James Wallbank on Tue, 21 Jul 2020 09:51:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Manifestos, Twitter, and Action Against The Autocrats.

Hi Nettimers,

Yesterday I published a substantial thread on Twitter, which seems to have gained some traction. I'm sending it to you, here, because I'm aware that Twitter, along with other many other social media spaces, is corporate, pseudo-public space, vulnerable and temporary.

Only after I posted it did I realise that this action was a very similar modus operandi to my publication of the 1999 "Lowtech Manifesto" - [ http://lowtech.org/projects/n5m3/ ] a very short piece of text that precipitated more than a decade of intensive digital, cultural and community activity.

Now, the stakes are far higher, and the field of play is not simply the world of cultural and digital production, but the whole political context in which we operate. I can't tell you how much I hope that this small action helps to precipitate progressive change.

It is orientated towards a British audience, but already I've had responses suggesting that it's far more widely applicable, to anywhere where populist autocracy is emerging. The USA is an obvious example - as is Brasil.

It may seem that what follows is just a couple of pages of writing. Yes it is, but it's been informed by a decade or more of learning and observation. It's what I can do. As I say at the end, I hope it helps.



This is not a normal time. I think we're at the early stages of an attempt to turn the UK into an autocracy. There follows a thread about the military methodology that I think the Johnson/Cummings Regime is using to wage information war against you, and how you can fight back.\1

Let's resist the illusion that the Johnson/Cummings Regime is precarious structure or a static edifice. It's part of a complex, hybrid, shape-changing network, only part of which is visible. Defeating it will require ceaseless, full spectrum opposition, learning & adaptation.\2

The Johnson/Cummings Regime is part of a generalised global direction, facilitated by digital technologies and driven by the impulse of the vastly rich (not just common-or-garden millionaires) to locate their wealth above and beyond democratic national governance.\3

It isn't a conspiracy. Nor is it a structure like dominoes, or snow before an avalanche, vulnerable to one intervention that'll topple the lot. It's a worldwide tendency, with many drivers. To prevail against this sort of diffuse opponent demands a Systems Thinking approach.\4

We can't win immediately, but we can work to change the rules, to shine a light on the political activities of the ultra rich, & to disconnect money from undue media & policy influence. Transnational cooperation will be crucial, as will educating the public.\5

In Britain, the Johnson/Cummings Regime is, whether it knows it or not, the primary tool of the ultra-rich, who are working to replace genuine, functioning democracy with opaque, managed states that amplify their wealth, reinforce their power and maintain their low visibility.\6

Successful opposition will involve many actions across multiple domains. To succeed it must be continuous, fast, agile & transformative. Interventions must be visible & invisible, direct & indirect, fast & slow, at all scales. Most of all, it must be a learning process.\7

This isn't just something dragged out of my fervid imagination—this type of complex conflict is a developed methodology (that originated, incidentally, in Russia). "Operational Art", or "Operational Mobility" is, essentially, Strategy and Tactics meets Systems Thinking.\8

It'll be helpful for more people who oppose the corrupt, incompetent Johnson/Cummings Regime and the plutocratic influences that appear to drive it, to get to grips with this type of conflict. It is certainly something that Cummings understands—I recognise its fingerprints.\9

Read Cummings online, and you can be absolutely sure that he understands Operational Art. That doesn't mean he knows exactly what's going on—it means that he acknowledges that he doesn't know what's going on, and operates a system to learn, adapt, reorientate and respond.\10

He has used terminology like the OODA Loop – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This is an instance of an operational method developed for aircraft combat. But that's just one, glamorous example (I have no doubt that Cummings fancies himself as "Tory Top Gun"!)\11

But Operational Art has much wider application. It was developed by the Russian military, at a period in which they were in a serious jam. They'd just had a revolution. They were weak and underdeveloped, and they had a strong, hostile, militarized neighbour: Germany.\12

How do you win when you're weak? Operational Art makes use of complexity and confusion, mixes up information flows in the battlespace, and prevents a more powerful opponent from bringing their forces to bear. It suggests continuous experimentation, learning & repositioning.\13

It can even use the strength of an opponent against itself. It doesn't have boundaries (spatial, temporal, or conceptual). First adopted by Soviet forces for warfare, it's also been implemented by the KGB, who (possibly not coincidentally) trained Vladimir Putin.\14

Operational Art is particularly relevant because governance is getting more complex. Digital and transport technologies are linking citizens, businesses & trading partners ever more quickly and cheaply. These links aren't all visible or predictable. The world is complicating.\15

Why now? Capital is concentrating in ever fewer hands. Increasing complexity means the right policy responses to emerging issues aren't obvious. Voters aren't experts, so we use gut instinct & rules of thumb to decide how to vote. This situation is vulnerable to exploitation.\16

Numerous indications suggest that the Johnson/Cummings Regime sees the British public as targets. They are engaging us with operational methods, with objectives in mind that are not in our interests. It's time to fight back using the tools of information warfare.\17

As we engage, we must use each incident as a learning opportunity. The objective is to identify the Johnson/Cummings Regime's critical components, & what they depend on to operate—its "centre of gravity". This will suggest critical weak points that will allow us to disrupt it.\18

At the same time, we must preserve our own centre of gravity—the things that are essential for us to be able to act—so that however long the conflict lasts, we can keep taking actions. During this process we may need to change form, appearance, position, relationships & focus.\19

You can consider centres of gravity on different organisational scales: you (an individual), a community group, a campaign, a business, a Local Authority, a movement, a political party, a government, a transnational organisation… Resources may flow between scales.\20

It's a mistake to think that just one of these scales is everything, or that the biggest scale is the most significant. Frequently, in dealing with complex systems, transformation emerges from changes at smaller or larger scales than the one under consideration. You matter.\21

NATO uses a common symbol system for mapping conflict. It includes large objects, like "Aircraft Carrier" or even "Theater Missile Defence" (which indicates a whole network of installations) through to tiny presences in the battlespace, such as "Graffiti" or "Pastor".\22

Failure to consider large & small scales can be our undoing. Coronavirus is microscopic, but it's disrupted global travel & trade. Massive events, like global warming, may have even more disruptive consequences. Fast events can be unmitigable. Slow events may be imperceptible.\23

It could be that your individual efforts at a local scale end up making a difference at a much larger scale. If you're engaged in local action, talk about what you do. Other people may copy or adapt your activities. Together you may effect large scale changes.\24

Another way to understand this conflict is as a battle of information. They're attempting to get information to flow from us to them. We're attempting to get information to flow from them to us. Either side may poison the information their actions generate with misinformation.\25

You can see this in the Johnson/Cummings Regime's preoccupation with surveillance tech & data analysis. They were preceeded by Vote Leave—connections to Cambridge Analytica, Faculty, Facebook & NHSX aren't coincidental. They conceal or obfuscate their internal processes.\26

These types of conflict do not necessarily involve optimisation. Pursuing the most direct, most efficient course of action has the unfortunate side-effect that it makes your intent obvious. It generates a very clear signal that your opponent can interpret.\27

Actions should be high speed and chaotic, should generate confusion and confound analysis. If they appear to be random—even senseless—so much the better, as long as they inform you and don't exhaust you. Taking advantage of random, unplanned events is additionally useful.\28

When devising actions, bear in mind that the ideal "Operational Idea" should be (1) Quick to Execute; (2) Deceptive and (3) Ambiguous. It should be (4) Unpredictable, not Stereotypical; should provide (5) Multiple Options for the next steps; and be (6) Creative and Novel.\29

Now do you see why the Johnson/Cummings Regime often appears to be a shitshow? Sometimes it's incompetence. Sometimes they're caught out. Sometimes, their buffoonery is deliberately provocative. While their visible actions are chaotic, their intended actions are obfuscated.\30

Interestingly, it can be useful to mix up deceptions, provocations & stochastic obfuscations with undisguised actions & accurate disclosures. By making your genuine intentions public, it becomes all the more difficult for your opponent to perceive what's real & what's not.\31

The highest value actions are ambiguous & provide multiple options. They may discover something, they may provoke a response, they may attract or avoid attention. Once deployed, should an idea's initial intent fail, or circumstances change, it can be recast as something else.\32

The plutocratic right is currently much better at this type of conflict than is the traditional left, which values stasis, structure, clarity and consistency. "This far and no further" is as effective in Operational Art as was the Maginot Line. Progressives can and must learn!\33

Right now, we can only guess at the Johnson/Cummings Regime's centre of gravity—the critical factors and linkages that allow it to act. We can guess that the relationships between Johnson, Cummings, the "Vote Leave Gang" and the Parliamentary Conservative Party are crucial.\34

This said, it's possible that Johnson & Cummings are more peripheral than they appear to be—get rid of them, & their apparently deliberately destructive programme may continue undisrupted by another leader. So we must continue to harass, probe & reconnoitre, learning as we go.\35

Remember that significant parts of the Johnson/Cummings network are invisible. The relationships between the visible parts of the network and its plutocratic funders may be few and critical, or they may be manifold and redundant, but money appears to be an important enabler.\36

We may guess that Johnson, Cummings, the Vote Leave Gang, The Cabinet, The Parliamentary Conservative Party or others are simply bumbling idiots. This is a mistake. We should take them very seriously, and assume that each move they make is quite deliberate.\37

Just because it's deliberate doesn't mean it's optimised. They're deliberately trying to obfuscate information that they generate. At this stage in the electoral cycle, they can afford to look like idiots. They have time for purges, new policies, new slogans & new haircuts.\38

Over-interpreting their actions may be a mistake. Their modus operandi appears to be to deliver ineffectual governance. This may be deliberate! One of their objectives may be to break down any notion of logic or good sense in the relationship between government & people.\39

Don't imagine that, as we discover vulnerabilities in the Johnson/Cummings Regime, they will remain unpatched. They will manoeuvre, camouflage, adjust, transform, refocus & redeploy. No current understanding is useful for good. However, each change can derive further insights.\40

Many political impulses that I see on left and right alike are driven by an urge to simplify—to gain the comfort and clarity of understanding just what's happening. This may give you peace of mind, but be assured, full understanding is an illusion, and it's not the way to win.\41

On the right, simple answers are used to manipulate footsoldiers. The BrexiTrump dullards that tirelessly belt out meaningless slogans and dog-whistle racism on Twitter are being manipulated. On the left, simplification takes the form of doctrine—texts that serve as holy writ.\42

For goodness' sake, progressives, leave this stuff behind! Think about core values, not doctrine. 19th Century manifestos were crucial in their time, and may contribute to our understanding, but things have changed and are changing. The game now is about continuous learning.\43

Here are five useful Operational methods—
(1/5) Surveillance: watch & learn. Don't forget to record & report your discoveries. (2/5) Demonstration: do something JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN. It doesn't have to be useful you'll learn about your own capacities as you go.\44

(3/5) Deception: Say you're going to do something, then don't. Pretend you're NOT going to do something. Do it anyway. Seem as if you're doing one thing, but do something else. Say you care about something that doesn't matter, or that you don't care about something that does.\45

(4/5) Attack of Opportunity: the enemy's in sight, so attack! Remember, though, this wasn't planned & may be a trap. Be ready to retreat. (5/5) Supporting Attack. This may not be the knockout blow, but you're sure that if you attack right… there, it'll hurt the enemy. Do it.\46

All of these methods assume that you're NOT YET SURE where the enemy's centre of gravity is. They're a dance, in which you goof around & mix things up. The neglected one is often Demonstration. It takes effort. Did you mean to do that? Your opponent can waste time on analysis.\47

Only once you're ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that you understand the opponent's centre of gravity do you strike. Then, go all out. Hold nothing back. Overkill is just fine. We're nowhere near that stage with the Johnson/Cummings Regime–on EXACTLY WHAT it depends is unclear.\48

This makes it important to report what you discover. The best information comes from engagement—doing something that'll get results and should provoke a response. It's the experimental part of the method. If you do an action, report your conclusions back to the network.\49

This morning I remarked on the possibility that a photo of Johnson & Symonds had been doctored. The vigour with which Brexity Boris Bots responded was very informative. Clearly they want to provoke argument now, today, about something that doesn't really matter. Interesting. \50

You may be one of those charming souls who feel uncomfortable with conflict analogies. Good for you! You can re-interpret these methods without military trappings if you like. I urge you to look into "Systems Thinking" – the science of how to deal with confounding complexity.\51

But, while you may be uncomfortable with the idea of information war, be under absolutely no illusion: the Johnson/Cummings Regime is at war with democracy, it's at war with notions of transparency, honesty and accountability. In short, it's at war with you. Good luck!\52

P.S. Why have I said all this now? Is it true? Is it a deception? Am I saying this just because I can? Is it an attempt to absorb the Johnson/Cummings Regime's analytical resources? I know that they already know this stuff, but some of you don't. I hope it helps.\53

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