Power To The People

Say you want a revolution

We better get on right away

Well you get on your feet

And out on the street

Singing power to the people

Power to the people, right on

(John Lennon)

State of Mind

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

Libya, August 22, 2011. But still the collapse of the Gaddafi forces comes as a surprise. The end is near for ‘one of the world’s most flamboyant and mercurial political figures, the leader of an idiosyncratic government that was frequently as bizarre as it was brutal’ (a description of the New York Times). Gaddafi took power in a bloodless coup in 1969, the same year as the flower power  ‘make-peace-not-war coup’ in Woodstock. While Richie Havens shouted ‘Freedom’ across the fields of North America, dictators ruled 80% of the people in the world. Even in Southern and Eastern Europe colonels and generals buffered weapons, power & money. With the exception of Italy. Not by chance one of the six early members of the European Union.

Jan 14, Ben Ali, Tunisia;

Feb 11, Mubarak, Egypt;

Aug 22, Gaddafi, Libya;

France, Great-Britain and the US are backing the People of North Africa in rolling back the carpet. They have changed strategy and tactics. No fights in unknown jungles, mountains or hostile cultures  (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan)  anymore, but a helping hand from the air, some wise advice and verbal power play. ‘Tonight, the momentum against the Gaddafi regime has reached a tipping point,’ Barack Obama said in a statement, early this morning. ‘Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Gaddafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.’ It was a message for other old-fashioned dictators as well. People simply don’t take it anymore, all those commands from empty suits and uniforms.


Revolutions not only take place on the streets of unstable countries in South America, Asia or Africa. They happen in the minds of other people too. From the Sixties until halfway the Eighties of last century a so-called Cognitive Revolution happened in the psychological perception of the human mind. The human mind is some kind of computer, scientists stated. A cold data processor, a machine without feelings. At the end of the century emotions, feelings and intuitions entered the mind, during a silent ‘Affective Revolution’. They blew up the image of our ordered minds, that are supposed to weigh the pros and cons of whatever against each other. It was just a passage to a third revolution in half a century. Now it was the turn of the neuroscientists to hold the red flag. They use super sensitive machines to scan our minds in order to measure our brain activity. As a result we have to deal with controversial conclusions like: Man has no free will. The idea that we control our behavior with our thoughts, is an illusion. Our minds don’t steer our bodies consciously. More than we realize our behavior is determined by factors beyond our control. ‘Can they prove it,’ you may ask. ‘Well…yes’. With this famous experiment by Benjamin Libet (1985): the neuroscientist asks the subject to raise a finger at a self chosen moment and watch a clock to time exactly when it noticed the consciously taken decision to move the finger. In the meantime the researcher measured the brain activity. Conclusion: a half of a second before someone reported the decision brain-activity already reached its peak.

Our behavior is steered by fear and lust, by all kinds of impulsive feelings, intuitions, expectations, frustrations. You name it! We decide on the hoof, not behind a desk. When we are confronted with a choice that has to be taken we immediately have a feeling about it, positive or negative. Go for it, because what rests is: reasoning towards a conclusion that’s already been drawn. Motivated reasoning. If we follow this way of thinking, we’ll have to conclude that it doesn’t make sense to just tell people what to do. There’s a big chance that you’ll get disappointed by the result.

The central statement of this article is that dictators still live in the Cognitive Revolution, using terror to keep mouths shut. Now that mouths are digital words & images and individuals became networks, the power of knowledge, mobilization of dissatisfied citizens, and command are closer to the bottom than to the top of any community or organization. Steering nowadays is more complex than 42 years ago.


Jane Jacobs, an American-Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning, already in 1961 stated: ‘You can’t make people use streets they have no reason to use. You can’t make people watch streets they do not want to watch.’ It was a strong argument in a monologue about how to secure streets where the public space is unequivocally public and badly in need of eyes to secure safety for people more or less. A government, any government, that tries to convince or enforce people to fill up empty streets for the sake of security of the ones that live there or the strangers who don’t know better, is doomed to fail. Jacobs: ‘The safety of the street works best, most casually, and with least frequent taint of hostility or suspicion precisely where people are using and most enjoying the city streets voluntarily and are least conscious, normally, that they are policing.’[2] The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores, bars, restaurants and other public spaces sprinkled along the sidewalks. Moreover, there should be many different kinds of enterprises, to give people reasons for crisscrossing paths. There’s more to say about this, but the message is clear: people don’t want to be pushed around by policymakers and authorities to make them change their behavior. They want freedom of choice. And if they don’t get it, they are going to take it, by clustering in multitudes, by winning back the streets and squares for private purpose and the community of people at large. Public servants that want them to change habits and routines, will have to act more clever. Iron weapons are not enough anymore. Sustainable power is more about development, experiment, and coordination, than about command, tell, sell and planning. One track minded dictators don’t make it anymore. They simply don’t understand the system, they cannot handle chaos.

The making of reality isn’t a linear process from a to z. As Herbert Butterfield, a British historian and philosopher of history, says (1965): ‘History is full of accidents and conjunctures and curious juxtapositions of events and it demonstrates to us the complexity of human change and the unpredictable character of the ultimate consequences of any given act or decision of men.’[3] So, even if the government is smart and chooses for the subtle tactics of obliquity[4], the government cannot be sure of people’s real behavior. The only thing we can do is: trying to influence the context from which decisions are taken. Try to influence the mood of people with inspiring fine arts, qualitative outstanding architecture, flowers, colors, yellow, orange.

Human nature is diverse.  It is also mutable, for better or worse. And it is influenced not just by one-to-one interactions, but by the multitudinous society in which each of us is embedded.[5] (…) ‘A push and a pull; a tension between conflicting desires. This is all it takes to tip our social behaviour into complex and often unpredictable patterns, dictated by influences beyond our immediate experience or our ability to control.’[6] We  can try to see patterns in complex structures like human behaviour and react on that, or we can learn to trust our feelings, our intuition and our mind’s eye and make our own choice impulsively.

Back to Tripoli. Whats next? Let tweets talk.

Mobile Web * 22-08-11

#Libya is almost freed. Now #Syria is next without forgetting about #Bahrein and the criminal Khalifa regime. Bahraini, keep the pressure up.

Assad when your people turn against you your army will melt away and desert you.

Assads message: our govt will not fall.

People’s message: We WILL topple you!

nonfiXe, August 22, 2011

[1] Juxtaposition is the placement of two things (usually abstract concepts, though it can refer to physical objects) near each other.

[2] Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books Edition, December, 1992, p.36.

[3] Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, New York, 1965 p.p. 21/66.

[4] Obliquity is the notion that complex goals are often best achieved indirect. For example, happiness is the product of fulfillment in work and private life, not the repetition of pleasurable actions, so happiness is not achieved by pursuing it. The most profitable companies are not the most dedicated to profit.

[5] Philip Ball, critical mass, how one thing leads to another, Arrow books, 2004, p. 537.

[6] Idem p 588.

[7] Ian Robertson, the mind’s eye, Bantam Books, 2003, p 12-37.