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At times I see the posts of a number of people here on this blog who argue that "incrementalism" is the way to go.  Incrementalism is, as I have noted before, one of the pillars of progressive ideology -- but the widespread belief in its charms means that it deserves a diary post of its own.

Incrementalism is the belief that "real change" will be made as an accumulation of small, incremental changes to the existing society.  The idea behind incrementalism appears to be that the "good things" we're all doing can somehow "add up" to some sort of "better world" envisioned by the incrementalists.

This idea, itself, is supported by the idea that society is generally headed in a positive direction and that the main task of political action is to minimize the hindrances (known on this blog as "Republicans" but also at times as "Blue Dogs") to that generally positive direction in which society is ostensibly headed.

Incrementalism is also a primary foundation of belief of the "more practical than thou" crowd here at Kos, as evidenced by comments like this one.  It thus shares the ideological blindnesses common to this crowd.  The general idea behind incrementalism, then, is that society does not need to "thrash out" its general direction; much less does it need any sort of revolution in thinking which would change that general direction.

Let's start with this premise: incrementalism is the belief that "real change" will be made as an accumulation of small, incremental changes to the existing society.  The idea behind incrementalism appears to be that the "good things" we're all doing can somehow "add up" to some sort of "better world" envisioned by the incrementalists.

I think that such a premise appears problematic when we examine in all seriousness what it means to do a "good thing."  Charity, for instance, is a good thing.  Charity is probably the most significant good thing I do -- every week I collect the leftovers from the local farmer's market in my pickup truck, and trundle them over to the local food bank.  Even Republicans believe in charity.  We can end hunger through food charity, I suppose -- if a lot of people were to do it; more effective as a remedy for hunger under the current system is the food stamp program, in which the government gives the needy vouchers to buy food.  From this piece:

More than 44.5 million Americans received SNAP benefits in March, an 11 percent increase from one year ago and nearly 61 percent higher than the same time four years ago.

Government, then, is now the most efficient charitable donor -- I know of no private charity which can give to 44.5 million people.  What we usually mean by charity, though, is private charity, those small amounts of wealth granted by the rich to the poor out of the kindness of their hearts (or maybe for tax deductions or something).

The problem with charity as an "incremental" solution to the problem of poverty is that, if charity is to be motivated by an appeal to poverty (see, e.g. "Save The Children" television advertising), then that appeal would itself dry up if charity were to become so extensive as to solve the poverty problem altogether.

Thus charity has a function under our current system -- it makes rich people feel good while alleviating (but not ending) poverty.  "Incremental" charity is only going to go so far because there are only so many rich people; moreover, appealing to rich people for charity often means that one has to appeal to their sense of power.  Sometimes, then, there are strings attached to charity, attached by the rich people themselves out of a sense of their own egomania as charitable donors -- one can see, for instance, what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done to education out of a sense of charity.

Poverty, however, is not the only possible motive for charitable giving.  Theoretically, at least, there could be a society in which charity was done out of selflessness, and in which charity was the economic basis of society.  In our cultural context, that would be a society based upon Christian communism, based largely upon Christian communism, as spelled out in Acts 4: 32-35:

32And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

 33And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.

 34Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,

 35And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Or perhaps a society based on giving could be achieved through a society which was unified through organizations such as Food Not Bombs.  Such a society, however, would in the end not be our society.  Its charity would not be incrementalist charity.  Our society is based, economically at least, upon the principle of capital accumulation, in which the owners of society get richer by appropriating the added value contributed to our civilization by the work of working people.  Incrementalist charity, as a genre of "good deed," attempts to MITIGATE the harm done to society's members by the system of capital accumulation.  

A society based on giving would be a society that would attempt to do away with capital accumulation; its charity would be revolutionary charity, conducted between people who intend to build a new society.  Everyone would be both donor and recipient and we would all live off of each others' charity.  I could endorse that.

Another example of "good deed," one near and dear to Kos's heart, would be that of "electing more and better Democrats."  At this point I think that the political affiliations of our politicians are unimportant; what we need, it could be argued are better politicians, politicians which would enact better laws.  

There appear to be limitations, however, on how far this strategy can be taken in the era of Citizens United.  We can get Bernie Sanders, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, and a few more, but not many more.  Better politicians and better laws are dependent upon campaign financing.  Hierarchical human societies like ours have what is called "hegemony," which are the organizing principles behind the rule of one group or several groups of people over the society as a whole.  The thinking behind "hegemony" was largely developed by the Italian marxist Antonio Gramsci:

By hegemony, Gramsci meant the permeation throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality that has the effect of supporting the status quo in power relations. Hegemony in this sense might be defined as an 'organising principle' that is diffused by the process of socialisation into every area of daily life. To the extent that this prevailing consciousness is internalised by the population it becomes part of what is generally called 'common sense' so that the philosophy, culture and morality of the ruling elite comes to appear as the natural order of things. [Boggs 1976 p39]

Dictionary definitions of hegemony typically refer to a "system of values, attitudes, beliefs, and morality," but there is in Gramsci's Prison Notebooks a number of discussions about social institutions, as sites for the production of values, attitudes, beliefs, and morality.  Gramsci himself discussed the state, the churches, schools, factories, the media, and political parties.  Also noteworthy are legal institutions and institutions of social welfare.  The acquisition and dissemination of consciousness typically goes through these institutions.

Potentially, all of these institutions are places where consciousness can be "bought."  The state can itself promote "the economy" as owned and operated by the wealthy; schools and churches can influence thought, inculcate values, and buy policy, factory owners can spread ideology among their workers, the media can "slant" your news, the political parties can "slant" your political aspirations, and so forth.  So the power of money is involved in hegemony.  In our society, money is possessed in great quantities by a few people, and in spare change by the vast majority.  The wealthy, then, have a degree of hegemonic control of our society, and if there are good people within it who rise to power now and then, they exist in the margins.

There are also knowledge and managerial elites, who have some control over the production and dissemination of knowledge in our society.  As Kees van der Pijl describes these people, they serve two masters: 1) society at large, which will be affected by their decisions, and 2) financial or legislative elites, who often control the foundation or government money that pays them.  How society is managed at any time depends, then, upon the balance of forces which influence the production of managerial knowledge.  So there is a system, and the system works in a certain way.

My point is this -- as long as we operate within the parameters set by the existing system, assuming that political problems are to be solved merely by "electing more and better Democrats," hunger is to be alleviated by charity, and so on, and that there is nothing to be done beyond this -- the existing system will determine our conditions.  "Incremental change" will at best mitigate the disasters that the existing system tends to produce.

As a radical, I believe that we ought to be using every power available to us, toward the end of liberation from the system.  At some point, if we can create success, we should be capable of radical, and wholesale, changes in the ways we live, for the sake of a better society and a less destructive relationship to life on planet Earth.

In changing hegemonic control over society, in taking control over political processes or in starting worthwhile political or innovative charitable organizations, we can change one institution at a time, incrementally; but this is not always an incrementalist strategy as regards its ultimate goals.  Changing hegemony is what Gramsci called the "war of position," the culture war for control of the institutions which influence consciousness.  There is also, however, what Gramsci called the "war of movement," the revolution itself, in which old institutions must make way for new ones.  Now, the idea of the "war of position" is not always even leftist -- for instance you can see it adopted more or less in crude fashion by Rush Limbaugh in his book "See, I Told You So."  But Gramsci intended the war of position as the preparation for a revolutionary change.

Revolution is typically portrayed in books and on television as a violent affair, much as the Jacobin revolutions in France and in Russia were violent affairs.  (There is also the use of the term "revolution" as a loose metaphor, e.g. the Reagan Revolution, or "revolution" as used to advertise products.  These usages are not germane to the argument placed here.)  There is nothing necessary about violence in revolution, as nonviolent revolutions are certainly possible.  (The state may respond to a nonviolent revolution with violence -- but that is another matter entirely.)  There is also something about violent revolutions that disqualified them as revolutions -- in seizing power by violent means revolutionaries tend to reproduce or even amplify the violence of the old regimes which they claim to replace.

The sort of revolution which would make a difference would change the purpose of the state.  A revolutionary state would facilitate communal wealth rather than guarding the excesses of the super-rich few.  A revolutionary state would be dedicated to peace rather than through the perpetuation of war.  A revolutionary state would facilitate ecosystem stability rather than corporate profit.  And so on.  Probably the best hope for this sort of revolution is what is called "21st century socialism."

A revolution, then, would offer a fundamental change of direction in the way things are headed.  Such a use of the word "revolution" would depend more generally upon what was being done with power than merely upon who was exercising it.

Generally, however, government is dedicated to war and capitalism because of how it is structured.  It's going to take a lot more to change it than electing a politician or two with a (D) next to their names.  I don't think the incrementalists realize the difficulty of the road ahead.

Let's take a look, now, at an important problem faced by society today, in light of the incrementalist position: global warming.

Generally speaking, the problem of global warming is that of "carbon burning," and the difficulties faced by world society in its desire to stop "carbon burning" are tremendous.  Oil, coal, and natural gas are the essential ingredients of our society's energy consumption.  The incrementalist solution to the problem of "carbon burning" as such is the promotion of "alternative energy," solar and wind and nuclear power and so on.

The problem with "alternative energy" strategies, generally, is that "alternative energy" will merely supplement, rather than replacing, carbon burning under the current economic system.  Often, then, advocates of the incremental approach will recommend a steady increase in the price of carbon-based energy sources, through government taxes on their burning.  Such strategies are also likely to fail because the "health" of a capitalist economy is based upon the overall cheapness of its energy sources.

Let's say we adopt a mass conservation strategy as an attempt to cut down on carbon burning.  If enough of us agree to bicycle instead of driving to work (or something like that), maybe the price of gasoline will go down (in response to the absence of a "demand push") enough to make it affordable for others to burn some carbon of their own.  Problem not solved.

Effective abrupt climate change strategy needs to focus upon production -- if you don't want to burn carbon, don't produce it.  What would be a game-changer for the fight against global warming in that regard would be an international treaty to phase out oil and coal production.  Such a strategy would be non-incrementalist -- either there is such a treaty, and the nations of the world agree to limit oil and coal production, or there isn't.

In conclusion, incrementalism depends upon the piling up of good deeds in a civilization that can confidently proclaim that it is heading in the right direction.  Our civilization can't do that.  If we want to change that, we can't rely merely upon incremental change -- we will at some point need to enact a reversal of the incremental changes we don't like, and bring about something for our civilization that is fundamentally different in emphasis than what we have now.

Originally posted to Postcapitalism on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 06:27 PM PDT.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat and Team DFH.

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Comment Preferences

  •  good diary cass, so much of (9+ / 0-)

    the discussion I read is trapped in an incrementalist way of thinking and no matter how we have seen its ineffectualness over history, this perspective constantly becomes the one that inevitably dominates all attempts to create real lasting change; it is extremely frustrating and we are constantly fighting an argument that has demonstrated its failings continuously.

    republished to anti-capitalist chat ... am so tired of the cries that society moves forward by tiny little reforms as though these tiny little reforms create something new. All big reforms required people organising for bigger and better things; not wallowing in the "it's all we can get" at this time ...

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 06:49:17 PM PDT

  •  incrementalism (9+ / 0-)

    is one of the pillars of corporate ideology, and anyone who has spent time in a large organization should know what I mean.  

    We have all been well trained.

  •  Occam's Take: Incrementalism is Just a Lie. (13+ / 0-)

    We aren't incrementally improving because we're reducing the social safety net.

    We aren't incrementally improving because we're letting the rich increase their share of the national wealth.

    We aren't incrementally improving because we're increasing our trade deficit.

    We aren't incrementally improving because we're continuing to offshore jobs.

    We aren't incrementally improving because incomes are dropping.

    We aren't incrementally improving because we're increasing our number of unwinnable pointless 3rd world wars.

    I haven't seen a proposal for an incremental improvement.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 06:54:28 PM PDT

  •  Incrementalism is what happens. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nowhere Man, FG

    There are only very very rare occasions when the "Big Thing" is able to be done.  when events unite to allow such things to happen.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 07:07:53 PM PDT

  •  Incrementalism (6+ / 0-)

    in the context it's promoted here, is an excuse used to justify being concerned with only partisan 'winning' and a buzzword used to deny doing that. Even if they have to lose to 'win'.

    Antemedius | Liberally Critical Thinking

    by Edger on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 07:21:27 PM PDT

  •  Great piece, Cassio... (5+ / 0-)

    Incrementalism doesn't work when "War" is the construct.

    Corporate and the Establishment conduct business like War. No incremental movement that threatens hegemony is allowed. If some incremental movement happens to crop up, is for some reason not squashed by the Establishment, then it is co-opted, passive revolution-style or sabotaged.

    Incremental change, or change from within, is pretty much a non-starter given the power and control of the Establishment. What we need is Transformative change or change from the Outside.

    Also our assumptions based upon the current hegemony should never be taken as a given. For instance, Cassio, you offered:

    Better politicians and better laws are dependent upon campaign financing.

    as fact.

    It is not fact. It is an assumption based upon the current hegemony. If we step outside, push some transformative change, we could easily end around that by turning that HUGE advantage into an albatross: "Never vote for the one with the most money."

    That, right there, is transformative change and it shreds the current hegemony we operate under. If we pull the right string, that whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

    This is one of the reasons I have been so adamant about taking on corporate sponsored public policy and corporate power and personhood head on. No euphemisms, no tangental language. If we can build the understanding that corporate hegemony is bad for People and our planet, we win - quickly.

    It's already happened.

    I was listening to NPR today when they were talking about how states were saving their State Parks. Corporate would sponsor them. It was nauseating. But, there was a sliver of co-opted transformative change:
    They would not be putting up billboards and conducting heavy branding and marketing - no naming the park after the corporate benefactor. It would be a tasteful, small logo, on the corner of some signage.

    That's a HUGE win! Think about it, circa 1999... could you even imagine a corporation giving millions to put a tiny, unobtrusive logo on a sign and avoiding branding and naming the park after them? I don't think so.

    Great piece.
    Thanks for sharing.
    peace~

    Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

    by k9disc on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 08:19:02 PM PDT

    •  About this one: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      k9disc, angel d, churchylafemme
      It is an assumption based upon the current hegemony. If we step outside, push some transformative change, we could easily end around that by turning that HUGE advantage into an albatross: "Never vote for the one with the most money."

      The best candidate in the 2008 Presidential election was Cynthia McKinney, running with the Green Party.  McKinney, unfortunately, had only $50,000 in her campaign war chest.  She didn't stand a chance, so we all voted for Obama instead.

      "You must do what you feel is right, of course." Obi-Wan Kenobi, in Episode IV

      by Cassiodorus on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 09:14:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, in accordance with the current hegemony. (0+ / 0-)

        But what if we polluted that war chest mentality?

        What if we could make having a shit ton of money be a drawback. It's not that hard, really. Everybody sees it. Everybody knows that corporate donations corrupt elected officials.

        Instead of going the incremental route, or playing within the power structure: Campaign Finance Reform - corporate and government participation to weaken their own dominant hegemony - shah... as if!

        It was first co-opted and watered down in the late 90s, then squashed after Roberts and Alito sat on the bench. Nobody of any consequence stood up for it, so it died.

        But stepping outside of that hegemony, making it a personal thing - a social thing - a human thing - allows us to reduce their power and there's not much they can do about it. It's already happening. There's tremendous push back against corporate power, but we keep trying to go back and influence from the inside. That won't work.

        I have been saying for some time that the ONLY issue of any import is taking on corporate power and corporate sponsored public policy, and that is the heart of American hegemony.

        I believe it is entirely possible to pollute the politician that is compromised by sponsorship. But we have to lay the groundwork.

        Distrust of the corporate media. Highlight corporate fraud and social engineering. Highlight corporate Cheap Labor policy. Promote local business and push IRV.

        Of course this needs a delivery mechanism, a mass media type tool, but it's totally doable.

        Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

        by k9disc on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 09:52:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  And actually it wasn't her lack of money that (0+ / 0-)

        was the problem. It was that the American voter would not vote for her policies.

        There is a direct correlation between the amount of money that someone takes and their inability, or lack of desire to change the State and course of our Nation.

        That's pretty powerful stuff, and it's OBVIOUS!

        Look at Obama... much was made about all of his small donations. His sponsors, the REAL money backing him, was hidden from the public because it wouldn't sell.

        I'm telling you, it's ripe. The NPR State Park story, as hard as it was to not punch something, was a real eye opener.

        Corporations want the power and the influence, but they don't want to shove their brand or logo in our faces. They are not comfortable with the state of things.

        I don't know if you were here when the mask came off the DLC after 2004 or not. It was INSANE! The Centrists hold ZERO power. They are a media creation - a paper tiger, a figment of our imagination. The same is true of the hegemony that corporate holds. It's a tenuous grip they have.

        peace~

        Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

        by k9disc on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 09:59:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Incrementalism has meant... (8+ / 0-)

    ...that some of us have had to continue to wait for over a decade to get rights that were assigned to others...and we are still not on any agenda.

  •  Once again an important discussion. (9+ / 0-)

    Thank you Cassi for so much excellent food for thought.

  •  Incrementalism Is Corporate Camouflage... (8+ / 0-)

    ...designed to obscure the reality that we are, in effect, moving backwards.

    Great diary, cassiodorus.

    Action is the antidote to despair---Joan Baez

    by frandor55 on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 09:03:14 PM PDT

  •  Incrementalism is not reform (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    k9disc, xgy2, churchylafemme

    It is the opposite of reform. Incrementalism is change that is intended to maintain and extend the status quo.

    You cannot build on a base that is rotten to the core.

  •  The only non-violent revolutions I can (0+ / 0-)

    think about are popular uprisings against dictatorships. It has no relevance to current situation in US.

  •  Poorly argued, ill-informed, full of strawmen (0+ / 0-)
    Archilochus:"The fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing..."
    --Archilochus, adapted as the central metaphor of the essay by Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox"

    Before explaining my view of this diary, let me mention two books both by leftist scholars, one an anthropologist, and the other a political scientist, the diarist might want to read:

    Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: Underdevelopment and an Uncaptured Peasantry, Goran Hyden

    Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, James C. Scott

    The problem with this diary is that the diarist fundamentally does not understand what incrementalism is, why some people believe it works, or what the epistemology of incrementalism is.

    First, I think a more accurate term would be pragmatism or empiricism, which has been one of the dominant philosophies behind American liberalism since the time of John Dewey.

    He can't even imagine that pragmatists have good motives or any underlying coherent theory.  Here's how he puts it:

    Let's start with this premise: incrementalism is the belief that "real change" will be made as an accumulation of small, incremental changes to the existing society.  The idea behind incrementalism appears to be that the "good things" we're all doing can somehow "add up" to some sort of "better world" envisioned by the incrementalists.

    Well, that's not the "belief" that underlies pragmatism or empiricism.  One way of understanding the difference between empiricism and the diarist's way of thinking is by reference to Isaiah Berlin.  

    The diarist is a hedgehog.  Most progressive policy makers are foxes.  The diarist is a rationalist, while pragmatists and incrementalists are generally empiricists:

    Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes (only or primarily) via sensory experience as opposed to rationalism which asserts that knowledge comes (also) from pure thinking.

    As this diary and the earlier diary he cites at the beginning, this (young?) diarist now has a THEORY of how the world works, and how the world should work if he were its benevolent dictator or if he could only convince the far less astute leaders of the progressive movement and Democratic Party of the brilliance and infallibility of his THEORY.  

    This THEORY has been worked out, without the diarist actually having been a policy maker, without his having gained "sensory experience" in a policy making position trying to "make change."

    Because people like the diarist Have It All Worked Out, the only issue is how to get The Solution To Our Problems adopted by the rest of society.  This is how hedgehogs think.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  We need our share of hedgehogs, who know One Big Thing, which is, as mentioned The Solution To Our Problems.

    But often The Theory turns out not to work, precisely because it was worked out through "pure reason" without experimentation, data and, yes, incremental steps.  This is the point of James Scott's book.  It is a brilliant explanation of how Big Solutions proposed by both the right and the left in power have led to catastrophic results.  Scott is arguing for being foxy, obviously.  

    By contrast, empiricism, pragmatisim, incrementalism and similar liberal epistemologies grew out of both the tremendous strides made by science using the scientific method in the late 19th and early 20th century, and to a certain extent out of Marx, who famously turned Hegel on his head and created a theory of history that relied on looking at how people interact with the material world, rather than how Great Ideas or Great Men shape history.

    Hedgehogs think that foxes, empiricists, or pragmatists have no values or no theory.

    What they don’t understand is that empiricism is itself a theory and a value.  It’s how we learn about the world and make progress.  It assumes that we don’t have The Solution To Our Problems all worked out from our college dorm rooms, without probing the problem with tentative steps, gathering data, adopting what works and rejecting what doesn’t work.  The reason that empiricists don’t start with one big solution to particular problems is that under the scientific method, it’s not likely that anyone can think up such a brilliant Solution without experimentation and data.

    Some of us are old enough and fortunate enough to have lived in societies governed by leaders who thought they The Solution based on the Big Theory and/or have lived through revolutions.  Both situations are useful for tempering enthusiasm for The Solution.

    Even those of us who didn't live through such experiences have lived long enough to see many countries adopt Big Solutions or foxy empiricist incrementalist approaches and prosper or fail.  We've seen Russia adopt a Big Bang type rationalist approach to change, and we've seen China adopt an incrementalist approach to building market socialism; we've seen Lula adopt empiricist anti-poverty approaches in Brazil, and we've seen Salvador Allende overthrown and killed by the forces of reaction.  We've seen the apartheid government of South Africa try to build a perfect society, and we've seen the ANC muddle through, creating a middle class and building 1 million houses for the poor.  

    One of the most tragic examples of a well meaning Big Solution was the experience of Tanzania under President Julius Nyerere.  This is the theme of the book, Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania by the Norwegian socialist and political scientist of Africa, Goran Hyden.  It had a big influence in African studies when it came out in the 1980s and really should be better known outside the field.

    Most people who don’t study Africa probably think that all of the post colonial leaders were brutal or corrupt dictators.  The experience was actually very varied, and there were some leaders who really were great people with noble motives.  One of them was Julius Nyerere.  He was incorruptible and with the exception of one bad episode (more later) never brutal.  

    Nyerere was very popular, a kind of African Gandhi and Nheru rolled into one.  He wrote convincingly that a country as underdeveloped and poor as Tanzania was at independence needed to pursue a socialist path to development, and in particular an African socialist path.  This was called his program of Ujamaa.  Among other things, he wanted to change the way rural Tanzanians worked and lived in their environment.  They were too spread out to efficiently receive services like health and education, and there were some other more technical issues relating to how rural markets operate when people are too spread out.  He tried to create Ujamaa villages.  

    No one accuses Nyerere of being a bad person, but when his big idea was imposed on Tanzania, the results were disastrous.  Rather than being dissuaded, the government doubled down and eventually even tried forcibly to move people into villages against their will.  Eventually the government admitted failure and gave up, and allowed people to return to their preferred way of living.

    This was an example of a Big Idea failing.  

    We might agree that the goal in Tanzania was delivering education and health services and helping farmers operate more efficiently.  We could even agree that the goal in Tanzania is, or was, or should have been African Socialism.  

    But a Big Idea approach of the Ujamaa scheme was to work everything out based on The Theory.  

    An empiricist, incrementalist approach would be to try an experiment.  Perhaps in one village or one African socialist agricultural experiment.  Or perhaps just setting up incrementalist programs in education to see what would be the best way to deliver this service.  The next step would be to gather data about how various experiments worked.  Then the experiments that worked would be multiplied, and the experiments that didn’t work would be abandoned.

    This in fact is how Franklin Delano Roosevelt built the New Deal.  He was notorious for having no over arching ideology, no big picture for where he was headed, and being willing to listen to all sorts of people with ideas on how to address the Depression.  He was ruthless in abandoning whatever didn’t work.  

    Many modern Big Idea people think that the New Deal was a single big New Idea and we need a new Big Idea, but that’s now how the New Deal society and safety net were built.  The process was much more like the way the new health care system is being built under the Obama administration’s health care law.  It was incomplete, without over arching ideology, but it allows states like California and Vermont to experiment, and other states to look at what works and what doesn’t.

    That’s why many of us support the administration’s incrementalist approach.  

    We're foxes.

    •  Thanks for calling this diary "poorly argued" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      In her own Voice

      without directly addressing any of its arguments.

      And contrary to what "the commenter" says, "the diarist" is not wedded to the idea of top-down "Big Solutions" although he thinks that certain "Big Solutions" might be useful in nullifying other "Big Solutions" (e.g. neoliberal capitalism) currently being imposed upon the world.  "The diarist" also observes that "the commenter"'s Favorite President in fact believes in top-down "Big Solutions," otherwise said Favorite President would not have granted the financial system $12.8 trillion in guarantees.

      Moreover, "the diarist" does not think that people live in isolation from the world and can thus be the basis of small-scale "experiments" to see "what works."  This is because "the diarist" recognizes the existence of a world-society, of processes of ethnogenesis, and of historical change.

      Lastly, "the diarist" recognizes in the diary that social change starts with ordinary people rather than with leaders.  For the most part this is true because leaders are too wedded to the systems which grant them leadership status to try anything genuinely democratic.

      NB: There are two types of thinkers.  1) Thinkers who think there are two types of thinkers, and 2) Thinkers who don't think there are two types of thinkers.

      "You must do what you feel is right, of course." Obi-Wan Kenobi, in Episode IV

      by Cassiodorus on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 06:01:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Diarist has difficulties with details, like dates (0+ / 0-)

        I checked your link and it was to an article dated early March 2009, which was just a few weeks after inauguration, and lists guarantees that were enacted almost entirely by the outgoing Bush administration and the Fed.  Saying that they were enacted by the current administration shows a disregard for details.  This is common when one is focused on The Really Big Solutions to Really Big Problems, like ending poverty immediately or ending carbon burning instantly.

        It is this lack of attention to detail and data that the entire epistemology problem is addressed to.  

  •  Why do oppositionalist weasels "think"... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that we "need", or want, or should "tolerate" such deliberate trolling?

    Dkos is an inherently incrementalist venue, explicitly all about electing more better Democrats.

    WTF is the diarist's "point"?  

    That we should abandon the purpose of the blog, in favor of a contrary perverse absolutist "revolutionary" theory and practice that has historically proven to lead only to moar absolute fascism...go figure.

    Electoral boycott and splitting, incessant unprincipled oppositionalist weaseling for hegemony, and refusing to unite in principled solidarity behind the most viable more or less progressive bourgeois Party, to block the right from implementing and consolidating fascism, is what allowed the rise of Hitler, Nixon, Reagan and Bush.

    We can all see how that has worked out in the past...for the fascists.  

    So, whose side are these people really ultimately on, despite all of their contrived, duplicitous, disingenuous "revolutionary" assertions?  

    If the only material result of their theory and practice has proven, historically, to be more, worse fascism, then WTF good are they?

    The masses have rejected both the right wing line, and "left" boycott and splitting lines, to rise up, electorally, democratically, to elect Obama and Democratic Majorities, such as they were in '08, with all those Blue Dogs in there, to block the extreme right from power.

    More of the "left" needs to recognize and accept the leadership of the masses in that regard, and get on the bus, to help crush the Republicans, and seize the power, for real, for a change, if we are to have any material hope for justice and peace, to save the planet.

    "Left" poseurs who would rob us of that hope and of the changes that we need, to survive, especially at this critical historical juncture, are either enemy provocateurs, or their dupes...which distinction matters little, in terms of effect.

    To merely call them deluded fools, without a clue, is too kind.

    Bring the Better Democrats!

    All Out for 2012!

    Democracy is the most fundamental revolutionary principle. Information is the ultimate key.

    by Radical def on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 12:29:23 PM PDT

  •  "Every serious revolutionary is a reformist." (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify

    I like this quote from Noam Chomsky:

    "Tinkering, .... is a preliminary to large-scale change. There can’t be large-scale structural change unless a very substantial part of the population is deeply committed to it. It’s going to have to come from the organized efforts of a dedicated population. That won’t happen, and shouldn’t happen, unless people perceive that reform efforts, the tinkering, are running into barriers that cannot be overcome without institutional change. Then you get pressure for institutional change. But short of that realization, there is no reason why people should take the risks, make the effort, or face the uncertainty and the punishment that’s involved in serious change. That’s why every serious revolutionary is a reformist. If you’re a serious revolutionary, you don’t want a coup. You want changes to come from below, from the organized population. But why should people be willing to undertake what’s involved in serious institutional change unless they think that the institutions don’t permit them to achieve just and proper goals?" [The Framework for Thinkable Thoughts, p. 121]
  •  Revolution is an ethos (0+ / 0-)

    If an 'incremental' change has 'revolutionary' character, it can possibly be a revolutionary act.  For example, the IWW is a revolutionary anarchist-syndicalist labor union which hasn't exactly been plotting any coups lately to put it lightly; their activity has been in winning improvements in workplaces.  But what's important is the way they're doing it, which is radically nonhierarchical and worker-directed.  Even though their immediate aims don't seem revolutionary, they actually are because they are prefigurative.

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