Saturday, May 07, 2011

Das sozial kapital

Adam Smith, of course, framed his invisible hand of the marketplace notions as important for the public good. Karl Marx pitched his ideas about a workers' utopia as brilliantly beneficial for the average Joe. Whether one subscribes to a righty-tighty laissez-faire Adam Smith John Boehner construct, or a lefty-loosey centralized command-and-control planned Karl Marx Stalinoid economy, there are some unaccounted-for factors.

One is methods of creating and enforcing that economy. Violence is the ultimate corrupter, polluting both models and making the theories mushy and anti-people. It is how the rightwingers and leftwingers alike hijack the heart of the economy, turning it into an enemy of civil society. Rightwingers usually do it by exploitation of others most heavily outside the borders (invade, occupy, extract, profit). Leftist powers usually do it by exploiting their own people under the guise of noble sacrifice--give it up for the revolution. They meet in the middle by the use of violence and all its concomitants, which include labeling all opposition as enemy. The weakness in both systems is that violence produces beaten-down yes-men and women and fosters maladaptive groupthink. Soon, all those labeled as enemy actually become enemy, a product of human reaction to violence.

The other factor that goes under both radars is social capital. It's the other invisible hand, uniting people in strange but potentially powerful ways. Networks are the heart of overthrowing repressive regimes of left or right. They are the context of the story, even though they never appear to be the story. Social capital is the red thread running throughout the warp and woof of the stories of success of civil society. Oppressed people form communities of potential strategic nonviolent power, like a latent vault of massive social capital that, once the spending spree starts, can pay down doomsday for the oppressor. It will send a Marcos or a Ben Ali into exiled retirement. It will remove an entire structure of oppression from a Soviet centralized system and redistribute authority downward. This is often completely ignored and not grasped by agents of violent powers until it is a fait accompli. Neither the Soviets nor the CIA saw the fall of the Berlin Wall until it landed with a crash.

So our challenge, if we'd like to end war on Earth, is to learn to identify where social capital is strong and help. Violence has its logic and its arsenal, and nonviolence has a different set of savings and weaponry. Building community is our hope.

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