This piece is part of a series exploring salient aspects of the philosophy known as “Social Futurism” (a term coined and idea developed by myself from 2011-2018). For more full and systematic exploration of these ideas, see http://socialfuturist.party & http://socialfuture.institute.
Social Futurist Activism
Today is May 1st 2018, exactly seven years since the publication of the first version of the Principles of Social Futurism*. Celebrating a commitment to Social Futurist ideals on May 1st is fitting, not only because of the date’s association with the labour movement, but also with pagan Spring rites of rebirth and renewal. In that spirit, for the final part in this series we will be returning to examine and build upon the premise of part two, that a philosophy of futurist politics is only valuable insofar as it is used as a basis for actual world-changing activism.
More specifically, let us look at modern activism from a few different angles, in ways that give us some sense of how to proceed as Social Futurists. These include (1) the modern phenomenon of the flash mob and how it can be applied to media influence, (2) the question of how organizations can operate effectively in the “post-membership” age, (3) how to best organize the new cooperative networks, and (4) a very brief examination of a current movement as a kind of case study in Social Futurist activism, and to consider the question of how to judge if an organization is Social Futurist in nature.
4.1 Flash Mob Media Influence
The term “Flash Mob” was first used in 2003, to describe a diverse group which uses modern communications tools to come together quickly in some “real-world” location, to quickly complete some simple action, and then disperse. Flash mobs still primarily exist just for fun, but they have an online variant which serves the goals of activism. In this phenomenon we might call “flash-comms”, commentators sharing a single worldview and goal descend upon an online news platform to make their presence overwhelmingly felt.
In a world of trolling, online abuse, fake news and fake-fake-news claims (what is that..? metafake-news?), it’s easy – and not at all unwarranted – to criticise such behaviour. On a deeper level, however, we cannot avoid the simple fact that it is effective. An organised group, no matter how small, can easily have a disproportionate impact on how the public perceives the issue, and any decisions made regarding that issue. The next time a high-profile website posts a piece trading in hackneyed tropes of some objectionable sort, you might want to consider raising a posse of like-minded souls to hit the comments section and freely speak their minds. You don’t want cookie-cutter identical comments, just a single underlying worldview. Do that, and the overwhelming impression given to passive (often apathetic, uncritical) observers will be of public opinion pointing firmly in a particular direction. If you are a Social Futurist, if you have ideals and want to change the world in accord with them, then you need to use this tool as an effective way to shape public opinion.
4.2 Post-Membership Cooperative Networks
For years now, membership-based organizations have been complaining that their model is not working as well as it once did. Although the reasons for that are probably complicated, it’s certainly tempting to point the finger at the internet. Online connectivity to one’s peers offers the access to information and sense of community historically offered by membership organizations, at only a fraction of the cost and hassle. Non-net-based organizations simply can’t compete in terms of value for money, time, energy, and most other metrics. Net-based organizations fare little better, however, as they can’t retain members in anything like the way old-fashioned organizations did, unless they are based in some kind of absurdly popular “Walled Garden” platform design, like Facebook.
Activist organizations, therefore, must change with the times. Instead of trying to build dedicated “armies” of loyal followers as was the norm a hundred years ago, it is better to develops tools and methods for inspiring and managing emergent networks… which is to say organizations which emerge, as and when required, from the “primordial soup” of the net’s many platforms, subcultures, hashtags, and any/everything else which might be used as a way to get the message out when you need people to answer your Call. These are cooperative networks which require no formal membership, and who base their judgments of activist reliability on algorithms rather than dues payments. If we each build our own, small network, characterized by a high degree of trust between its members, then collectively our reach and power can be as formidable (not to mention faster-adapting and more flexible) than any 19th century membership-based leviathan.
4.3 Hebb’s Law & Social Network Development
So, how best to go about developing these small, intensely trusting micro-networks? On many levels no explanation should be required, as humans are extraordinarily good at developing such things intuitively, thanks to adaptive pressures in the evolutionary process. That said, let’s take a brief look at the perspective from computational neuroscience:
Back in 1949, Donald Hebb suggested the rule now known as “Hebb’s Law”, often summarised as “cells that fire together, wire together”. In other words, each time the activity of cell (or network node, or person) A affects the activity of B, the two become more associated, with their activity more likely to be correlated in future. As “local relationships” between nodes in the network develop over time like this, the network as a whole develops and becomes more powerful, without any need for centralised planning. I believe this to be a good model for networked Social Futurist activism: Focus on developing your own, small, intensely trusting and cooperative group… and if others do the same then a strong, agile network will naturally emerge, ready to unite and empower those groups.
4.4 Is TZM a Futurist Movement?
We may well ask whether any given organization is Social Futurist in its orientation or nature. Most generally, we would do well to ask whether that organization works toward the Social Futurist ideal of positive social change through technology. If the group doesn’t want change, doesn’t want positive outcomes in accord with our principles, or is automatically opposed to technology then it cannot be Social Futurist. If the organization works toward positive change, and technology is part of that vision and the work toward it, then it just may be.
The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM) is one such group, which has its own particular vision and ideals, but which broadly shares the Social Futurist desire for positive social change through technology. Within TZM it would almost certainly be nigh impossible to find a significant number of people who would say that they personally adhere to the Social Futurist Principles (of course; that’s not about our principles so much as the nature of life and how people live it), but more importantly TZMers goals and activities are as a rule perfectly compatible with those principles, and I’d be extremely surprised to find a significant number of TZMers who cared enough to oppose our principles, particularly as a whole.
In short, this tells me that TZM is a Social Futurist movement, regardless of whether any TZMers explicitly think of it as such. The important thing is not group identity, but shared ideals and a capacity for working together as individuals and small groups. Furthermore, the issue is not whether a group or organization explicitly subscribes to Social Futurist principles (that would be exclusivist to the point of being pointlessly self-sabotaging), but whether the group’s aims, member behaviour and activity are generally compatible with those principles, opening the way to networked cooperation.
5.0 A Uniting Principle
While you are developing your own small group or organization and considering how best to work toward our shared principles, it is useful to have a common ideal or point of focus to work toward. Even more importantly, it is a powerful motivator to know that other groups have that same ideal in mind, and are simultaneously working toward it.
The founding Social Futurist idea or “metameme” is “Clarity and Strength in Unity: The Social Futurist movement is a single cooperative network, united by shared Principles.” In other words, that we need to work together, to unite under one ideal, if we are to approach positive social change through technology. We can do that, with a judicious balance of coherent principle and tools for networked activism. The future belongs to those who seize it, today.
*It is also exactly 242 years today since the establishment of the secret society known as The Illuminati (AKA The Order of Perfectibilists) by Adam Weishaupt in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Not to be confused with the wholly fictional world-controlling Illuminati of conspiracy theory, this historical organization was anti-authoritarian (specifically against the Church and Monarchy), pro-enlightenment, pro-science, and very much a Social Futurist precursor in spirit.