Cognitive Dissonance Among Liberals and Radicals

Normal, I try to write a bit about what I’ve been thinking about over the last week with these Tuesday posts, but truth be told, I’m not goint to do that today, because what I’ve been thinking about is the further development in what I’ve been trying to understand as “The Economics of Transformation,” and writing about that today would mean continuing on from the previous posts regarding sectoral balances and inter-modal flows, which would take some time to express, and I’ve got to run in a few minutes, because Telekommunisten, transmediale and Raumlabor are meeting to do some tests for the upcoming octo system {1} seeing how well 1 shop-vac will propel a soft drink bottle through 100M of drainage pipe {2}.

So, instead I want to reflect on some interesting cognitive dissonance that came up in various conversations I’ve had recently.

One thing that I strongly agree with many liberals about it is that we can not achieve a new society by taking the state by force and imposing new social relations from the top down. I agree that this was among the problems in the soviet experience. What I find odd, is that they they believe this when it comes to organizing in our western countries, and when it comes to understanding the communist history of the 20th century, but somehow this doesn’t seem to apply to the removal of “dictators” from “totalitarian regimes” in suspicious foreign countries.

Weather Egypt, or Syria, or Lebanon, or Iran, some believe that we apparently can change society from the top down by overthrowing the regime. Yet, it seems to me that the reason that top-down-revolutions are not likely to work is that the source of the power of the elite is not simply a title or a plaque on a desk, but is rather deeply rooted in the social structures and forces that shape that society, and these are not easily change just by toppling a figure head, at least, not easy to change with a desirable outcome. It seems that it should be self-evident, that if we can’t change our own society for the better by violently overthrowing our rulers, then we also can’t change other societies for the better by overthrowing their rulers, and only by working together in solidarity with people and communities here, there and everywhere can build a new society from the ground up, despite our rulers.

On the other side, many radicals like to point out that communism is not what was practiced in the soviet sphere, this is true enough, as I’ve written previously {3}, not even the rulers of these nations would ever have claimed to have achieved communism, they only claimed that they where working towards communism. However, the trouble is the reasons given for why these nations never achieved communism too often boil down to the “bad-apple” theory of history, that a few bad apples ruined it. Whether your bad-apple is Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Gorbachev or whomever, the idea is if these guys where better people or could have been removed, the workers revolution would never have eventually failed and allowed capitalism to be reinstated.

This is plainly far too simple, as there must be more systemic and material reasons, not just the quality of a few men, and just like the liberal dissonance of exactly when or where a new society can be imposed from the top down, this also seems quite dissonant, since the same people would be unlikely to accept the idea that the problem of Capitalism are caused by simply a few bad-apples at the top, that if wasn’t for Bush, Reagan, Nixon, Obama, Goldman Sachs or the Elders of Zoin or whatever, Capitalism would work just fine. If we understand that the failures of capitalism are systemic and material, then we can’t take the easy way out and just point our finger at individual people for the failures to realize communism following proletarian revolutions either.

That’s all for this week, come to stammtisch if your around, I’ll be at cafe buchhandlung {4} around 9pm.


here are some slides about miscommunication technologies I made for my presenation at #pocketconf

use the arrow keys to change slides.


One comment

  1. Carol McGuigan

    Didn’t make it (again!) to Stammtisch but will do next week. In the meantime, I found your post above very thought provoking. I agree that it’s an illusion to think that just by toppling leaders a whole society will change. It is never enough, I agree. I’m interested in the word you use here though – despite – as in bringing about changes ‘despite our rulers’.

    I agree that societal change shouldn’t have to wait until ‘regime change’ to be attempted, but in some circumstances, those aiming for change are forced into conflict situations by their rulers which become such stand-offs that regime change or leader-charge becomes all but inevitable.

    In all the street protests of recent times for example – from Occupy in the States to Tahrir Square to what’s happening in Spain and Greece right now, the people on the streets were or are in the midst of pointing to that which must change, exchanging ideas about what could be, as well as protesting against what is. In the process of this, all positive exchange of new and more equitable ways of living take place. But the rulers or state in trying to make the people vacate the streets or public places, to silence their voices, often use force thus demonstrating the ruler’s intransigence – ie nothing is negotiable, it has to be this way. In this kind of scenario it’s hard to see that the people might just shrug their shoulders and say, okay we’ll change everything despite you guys.

    Watching the scenes of protest in Madrid last night for instance made me think a revolution might take place in that country. Even a couple of years ago, I’d not have thought that possible or probable – a revolution in a western European country in the 21st century. Maybe I’m wrong and it won’t come to that. But if it does, I agree, it won’t be enough just to put new leaders in place.

    In terms of how leader-toppling revolutions can change people’s mindsets, I thought it was interesting the way unarmed Libyans drove away the armed extremist militia responsible for killing the US ambassador in the wake of that appallingly provocative film. Clearly this process hasn’t finished yet but I thought there seemed a promising change that people refused to be ‘dictated to’ by these self-appointed ‘defenders of the faith’ and wish to maintain a people’s sovereignty rather than replace Gaddafi’s dictatorship with some draconian theocratic militia.

    Anyway, bis bald


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