The Art of War in 21st Century – Citizen Activism
The world has changed since Sun Tzu wrote ‘The Art of War’. In fact, the idea of war and peace is no longer as clear as it used to be, but then again, the role of diplomacy was never big as it is today. Throw in democracy and you’ve got yourself a real mess of things that we’re all involved in.
So how can we make sense of this mess so that our involvement is more positive?
Global Peace Index shows that 2021 was a year of civil unrest. I recently wrote a short piece called ‘Activist vs Anarchist’. While I understand how and why civil unrest can and will happen, I also believe that we, citizens, can and should do more to prevent unrest. Despite the common belief that wars are ‘factories for heroes’, they’re not. A small group of people will come out of a war as a hero, but they were heroes before the war. There will be a small group of people who will benefit from war – my opinion of them is not positive, so I shall ignore them. Everyone else will be traumatised. A large majority of people will come out of the war with all kinds of problems they never dreamed they would have. And if you are reading this and thinking “It can’t get worse than this”, it can, trust me. It can get much, much worse. In short, it is in our interest to keep the peace no matter how much someone claims that a war MUST happen if we want a social improvement. Wars do NOT cause social improvement, they destroy. Anyone who thinks that a war will save us, that we have no other choice, is an idiot. And we are not idiots. So let’s take this one step at a time. Let’s exercise the power we have as citizens to get the social improvements we want, need and deserve.
In these articles, I will use my knowledge of citizen activism (I have over 20 years of experience), as well as everything I have learned from the war in Bosnia, the war that has not yet ended. The Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) is a fine example of a modern war. It is a modern day version of a Trojan Horse; instead of soldiers, it is stuffed with diplomats and lobbyists, but we are still fighting the same enemies. However, I do not intend to make these articles about DPA or Bosnia, or even about my experience as an activist. I will use those as examples to show how and why I came to a theory, idea or a conclusion.
These articles will follow the structure of The Art of War by Sun Tzu as much as possible, excluding the military. In these articles, ‘the military’ or the ‘armed forces’ shall be viewed from the perspective of citizens. In fact, all the articles are about citizen activism, so they will be citizen-centric.
Definition of citizen activism shall not be limited to encouraging a decision-maker to make a certain decision, though in practice this is the most dominant form of activism. Also, ‘the voice of citizens’ shall not be limited to ‘what was said’, but will take rational thought and citizen activities into consideration.
The world is defined as a space where we all feel like we’re part of ‘something’; the societies we’ve created, the countries, the groups, the nations, from municipalities to the global village. And citizens taking part in influencing a change at any level, in any way will be considered.
One of the most common ways citizens take action to improve their society is through an organisation. These organisations are often called non-profits, or not-for-profit, or non-government, or voluntary or civil society – these are all pretty much the same type of organisations, we just haven’t figured a name for them. Since they are so important to citizen activism, we should understand as much as we can about them. Of course, this is not an easy task since we don’t even have a name for them. In fact, two (perhaps even three) of the most common names for these organisations have the word ‘no’ in them. In other words, we know what they’re not, it doesn’t tell us anything about what they are.
On the bright side, so much great research has been carried out on these organisations, that there is no lack of information. We just need to figure out a way to understand the information so that it makes perfect sense. In my opinion, this has been hard mainly because our brains are into capitalism too much. These organisations are the opposite of capitalism from their very root. I.e. the backbone of capitalism is the assumption that people are selfish, and these organisations show that we’re not. The theory of ‘warm glow’ (or we help others because it makes us feel good, therefore we help others out of selfish reasons) didn’t get very far since if we were selfish it wouldn’t make us feel good to help others. So the ‘warm glow’ theory doesn’t prove we’re selfish, it proves that helping others makes us feel good. ‘Warm glow’ theory is a loop not worth going into with someone who is convinced that there is nothing better than capitalism.
Furthermore, there is evidence that ideas that proved beneficial to the for-profits damaged the not-for-profits. Rationally, this shouldn’t be a surprise even if all we know is that one is for profit and the other is opposite of that or the other is ‘not’ for profit. But if we go deeper and examine one such idea, the point becomes even clearer and we learn something about the organisations. For example: Competition. Competition has been great in the for-profit sector, yet it has been a disaster in the not-for-profit sector. This is because social issues are connected, and solving one problem does not mean that others will be magically solved. In fact, evidence suggests that solving one problem at the expense of a different problem might make the first problem, the one that was solved, worse. So, this sector needs to work as a team, keeping the balance being one of the main objectives. Of course, there are some social problems that have a greater impact than others. Logically, those should be addressed first. Poverty, for example, can cause a lack of education, bad health, domestic violence, etc. However, can poverty be solved without addressing… Alcoholism, for example?
In short, this sector, as a reflection of social issues (at least to some degree) is chaotic and needs to be viewed separately from capitalism, i.e. leave the ‘capitalism’ hat at home before you come to view these problems. And capitalism doesn’t have much to do with the existence of these organisations. Democracy, or citizen freedom to act, is very important, but capitalism, not so much, not even when it comes to fundraising. It is true that most organisations will try to raise as much money as possible at as low a cost as possible, which is basically the definition of ‘profit maximisation’, but no organisation should have this as its objective. And that makes a world of difference. ‘The profit’ or the money is NOT the objective but a tool to get to the objective.
Despite all this chaos and confusion, citizens make a positive difference in their societies on daily basis; through these organisations and on their own. I know it might not seem like it because the world seems to be going from bad to worse, but the social problems are not just a question of solutions, but also a question of those creating the problems. It is in a constant battle of ‘causing problems and solving problems’. And I can guarantee that the world would be so much worse if it were not for citizen activism. In my book, that means all our effort is well worth it. But, also, if we can get more for the same effort, then why wouldn’t we?
Last, but by no means least, the definition of a citizen. Technically we are all citizens. The politicians, lobbyists, ambassadors, soldiers, police officers, diplomats, speakers of this, mayors of that, CEOs, directors and employees, all are citizens. That too is a little chaotic, so we’ll use a number of assumptions:
1. Masses – as the only real power in the world, we will look at the will of the masses as a guiding post. Masses are the people. None of our institutions are large enough to accommodate the masses, so it’s easy to see those who are outside the institutions. Having said that, masses means many voices, so it can be tough to tell what those voices are saying. Luckily, we’re only looking for a ‘common denominator’ not the total of all the voices.
2. Our societies are complicated webs of voters and decision-makers, money, ‘guns’ and opinions/decisions, where each individual has a different level of ability and power to participate in shaping the society, yet each individual has at least some effect on how our societies are shaped.
3. Power and accountability should be at the same level for each individual obviously depending on their position within the society, yet the right to speak and express an opinion should be the same for everyone. Yes, media plays a big part in this.
4. Social improvement is a constant balancing act between problem creation and problem resolution. In other words, democracy should not be taken for granted as some kind of inheritance. It is the responsibility of every citizen to act to the best of their abilities.
5. People are rational beings who hope to avoid problems and create a more meaningful existence. Education helps them make better choices.
And with all that in mind, we can start the quest for more effective and efficient citizen action.
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