Apathy & Compliance, Dignity & Participation

Last week we talked about boundaries and compliant children. This week we're going to start a series of discussions about ideas from this book Rules for Radicals. The book is only about 300 pages long, and in very normal english, so I highly recommend giving it a peek.

The transcript of the first discussion is here.

Today, I want to first talk about a couple of ideas from the chapters, Policy after Power (p.106) and "The Process of Power" (p.113):

"One of the great problems in the beginning of an organization is, often, that the people do not know what they want. Discovering this stirs up, in the organizer, that inner doubt shared by so many, whether the masses of people are competent to make decisions for a democratic society. … These reservations can destroy the effectiveness of the most creative and talented organizer. Many times, contact with low-income groups does not fire one with enthusiasm for the political gospel of democracy. This disillusionment comes … because when you talk with any people you find yourselves confronted with cliches, a variety of superficial, stereotyped responses, and a general lack of information. In a black ghetto if you ask, "What's wrong?" you are told, "Well, the schools are segregated." "What do you think should be done to make better schools?" "Well, they should be desegregated." "How?" "Well, you know." And if you say you don't know, then a lack of knowledge or an inability on the part of the one you are talking to may show itself in a defensive, hostile reaction: "You whites were responsible for the segregation in the first place. We didn't do it. So it's your problem, not ours. You started it, you finish it." If you pursue the point by asking, "Well, what else is wrong with the schools right now?" you get the answer, "The buildings are old; the teachers are bad. We've got to have change." "Well, what kind of change?" "Well, everybody knows things have to be changed." That is usually the end of the line. If you push it any further, you come again to a hostile, defensive reaction or to withdrawal as they suddenly remember they have to be somewhere else.

The issue that is not clear to organizers, missionaries, educators, or any outsider, is simply that if people feel they don't have the power to change a bad situation, then they do not think about it. Why start figuring out how you are going to spend a million dollars if you do not have a million dollars or are ever going to have a million dollars—unless you want to engage in fantasy?

Once people are organized so that they have the power to make changes, then, when confronted with questions of change, they begin to think and to ask questions about how to make the changes. If the teachers in the schools are bad then what do we mean by a bad teacher? What is a good teacher? How do we get good teachers? When we say our children do not understand what the teachers are talking about and our teachers do not understand what the children are talking about, then we ask how communication can be established. Why cannot teachers communicate with the children and the latter with the teachers. What are the hangups? Why don't the teachers understand what the values are in our neighborhood? How can we make them understand? All these and many other perceptive questions begin to arise.
It is when people have a genuine opportunity to act and to change conditions that they begin to think their problems through—then they show their competence, raise the right questions, seek special professional counsel and look for the answers. Then you begin to realize that believing in people is not just a romantic myth. But here you see that the first requirement for communication and education is for people to have a reason for knowing. It is the creation of the instrument or the circumstances of power that provides the reason and makes knowledge essential. Remember, too, that a powerless people will not be purposefully curious about life, and that they then cease being alive. (Rules for Radicals p.106)"

"The organizer knows, for example, that her biggest job is to give the people the feeling that they can do something, that while they may accept the idea that organization means power, they have to experience this idea in action.
...
The ghetto or slum in which she is organizing is not a disorganized community. There is no such animal as a disorganized community. It is a contradiction in terms to use the two words "disorganization" and "community" together: the word community itself means an organized, communal life; people living in an organized fashion. The people in the community may have experienced successive frustrations to the point that their will to participate has seemed to atrophy. They may be living in anonymity and may be starved for personal recognition. They may be suffering from various forms of deprivation and discrimination. They may have accepted anonymity and resigned in apathy. They may despair that their children will inherit a somewhat better world. From your point of view they may have a very negative form of existence, but the fact is that they ARE organized in that way of life. Call it organized apathy or organized nonparticipation, but that is their community pattern. They are living under a certain set of arrangements, standards, way of life. They may in short have surrendered—but life goes on in an organized form, with a definite power structure; even if it is, as Thoreau called most lives, "quiet desperation."

The simple fact is that in any community, regardless of how poor, people may have serious problems—but they do not have issues, they have a bad scene. An issue is something you can do something about, but as long as you feel powerless and unable to do anything about it, all you have is a bad scene. The people resign themselves to a rationalization: it's that kind of world, it's a crumby world, we didn't ask to come into it but we are stuck with it and all we can do is hope that something happens somewhere, somehow, sometime. This is what is usually taken as apathy, what we discussed earlier—that policy follows power. Through action, persuasion, and communication the organizer makes it clear that organization will give them the power, the ability, the strength, the force to be able to do something about these particular problems. It is then that a bad scene begins to break up into specific issues, because now the people can do something about it. What the organizer does is convert the plight into a problem. The question is whether they do it this way or that way or whether they do all of it or part of it. But now you have issues. (Rules for Radicals p.113)"

What's the main thing happening in these two quotes? What state of being is the author describing?
Do you agree with what the author is saying?

Do you think most people have to first feel they have the power to do something in order to spend time thinking about what has to be done? Is this true for yourself?
Do you have any experience of the kind of apathy the author is talking about? Do you agree that 'apathy' in communities is kind of mislabled, or at least that the cause is misunderstood?

Is there a connection between 'apathetic' communities and 'compliant' children?
Are they produced in similar ways? Or even, do compliant children lead to apathetic citizens?
Is there some relationship between the power structure of society and that of the family?
Is there some basic fault with each that they produce 'compliance' and 'apathy'? Or is it a kind of misapplication within the system?


And now I'd like to talk about the dignity of the individual:
If you respect the dignity of the individual you are working with, then her desires, not yours; her values, not yours; her ways of working and fighting, not yours; her choice of leadership, not yours; her programs, not yours, are important and must be followed; except if her programs violate the high values of a free and open society. For example, take the question, "What if the program of the local people offends the rights of other groups, for reasons of color, religion, economic status, or politics? Should this program be accepted just because it is their program?" The answer is categorically no. Always remember that "the guiding star is 'the dignity of the individual.'" This is the purpose of the program. Obviously any program that opposes people because of race, religion, creed, or economic status, is the antithesis of the fundamental dignity of the individual.
It is difficult for people to believe that you really respect their dignity. After all, they know very few people, including their own neighbors, who do. But it is equally difficult for you to surrender that little image of God created in our own likeness, which lurks in all of us and tells us that we secretly believe that we know what's best for the people. A successful organizer has learned emotionally as well as intellectually to respect the dignity of the people with whom she is working. Thus an effective organizational experience is as much an educational process for the organizer as it is for the people with whom she is working. They both must learn to respect the dignity of the individual, and they both must learn that in the last analysis this is the basic purpose of organization, for participation is the heartbeat of the democratic way of life.
We learn, when we respect the dignity of the people, that they cannot be denied the elementary right to participate fully in the solutions to their own problems. Self-respect arises only out of people who play an active role in solving their own crises and who are not helpless, passive, puppet-like recipients of private or public services. To give people help, while denying them a significant part in the action, contributes nothing to the development of the individual. In the deepest sense it is not giving but taking—taking their dignity. Denial of the opportunity for participation is the denial of human dignity and democracy. It will not work. (Rules for Radicals p.122)"

What do you understand the author to be saying here?
What was your first reactioin upon reading this?
Do you agree with what the author is stating?

Is there a fundamental connection between the assumption of dignity and the willingness to contribute to society? Or participation in society?
Is there a fundamental connection between dignity and citizenship?


Is the author a man or a woman?
I actually changed the quote a little. Originally it was all 'he' and 'him'. Does it make a difference to have it be 'she' and 'her'? What does the difference feel like? Does it change how you view yourself in relation to the text? Does it feel misleading? Or does it feel misleading that everything is all 'he' and 'him' in other texts?

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