Dr Richard Bolstad is Transformations Principal Trainer

Political Ecology 101 Modelling Noam Chomsky by Richard Bolstad

The Ecology of Politics: Applying NLP to Society

The branch of NLP which I am contributing to in this article was founded, I believe, by New Mexico NLP Master Practitioner Merilee Dannemann-Kamerman. Merilee has a 25 year record of involvement in federal, state and local politics, working as a newspaper reporter and columnist, a consultant to local government and advocacy groups, and a legislative staff member. Her late husband Ken Kamerman, whom she describes as a contributing ghost writer to her articles, was a senator in New Mexico. Dannemann-Kamerman and I have very different political opinions (see appendix), but I admire her application of NLP analysis to politics and agree with her challenge to NLP Practitioners:

"I ask you to consider your own beliefs and assumptions about the nature of government and the political process. Be open to the possibility of inspecting those beliefs and assumptions using tools of NLP, especially the metamodel. Note the great amounts of deletion, distortion and generalization that take place in popular dialogue and consider whether you might be deleting, distorting or generalizing in some of your own unexamined conclusions. Here's a simple challenge: if you want to build what Robert Dilts calls "a world to which people want to belong," then as part of realizing that vision you must participate in the collective process of politics and government. It is a requirement of your ecology as a whole person." - Dannemann-Kamerman, M. 1999.

Dannemann-Kamerman invites us to use the metamodel and reframing to investigate our political ideas. She uses the two core NLP assumptions that a) Our maps are not the same as the territory they describe, and b) Everything is related to everything else to evaluate common political challenges such as the issue of providing food for everyone (Dannemann-Kamerman, 2002). Her focus, due to her past experience, is on encouraging NLP Practitioners to participate in the political process as it exists at present.

My focus is a little different. My own experience of politics has been working in social change movements such as the movement to stop the Vietnam war, the movement for democratic rights in schools, the movement to stop men's violence against women, the ecology movement, and the movement to recognize the Treaty of Waitangi on which relations between settlers and New Zealand Maori was founded. I first marched through the streets when I was 14 years old, and I have engaged in a variety of different non-violent protest and social advocacy activities, including setting up education and support groups, writing letters and articles and delivering speeches, and occupying buildings (leading to arrests on occasion). Many of the goals I have worked for have been achieved, and I do have a sense of being an active participant in the history of civilization.

I also know that a lot of my energy has been wasted or even spent counterproductively. That's where this modeling project could be useful�.

The Social Change Roots Of NLP

From here, I want to go on and look with NLP eyes at the political ecology of one social change agent who already has an historical connection with NLP. The first NLP book ever published recognises the debt this field owes to Noam Chomsky, whose work forms the basis of the NLP metamodel for linguistic analysis. This debt is not only in providing some of the metamodel categories and structure which were used by Richard Bandler and John Grinder to study the work of Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson. The most important contribution of Chomsky to NLP was his willingness to develop a model that enables us to analyse all our other models. What we have taken from Chomsky is not merely his product, but the process of creating meta-models. Bandler and Grinder acknowledge in The Structure of Magic "The linguist's objective is to develop a grammar - a set of rules - which states what the well-formed patterns for any particular language are. This discipline is based on the brilliant work of Noam Chomsky, who initially developed a methodology and set of formal models for natural language... What transformational grammarians have done is to develop a formal model of our language, a model of our model of our world, or, simply, a Meta-model." (Bandler and Grinder, 1975, p 23-24). The metamodel of personal change which Bandler and Grinder based on Chomsky's work provides a series of questions which can be used to challenge specific types of statement by a speaker.

In a tabulation of sources from The Arts and Humanities Citation Index for the years 1980-1992, Noam Chomsky ranked as the most commonly quoted human being currently living on the planet (Walljasper, Spayde et alia, 2001, p 87). His 1957 book Syntactic Structures, referenced in The Structure of Magic, is often considered the founding document of Linguistics. But there was another theme, even deeper in Chomsky's life mission. In 1939, at the age of 12, Chomsky wrote his first political article, a pro-Anarchist lament about the rise of Fascism in Spain, published in his school class newsletter (Chomsky 1981, p244).

While Chomsky's work in linguistics has been utilized in NLP, his political activities have not. It is my aim here to study the latter. I don't intend to exhaustively model how Chomsky achieves the results that have made him the most quoted intellectual alive, but merely to point out some important NLP patterns in the way he works. These include his use of NLP Presuppositions, his use of the metamodel patterns, of reframing patterns and of rapport patterns, and some important metaprograms which enable him to act as he does.

The Essence of Chomsky

"How does one man do so much intellectual work and at the same time stand as an exemplary friend and father?" asks the editor of the magazine Utne Reader (Walljasper et alia, 2001, p 91), reviewing the life of Noam Chomsky. The question is a good place to start in studying Chomsky's political life because it emphasizes the way that his political action is just one expression of his enjoyment of living. Each year, Chomsky takes a summer vacation at Cape Cod, "digging around in the sandy soil and feeling the ocean breezes" to recharge. Far from being an escape from his mission, though, he sees this as an essential to it. He says "Look, you're not going to be effective as a political activist unless you have a satisfying life. I mean there may be people who are really saints but I've never heard of one. Like, it may be that the political activities themselves are so gratifying that they're all you want to do, and you just throw yourself into them. Okay, that's a perfectly fine thing to be - it's just that most people have other interests: they want to listen to music, they want to take a walk by the ocean, they want to watch the sunset. Any human being is too rich and complex just to be satisfied with these things, so you have to hit some kind of a balance." (Chomsky, 2002, p 354).

Asked about whether his political actions are fun, he says "See, I think the people who've really made social movements successful have been the people who... were enjoying what they were doing, and communicating that to others somehow. That's what makes popular movements work." (Chomsky, 2002, p 188). For me, this is an expression of the basic NLP presupposition of "ecology"; that all change needs to be considered in terms of its consequences throughout the systems in which it happens (Dilts, 1998, p 7-10). Chomsky also urges that activists look after themselves as a group -"...we have to develop stable popular organizations, and a culture of concern, and commitment, and activism, and solidarity, which can help us to sustain these struggles, and which can help break down some of the barriers that have been set up to divide and distract us." (Chomsky, 2002, p 214)

Chomsky shares the other core NLP Presupposition that "the map is not the territory" (Dilts, 1998, p 7-10). This presupposition accepts that the maps we make of the world (our beliefs and theories and even our "experiences") are never identical to the actual territory of the world. Our maps are never perfect. Explaining that much in science simply cannot be known, he cautions "So when someone comes along claiming a scientific basis for some social policy or anything else having to do with human beings, I'd be very skeptical if I were you - because the knowledge just isn't there right now, and may never be, either." (Chomsky, 2002, 221). Similarly, he explains that there is no perfect place to find "true" information about political issues. In that sense, "The point is, it doesn't matter what you read, what matters is how you read it" (Chomsky, 2002,p 235).

Chomsky accepts that this openness to new ideas has to occur in the moral field as well. He explains: "Take the treatment of children, for example. In the medieval period, it was considered quite legitimate to either kill them, or throw them out, or treat them brutally, all sorts of things. It still happens of course, but now it's regarded as pathological, not proper... I think it's part of moral progress to be able to face things that once looked as if they weren't problems... Man: Are you a vegetarian? I'm not but I think it's a serious question. If you want my guess, my guess is that if society continues to develop without catastrophe on something like the course you can see over time, I wouldn't in the least be surprised if it moves in the direction of vegetarianism and the protection of animal rights." (Chomsky, 2002, p 356-357).

Chomsky's openness to new ideas and ethical principles is perhaps surprising, given that as a social change advocate he is arguing for certain "truths" and certain "principles". However others in the field of social activism itself have already accepted models which accord with the idea that "the map is not the territory", and align that field rather well with NLP. One such model is deconstructionism, which also had linguistic origins in the work of Jacque Derrida. Deconstructionism is based on the premise that much of human history, in trying to understand, and then define, reality has led to various forms of domination Deconstructionism finds concrete experience more valid than abstract ideas and, therefore, refutes any attempts to produce a history, or a truth. Chomsky himself has said he finds deconstructionism and the larger field of postmodernism incomprehensible ("Quite regularly, "my eyes glaze over" when I read polysyllabic discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a fraction of the total word count." he says in his article "Rationality/Science")

Linguistic Techniques Used In Social Change

We get a sense of how Chomsky applies this skepticism, from his method of discussion in public forums. He is a skilled user of what NLP would call metamodel questioning. Since he developed the model behind the metamodel, this is hardly surprising. Take the following exchange:

Man: Dr. Chomsky, I just want to ask a question on this topic: Daniel Ortega [Nicaraguan President, Sandinista Party] was in power for how long, a decade?
Yes
Man: And yet he lost the election.
Why "And yet?"
Man: Well, he had control of that country for ten years.
What does that mean, "He had control of it?"
Man: He controlled the press.
He did not. In fact, Nicaragua is the only country I know of in history that allowed a major opposition press [La Prensa] to operate while it was being attacked - a press which was calling for the overthrow of the government by violence...
(Chomsky, 2002, p 109)

Here Chomsky challenges two metamodel patterns: the presuppositional phrase "and yet", and the unspecified verb "had control of". By challenging these patterns, he obtains a more sensory specific statement which he can then show to be false using historical data. Asking questions such as "Why and yet?" or "What does that mean specifically?" as he reads the news enables Chomsky to create an entirely different perspective on the news from the reader who accepts the presuppositions presented in the media. Metamodel questions are an important political tool, as Dannemann-Kamerman says above.

Chomsky also knows how to reframe events so that they have useful meanings. Talking about the sense of hopelessness that those involved in social change sometimes have, he notes "Take the so-called "Gulf War" - it wasn't really a war, it was a slaughter, but take the Gulf Slaughter. It led to tremendous depression on the left, because people felt like they weren't able to do anything about it. Well, if you just think about it for a minute, you realize that it was exactly the opposite; it was probably the greatest victory the peace movement has ever had. The Gulf War was the first time in history that there were huge demonstrations and protests before a war started - that's never happened before. In the case of the Vietnam war, it was five years before anybody got out in the streets; this time, there were massive demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people involved before the bombing even started." (Chomsky, 2002, p 328).

The idea of reframing is that events in themselves do not have "meanings". We add meanings to them. Sometimes we add meanings simply by the way we label them; as in the case of the Gulf "War" of 1991. In that war there were 35,000 civilian Iraqi deaths, and over 6,000 retreating Iraqi soldiers were buried alive by US tanks with ploughs mounted in front, while the coalition forces suffered zero fatalities (Wright, 2003). Chomsky redefines these events as a "slaughter" rather than a "war". He then redefines the actions of the peace movement, organizing hundreds of thousands of demonstrators before the war began, as a success rather than a failure, and points out that this reframe could have saved people on the left from a lot of depression.

David Snow and Robert Benford are social movement theorists who proposed that all social action is in fact reframing. They say that activists... " are actively engaged in the production of meaning for participants, antagonists, and observers... They frame or assign meaning to and interpret relevant events and conditions in ways that are intended to mobilize potential adherents and constituents, to garner bystander support, and to demobilize antagonists." (Snow and Benford, 1988, p 197). As an example, they studied Martin Luther King's framing of African American issues as based on Christian and traditional American democratic values.

Resistance Is A Sign Of Insufficient Rapport

In NLP we say that wherever your communication meets resistance, this is an indication that you do not have sufficient rapport with the person who is "resisting". Chomsky applies this principle to decisions about what action to take as a social change agent. Explaining why he was opposed to peace activists attacking missiles at US bases, he says "I don't think there's any question of principle involved in whether you should smash a missile nose-cone or not, it's not like a contract between you and God or something. The question is, what are the effects?... Like, if you smash up a missile nose-cone in some town where people are working at the missile plant and there's no other way they can make a living, and they haven't heard of any reason why we shouldn't have missiles, that doesn't educate anybody, it just gets them mad at you... I mean you have to start with where the world is. Like you don't start by saying, "Okay, lets overthrow transnational corporations" - because right now it's just not within range. So you start by saying, "Look, here's where the world is, what can we begin to do?" Well, you can begin to do things which will get people to understand better what the real source of power is, and just how much they can achieve if they get involved in political activism." (Chomsky, 2002, p 187, 191).

On the other hand, Chomsky does not mean us to "wait until people are ready" to raise an issue; simply to raise it in ways they can understand. He urges "Well, if we wait for an ecological disaster, it'll be too late... So you don't wait for the disasters to happen, first you have to create the groundwork. You need to plant the seeds of something right now, so that whatever opportunities happen to arise - whether it's workers being fired in Mexico, or an ecological catastrophe, or anything else - people are in a position that they can do something constructive about it." (Chomsky, 2002, p 388-389).

Metaprograms of Successful Activists

So far, we have identified five NLP tools which Chomsky uses:

The linguistic techniques and actions which Chomsky chooses are not a random collection of tools however. They reflect, as he acknowledges in the following quote, his own deeper personality characteristics (such character traits are called metaprograms in NLP). Explaining how he chooses to reframe events as demonstrating the possibility of change, he says "I mean, look; if you want to feel hopeless, there are a lot of things you could feel hopeless about. If you want to sort of work out objectively what's the chance that the human species will survive for another century, probably not very high. But I mean what's the point?... First of all, those predictions don't mean anything - they're more just a reflection of your mood or your personality than anything else. And if you act on that assumption, then you're guaranteeing that'll happen. If you act on the assumption that things can change, well, maybe they will. Okay, the rational choice, given those alternatives, is to forget the pessimism." (Chomsky, 2002, p 139).

Given that basic metaprogram, it is no wonder that Chomsky can reframe even a global sense of hopelessness as something positive. He argues: "I really don't think there's been a better period in modern history for organizing towards that than there is right now actually... So what we're faced with is a combination of a very high degree of disillusionment, and a very low degree of hope and perception of alternatives. And that's exactly where serious organizers ought to be able to step in." (Chomsky, 2002, p 362). This is an interesting comment in terms of Political Process Opportunities theory, developed by Sydney Tarrow and others. Tarrow's claim was that social movements emerge when there are new political contexts which provide opportunities. Tarrow says of such opportunities"... while they do not on their own "explain" social movements, they play the strongest role in triggering general episodes of contention." (Tarrow, 1998, p 199). Chomsky's comment suggests that such "opportunities" are themselves the result of reframing.

Chomsky's metaprogram of paying attention to positive possibilities also pervades his beliefs about human beings, as in the following exchange:

Man: Then if people do have this shared set of moral values, you still have to explain why everything is as corrupt and hierarchical and war-laden as it is.

But why not ask another question? Why not ask how come there's so much sympathy, and care, and love, and solidarity? I mean, that's also true. (Chomsky, 2002, p 362)

Not all social change agents have the same metaprograms as Chomsky. Chomsky not only sorts his experiences looking for what is possible, but he seeks to pay attention to areas of agreement rather than just areas of difference. There is a risk that the very process of advocating social change teaches activists to constantly find things they disagree with; to "mismatch" in NLP terms.

Woman: What exactly has the left done that you think is so self-destructive?

In part the problem is just divisiveness - it's passionate commitment to a very narrow position, and extreme intolerance of anyone who doesn't see it exactly the way you do. So if you have a slightly different view from the person next door on, say, abortion rights, it's a war - you can't even talk to each other, it's not an issue that you can even discuss. There's a lot of that on the left, and it's been very self-destructive. It's made the progressive movements, the sort of "left" movements, kind of unwelcome - because people don't like it; they see it, and they don't like it. (Chomsky, 2002, p 237- 238).

Another metaprogram that Chomsky sees as important for social change agents is to have a long term perspective on events, rather than to want immediate results. He acknowledges the dramatic changes the wave of youth protest in the 1960s brought about, and also cautions, "So the fact that it was dominantly a youth movement in the sixties had good and bad aspects, and one bad aspect was this sense that if you don't achieve quickly, you'd might as well quit. But of course, that's not the way changes come. The struggle against slavery went on forever, the struggle for women's rights has been going on for centuries." (Chomsky, 2002, p 355).

Summarising, amongst the metaprograms that Chomsky values, using the NLP jargon, and with the most significant ones asterisked (Charvet, 1997), are:

Bill Moyer agrees with Chomsky that "The culture of social movements often includes a sense of powerlessness, despair and failure that is consistent with - and sometimes produces - the "logical reasons" for believing that the movement is failing" (Moyer, 2001, p 91). He suggests the following steps for a social movement wanting to overcome the culture of failure (Moyer, 2001, p 92-98):

  1. Place the various movement activities within a longer term strategic plan of how social change occurs. His own model posits eight stages which all social change processes go through from complete social unawareness of the problem (stage 1) to successful change (stage 7) and even to extending the struggle to other areas (stage 8). This model notes that following the initial work to prove the problem exists (stage 2), the ripening of conditions for action (stage 3) and the take off due to trigger events (stage 4), there is usually a time when the movement seems to have failed altogether (stage 5) before majority public opinion swings into play (stage 6). Successful activists seem to understand this. Let me give an example. In 1891 the campaign to get New Zealand women the vote went to parliament. It was defeated by seventeen votes to fifteen in the legislative council. The movement's most well known activist Kate Sheppard, writing in the magazine of the suffrage movement could have said that this meant that all their work had failed. Instead she wrote "... our temporary defeat will have the effect of spurring on all who earnestly desire to see this reform carried, to greater zeal and energy, so that the majority favourable in the House of Representatives next session may be so large that the Legislative Council will not throw the Bill out again." (Devaliant, 1992, p 71)
  2. Set outcomes and sort for evidence that the movement is achieving success. This means being solution focused and celebrating successes, however small. It also means letting go of the "righteous anger" of feeling oppressed and victimized, to enjoy the sense of social change occurring.
  3. Balance the four key roles of social change. These roles, in Moyer's model are a) the citizen, who frames social change as simply affirming the purest intentions of the current system, b) the rebel, who protests, and confronts society with the issue, c) the change agent, who organizes education and grassroots alternatives and d) the reformer, who ensures that the movement's aims are expressed in mainstream social institutions.
  4. Appeal to conscience but not to guilt.
  5. Let go of comparisons with golden age past events. Historical social change movements may have been just as hard to start as current ones.

The Point Of Modelling Noam Chomsky

There are some specific skills which enable Noam Chomsky to act in the way he does. These skills include:

Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP Trainer and the author of Pro-fusion, a book which explores the links between NLP, spirituality and politics. He can be contacted at PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, Phone/Fax: +64-9-478-4895 E-mail: learn@transformations.net.nz Website: http://www.transformations.net.nz

Bibliography

Appendix A: The Wheel of Change

The Four Change Styles

Bill Moyer is a social change theorist. He works with organisations seeking social changes: organisations working for outcomes such as a more ecological and just society. Moyer has proposed that "There are four different roles activists and social movements need to play in order to successfully create social change; the citizen, rebel, change agent, and reformer. Each role has different purposes styles, skills and needs, and can be played effectively or ineffectively.... Both individual activists and movement organisations need to understand that social movements require all four roles, and that participants and their organisations can choose which ones to play depending on their own makeup and the needs of the movement." (Moyer, 2001, p. 21). To make sense in more general terms, I will call Moyers' four styles:

The above sequence is the sequence in which the change styles are required, as a person, organisation or society shifts from their old state to their new state. This sequence is what I am calling "The Wheel of Change". Moyer explains each style in general terms and with examples, and as an NLP Trainer, I notice that there is a structure behind the individual styles. These change styles differ in their relationship to two personality continua (metaprograms) described in NLP (see Charvet, 1997):

Matching and Mismatching refer to the extent to which a person pays attention to and appreciates the similarities (between two aspects of their experience, between their view and yours, between what has previously happened and what is happening now etc) or the differences. Sameness people notice similarities and prefer that things stay the same, whereas Differences people notice differences and prefer that things change. Towards and Away From refer to the "direction" in which someone is motivated to act. Some people are motivated mostly towards their goals and desired results, some mostly to avoid risks and problems.

The Four Styles In Social Change

Auditors (Citizens) frame a new idea for social change as a necessary way to more fully express the true, underlying values that their society has already committed itself to. They feel part of their society and want it to be even more true to its own ideals. They describe their activism as being a way to be a good citizen and support the true needs of their society. They urge society to move away from those things that don't really fit with its own highest ideals. For example, the African American activist Martin Luther King described his aim as to "fulfil the American dream, not to destroy it." (Quoted in Moyer, 2001, p. 11). This is important at the start of a social change process. It raises issues in a way that those who fear change may find more acceptable, by suggesting that change will actually help stability. Auditors match their society and move away from its inconsistencies.

Rebels take action to get away from harmful social systems. They directly challenge society as it is. They describe their activism as a way to eliminate injustice and suffering. Often critical both of established society and utopian or reformist plans for a new society, they urge society first to confront and give up what is wrong. Rebuilding is for later. The Anarchist revolutionary Michael Bakunin stated a core Rebel value when he said "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge." This is important to give energy to the change process once it has begun, to ensure that things don't just settle down as they were. When successful, this rebel style provokes such a strong response that it becomes impossible to go back to the old order. Rebels mismatch their society and move away from its failures.

Innovators (Change Agents) organise and participate in community actions which are an alternative or a vocal opposition movement opposed to the established social systems. They urge society to create a new social order and see their movement as the kernel of this order. The creators of collective industries in the Spanish revolution were Change Agents, as were the creators of the first women's refuges, alternative schools, and eco-villages. This creation is an essential antidote to the rebel style, and it gives the first expression to positive action in the change process. It provides and tests real life models of what the future could be like. Innovators mismatch old systems and move towards new possibilities.

Reformers work within mainstream systems to get the movement's aims expressed in concrete terms and installed into accepted practice. They see social change as a process of convincing governments, community agencies and corporations to put new schemes into practice. They cooperate with existing agencies to build the new society. New Zealand suffragette Kate Sheppard described her work to get women the vote in these terms. Reform is essential to ensure that the new practices become universally accepted and incorporated into every facet of daily life. Reformers match their social systems and match the new ideas, and move towards a successful blending of these.

Moyer gives several examples of effective integration of these four roles in social change campaigns. One is the campaign to end apartheid style rules about where black people sat on southern USA buses in the mid twentieth century. On December 1st, 1955, African American Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white person. For 381 days, the 50,000 strong black population of Montgomery boycotted the buses, until the United States supreme court overturned the Alabama segregation laws. Bill Moyer points out that in such a campaign all four of his MAP (Movement Action Plan) roles come into play. "The boycott effectively used all four MAP roles. The citizens [auditors] kept the campaign grounded in the nation's widely held values of democracy and freedom, and their demands were based on the civil rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Many of the citizens were based in the Christian church, which was revered by the large majority of whites in Montgomery and within mainstream America. The rebels brought attention to the movement with the non-violent bus boycott campaign. The entire black community of Montgomery filled the social change agent [innovators] role by its involvement in the boycott, mass meetings, and car-pooling. Finally, the reformers ultimately won the day through the court case, which was decided favourably by the U. S. Supreme Court." (Moyer, 2001, p. 120)

Appendix B: Differences In Political Ecology Between Dannemann-Kamerman And Bolstad

Difference 1: The Ecology Of The United States Constitution

There are two main differences Dannemann-Kamerman and I have in our conclusions. Firstly, we have different levels of admiration for the constitution of the United States of America. Dannemann-Kamerman discusses her vision of an ecological political system based on some core NLP assumptions, and says "How lucky we are. A few immensely wise men, who happened to be in the right place at the right time, did that for us. The system they designed is documented in the Constitution of the United States."

For many of us who have watched American politics from the outside and compared them to the rest of the world, this statement is rather "hopeful". While recognizing the constitution as a great leap forward in history, I do not believe it presupposed the ecology Dannemann-Kamerman is seeking. The original constitution, for example, set up a society ruled by a small minority of white men, who kept African Americans as slaves. By way of contrast with Dannemann-Kamerman, American historian Eric Foner says "The authors of the notion of freedom as a universal birthright, a truly human ideal, were not so much the founding fathers, who created a nation dedicated to liberty but resting in large measure on slavery, but abolitionists who sought to extend the blessings of liberty to encompass blacks... women... immigrant groups." (Foner, 1999, quoted in Morris, 1999). Indeed Article One of the US Constitution forbade any amendments abolishing slavery in the first 30 years of the new republic saying "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person." (Article 1, Section 9; The Constitution of the United States of America).

Difference 2: The Ecology of the Commons

The second difference between Dannemann-Kamerman and my position concerns what Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article called "The Tragedy of the Commons". Hardin suggested that "rational" individuals will always look out for their own self-interest and their individual decisions will destroy what they use in common. He used the example of a village where people graze their individually owned sheep on common land. He suggested that each individual family will aim to graze more of the common land until it is overgrazed and destroyed. Hardin went on to advocate what he called a "lifeboat ethics" for political decision-making (Hardin and Baden, 1977), where a stronger, more coercive state regulates decisions such as the right to have children and the right to use earth's resources. Dannemann-Kamerman takes Hardin's original argument a step further by suggesting that any government set up in common will face the same dilemma. She says "It is assumed that every person in the room is representing a self-interest first and the common interest second. If a decision is made, the decision is going to be based not on fairness but on power. It could be physical power, cleverness, wealth, personal persuasiveness, the ability to invoke fear of the supernatural, or any other of a myriad of forms of power. But power it will be. Some people will win and some will lose." (Dannemann-Kamerman, 1999).

Is the tragedy of the commons necessary? Clues to the contrary are present even in Hardin's original metaphor. Why does he say that every family will opt to get the most grazing for their own sheep and not every individual? Because we know, in common experience, that people do not usually choose to let their family members starve (even those such as their spouse, who may have little genetic relationship to them). The truth is that a society where each family would overgraze the commons has only existed in certain times in history. Most human societies are characterized by a strong motivation towards mutual aid. That, indeed, is how we have managed to survive this long as a species.

The ability to empathise is inbuilt in human beings, and the brain cells responsible for it were discovered in 1995 by researchers working at the University of Palma in Italy (Rizzolatti et alia, 1996; Rizzolatti and Arbib, 1998). The cells, now called "mirror neurons", are found in the pre-motor cortex of monkeys and apes as well as humans. In humans they form part of the specific area called Broca's area, which is also involved in the creation of speech. Although the cells are related to motor activity (ie they are part of the system by which we make kinaesthetic responses such as moving an arm), they are activated by visual input. When a monkey observes another monkey (or even a human) making a body movement, the mirror neurons light up. As they do, the monkey appears to involuntarily copy the same movement it has observed visually. This ability to copy a fellow creature's actions as they do them has obviously been very important in the development of primate social intelligence. It enables us to identify with the person we are observing. As a person adjusts their facial expression and other nonverbal behaviour to match others' they actually use the same pattern of brain activation that the other person is using. When their mirror neurons respond and they copy the person's actions, they thus feel what that person is feeling. This results in what researchers call "emotional contagion" - what NLP calls rapport (Hatfield et alia, 1994).

Perhaps the more real question that the "tragedy of the commons" metaphor raises is "What has been preventing emotional contagion and mutual support in modern society (dare I say, especially in modern American society)?" More specifically, "What would cause a human being to deviate from the whole history of human nature and starve her or his brothers to death, or to refuse to sign the Kyoto accords to stop polluting the world which we share?" This is close to the question raised by Michael Moore in his film Bowling for Columbine (2002). It seems clear to me that the "rational human beings" presupposed by Hardin in his article on the commons are not only not rational, but not fully human either. Edney (1980, 1981) and Fox (1985) argued in relation to the "Tragedy of the Commons" that societies based on local community participation allow far greater levels of human empathy to develop. They cited both anthropological research (eg McClintock, 1974) and psychological research (eg Batson and Coke, 1981) supporting this conclusion. Fox goes on to note that political philosophers such as "social ecologist" Murray Bookchin (1982) and Noam Chomsky have also seen libertarian, decentralized, cooperative societies as the key hope for the protection of earth's common resources, precisely because they promote such natural human qualities.

This is the opposite conclusion to that reached by those who fear the commons. Their money is on the need for what Dannemann-Kamerman calls "Big specialized, complicated government" (1999) rather than direct and federal forms of libertarian democracy (what has usually been called anarchism; ie no-government). Noam Chomsky, on the other hand, sees anarchism as the best match for human nature as he understands it. "If it is correct, as I believe it is, that a fundamental element of human nature is the need for creative work or creative inquiry, for free creation without the arbitrary limiting effects of coercive institutions, then of course it will follow that a decent society should maximize the possibilities for this fundamental human characteristic to be realized. Now, a federated, decentralized system of free associations incorporating economic as well as social institutions would be what I refer to as anarcho-syndicalism. And it seems to me that it is the appropriate form of social organization for an advanced technological society, in which human beings do not have to be forced into the position of tools, of cogs in a machine." (Chomsky, p 170-189 in Elders ed, 1974). About the apparent conflict between common property and individual desires, Chomsky says "I guess I don't see why there has to be any contradiction there at all. It seems to me that a crucial aspect of humanity is being part of functioning communities - so if we can create social bonds in which people find satisfaction, we've done it: there's no contradiction... I think everybody knows about this from families. Living in a family is a crucial part of human life, you don't want to give it up. On the other hand there are plainly problems that go along with it - nobody has to be told that... But that's just a part of living, to be faced with human problems like that." (Chomsky, 2002, p 198).

Appendix C: A Study Of A Successful Social Change Agent; Kate Dewes

One Mother; 65,000 Warheads

In 1988 the worldwide tally of nuclear warheads was over 65,000. By 1998 the number was down to 35,000 and by 2008 the number is projected to be 20,000. Twenty thousand is still enough to destroy a very large number of planets. It is true, though, that for the first time in history, we may be stepping back from the path to annihilation. One New Zealand woman was at the centre of an important step in this process.

Kate Dewes is a teacher from Christchurch, New Zealand. It was while viewing images from the Peace Museum at Hiroshima that she changed the course of her life. Touched as a mother and a human being, she determined to do something to end the escalating nuclear arms race. In 1979 she began to work with retired Christchurch magistrate Harold Evans and others on a scheme to have the United Nations International Court of Justice ("The World Court") declare nuclear weapons illegal. This goal had first been suggested in 1969 by Sean MacBride, a founder of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). The problem was, of course, that the United Nations was dominated by a Security Council consisting mainly of nuclear armed states.

In 1987, Kate Dewes became a member of the New Zealand Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control. This meant that she was able to work with government delegations internationally, and yet was not subject to many of the restrictions imposed on such delegations. In discussions with the French government about their Pacific nuclear tests, she played a pivotal role. She explains "Another example of our complementary roles was when the French refused to budge on wording in the final document in relation to the degree of international opposition to their nuclear testing. Our diplomats were extremely frustrated with the blocking tactics being used by certain officials. One evening the NZ delegation was socialising with the Western diplomats and a French diplomat asked me to dance. I jokingly refused until he would agree to help establish an independent international scientific and medical inspection team to go to Mururoa to assess damage from the tests: something the international peace movement had promoted for many years. Finally he conceded and we danced briefly and talked about our daughters and their future in a world with nuclear weapons. He left promising to show me a photo of his daughters the next day. On arrival at the Mission the next morning, I was infuriated to read in the cables that France had detonated two nuclear bombs at Mururoa overnight. Determined to confront him I headed straight for the UN where we had a long and passionate exchange. I challenged him to read about women giving birth to jelly-fish babies in the booklet Pacific Women Speak, to share it with his wife and to search his conscience. He was visibly moved, and grudgingly agreed to speak with his delegation about changing the wording in the final document. When I reported this back to our Ambassador he was overjoyed and asked me to join the Ministry. On reflection, it was the freedom to summon the moral authority of motherhood, and speak strongly with no fear of losing a job or embarrassing my country, that facilitated this change." (Dewes, 1998)

The World Court Project

In 1984, leaders of six small countries (Greece, Mexico, Argentina, India, Tanzania and Sweden) called for an international ban of nuclear weapons, but there were very few other countries willing to risk the anger of the Security Council. To Kate Dewes, this task became a passion. In 1991 she and her colleagues set up the World Court Project, with branches across the world. A breakthrough came after she met with New Zealand doctors involved in International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Together, Kate, Dr Erich Geiringer and Dr Robin Bryant found a novel "way in" to the United Nations. They began urging governments to raise the matter as a health issue at the World Health Organisation. After a visit to the Ukrainian embassy in London, the Ukraine (where Chernobyl was stationed) agreed to support them. Other countries followed. At the World Health Organisation annual assembly in 1993, a resolution was proposed calling for the World Court to consider the legality of nuclear weapons. WHO Vice President Hilda Lini, a mother from Vanuatu, where French Nuclear Tests had wreaked havoc with the Pacific people, gave an impassioned speech. Dr Michael Christ noted "... everything fell silent when she spoke. Her speech was a defining moment when the whole psychological tide turned in our favour and there was a palpable energy and feeling that we were going to win at that point. She stepped out of the traditional governmental role and spoke from her heart. She was not speaking just for herself, you could feel many people speaking through her - she had that power of conviction." WHO voted in support by 73 votes to 40.

The WHO decision produced big enough ripples so that by the next year, the World Court Project got the agreement of the "Non-Aligned Movement" (a loose grouping of 111 of the United Nations' 185 member states). The issue was raised at the United Nations itself, and finally referred to the World Court. Behind the scenes, Kate's World Court Project was now running a huge campaign. It collected almost four million declarations of conscience in forty different languages, urging support for the project. It lobbied every government in the world, not only urging them to support the goal, but thanking them profusely whenever they did so. The World Court agreed to receive the 4,000,000 declarations of conscience, though they could not hold the status of legal evidence. It reminded the court that the eyes of the world were on them. At the hearings, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki spoke passionately for Japan's opposition to nuclear weapons, while survivors of the world's first nuclear attacks sobbed mutedly behind them. A woman from the Marshall Islands wept herself as she told of friends giving birth to "bunches of purple grapes" after exposure to nuclear "test" blasts. The nuclear weapons states continued to calmly argue that they alone had the right to hold and use nuclear weapons.

On July 8th, 1996, the International Court of Justice declared that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was "generally contrary to the rules of international law". The implications of this decision are enormous. Most of the world still does not realise what Kate Dewes and her friends have achieved. For example, under the principles defined by the United Nations during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, it is correct for any citizen to oppose government action which breaches the rules of international law. According to the United Nations, the soldiers in Hitler's SS should have opposed their orders.

In 1999, the first test of this principle in relation to nuclear weapons occurred. On June 8th, three women (Angie Zelter, Ulla Roder and Ellen Moxley) climbed aboard a floating naval base in the North Sea near Scotland. They spent the next three hours smashing perhaps #100,000 of equipment designed to protect Britain's Trident Nuclear Submarines. Then they waited to be arrested. In October 1999, the Scottish court acquitted the three women of all charges, saying "The three took the view they had the obligation in terms of international law to do whatever they could to stop the deployment and use of nuclear weapons in situations which could be construed as a threat... I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent."

Former United Kingdom naval Commander Rob Green is Kate Dewes' partner, and was the organiser of the British branch of the World Court Project. He says (Christchurch Press, 13/11/99, p 6) "Speaking as a former operator of nuclear weapons, I saw the law as the winner in the campaign, because military officers need to be seen as acting within the law." He says that people in the military forces of nuclear states need to examine their position. They reassure themselves that they are just following orders. "That was the Nazi defence, and the Nazi defence failed." Kate Dewes' story demonstrates that even the world social system itself can be changed. She and Rob liken their struggle to the movement to abolish slavery two hundred years before. That movement too sought first to prove that slavery was illegal. The World Court Project required enormous planning and dedication. It may eventually have saved our planet.