Published by Scottish Media Lab
Copyright (c) 2017 David Morrison
Published: August 2017
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Issues Not Parties
Hold On - Where Do We Get Solutions From?
Why Build Community
Know Your False Arguments
Checking News Sources
Something Out of Nothing
Lies without Limit
The F Word
Nazi Policies Check
But I’m Not a Racist or A Fascist
Posting and Sharing
What Trolls Want You to Talk About?
What Extremist Trolls Definitively Do Not Want Us to Talk About?
Art and Performance
Games and Activism
Explaining Tricky Ideas
Narratives and Counter Narratives
Squeezing the Rich
Public Costs, Businesses Benefits
Extra Costs on Working Families on Low Incomes in Glasgow
The War on Science
Saul Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals has been very influential in Western political circles in recent years. The book is all about putting together grassroots communities and suggests a range of approaches for activists to adopt, which can then be applied to a wide variety of situations. At its core the book suggests a cumulative process:
This involves applying a series of rules along these lines:
1. If your numbers are small keep quiet about them and make a lot of noise to create the impression you’ve plenty of numbers.
2. Stick to dealing with the experience/ comfort zone of your community.
3. Go outside or beyond the experience/ comfort zone of your opponents.
4. Call opponents to account according to their own standards/ rules.
5. Ridicule opponents.
6. The best tactics are those you enjoy.
7. The same tactics become dull to all concerned and need refreshed.
8. Pile the pressure on as fully as possible to maximum effect.
9. The threat of action is often more effective than the action itself.
10. Making an attack puts you in the position of having to offer a positive alternative.
11. Identify a target, lock in on it, make it personal and polarise opinion. Avoid structures and go for and stick to attacking a given individual.
Overall, pressuring, perhaps even taunting your opponent, to get a reaction that suits your narrative is a focus within these rules.
There are some ‘effective’ points such as some of the tactics in terms of manoeuvring opponents into difficult positions; and some essentials in terms of keeping it fresh, taking action that is enjoyable and offering positive alternatives.
However, much of what is going on is quite antagonistic, less than open and, perhaps, driven by the tactics in terms of the actions and narratives likely to result. The overall construct is essentially about win or lose; get the job done whatever; and polarise at every opportunity.
All of which sounds quite familiar; a bit like the behaviours, often reflexes, of those making misuse of power/ authoritarianism. And it’s a bit hard to see how any activism aimed at mutually constructive outcomes can go down that route.
If we wish to get results; build consensus to getting things done; and avoid extremism in its many forms . . . surely a default to antagonism is going to get in the way of doing what we can for the most part all agree on - and then taking things from there.
In other words, the creation of a common enemy to confront may turn the resulting conflict into as much of a goal or target as the issue/ s you set out to protest against in the first place. That is not to say many forms of protest activism, (from marches through to even the sanctions or boycotts of governments), have not brought positive outcomes. But more to suggest that what were novel and, in some circumstances, effective ‘gather and protest’ approaches to activism have become predictable, and easy to counter, through contradictory external and internal antagonisms.
If it can be accepted that activism based on escalating polarisation is in some respects prone to be counter-productive and often quite predictable, any alternative approaches presumably need to be able to apply a fresh dynamic to existing forms of activism. Three familiar, but at times overlapping, types of activism come to mind:
1. Demand driven activism seeks changes in policies through opposition often involving strikes, sit-ins or demonstrations.
2. Needs-focused activism concerns developing or creating alternatives to current, typically failing, social structures to meet needs such as housing and healthcare. Co-operatives, squats and social centres are typical to this type of activism, which is often based around persistent collective participation.
3. Revolutionary activism aimed at dismantling or overthrowing existing social structures to arrive at rapid social change without stepping through reforms.
In each case options for less polarised, less predictable and more issues based activism do seem to be in some use and readily available:
1. Women in Iceland famously went on strike in Iceland in 1975 over equal pay and won quickly. The size and connectedness of the community helped, but they succeeded with a non-confrontational strike. In other circumstances, perhaps a withdrawal of labour could exchange picketing for transferring work to another cause, e.g. spending a strike day together doing something for a local charity. Along similar lines stand and chant demonstrations become opportunities to promote your cause when turned into family events and/ or flash performances on some level. Costume protests that challenge or satirise offer a straightforward example, as illustrated by a recent demonstration in the US where activists turned out in costumes from the Handmaid’s Tale to put across a compelling message about totalitarianism.
2. Co-operatives involving workers’ groups or community groups are often focused on building consensus and to some extent this is an area where the types of on-the-ground community action they often carry out encourages consensus. Longstanding contributors often pull things together and organisational structures can be light enough to avoid forming top down layers. (However, it seems necessary from the outset to assess whether or not the issues and messages are sufficiently compelling to keep ahead of the tug of individuals and organisation. There is a risk that you could end up building an organisation not to solve an issue or deliver a service, but for solely the sake of sustaining the organisation itself).
3. Seeking a sea change by tearing things up or through dramatic confrontation often isn’t very revolutionary at all. A revolution brings genuine change in social order to the broad benefit of society. Vaccinations for polio or the invention of anaesthesia have both been revolutionary in ways few demonstrations or power grabs can claim to match. Realistically, revolutionary activism might be able to claim to be seen as genuinely revolutionary when re-inventing and re-purposing; not when lurching from political left to right or creating excuses for governments to become increasingly authoritarian. Suffragette marches provide an example of where revolutionary attitudes and demonstration combined very effectively - and largely peacefully.
Clearly, there is no shortage of alternatives to confrontational methods and options for concentrating on getting issues-based results. If these approaches are carried forward into organising and organisations the emphasis on issues and outcomes also guides how and who to work with.
Under such circumstances those primarily concerned about the issues and delivering outcomes become more significant than political factions or the loudest voice. Often these are people who can be identified with through consistency and contribution, (towards planned outcomes), instead of through insubstantial patterns of affiliation or patronage.
Where issues, messages and skill sets are put first it becomes practical to adopt organisational structures based on the practicalities of delivering the messages and related outcomes instead of wandering off into clusters of political or personal agendas. For example, if roles are assigned and developed according to consistency and contribution we find those carrying out the activism/ work directly shaping the delivery of shared messages.
Issues Not Parties
Standard political models glue people and political parties together in advance of the issues by offering a convenient route to political expression and widespread networking. This comes at the price of accepting a bundle of issues shaped as party policies and you’re part of ‘the team’ so long as you stick to set menu.
Activism can appear to escape putting political team membership in front of the issues when focusing on what appears as a single issue. However, few issues sit in isolation and a political dimension to a group or organisation will typically have or develop an internal politics. Consequently, it appears the issues and methods required to accommodate a constructive ‘political’ structure within activism need to be mapped, and agreed, in advance of political or constitutional team-building.
Where the issues; the messages they concern; and the related outcomes all dovetail with engagement in advance of political or constitutional alliance, people and issues can start out with an authentic basis for collaboration. Any resulting structure or organisation, however then politicised, is open to carrying forward a consensus based around core issues.
Issues-focused principles, and actions following from them, may need to be fostered and remain able to adapt to circumstances but, unlike a constitutional or political model, personal and group engagement rests on a self-negotiated platform rooted in getting done what you actually wish to get done.
Activism based, first and foremost, on tackling issues and delivering outcomes can access a different set of narratives and narrative structures from more militant and polarised politically-driven projects. Instead of seeking to manoeuvre an opponent into a difficult position through techniques like making a lot of noise, aka astroturfing, activists can look to introduce counter confrontational narratives and to introduce fresh open narratives.
An approach based on open, personal narratives can help to take activism outside the political arena where manipulation and rubbing raw opponents’ every weakness locks everyone down into a pattern of mistrust mapped by terms such as compliance, convention and collapse. A whole new vocabulary becomes available; and immediately accessible through solutions-focused terms such as prevention, ingenuity and novelty.
And it’s here, with open narratives, where boundaries become more permeable and activism is able to get beyond ‘meeting fire with fire’ or trading blows at varying distances. It can do so by stepping beyond argument and into compelling, remarkable or ‘awe-inspiring’. The last term is the one psychologists are using and switching to open narratives can be considered in terms of offering a different level of reasoning.
If someone offers a convincing evidence-based argument it can be next to impossible for those biased against the evidence to take the evidence on board through standard reasoned argument alone. They are typically thinking of their immediate concerns and falling into a pattern of confrontation instead of seeking common ground or cause. The greater the gap in shared understanding, the more likely a default to a familiar drama-centred route into defensive actions, which are fixed in our bias for sticking with information that confirms what we already hold true.
Taking both ‘sides’ out of defaulting into conflict calls for encouraging ‘the opposition’ to enter into meaningful conversation. This involves inviting them to pause to think and to consider others’ point of view from different angles, which happens when, for example, genuine rapport, spontaneity or remarkable settings catch the breath or take our thoughts down a different path.
Under these kind of conditions areas of common ground and shared purpose are less likely to lapse or default into conflict. That does not mean significant differences will be resolved or set aside, but once a few disagreements have been at least parked there’s more room to build more rapport, to drop in a suggested solution or to explore an area of agreement.
It may sound like a tall order to serve up lots of different types of compelling experiences, but activism is not about providing an expensive or glittery entertainment. The realisation of planned outcomes can, at times, be fun or creative along the way, but communicating understanding of the issues you wish to raise and the changes you want to see made are the underlying focus. Offering a cup of hot chocolate on a cold morning can be just the ticket all on its own. It’s really not necessary to lay on a rock concert or to arrive in a vintage car. You only need to be more compelling than those mostly trading in tired arguments and gloom. The people typically most focused on negative political campaigning just don’t come across as even slightly for real when they try to be compelling or spontaneous. Under such circumstances they tend to look plastic and the underlying fixed narratives are never far from the surface.
In other words, using messages based around largely positive open narratives aims to build understanding through encouraging issues-centred self-negotiation around shared goals. At the same time open narratives deprive the divisive or disruptive of many of their excuses for escalating authoritarianism.
Hold On - Where Do We Get Solutions From?
1. Check what works well elsewhere in fairly similar circumstances.
2. Research from a mix of sources and develop an understanding of how systems connect up.
3. In situations where efforts focus on ‘firefighting’ problems, prevention often needs to kick in to halt further deterioration.
4. Early interventions deliver prevention and prevention saves costs allowing further preventative interventions.
5. Any chain of interventions has to connect up and self-replicate in terms of a self-contained capacity to keep all the links working as intended.
6. See solutions not in terms of your solution, but in terms of how you build and hand over ownership of options to those in need of a solution.
Why Build Community
With most enterprises, entertainments and events a customer’s ‘journey’ rarely involves a short, straight line from first contact to shopping cart. It may look much more like this, if not quite a bit longer:
1. You hear about a ‘product’/ event via a friend.
2. Later the same day you see a related Facebook post, Like the content, and comment.
3. A week later you get paid and do a quick search engine trawl for comparable products.
4. The product you first came across is on the first page of the search results and you click through to check the details.
5. There’s one thing you’re not sure about so you Tweet the company and get a quick and satisfactory reply.
6. Finally, you’re convinced the product is a good purchase and it’s already open in another browser tab.
7. You buy the product/ ticket to the event.
A study by Sprout Social found that 85 percent of people have to see something on social media more than once before they would purchase it. But they will also unfollow you if you post too many promotional messages.
There are countless variants, but roughly speaking a process of persuasion is going on until a series of issues-and outcomes-focused messages pass enough of the right thresholds to arrive at an outcome. If we consider that organisationally within face-to-face or online communities it becomes apparent persuasion calls for a great deal of connectivity, interdependency and exchange between quite disparate points of contact. Put another way, effective persuasion often involves inviting people into a community of issues and ideas.
Roll with the punches political activism, where you set off with at least a side-serving of politically defined ideals and the best of intentions, offers a familiar structure and a ‘team’. There is also the impression of adapting to on-going circumstances, which aims to help to target pressure on political opponents.
However, making large portions of a campaign up as you go along throws issues, politics and fandom into the same basket instead of forming a firm platform of clearly understood issues for any politics and/ or collaborations to stand on. So what may initially appear unpredictable within combative politicised campaigning likely leads to a politicised, if not political, activism and fans.
To sustain motivation and keep things fresh it’s important to fine-tune as you go, which is made much easier through applying changes to the politics, methods and messages set on top of a platform formed of core issues.
1. Plan compelling narratives to carry the messages about your issues and planned outcomes.
2. Communicate beyond your existing support.
3. If it’s fascism or totalitarianism call it by its name.
4. Back the genuinely progressive and innovative.
5. Create and pilot positive models for the future.
6. Stand up determinedly for your rights and those of others.
7. Prepare to protect the communities most at risk from extremists.
8. Seek genuinely universal voting rights, including auto-registration.
9. Reflect, learn and adapt to improve and offer novelty.
Know Your False Arguments
False arguments aka fallacies are routines people fall into when they haven’t properly thought through what they’re saying or typing. Whether by accident or design this crude trickery involves a process of clutching at straws, which distorts reasoned argument. As a result, it’s probably helpful to have a clear understanding of at least the most commonly used false arguments to avoid falling back on them yourself and to call out those using false arguments to pursue damaging agendas:
- Appeal to Authority
Trying to strengthen an argument by referring to a ‘big name’ or unsubstantiated claims of expertise is clearly deceitful. This can be used in combination by trying to claim a cluster of support for a false argument based on presenting claims of expertise, which doesn’t exist. To avoid falling for this make sure your experts are experts and offer some evidence supporting the experts’ views.
- Hasty Generalization
We have a bias towards jumping to conclusions about people on the basis of small or inaccurate samples. Two personal stories about visits to two different funfairs don’t offer enough evidence to draw any conclusions about funfairs at all. However, many people enjoy or revel in anecdotes and stats, which tempt us to put limited or personal opinions ahead of wider, but less personally emotionally connected, information.
- Missing the Point
The parts of an argument support a particular conclusion - but a different conclusion is offered. Checking for this approach means asking whether or not the evidence to back the conclusion is what’s actually being presented. There might be a few possible conclusions you could draw from the evidence, but the one pulled out of the hat isn’t supported among the evidence.
- Post Hoc (Aka False Cause)
This is where it is assumed that because B follows A, A caused B to happen. Two events that seem related in time are often not linked by any actual cause. Asking for an explanation of the actual processes connecting A to B usually reveals the presence or absence of any genuine causal link.
- Slippery Slope
This false argument claims that one step in a particular direction will unleash a runaway chain of events. Watch out for claims which appear unlikely or unreliable at any point in the whole chain, as a single weak point may bring the whole argument down.
- Ad Populum
In this case the basic falsehood lies in exploiting our natural preference for fitting in or getting along with most people. This becomes very misleading when in reality most people don’t actually agree with the argument being made. Jumping on the bandwagon is one form of this fallacy, which is focused on normalising the far from typical.
- Ad Hominem
Personal attacks on those supporting an argument are at least fairly obvious, but may be directed at you through undermining your sources and evidence. Typically an author or expert is called out for their personal appearance, opinions or habits, rather than for their professional ability.
- Tu Quoque
A tu quoque argument simply involves claiming you have done what you are arguing against. This fallacy is an absolute staple of extremists who have given up on presenting reasoned arguments. When a tu quoque false argument appears step back and handle with care immediately, as it’s an attempt to muddy the waters and blur lines until anyone looking at the argument from outside finds it hard to tell who is saying what.
- Appeal to Pity
Making you feel sorry for someone or something to get you to accept an argument is all too common. A bundles of woes may be offered up, but not necessarily connected to or supporting the conclusion put forward.
- Appeal to Ignorance
This false argument isn’t far removed from claiming someone is a bit slow on the uptake. It usually works along the lines of stating ‘there’s no certain evidence or definite answer we can reach, but my conclusion is the best we can get so we should go with that’. Basically, that’s using a lack of or refusal of evidence to try to lend a false authority to a potentially misleading conclusion. A lack of relevant evidence is the fairly obvious tell.
- Straw Man
A flawed or incomplete version of the argument you are trying to make is set up in your name and then attacked. Essentially, your argument is being misrepresented to offer you up as an easy, false target. Always point this out fairly gently, as carrying on with a broken or incomplete version of your argument, which has already appeared to have been taken as accepted, leaves you open to becoming identified with the straw man.
- Red Herring
In the middle of debate the argument is taken off at a tangent into areas with little or nothing to do with the original discussion. Without reining in the false argument, red herrings are not unlike digital games where the main plot gets lost among endless mini-dungeons and side-quests. Often those using this false argument avoid ever returning to the original line of debate. Check the steps in the argument to see if everything put forward backs the conclusion.
- False Dichotomy
The incredibly tiresome false dichotomy treats the world as an online quiz where everything is broken down into two choices. One of these is set up to be ruled out and so it is claimed there is only one workable choice. Clearly, a false dichotomy is used to close down debate while presenting grounds to rush to a pre-constructed false conclusion.
- Begging the Question
Begging the question involves someone arguing while either overlooking a doubtful assumption within an argument or presenting an argument that is more or less the same as the conclusion on offer. The ‘evidence’ being offered is, therefore, nothing more than the false argument itself. Gaps or weaknesses in arguments need to be supported with evidence and it is misleading to present what you are trying to prove as sound evidence.
- Weak Analogy
Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren’t really alike when considered in context, the analogy is a weak one, and an argument that relies on this kind of approach is a weak analogy. The misleading comparison is essentially comparing apples to pears, which is no basis for an argument. Asking what exactly are the features being compared often polishes off this kind of argument.
There are many more false arguments out there, but most of those deliberately using them will call upon one of the above fairly early on, alerting you to what else might be going on.
Checking News Sources
- Accepting a single source for a story as a reliable guide to what is happening usually means locking yourself into taking one angle on a story.
- Be cautious of websites with unusual web address, some of which may be close to a well-known address.
- Beware sites that take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).
- Check to see if a number of known and reasonably reliable sites are carrying the same story. Clearly with some stories and sites exclusives or breaking news might be expected; but otherwise one source alone is likely to be unreliable.
- It is not uncommon for news outlets to blur the line between journalists and comments with visitor blogs. These may differ wildly from the outlet’s standard output.
- A check to see who actually wrote an article may betray either bias or anonymity. If the site or article is claiming any expertise it’s necessary to see if there’s any information about the author/ source to back such claims.
- Site info pages such as About Us sometimes just blurt out biases. Statements of expertise or connects to other organisation might be expected to be found here.
- A messy, CAPS, Angry Fruit Salad of a site probably isn’t the best place to find reliable information.
- A plain or quiet site may not be fancy, but a look at the text can uncover hidden gems. A lot of good writers don’t have cash for a shiny site. Zoom in on that often tiny text.
- By-lines are there to tease you either in terms of clicking through or in the hope you’ll take a misleading by-line as gospel without checking something closer to the reality inside the article.
- A by-line or article that makes you irritable or angry - is quite possibly designed to do so. Check the story out on better sources before rushing to share or click through.
- If a site encourages you to confront, harass or straight-up DOX others, it’s probably trying to manipulate you and not a reliable news source.
- Slightly blurry video clips with patches of deeper blur in key areas are often run with a commentary that shouts an instruction to look at a blurry patch, where there is often nothing concrete to confirm claims in the accompanying commentary. Both the commentary and a fresh pejorative image or footage usually follows immediately.
- Photoshop is used to demonise individuals on a daily basis and women are particular targets for media abuse. If a public figure suddenly looks exhausted or appears to have a feature distorted a zoom usually reveals signs of quite clumsy image manipulation.
It’s fairly common for activism rooted in politics and parties of one kind or another to spill over into activists’ or supporters’ digital inputs and outputs. The temptation is to routinely visit the same broadly supportive sites and groups to source content in support of your arguments. Nothing wrong with that, but on its own our natural tendency is to favour information and information sources consistent with our existing views - confirmation bias. We all do it and I’m afraid the effect is quite significant.
We can probably see confirmation bias at work in personal feeds where a welter of political posts often punch and jab away at distant opponents, while putting off friends and colleagues who are in the feed and on some kind of middle ground. Avoiding this isn’t hard and mainly calls for a marked shift from pulverising to persuading. As part of that there probably needs to be an acceptance that activism is often for the long run and connecting the politics up to some of the many areas affected by politics is more likely to get your messages across than just countering others’ messages.
How - keep the pick of the political posts and try out a fresh mix:
1. Use sources/ links to a different angle on a current event.
2. Post an image about a wildlife protection or ecological issue.
3. Present an image showing peaceful activism.
4. Link to and comment on a global issue.
5. Link to a source of helpful information stating why it was helpful.
6. Lightly rake over a local issue.
7. Link to information about finding a solution to a concern.
A community page or group feed can broaden its appeal and continue to progress issues of concern by experimenting with the types of posts suited to a friendly feed. However, building and promoting change among wider groups calls for content suited to collaboration among groups.
Issues-focused posts that often work well include the following:
1. Participative posts inviting comment on a core issue.
2. Exploring the topic beyond political or single issue boundaries.
3. Content offering perspectives from other countries and cultures.
4. Common ground posts, which highlight consensus.
5. Different types of media covering the same topic.
6. Community and/ or public service content.
It takes patience and experimentation to establish a pattern based on which posts get the most views, positive reactions and comments; but you won’t go far off track if you favour posts with compelling or at least relevant images.
Less predictable and less attack-minded posts will typically seem to go against the tide in groups that are already heavily conventionally politicised. In which case it’s a matter of gradually slotting in content likely to offer a good fit. The intention is not to try to overwhelm or to outdo politicised posts, but to encourage engagement on underlying issues and to try to break down political antagonism.
Something Out of Nothing
With few resources we sometimes need to invent our own solutions - often from next to nothing. The most helpful ideas can result from having to think more creatively, in part because there are almost no funds or very limited resources.
1. Check you’re not re-inventing the whole wheel.
2. Plan and plan some more.
3. Habits die hard, so it is often easier to look for solutions that improve on or build on existing solutions.
4. Look for a range of uses and audiences for your innovations.
5. Get the most out of what you have before you start to bring in new technologies and overheads.
6. Get close to or inside the problem so you know how things work on the ground.
7. Consider knock-on effects where one innovation may lead to more innovations.
8. The easier it is to use, the more it will get used.
9. Inexpensive innovations can reach wider audiences.
10. Aim for wide audiences and think beyond current limits.
Personal online activism calls for a connection, a smartphone and, in practical terms, probably some access to a desktop PC. Getting things done is a bit quicker and more secure if you can afford fairly up-to-date kit, but getting started with pages and groups on major social media platforms is free. Progressing from there, (with help from free online help/ demo videos), is much like setting up a micro-enterprise:
1. Take suitable security precautions into account.
2. Rely on broad research from a mix of sources and fact checks.
3. Start with a free blog and a free blog template.
4. Grab your preferred social media profiles.
5. Write from what you know and add to what you know.
6. Rely on free images and use attribution where required.
7. Build your campaign/ a personal brand.
8. Start growing a network among the like-minded and further afield.
9. Have an end goal in the sense of the path you wish to follow.
10. Invest carefully in more skills, equipment and support without putting all your eggs in one basket.
Before engaging in activism or setting up a campaign it’s important to be clear on security and privacy. If you are personally identifiable as an activist a wide range of difficulties could crop up. These include attacks on your reputation, business boycotts and assaults. Equally, putting a face to your campaigns demonstrates transparency and lends your cause credibility. As a result, it’s important to think things through and assess both potential risks and options for risk management. Options you may wish to consider include:
1. Avoiding using personal email accounts when setting up social media profiles.
2. Using secure passwords for all accounts and email addresses.
3. Creating a fresh, new Facebook profile before creating a Facebook page for a campaign. Adopt the same approach on other platforms.
4. Never responding to comments and responses using your personal accounts.
5. Hiding the ownership of any domain and related ‘Who is’ information. (This often involves a small extra charge).
6. Switching-off any geo-location or geo-tagging settings on all the platforms you use.
7. Leaving all locations out of information placed on social media accounts and websites.
8. Using a VPN to reroute your connections to servers through multiple servers. The Opera browser has a built in VPN.
9. Getting help if things get out of hand or the law is broken.
10. Familiarising yourself with each platform’s security and privacy options, including reporting and blocking trolls.
1. If in doubt about an argument check it out for yourself using a range of sources offering different opinions - and not all of them from mainstream media.
2. Watch out for emotional escalators, such as ‘super numbers’ where figures are bundled together over many years and across many sources to make everything sound ‘off the scale’.
3. Skip on outrage and anger posts designed to get you to reply in kind.
4. Watch out for misleading by-lines where the title of the story shown to you skips on parts of what the full article covers.
5. We often stick to what we know on autopilot. Trying a new approach or reviewing existing approaches regularly helps to make you aware of bias.
6. False attribution is a bias involving attaching responsibility to individuals instead of the systems they connect to. This is worth bearing in mind if things start to get personal.
7. Skip on falling into the tit-for-tat trap of making false memes and passing them round.
8. Despite your best efforts you’ll get a fact or a number wrong. Own up, but keep an eye out for your error being used to dodge the original concern that caught your eye.
9. A troll’s aim, whether for a distorted sense of fun or for other motives, is to reduce you to their level, so you can either work on how to deal with them or hand them what they’re after.
10. If you’re surrounded by trolls or spending time with trolls on a regular basis - take proper breaks and switch to other social activities to refresh.
11. Stand up, step away from the computer and just leave a thread in the middle of a heated debate or argument.
12. Post fact-based memes in reply to heated arguments.
13. Stop in the middle of an on-going thread, take a break and go back later to see how others dealt with it.
14. Start a thread of your own on a topic of your choice instead of discussing what a troll wants to go on about.
15. Find out how to take a screenshot on your phone or PC and try out saving a screenshot. If a troll gets unpleasant take a screenshot and tell the troll you’ve saved it. Don’t show them the screenshot and ignore them if they mock you.
16. Keep an eye out for trolls trying to issue orders and controlling statements. There’s nothing they like more than sending you on the run around.
In troubled times it maybe can’t do any harm to stay calm enough to step back from arguments and open to looking for fresh options. Psychologists reckon the following activities lower stress and anxiety.
The following creative activities also show some scientific evidence of relaxing and can help out with activism at the same time:
1. Creative writing
2. Graphic and digital design
3. Knitting and crochet
4. Making new recipes
5. Musical performance
6. Painting, drawing and sketching
8. Song writing
Lies without Limit
It is now standard for political representatives of many parties and sections of the media to just lie. That is obviously nothing new in itself, but in the past lies which were very obvious and quite ridiculous were usually avoided, as you might get called out on them. Possibly even called to account.
Now daily we see lies which are so extravagant and wildly unrealistic they’re less convincing than the Tooth Fairy. And they’re delivered not with hesitancy or qualification, but with self-congratulation and bragging. Getting one over on people for personal greed is something some people celebrate.
So how do these politicians and media bullies get from representing voters or journalism to pouring out blatant propaganda, which they seem or claim to have come to believe?
It turns out part of the self-deception is through short circuiting the sense of responsibility or upset most people would have when telling harmful lies. The brains of those who start telling small, malicious lies become desensitised to lying and so makes it easier and easier to tell ever more ridiculous lies without feeling at all bad.
Dr Tali Sharot, who led a recent study based on brain scans, looked at how negative emotions or guilt are discarded out of personal greed. When lying for personal gain the amygdala induces a negative feeling, which limits how much of a lie we are prepared to tell. With continued lying the negative effect weakens and the lies get more expansive and exaggerated. So frequent lying results in a reduced emotional reaction.
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (Garrett et al., 2016).
Perhaps obviously, we need to call out lies aka post-truths and not fall for the way in which these unfortunate people escalate to the ever more absurd. All that does is to keep on moving the goalposts, usually with claims their previous outrageous positions are mild by comparison and so hardly worth questioning. Which, as the science indicates, looks like a route to lies without limit.
Regrettably, while reaping the benefits of science as never before, Western media and society has largely abandoned fact and debate in favour of whoever shouts loudest and most often. This is fertile territory for those with no regard for other people’s experience, as normalising deceit gives those without empathy easy access to their standard cop out - everyone’s just as bad.
If everyone was without empathy there’d be no antibiotics, no nurses, few hospitals and no Internet for starters, as these were or are all reliant on grasping the need to deal with other people’s suffering. In other words, those who lack empathy are the exceptions to the standard human response.
Narcissists are among those without concern for other people’s feelings, but it turns out they’re not without the capacity for empathy. It’s just been set aside and can be reinstated. A study by Hepper et al. notes that narcissists are self-orientated and automatically largely unconcerned with their impacts on others. Nevertheless, they can be coaxed into feeling empathy by encouraging them to consider others’ point-of-view. In other words, if you bring their attention to putting themselves into someone else’s shoes empathy kicks in.
The F Word
Fascists, Nazis and Alt Right are a few now familiar terms attached to supporters of far right totalitarianism. Those involved sometimes claim the three are unrelated due to isolated differences of detail or policy. In reality the ‘thinking’, the prejudices and the bulk of the hateful policies all fit well under the same authoritarian label of fascism.
Fascists, (such as those found in 20th Century Nazism, Spain and Abyssinia, or in the United States in the early 21st Century), agitate for racial supremacy, racism, forced labour and genocide as matters of policy. In Nazi Germany they slaughtered the Socialists.
To compare the hate politics of fascism to those described by fascists as ‘the Left’ or the recently invented ‘Alt-Left’ is absurd. People protecting Human Rights, calling for Fair Pay or protesting cuts to education are the type of people who worked to deliver most of the human and civic rights many benefit from. Employment rights, holidays, pensions and universal health care are what ‘the Left’ campaign for. To try to bundle ‘the Left’ or all ‘liberals’ as violent agitators is to mark yourself as at best ill-informed.
The emptiness of fascist ideology can be laid bare on many levels, as it essentially involves becoming servile and brutalised. One example of the internal contradictions involved sees fascists continue to use the very employment rights, holiday entitlements, pensions and universal healthcare they seek to tear down.
If you are assaulted by Nazis or other extremists under any normal circumstances you can protect yourself using the minimum force necessary. Beyond that lashing out in retaliation, matching extremist aggression or turning vigilante takes us right back in the direction of becoming locked into conflict.
The White Rose Movement’s rebellion inside Nazi Germany (1942-1943) began when people started to received pamphlets in the mail, which were then copied and distributed around Germany. At the same time graffiti began to appear on buildings and across roads, using large lettering to calling for an end to the regime and for freedom.
The mainly young resistance fighters faced torture, concentration camps and/ or death, but still refused to resort to violence. Instead they called for determined passive resistance:
“But our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil. "Oh, we've known that for a long time," I hear you object, "and it isn't necessary to bring that to our attention again." But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right - or rather, your moral duty - to eliminate this system? But if a man no longer can summon the strength to demand his right, then it is absolutely certain that he will perish. We would deserve to be dispersed through the earth like dust before the wind if we do not muster our powers at this late hour and finally find the courage which up to now we have lacked. Do not hide your cowardice behind a cloak of expediency, for with every new day that you hesitate, failing to oppose this offspring of Hell, your guilt, as in a parabolic curve, grows higher and higher.
Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practice an effective opposition. They do not see any avenues open to them. We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system. It is not possible through solitary withdrawal, in the manner of embittered hermits, to prepare the ground for the overturn of this "government" or bring about the revolution at the earliest possible moment. No, it can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people - people who are agreed as to the means they must use to attain their goal. We have no great number of choices as to these means. The only one available is passive resistance.”
- White Rose Movement, Pamphlet #2
Clearly, despite the regime and the extreme risks, the White Rose Movement was settled on non-violent protest. We can to try to understand why they thought that way by considering how close they were to the obscene injustices they fought against. Under such circumstances they more than most would, perhaps, have been aware of the loss of authentic resistance involved in rushing to adopt the aggressive tactics of the dictatorship they challenged.
Alternatively, we can look to the words of Sophie Scholl to gain some insight to the reasons behind a commitment to a resistance made more of passion and determination than of reprisal and opportunism:
“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.”
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to "survive." The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don't want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won't take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don't like to make waves — or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It's the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you'll keep it under control. If you don't make any noise, the bogeyman won't find you. But it's all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
- Attributed to Sophie Scholl
“It was a sunny day, I was carrying a child in a white dress to be christened. The path to the church led up a steep slope, but I held the child in my arms firmly and without faltering. Then suddenly my footing gave way . . . I had enough time to put the child down before plunging into the abyss. The child is our idea. In spite of all obstacles it will prevail.”
Perhaps a couple more quotes may put across why passive activism was considered the only route available:
“It was not well to drive men into final corners; at those moments they could all develop teeth and claws.”
- Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”
- Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Put another way, whatever else was in the minds of the White Rose Movement it appears being in such close proximity to the terrors of totalitarianism did not encourage them to endorse or carry out violence. Sabotage against the Nazi war effort is proposed and under the circumstances this is hardly surprising, but this was to be conducted as a passive resistance.
Sabotage is a very broad term applied to situations from sabotaging a career through to destroying a bridge. In the extreme circumstances of Nazi Germany industrial sabotage certainly seems justified in terms of the nature of the regime and the impacts of the war effort.
Nevertheless, most forms of damaging or disruptive sabotage have the potential to either run out of control or to be easily brought under control. And, ultimately, as acts of disruption if not destruction, feed into the standard antagonistic interplay fostering only division.
Consequently, while a display or demonstration can make less of an immediate splash than a more dramatic act of direct defiance, a piece of street art with a bold, thought-provoking message is much more likely to step outside the adversarial and to be remembered or thought remarkable to all concerned.
Nazi Policies Check
Does your party or group agree with any of these Nazi policies?
1. Funding largely from the very wealthy.
2. Setting up camps for the indefinite detention of minorities.
3. Rejecting any genuine freedom of speech and spying on the population.
4. Brutalising disabled people.
5. Making young people join military organisations.
6. Basing the whole education system on micromanaged over-regulation.
7. Basing the economy on militarisation and forced labour.
8. Keeping state registers of minority groups and ethnic communities.
9. Launching unprovoked military invasions and supporting dictatorships in other countries.
10. Returning women ‘to the home’ and conditioning them for inequality.
11. Normalising aggression, abuse and personal attacks as political weapons.
Does your party or group back anti-Nazi policies?
1. Concentrating spending on education, health and transport.
2. Prioritising early education.
3. Employing sensible immigration to boost aging populations.
4. Looking to work with those of different opinions.
5. Encouraging businesses to pay employees a genuinely Living Wage.
6. Inviting more women and young people to take part in politics.
7. Speaking out against war and weapons of mass destruction.
8. Supporting broadly appealing sensible legislation.
9. Seeking legislation against domestic violence.
10. Working in close economic and social co-operation with other nations.
But I’m Not a Racist or A Fascist
If you vote or voted for the parties of the extreme right in the US or any of Britain’s nations, I do understand the sense of frustration against the system as it is. And I get the need for change.
What I cannot understand is why you would believe that doubling down on inequality could help to solve anyone’s problems. And why you would get up and go to the trouble of voting for anyone who boasts about violent assault on women, taunts the disabled or hates on child refugees.
The fact of the matter is the far right candidates’ racism and aggression weren’t deal breakers for you. Somehow you told yourself attacking the poor and the disadvantaged would let you ‘take back control’ - in return for discarding democracy and pursuing freedom.
So don’t tell me to mend fences when you mean normalise bullying. And don’t tell me elections fought on lies and racism are democratic, simply because you claim to have ‘won’.
But do feel ashamed for the consequences of your actions. For the lives lost and the wasted opportunities resulting from choosing to support white supremacists and misogynists.
Perhaps the worst part of all this is the way you’ve discarded the high values and principles you so often talk about, and torpedoed your kids’ futures, for nothing you can actually point to.
If conflict is in the air and threats are being made face-to-face it can be tempting to default to outright opposition towards those who are escalating the situation. You can escalate along the route they’ve taken and largely dispense with the issues and even politics, which become subordinate to the breakdown in whatever relations may be there. Alternatively, you can escalate your protection and ingenuity in dispersing and tackling hostility. For example:
1. Become quick and effective at reporting, recording and escaping incidents, including knowing routes out when you go in.
2. Let extremist troublemakers know they are being logged and recorded.
3. Get hold of protective clothing and a personal alarm.
4. If you feel you have to break something don’t pick a person.
5. Inform, talk and co-operate with legitimate law enforcement.
6. Meet hostility with f2f Like Attacks in the form of a ‘gift’; qualifying statement identifying common ground; or a positive performance put to political ‘opponents’.
7. Meet online hostility with decorative Like Attacks, e.g. put positive memes and counter-narratives into negative feeds or hold a solutions-focused discussion on a negative page.
8. Opt for banners and tops carrying messages instead of insults.
9. Share snacks, photos and greetings across lines when possible.
10. Train to get out of trouble, e.g. Parkour or Judo.
11. Use performance and music to change the atmosphere/ uplift.
12. Use technology to track and share awareness of how a situation is developing.
1. Get hold of any and all necessary id.
2. Register to vote and vote.
3. Encourage others to register to vote on grounds of gaining representation and making a valued contribution, instead of along party lines.
4. Encourage the same people to actually vote once they’ve registered.
5. Go beyond reaching out to friends or people online by letting an elected representative know what you want through emailing them or through social media.
6. Provide representatives with short details of what you are concerned about. It helps to be calm, to offer good evidence to support your case and to clearly state what you would like done about your concern.
7. Keep the heart and politics tucked away; and wear the issues on your sleeve.
8. With emails, where relevant copy your concerns to local, regional, national and international levels of representation.
9. Become an ‘on the ground’ canvasser for a worthwhile party or issue.
10. Support credible and consistent activist groups, which lobby politicians about your concerns.
11. Get elected and become a representative.
12. Act often and across a range of issues. Fifteen minutes of activism every day over a year stacks up to a whole lot more than one day a year at a demonstration.
Posting and Sharing
1. Choose a social media platform/s you’re comfortable with. E.g. for some Twitter can be more argumentative than other platforms, because of the short posts and media attention.
2. Research and check topics on sites which are consistent - so you can at least adjust for bias.
3. Select memes and posts which have a meaningful message.
4. Build a meme bank on social media and/ or a desktop folder with ready to share infographics, posters, motivational posters and cartoons. This makes it easy to mix your replies and to avoid typing answers to the same questions over and again.
5. Avoid time spent on countering opposing posts.
6. Share posts with reliable information, which offer humour, key facts and meaningful quotes.
7. Share pictures of activists being constructive and/ or entertaining.
8. You can make feeds less argumentative while raising awareness by including posts and memes about consensus issues, e.g. about saving wildlife or tax evasion.
9. Share posts and ideas mapping practical suggestions on how people can act peacefully and get results.
10. Emphasise key points. In passing people often only consider a maximum of three points at a time, so pensions, childcare, child poverty, and that’s often the most to cover in one meme or post. Or three points within one of those topics.
11. Likes are free, so let others know you value their contributions.
What Trolls Want You to Talk About?
Funny how the same topics keep on getting dragged centre stage by the same people. Here are a few of the topics habitual trolls often try to put at the centre of so-called ‘debate’:
1. Meaningless polls using loaded questions based on small samples.
2. Misrepresented economic and healthcare performance figures.
3. Pop stars, TV celebrities and those desperate to recapture lost limelight.
4. Poverty porn.
5. Reality TV.
6. Terrorism, which kills fewer than skipping on universal healthcare, unchecked domestic violence or people falling from ladders every year.
7. The evils or unbridled joys of monarchy.
8. The triumphant wealth supposedly created solely by a handful of the wealthy from scratch with no help at all from anyone.
9. Calling trolls out described as an offensive form of political correctness.
What Extremist Trolls Definitively Do Not Want Us to Talk About?
One of the favourite tricks of trolls is to post and comment on threads about their own preferred topics, while ignoring those posted on a wider variety of topics. The troll can then stir away on a familiar theme and both aggravate and bore the majority of those using a forum or group. One easy answer lies in starting or commenting on threads that don’t constantly cover the same ground.
Trolls tend to avoid seeking solutions or kicking around ideas. Unsurprisingly, they are going to struggle if you’re discussing change and how to make change actually happen. Topics extremist trolls really don’t like include the following:
1. Universal healthcare.
2. Preventative healthcare.
3. Lacking short, medium or long-term planning.
4. Corporate tax avoidance.
5. Dealing with debt realistically.
6. Delivering on renewable energy’s successes.
7. Discouraging aggressive behaviour.
8. Fair and open elections based on reasoned debate.
9. Gifting fossil fuel subsidies to irresponsible companies.
10. Printing money for banks to then charge interest on.
11. Preventing hate crime.
12. Removing the need for foodbanks.
13. Casino banking.
14. The unsustainable costs of some forms of contracting out.
Memes are a valuable way to gain reach and to link on to more substantial content. Messages lose their bite and memes become tiresome if you simply churn out slogans or rely on repetition. However, when memes are on topic, clear and get an immediate reaction they can connect to far more people than most lengthier or wordy content. When looking for good memes or thinking them up the following considerations might be worth considering:
1. A picture that puts people on the spot in terms of encouraging them to step into other people’s shoes/ see the other side of an argument beats text almost every time.
2. Crisp, colourful images are the basis of most posts that will get high views and that carries over into the use of effects on images.
3. Don’t spoil a good image by posting a gallery or multiple thumbnails.
4. Less is more with text both in terms of sticking to covering one to three points and visual clarity.
5. Placing messages on a picture is often an improvement on sticking a text on as a footer, but only if the text stands out on the picture without drawing all the attention away from the picture.
6. Steer clear of angry, confrontational messages and pictures. Present hard facts, information and humour to build community rather than dig trenches.
7. While care is needed to avoid offence, your sense of humour, a touch of parody or even an old joke retold can get some of the highest reads and interactions online.
8. And #tag your posts.
Surfaces carry messages and a certain amount of badging and ‘brand’ building contributes to the fun side of campaigning as well as putting information across. There are situations when a full costume might be just the thing, e.g. during some flash performances, but for the most part less is more. A badge on a lapel, a phone cover and a sticker on a car is probably enough on an everyday basis.
1. Wear scarves, badges, temporary tattoos or t-shirts in support of your concerns and carrying relevant messages.
2. Phone cases, tablets, cars and motorbikes are among the devices which can convey messages, including visual display and sound.
3. Make stuff. For some that's sawing out giant wooden signs for others it’s baking iced cakes and handing them round.
4. Chalk boards are great for leaving messages around for visitors and for practicing chalk art. Chalk art and other types of flash art like water on a dry wall need to be on your own/ permitted surfaces.
5. Paper art can be left in plenty of places without littering. For example, a pamphlet in a book you're passing round, an origami design left on a table or a decorative bookmark handed out with something else.
6. Make your own fridge magnets and signs using magnetic paper.
A far from exhaustive list of events or performances, which can carry messages either as a central theme or as a backdrop. For example, you could have a day of face painting or decorating nails with your message just on the tickets or you could also theme the decorations to invite comment on your chosen issues and proposed solutions:
Concert or Recital
Domino/ Book Drop
Face or Nail Painting
Fun Run or Walk
One well-established way to put across a message while avoiding confrontation is to create a festival or family atmosphere. Marches, meetings and rallies which cater for kids, involve shared activities and parade colourful banners immediately reduce tension. Options include:
1. Batches of activists wearing similarly coloured or styled clothing or accessories. Not on the level of a uniform, but a dash of colour, a badge or a garment, which suggests a strand of unity running through the group.
2. Graffiti or sig petition/ idea walls made from card or demonstrators wearing white t-shirts.
3. Chalking-out and playing street/ traditional games like hopscotch.
4. Sharing sets of differently coloured glow-sticks to spell out a message at night.
5. Applying temporary water-based tattoos or large vegetable stamps.
6. Traditional challenges or ordeals/ sponsored activities.
7. Live recording and uploading or streaming a demonstration as it happens through sketches or sketch and photo-collage.
8. Carrying out f2f Like Attacks where some form of ‘gift’; qualifying statement identifying common ground; or a positive performance is put to political opponents.
Art and Performance
We can all become performance artists through using shared performances to provide strong focal points for issue-based activism. Examples of possible approaches might include:
1. Asking everyone to complete a postcard commenting on the topic at hand and then displaying them.
2. Giving out several colours of card and displaying the results as a rainbow or such like.
3. Inviting everyone to bring along a message or sketch on a card.
4. Setting-out a giant chalk spider diagram or infographic about an issue.
5. Displaying messages which need simple decoding.
6. Showing an over-sized, high correction QR code at a resolution that reads straight-off TV screens.
7. Placing a QR code inside or on either side of a campaign logo.
8. Using seasonal weather to form visual logos and messages, including leaves in autumn and water on dry, sunny walls.
9. Preparing and sharing food related to or decorated to support an issue.
10. Setting-up flash art, music, dance or poetry appearances and/ or slams.
There are many options for scaling up a fairly standard meetup and chat or a larger gathering including:
1. Arranging blog carnivals related to particular activities and issues.
2. Arranging dynamic performances with the potential to go viral in terms of content and social media topicality.
3. Co-ordinating online and offline events to focus on highlights, e.g. a dramatic conclusion to a march.
4. Holding online competitions with ‘prizes’ related to the event that can be worn at meetups or demonstrations.
5. Holding short online discussion forums with deadlines, e.g. 100 posts or 24 hours.
6. Organising performances with online and offline components.
7. Screening examples of the full range of a good cause's activities at a meetup or demonstration.
8. Revealing a surprise guest.
9. Introducing options for participation at every opportunity.
Games and Activism
Looking at events and activities in terms of gameplay is another easy route to fostering community-driven activism. This includes emphasising participation while delivering issue-related information as messages within game, quiz and search activities.
Options available to those with a PC and smartphone include:
1. Hosting events with teams and groups of teams to enable networking and shared engagement.
1. Placing community and issue-focused events and content within the home and local community.
2. Offering collections of virtual objects such as badges, wallpapers and apps during games or search activities to form personal accounts and galleries of participation.
3. Building a campaign around consensus through activities that promote fun and consensus over confrontation.
4. Blending demonstrations into virtual and local community network activities.
5. Using personal area networks, (e.g. Bluetooth/ messaging apps/ QR codes), to turn activists into mobile content distributors.
6. Trying out augmenting reality apps that are able to pull interactive presentations out into physical space.
Explaining Tricky Ideas
People who like and are familiar with detailed arguments and technical information are entirely good with keeping explanations as bite-sized, accessible and concise as possible. So you won’t lose views or readers as a result of boiling things down to the essentials and using accessible presentation.
Complexity is not a fixed point and the gap between your audience’s current understanding and the understanding you wish to put across is the key factor. If the gap in understanding is considerable the more straightforward and step- by-step your explanations the better.
The content and the messages it puts across have to be crisp and engaging. Body language and lots of encouragement won’t serve much purpose if the message is not getting across.
Voice, dress and other forms of expression on many levels are best thought of from the likely audience’s point of view rather than on relying on a standard code. With anything a bit complicated it’s all the more important to keep the audience’s attention consistently on your line of argument.
If things get technical consider what is necessary to put across understanding and, where included, state what acronyms mean and define terms.
Diagrams, visualisations, charts and visual notes are vital, as we take information in both visually and semantically, interpreting it through both channels. Without visual explanation you end up ‘talking’ with one ‘voice’ instead of the two readily available.
Your body language will be just fine if you are encouraging, expressing to the whole audience and balanced between relative calm and enthusiasm.
An authentic, ‘this is how I am’, presentation usually adds to the interest and engagement of your audience. Trying to adopt a role or personae of some kind is offering only a stock model and involves having to think on two levels while presenting - instead of just getting on with the presentation itself.
Metaphors, analogies and anecdotes which serve as examples can be good options for covering a tricky point.
If you’re anxious about how you will present give yourself realistic expectations and use music, reading, whatever relaxes you, to take breaks from overthinking your presentation. If your preparation is good, (in terms of content and any visuals or props you plan to use), you are likely to be much less nervous in the first place and on the occasion.
Narratives and Counter Narratives
When politicians or activists talk of narratives and counter narratives they are essentially using ‘grown-up’ words for telling stories, which are simply personal or collective versions of the course of events.
Thinking in terms of stories can, perhaps, be useful, as our lives are often understood as continuous narratives/ life stories and we often take decisions on the basis of our experience of many episodes; rather than on the spur of the moment or solely on the basis of the evidence right in front of us.
In recognising the media, politicians and even ourselves as thoroughly immersed in many personal and collective stories we can see the opportunities for extremists to take fictional episodes and to present them as ‘more or less’ fact by floating a false equivalency based on the subtle biases identifiable within all stories or narratives.
Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution. Issues-focused activists are not aiming for a perfect, unattainable truth or to simply take down an opponent. Instead building consensus relies on developing and using authentic narratives, which in turn rely on and continuously review firm/ scientific evidence.
Narratives and opposing counter narratives gain authenticity through careful research. While messages might be distributed in parts by leaflet or meme, there first needs to be a pool of checked and clearly connected information in place. This type of ‘resource’ can be worked up in a variety of styles, portions and sequences to carry messages across a variety of media both as explanations and as statements.
The following short selection of examples of basic narrative content covers a range of styles where the information has been prepared to the point where a post, a poster and/ or a series of memes can be scheduled for distribution with only the addition of a suitable image to each example. Equally, a series of related topics might be combined to outline a broader campaign on an overarching basis.
More detailed references and extra sources can be pulled in as requested or called for, but for the most part the shorter the post the more people are likely to pick-up on some or all of the message and, potentially, connect to issues and solutions.
There are exceptions to keeping messages short; particularly with extended narratives and when adding depth to move from messages further into raising issues and discussing solutions.
Squeezing the Rich
The British Isles have mass child poverty, mass homelessness and a 'benefits' system designed to cost more to run for profit than the costs of simply providing the support that is needed and deserved. At the same time massively overpriced, unsustainable privatisation of public services continue to make immense profits for offshore companies, which often don't have to pay taxes.
Amidst all this the latest wheeze to resurface from the extreme right is the complete fantasy that the rich are being ‘squeezed'. In a country where the gap between rich and poor has increased to the point of off the scale it appears the constant boasts about the UK being a top 5 economy make it plain there's is plenty of money for some, but not for the vast majority.
“The UK has a very high level of income inequality compared to other developed countries. Households in the bottom 10% of the population have on average a disposable (or net) income of £9,644 (this includes wages and cash benefits, and is after direct taxes like income tax and council tax, but not indirect taxes like VAT). The top 10% have net incomes almost nine times that (£83,875).
Inequality is much higher amongst original incomes than disposable incomes with the poorest 10% having on average an original income of £4,436 whilst the top 10% have an original income 24 times larger (£107,937)1.”
1 - Mean household income, original and disposable, 2015-16 ONS
Public Costs, Businesses Benefits
Despite the huge benefits companies and corporations receive from working alongside public services, some are now saying they don’t want to pay their way at all. That’s right, they are seeking no taxes for corporations, which in some cases already receive huge public subsidies. Here are a few of the benefits companies currently enjoy that predatory corporations and their lobbyists seem determined to bled dry.
1. A supply of healthy employees able to deliver on a regular and reliable basis.
2. A trained and educated workforce provided by schools, colleges and universities at affordable, pooled cost.
3. Fixed minimum profit contracts, which guarantee consistent, short and long-term payments to corporate contractors.
4. Massive public subsidies for economically out of date fossil fuel industries.
5. Public contracts that support private sub-contractors.
6. Low wage costs to employers through workfare and tax credits.
7. Printing of free money for banks, which then charge interest on the money.
8. Widespread opportunities for corporate tax avoidance.
9. Publicly funded transport systems to deliver materials, goods and employees.
Extra Costs on Working Families on Low Incomes in Glasgow
1. Taxpayers pay for road and motorway infrastructure and maintenance they can’t use, because 50% of Glasgow’s families don’t have cars.
2. All citizens pay for suburban visitors’ access to urban services - often while without the money to use those services themselves and without receiving any tangible return.
3. Citizens also pay for airport links, but generally don’t have the money to take foreign holidays.
4. Everyone pays towards tourist facilities, which are often inaccessible to many through cost or distance.
5. People pay towards pitches and sport centres they can’t afford to hire.
6. There’s also the disproportionate share of costs for energy infrastructure if you don’t have a 50 inch TV screen soaking up power or heat multiple rooms on multiple floors.
7. The costs of technology infrastructure offer little return for many while 40% of homes lack a fixed Internet connection.
8. Everyone pays for museums, attractions and libraries where they have no say in what is on offer and most use is by those from prosperous districts.
“Economic circumstances also affect life expectancy. For example, in the United Kingdom, life expectancy in the wealthiest and richest areas is several years higher than in the poorest areas. This may reflect factors such as diet and lifestyle, as well as access to medical care. It may also reflect a selective effect: people with chronic life-threatening illnesses are less likely to become wealthy or to reside in affluent areas.”
“Research led by David Walsh of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health in 2010 concluded that the deprivation profiles of Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester are almost identical, but premature deaths in Glasgow are over 30 percent higher, and all deaths around 15 percent higher, across almost the entire population.
The city's mortality rates are the highest in the UK and among the highest in Europe. With a population of 1.2 million in greater Glasgow, life expectancy at birth is 71.6 years for men, nearly seven years below the national average of 78.2 years, and 78 years for women, over four years below the national average of 82.3.
“In Glasgow, the disparity is amongst the highest in the world: life expectancy for males in the heavily deprived Calton area stands at 54, which is 28 years less than in the affluent area of Lenzie, which is only 8 km away.”
Over 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children have gone missing in Europe over the last couple of years. None of them was old enough to terrorise anyone. Some will have died quickly, some are rumoured to have gone to organ harvesting - but many are thought to have been forced into various forms of prostitution and slavery:
UNICEF said in its report, entitled ‘Danger Every Step of the Way’, that “some 7,009 unaccompanied children made the crossing from North Africa to Italy in the first five months of 2016, twice as many as last year.”
Most of them are forced to rely on human smugglers, often under the so-called ‘pay-as-you-go’ system, according to UNICEF . . .
“And the stories that they have told us are really quite striking. The children have gone through various forms of abuse and exploitation at the hands of smugglers and traffickers very often.”
Who is responsible . . . you’ll have to decide that for yourself, but the actions of many right wing politicians and media outlets seem telling.
What are the practical effects of xenophobia directed at unaccompanied refugee children across Europe . . . looking at just one area of their experience:
If 10,000 kids are held in extremely abusive conditions every day for a year that’s 3,650,000 days of abuse inflicted on them in a year.
If a mere 1 hr/ day involves being forced into the very worst acts. That’s still 152,083 hours of the most horrific abuse a year, because Britain wouldn’t take a fair share.
Want to know more or to do something about it - please check this source.
Brexit was made possible through years of media channels and opportunistic politicians profiting from scapegoating Britain’s European partners. As a result, there is an entire mythology of false news undermining any reasonable on-going debate. For some no facts or sources will do, but others may be open to taking a look at a handful of myths, which underpin their opinion. A picking list is one way to present this:
The War on Science
Extremists find it useful to discredit reliable information to make it easier for people to swallow their false arguments. As a result, science and expertise is under frequent attack by people who use science or technology to prosecute their agendas. What they are really saying is ‘I should get access to science and technology, but it’s not for others’.
Attacks on science usually involve claiming science is taking a fixed position, which is a denial of the fact science is by its very nature about testing itself.
Gaps in what is known and areas where results haven’t quite been as hoped for or need more work are also targeted.
Taking debate away from isolated examples and anecdotes calls for presenting a wider picture. In the case of the benefits of modern science, technology and medicine it’s not that hard at all to point to significant benefits on a grand scale.
Human Life Expectancy over the Last 5,000 Years
Bronze Age and Iron Age - 26
Classical Greece - 25 to 28
Classical Rome - 20 to 30
1900 world average - 31
1950 world average - 48
2014 world average - 71.5
X-rays, polio jags, modern dentistry or anaesthesia - extremists need to be made aware of what they are trying to take away from themselves and others time and again.
“Europe is not a market, it is the will to live together. Leaving Europe is not leaving a market, it is leaving shared dreams. We can have a common market, but if we do not have common dreams, we have nothing. Europe is the peace that came after the disaster of war. Europe is the pardon between French and Germans. Europe is the return to freedom of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Europe is the fall of the Berlin Wall. Europe is the end of communism. Europe is the welfare state, it is democracy.”
- Esteban González Pons on the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome
Fascists would like us to believe there's only one kind of nationalism and, despite all their own flag waving, try to get us to forget civic nationalism is the sensible, zero-tolerance of fascism default of any civilised nation or society.
Scotland may have stolen a march in terms of putting mutual respect for cultural diversity and social justice at the heart of a fresher more obviously outward-facing 'civic internationalism', but at the end of the day Scotland's Yes campaign is at root about protecting cultures, preserving universal healthcare, equality and, well, providing more community gardens.
Going to a national museum; supporting a national team at the Olympics; or having a national strategy on equality or national parks - these have no equivalence to promoting genocide - absolutely none.
Nationalism can quite clearly be about building a nation and protecting cultures in partnership with other nations. While manipulative attempts to boundary the word national or nationalism as automatically of an ugly, ethnic nationalism is, unsurprisingly, a longstanding standard practice for fascists.
“Civic nationalism is a . . . non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.”
“Civic nationalism is the form of nationalism where the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry, (see popular sovereignty), to the degree that it represents the “general will”.”
- Historian Dr John Davis
“This (Scotland) is for the whole of mankind an inspiring example of a country inhabited by people basing their nationality, on civic rather than ethnic identity. For any country in the world . . . to base its values on those of principle, rather than merely what has gone before . . . this is always a good thing!"
- The Economist
“Nationalism is a slippery concept, which is why politicians find it so easy to manipulate. At its best, it unites the country around common values to accomplish things that people could never manage alone. This “civic nationalism” is conciliatory and forward-looking - the nationalism of the Peace Corps, say, or Canada’s inclusive patriotism or German support for the home team as hosts of the 2006 World Cup. Civic nationalism appeals to universal values, such as freedom and equality. It contrasts with “ethnic nationalism”, which is zero-sum, aggressive and nostalgic and which draws on race or history to set the nation apart. In its darkest hour in the first half of the 20th century ethnic nationalism led to war.”
- Civic Internationalism
Civic internationalism is a natural extension from a genuinely civic nationalism. It is simply based around civic nationalism’s mutual respect for cultural diversity - and offers an outward facing approach to civic nationalism. This form of activism recognises that shared concerns and cultures extend over national boundaries and aims to find common ground/ adopt shared approaches that deliver results – constructive change.
- British Nationalism Holding Scotland’s Civic Internationalisation Back
“Putting the Great back in Great Britain, making America great again – it makes my skin crawl and yet British nationalists with an astonishing lack of self- awareness claim the Scottish independence movement is somehow linked to that style of thinking when in fact it is the antithesis to fascist nationalism – the solution to the problem they cause.”
- Why Scottish Nationalism Differs from Europe’s Xenophobic Movements
“There has hardly been a murmur of public complaint from the SNP, or indeed from those of a nationalist persuasion, that English people resident in Scotland, the country's largest migrant group by far, voted overwhelmingly against independence in 2014 in what became a closer contest than had been expected. That is convincing evidence of the influence of civic nationalism in practice.
Ethnic nationalists would not have been slow to condemn those of non-Scottish birth as the leader of the Parti Quebecois attacked non-French Canadians for the narrow loss of the independence referendum in Que in 1995. What matters in civic nationalism is not the bloodline or national ancestry of voters but whether their home is in Scotland or not.”
- Napier University
"Scotland’s inclusive “civic nationalism” with its loosely social democratic values is now viewed as something to aspire to, particularly after its resounding vote 62%-38% to remain in the EU. It stands in stark contrast to the right-wing populism that has produced the Trump presidency and its “America First” nationalism; Marine Le Pen and the other nationalist movements in mainland Europe; and UKIP, which has effectively infected the soul of Tory party."
- Securing Disunion: Young People's Nationalism, Identities and (In)Securities in the Campaign for an Independent Scotland
"Nuz's narrative supports research elsewhere that suggests that Scottish multiculturalism has furnished a feeling of safety particularly among Scottish Muslims in comparison to England (Hopkins & Smith, 2008; Hussain & Miller, 2006). The SNP has been actively trying to attract ethnic minority votes though a ‘self-consciously multiculturalist leadership’ (Hussain & Miller, 2006, p. 34). To give an example, Preet is a young Sikh living in Edinburgh who refers to Scotland as more ‘accepting’ than England.
“I feel Scotland's more open, like they're more accepting. They're not as judgmental as England … like anyone from the Scottish Parliament and they're just so friendly, like they're accepting of your culture. It's almost as if they want to like infuse all the cultures together so you're like helping, which I think is really good” (Preet, female, 16–18, ‘BritAsian’ Sikh, Edinburgh).
The perception of Scotland as open, inclusive and multicultural yet also holding a distinct national identity echoes multicultural nationalist discourse."
- Wikipedia, Scottish Independence
“Promotes the idea that the Scottish people form a cohesive nation and national identity and is closely linked to the cause of Scottish home rule and Scottish independence, the ideology of the Scottish National Party, the party forming the Scottish Government. It is often described as a form of civic nationalism rather than ethnic nationalism.”
- Vivienne Westwood
“Scottish Independence could be a great day for Democracy,” it read. “They already have a more democratic financial system, e.g. no tuition fees, and they care more for people. They just wouldn’t do what we’re doing in England ... In England there is hardly any democracy left. The government does what it wants. That which should belong to people – it gives it all to business.”
Later, Westwood told reporters:
“I like Scotland because somehow I think they are better than we are. They are more democratic.” She described the Better Together campaign as “frightened and stupid”."