Many people have pointed out the relevance to the Culture Wars of Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals. Here I elucidate some key differences between Alinsky’s Rules and the strategy being deployed in the culture war. Whilst Alinsky’s Rules are for those on the outside battering on the door of the establishment, the culture war has been driven from the inside. It requires different rules. The culture war is actually about the manipulation and control of the masses by the elites – rather the opposite of Alinsky.
Alinsky published his Rules For Radicals only in 1971. He died the following year. The book was a distillation of Alinsky’s experience of “community organisation” (or radical activism, if you prefer) over four decades. It was explicitly a manual for tactics in a class struggle – not only tactics within conflict, but tactics to promote conflict. He defined “tactics” as “doing what you can with what you have”. Alinsky recognised that the world consists of give and take, but he was clear that his Rules were about the tactics of taking. The context was working class activism against entrenched corporate and Government power. Let us not forget that his early experience was in the 1930s.
I include the 13 Rules with a commentary in the Appendix.
Hillary Clinton – then Hillary Rodham – wrote her 1969 Bachelor’s Thesis on Alinsky’s model for political and social activism. This proved embarrassing to the Clinton’s when Bill became president in 1993. The Clintons persuaded Wellesley College to prevent access to the thesis during his tenure. It became available again thereafter, at least to some – you can read a critique of it by a journalism student here. Hillary’s view of Alinsky as expressed in the thesis was described as “generally positive, though not uncritical”. It would seem that Hillary was not attracted to Alinsky’s agitation from outside the system. She preferred instead to work within the established system, referring to this approach as Liberal. One cannot deny that she has indeed worked from within the system.
The linking of Obama to Alinsky is often portrayed as a wild Tea Party spin – and it probably is. Alinsky’s Rules are about outside agitation; the Rules are for ardent activists who feel their message is not being heard, the objective being to force their message onto public attention and to acquire power thereby. Perhaps Obama was sympathetic to the Rules in his day as a “community organiser”, but he, like Clinton, later enjoyed the direct power of the insider. What need had he for Alinsky then?
In contrast, it is beyond doubt that the organisation and operational practices of current leftist movements remain inspired by Alinsky, see this for example. Most topical is Extinction Rebellion (XR). Andrew Darnton, Bristol coordinator for XR, has cited Rules for Radicals as a source of inspiration as to “how we mobilise to cope with emergency” and “strike a balance between disruption and creativity”. Similarly, XR co-founder, Roger Hallam, has explicitly stated that the strategy of public disruption pursued by XR is heavily influenced by Alinsky: “The essential element here is disruption. Without disruption, no one is going to give you their eyeballs“.
So, the Rules are still in use, and they provide a mechanism for activists to promulgate their agenda.
I would like to make two points. Firstly, the utility of the Rules bears no relationship to any moral or factual legitimacy the agenda which they assist may or may not possess. Secondly, the Rules are for those working outside the establishment system. But there are other rules, for those who wish to work within the system. As far as I am aware these other rules have not been the subject of an equivalent exposition as Alinsky’s. But their nature is evident from observation.
Those wishing to attain political power within the democratic system must do so through election (or by alliance with those subject to being elected). The naïve may imagine that this consists of putting your convictions before the people and accepting their verdict. The completely unscrupulous might simply espouse whatever views they think will pull in the most votes – or join the Party which they judge may do so. There is a third way: manipulate public opinion to align with your convictions.
Alinsky’s Rules are expressed in the context of a conflict with an enemy (using that term explicitly). The Insiders’ Rules are equally divisive in practice but appear benign rather than aggressive. The outsiders’ Rules are to promote disruption; the Insiders’ Rules are to pacify and manipulate. The outsiders’ Rules take the moral legitimacy of their campaign as a given. In contrast, the very purpose of the Insiders’ Rules is to manufacture ostensible moral legitimacy in alignment with their prior convictions.
The key Insiders’ strategy is Moral Usurpation. By presenting one’s cause as moral, people will vote for you freely, whilst imagining they are being nice – provided they do not examine matters too deeply. And most people do not. Moral Usurpation consists of four main parts, Moral Vampirism, Moral Infantilism, the Creation of Zealots, and the Appeal to the Privileged.
(1) Moral Vampirism
Moral Vampirism consists of annexing and controlling every source of actual or potential moral succour. If the issue can be spun to align with your covert objectives, so much the better, but this is not essential. Moral Vampirism provides three great benefits to your movement, quite independent of any direct progression of your agenda, (i) your movement (Party, group, brand) acquires an aura of moral probity, (ii) critics of your Party/group/movement are presented as opposed to this moral stance, and hence reprehensible, and, (iii) by annexing all sources of moral succour, the opposition is denied any moral legitimacy.
I have written about Moral Vampirism previously, but failed at that time to realise (or sufficiently emphasise) the crucial importance of the second major factor…
(2) Moral Infantilism
Moral Infantilism is the means by which sources of (apparent) moral probity can be spun so as to progress covert aims. The key elements are,
- Promoting only one side of an issue;
- Encouraging extreme simplicity, all complexity is ignored;
- Everything is black or white: if you do not 100% agree, then you are 100% wicked;
- Creating division: good people / bad people – no in-between.
One of the great attractions of this mental orientation is that it lowers cognitive load: it makes life easy.
The above elements of Moral Infantilism are implemented by, (i) controlling sources of information, especially the media, academia and education, and, (ii) vilification of any individual attempting to present another perspective, even if part of a genuinely balanced picture.
Information is controlled by omission, distortion and untruth. Omission is the most powerful weapon, and to be preferred. What is said is accurate. But half the truth is a whole lie, and a type of lie which is difficult to detect. Outright untruth is the weakest tactic, though it becomes more common as complacency sets in. It is safest to deploy untruth in the context of historical conditions, about which wildly inaccurate mythologies are common. These go unchallenged due to widespread ignorance of history. Distortion is also a powerful method. It may be achieved by clever presentation of statistics (there are many tricks available) or by exaggerating statistics. All these methods are used as routine.
Dissenting voices are discouraged by subjecting those who make the attempt to severe ad hominem attacks. Addressing counter-arguments is avoided and this is a deliberate part of the strategy. To address counter-arguments would be to admit that an alternative view is, in principle, possible. That is never entertained. The tactic with dissent is to discourage it by making dissent personally discomforting, if necessary by destroying the person’s life with accusations. This is consistent with Alinsky Rule 13.
Moral Infantilism may be interpreted as a mechanism for implementing Marcuse’s Repressive Tolerance: tolerate only one view, be completely intolerant of all else – whilst making this appear as morally compelled.
Because there is no engagement in argument, logical consistency is unnecessary. A member of an in-group may be presented as a victim lacking in agency in one case, but as strong and capable as anyone else in another case. Infantilism also absolves one from the burden of rational coherence.
The third part of Moral Usurpation is…
(3) The Creation of Zealots
The function of the zealot is to promulgate, and be the living embodiment of, Moral Infantilism. There is an entire constellation of psychological factors which promote zealotry based on infantilism, but I shall not digress into those factors here.
Because only one side of an issue is recognised, the Moral Usurpation strategy is intrinsically prejudiced despite presenting itself as moral. Hence, social justice under this programme is actually social prejudice. The anti-racist stance is actually racist, the anti-sexist stance is actually sexist, and so on. Moral Infantilism is aptly named as it leads to zealots who can seriously believe that black people cannot be racist and women cannot be sexist. The in-groups are defined to be without sin – which is, of course, the ultimate sin.
There are simple tests to identify a zealot:-
- Ask, “do you think it possible that you might be mistaken?”. The zealot cannot admit any possibility of error. The honest person will admit fallibility.
- When faced with a moral question, zealots are certain of the correct answer. Everything is clear, black and white. There are no moral dilemmas for a zealot. This is because they are raised on a diet which consists of one side of the case only – so no dilemma arises. In contrast, the honest person is frequently beset with moral dilemma because all sides can be perceived and the proper balance often requires difficult judgment.
- Ask, “can you explain to me the basis of your opponents’ opinions?”. Zealots have no knowledge of their opponents’ views – though they may think they do. But what they say in reply will be the narrative about “the enemy” which circulates within their own group. (For example, “MRAs want to close women’s refuges”). In contrast, the honest person is likely to know the basics of the opponents’ position and be able to articulate it without agreeing with it. (For example, the feminist position on DV is this: women are the overwhelming majority of victims; when women are violent it is only in self-defence; in any case men do not fear abusive women as much as women fear abusive men; violence against women is a deliberate strategy which men use to control women and is a key part of patriarchy).
The fourth part of Moral Usurpation is,
(4) The Appeal to the Privileged
The great strength of Moral Usurpation is that it appeals to the privileged – the established, the influential, the powerful – because espousing its ostensible moral precepts provides atonement for their privileged status. Indeed, it can eliminate the associated guilt entirely and even replace it with a conviction of victimhood. Thus, the obviously privileged can present themselves as champions of correctness, without detriment to themselves. This is why, for example, it is the elite universities which have adopted this distorted moral position most ardently. It is why the judiciary and parliamentarians have also been taken over en masse by the brave new morality. What’s not to like? You can enjoy your privilege free of guilt whilst presenting yourself to the world as a paragon of niceness, and all with minimal inconvenience. Moral Infantilism is essential to this as it immunises them against perceiving their own hypocrisy.
Thus, Moral Usurpation is the goose that lays the golden eggs as far as the privileged are concerned. And this is why the system reacts with such venom to silence those who would point out that the Emperor has no true morality: this threatens to kill the golden goose.
Strictly the appeal to the privileged is not part of the strategy per se but a psychological proclivity which provides a powerful incentive to adopt the Usurpation strategy. That it acts most strongly on the influential is a massive boost to the process and accounts for this fraudulent morality becoming the obligatory establishment position so quickly.
It is important to understand that the strategy of Moral Usurpation cannot be defeated by mere presentation of countervailing evidence. The Moral Usurpation strategy is stabilised against rational attack because it insulates both the zealot and the comfortably compliant establishment type against any counter-argument. Hence, the contents of this blog, in whatever form it might be presented, will always be ineffectual in influencing those who have adopted usurpation out of self-interest or for its attendant social comforts.
Unfortunately, the Moral Usurpation strategy also involves rolling out this distorted and infantilised perspective to the public as a whole. Indeed, that is its purpose – to manipulate the electorate. And this is where its appeal to the privileged, the influential, is so massively beneficial. Its adherents naturally populate centres of influence: the media, academia, politics, the judiciary, and the entertainment industry and art world. This is normally attributed to entryism. And so it may be, in part. But the moral approach, suitably corrupted, appeals to these very people because of the opportunity it presents to expiate their privilege-guilt at no cost. Once these people are infected by the desired moral reprogramming, they are ideally placed to roll out the contagion to the public.
So the bulk of the public will be unmoved by the arguments of this blog too. That is the common experience of every MRA. And it is the great power of the morally based approach. By conforming to the pre-digested moral script presented to him, Joe Public can feel like a thoroughly nice person without it costing him anything. On the other hand, dissent brings immediate social disapprobation – and worse. The power of shaming and guilt to mould people’s behaviour should not be underestimated.
For this package of Moral Usurpation to function, there does have to be a credible moral core – at least a grain of truth to it – as long as one totally ignores the bigger picture. The falsity of the infantilised view can only be exposed by close examination of details and seeking of balance. This asymmetry (“the unbearable asymmetry of bullshit”) actually helps cement the Usurpation strategy. Many have noted that whilst the zealots need only repeat a few well-worn sound-bite claims, to refute them requires a 40 minute lecture. Infantilism is so much simpler than addressing an issue honestly. It is so much easier to refuse to recognise any dilemma.
A few examples will put some meat on these theoretical bones. Bear in mind throughout that the motivation behind advertising the male disadvantages is not to take part in the victimhood Olympics; it is to attempt to expose the prevailing Moral Infantilism. I’m sure you can add your own favourite examples to those below, the purpose here is to illustrate how Moral Usurpation works in practice.
No one is in favour of violence against women and girls. Violence against women and girls does happen, therefore VAWG has the required core of moral validity. But the perception of moral validity hides its true purpose. It promotes prejudice, deliberately obscuring violence against men and boys. It is driven, not so much by concern for women, but by misandry and by a political agenda. The true purpose of VAWG is to act as a cash cow for a political movement and to lever maximum advantage for women in the family courts and the criminal courts. It is perceived as a moral position only by successful Moral Infantilisation, because a factual examination of all aspects of the associated issues reveals many major moral issues which are ignored entirely under the VAWG perspective. The grossly different perception of violent or sexual offences committed by men upon women compared with vice-versa, and the enormous disparity in their treatment within the criminal justice process, is just one example. Thus, the infantilised morality drives prejudice and injustice. It is no true morality at all.
Gender Pay Gap
Historically (and now quite a long time ago) women were excluded from many professions, whether formally or by custom and practice. At present, across all ages, men’s median pay rate for full time working is about 9% greater than that for women. These provide the moral core upon which Moral Infantilism then operates by ignoring all other relevant factors. I’m sure you can supply the details without obliging me to rehearse them yet again. Other factors, such as men’s 50% longer working hours and three-times greater income tax payments don’t figure when Moral Infantilism is in play. Nor does the issue of which sex spends most of the money ever surface in these discussions. The prejudice promoted by this example of Moral Usurpation is in hiring and progression practices, basing these on accidents of your birth rather than upon merit. This is being strongly backed by Government, because they are beneficiaries of the usurpation strategy, as explained above – and also, in this case, direct beneficiaries through the allure of major fiscal benefits of driving more women out to work. It is nothing to do with being nice to women; it just pretends to be.
The moral core in this case is even weaker as it is contrived by distorting history into a tale of men oppressing women. Those with moral balance, rather than infantile morality, would be able to perceive that the old gendered society had advantages and disadvantages for both sexes. But if the perception of the present can so easily be distorted, how much easier it is to misrepresent a history which is beyond living memory. The moral smoke screen of oppression of women covers the true feminist agenda: making women independent of men, and doing so by denigration of men. So feminism set out to destroy the family and is well on the way to succeeding. The losers here? Everyone. The staggering arrogance of the feminist position on families includes the presumption that fathers, as males, bring nothing essential to the business. That there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary has no impact in countering this position for the reasons discussed above: neither reason nor compassion can counter the attractions of Moral Usurpation to its adherents. That fathers are optional is now the establishment position, slyly approved under the codename “families come in all shapes and sizes”. The psychological impact on the rising generation of widespread fatherlessness, or father alienation, is of no concern to these social engineers. The catastrophe of fatherlessness and all it brings in its wake is giving way now to childlessness too. A balanced perspective must conclude that feminism is an immoral creed, based on prejudice and reckless experimentation with children’s lives, but under Moral Infantilism it is de rigueur to identify as a feminist, especially amongst the political class.
No doubt there is a moral case for abortion in certain circumstances. The situation pro-abortionists love to raise is a woman pregnant through rape. (How many of the UK’s 200,000 abortions per year are due to rape? I don’t know, but I’m prepared to bet it’s an exceedingly tiny proportion). In the UK we have abortion-on-demand under 24 weeks, in all but name. What is the moral core here? It lies in the mantra “my body, my choice”. This only applies to women. A male child has no choice regarding whether he is genitally mutilated. There is no “his body, his choice” in our culture. Its absence is part of what is conveniently ignored under Moral Infantilism. The infantilism is palpable in the case of abortion: no one but the woman matters under “my body, my choice”. No need to mention the father – what a hateful idea. But no need to mention the baby, either. There is no baby. There is only the woman’s body – which needs a tumour removed. Except that the baby is not part of the woman’s body. It has distinct DNA. My own view on abortion hardened when I realised that the pro-abortion lobby was moving towards abortion without time limit. This makes the moral position stark. There is no functional difference between a new-born baby and a baby still in the womb but just a few days, or weeks, from full term. The only difference is their location in space. Abortion at this point is morally identical to murder of a new-born. Unfortunately we already have a precedent for the offence of a mother killing a baby under one year old. Infanticide is virtually never prosecuted in the UK now and the one or two cases of convictions for infanticide annually invariably arise from more serious initial charges and never result in a custodial sentence. Mothers killing babies has already been effectively decriminalised, so abortion without time limit will be the next step. This is the result of the particular moral infantilism which views women’s wishes as more important than children’s welfare, even to the extent that women are free to kill children. This is where Moral Infantilism leads us. Its proponents can only defend it by screeching the opposition to silence because there is no other defence.
The moral core of the diversity agenda is the universal sense of fairness. No one should be disadvantaged on the basis of their sex, race, religion or sexuality. The morally infantile interpret this as justification for forcing arithmetical equivalence between the proportions of identity groups’ in all jobs and in the general public. Except that it isn’t applied to all jobs. There are no quotas for straight white males. There are no quotas for men in teaching. And there are only quotas in favour of women, LGBT and BAME in desirable occupations. LGBT are not being obliged to dig the roads, and women are not being forced onto building sites. But straight white males are being legislated out of desirable occupations (those that make it through the education system). It’s almost as if the motivation were not really concern for anyone, but actually an attack on straight white males. This can hardly be in doubt as “white male” has become a term of abuse which the adherents of Moral Usurpation use openly. And even if it were not for this pernicious aspect of the diversity agenda, its moral distortion is clear: it has reversed the definition of racism and sexism, etc. Now you are a racist if you place competence and the contents of someone’s character ahead of their racial identity group, rather than the reverse.
Trashing the planet is bad. Anyone disagree? There is your moral core. And the global average temperature has indeed been rising. ‘Nuf said? No. From that point it gets far more difficult than the public are led to believe. This is a hard one, because a mass of scientists, led by the IPCC, support the alarmist narrative. But then a mass of academics support the feminist narrative, too. Since Galileo it’s been acceptable to reject the argument from Authority providing you can replace it with sound argument. There is an alternative view on climate change which is rational and data-driven and which deserves better than to be dismissed intolerantly as “denial”. But the media keeps this away from the public. One gets fed up with being told by people who know less about the science than I do about Etruscan pottery that “the science is settled”. Especially if one happens to be a competent physicist who has studied the subject in some depth. But the application of Moral Usurpation becomes obvious when a 16 year old girl with a painfully obvious anxiety disorder is paraded around the world’s major political organisations to promote the alarmist position. How much more obvious do you want the “argument from sentiment” to be? One does not have to look into the background of the leaders of XR to believe there is a different objective here than the genuinely ecological – but it helps. Once again, a moral façade hides motivations considerably less benign.
You can add you own examples – exercises for the reader are to lay out how Moral Usurpation operates in the context of: (a) Trans; (b) Same sex marriage; (c) Girls education (including abroad); (d) Sex and relationship education in schools.
And finally: how do I know that the usurper’s morality is false while mine is correct?
Firstly, because examination of its true motives and effects reveals that it actually originates from, and promotes, either prejudice – which cannot be moral – or an agenda of social, industrial and political engineering, which is also immoral because it is being carried out clandestinely.
Secondly, the social function of morality is to act as the glue which keeps society together. Our society is falling apart. I rest my case.
Appendix: Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals
Many of these Rules can also be deployed by insiders, though they were designed for outsiders…
* RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” This still stands. But sometimes the activist really does have power, and deploying it unfairly is bullying and oppressive, not social justice.
* RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” Sound advice. Being able to claim expertise enhances credibility. And feeling secure adds to the activist’s confidence. This is one reason why Western feminists generally ignore genuine disadvantages to women in other cultures – avoidance of fighting in an area of personal ignorance.
* RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” The converse of Rule 2, this is to deny the enemy the benefit of Rule 2. It is the tactic of derailing; the enemy can be blind-sided by irrelevant arguments they are suddenly forced to address. It is the equivalent of a surprise attack.
* RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” Very few people can, and exposing shortfalls undermines credibility and reputation. This works equally well for either side.
* RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defence. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. The use of visual memes on the internet is a potent example. They are used far more against leftists than by them. (Is this because the left lack inventiveness and wit? Or because it is so much easier to lampoon a leftist, they are such a gift).
* RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
* RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
* RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
* RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Not always, though.
* RULE 10: “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition”.
* RULE 11: “If you push a negative hard enough and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside”. I think an example of this is sending threatening Tweets to yourself as if from the opposition, or staging being physically attacked by the opposition. The effect is to garner sympathy, milk victimhood, and portray the enemy as vicious.
* RULE 12: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” This is specific to outsiders. They are seeking a seat at the table of power. They must have a ready answer to the question, “what would you do if you had that power?”. They must have a policy position in case they are challenged.
* RULE 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” This is the Rule which is most prevalent today in the culture war. It is the tactic of ad hominem attack. Play the man, not the ball. Cut off his support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. Use personalized criticism and ridicule works, and, if necessary, allegations of offences.