectra is Uber. Uber is an amazing, highly scalable new power model. That network is getting denser and denser by the day. But what’s really interesting about Uber is it hasn’t really adopted new power values. This is a real quote from the Uber CEO recently: He says, “Once we get rid of the dude in the car” — he means drivers — “Uber will be cheaper.”

New power models live and die by the strength of their networks. By whether the drivers and the consumers who use the service actually believe in it. Because they’re not an exercise of top-down perfectionism, they are about the network. And so, the challenge, and this is why it’s in no way surprising, is that Uber’s drivers are now unionizing. It’s extraordinary.

Uber’s drivers are turning on Uber. And the challenge for Uber — this isn’t an easy situation for them — is that they are locked into a broader superstrcuture that is really old power. They’ve raised more than a billion dollars in the capital markets. Those markets expect a financial return, and they way you get a financial return is by squeezing and squeezing your users and your drivers for more and more value and giving that value to your investors.

 the big question about the future of new power, in my view, is: Will that old power just emerge? So will new power elites just become old power and squeeze? Or will that new power base bite back? Will the next big Uber be co-owned by Uber drivers? And I think this going to be a very interesting structural question.

13:56 Finally, think about new power being more than just an entity that scales things that make us have slightly better consumer experiences. My call to action for new power is to not be an island. We have major structural problems in the world today that could benefit enormously from the kinds of mass participation and peer coordination that these new power players know so well how to generate.

And we badly need them to turn their energies and their power to big, what economists might call public goods problems, that are often beyond markets where investors can easily be found.

I think if we can do that, we might be able to fundamentally change not only human beings’ sense of their own agency and power — because I think that’s the most wonderful thing about new power, is that people feel more powerful — but we might also be able to change the way we relate to each other and the way we relate to authority and institutions. And to me, that’s absolutely worth trying for.

Patsy Z  shared this link

“In the last 20 years, there has been a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the world.” What new power looks like:|By Jeremy Heimans

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January 2017

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