Alinsky_WordAboutWords

Alinsky_WordAboutWords - Alinsky, Saul D. 1971. “A Word...

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Unformatted text preview: Alinsky, Saul D. 1971. “A Word About Words.” Rules For Radicals. New York: Vintage: 49-62. . THE PASSIONS OF MANKIND have boiled over into I all areas of political life, including its vocabulary. The Words most common in politics have become stained with human hurts, hopes, and frustrations. All of them are- loaded with Popular opprobrium, and their use results in a . conditioned, negative, emotional response. Even the word politics itself, which Webster says is l“the science and art of government,” is generally viewed in a context of con . ruption. Ironically, the dictionary synonyms are “discreet; provident, diplomatic, wise.” ' The same discolorations attach to other words preVa- lent in the language of politics, words like power, self- interest, compromise, and conflict. They become twisted and warped, viewed as evil. Nowhere is the prevailing political illiteracy more clearly revealed than in these typical interpretations of words. This is why we pause here for a word about words. A Word About Words ' 4A9 POWER The question may legitimately be raised, why not use other words—words that mean the same but are peaceful, and do not result in such negative emotional reactions? There are a number of fundamental reasons for rejecting such substitution. First, by using combinations of words - such as “harnessing the energy” instead of the single word “power,” we begin to dilute the meaning; and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the bitterness, the an- guish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph at- tached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life. In the politics of life we are concerned with the slaves and ' the Caesars, not the vestal virgins. It is not just that, in com~ munication as in thought, we must ever strive toward simplicity. (The masterpieces of philosophic or scientific statement are frequently no longer than a few words, for -, example, “E = mcg.”) It is more than that: it is a determina— tion not to detour around reality. ' To use any other word but power is to change the meaning of everything we are talking about. As Mark Twain once put it, “The difference between the right word ' and the ahnost—right Word is the difference between light. . ning and the lightning bug.” Power is the right word just as self-interest, compro— mise, and the other simple political words are, for they were conceiyed in and have become part of politics from the beginning of time. To pander to those who have no stomach for straight language, and insist upon bland, non- controversial sauces, is a waste of time. They cannot or RULES FOR RADICALS 59 deliberately will not understand what we are discussing ' here. I agree with Nietzsche’s statement in The Genealogy of'Morels on this point: Why stroke the hypersensitive ears of our modern weaklings? Why yield even a single step . . . to the Tartufiery of words? For us psychologists that would involve a Tartuttery of action . . . For a psychologist today shows his good taste (others may say his integrity) in this, if in anything, that he resists the shamefully moralized manner of speaking which makes all modern judgments about men and things slimy. 2-7: We apprOach a critical point when our tongues trap our minds- I d0 not propose to be trapped by tact at the. ex- . pense of truth. Striving to avoid the force, vigor, and sim- ' _ phc1ty of - the word “power,” we Soon become averse to I. thinking in vigorous, simple, honest terms. We strive to invent sterilized synonyms, cleansed of the opprobrium of the word power—~but the new words mean something III-different, so that they tranquilize us, begin to shepherd '_ _- our mental processes off the main, conflict-ridden, grimy, ' and realistic power—paved highway of life. To travel down _ the sweeter-smelling, peaceful, more socially acceptable, more respectable, indefinite byways, ends in a failure to '_ ' - achieve an honest understanding of the issues that we ' _- must come to grips with if we are to do the job. __ Let us look at the' word power. Power, meaning I - ‘_‘ability, whether physical, mental, or moral, to act,” has become an evil word, with overtones and undertones that Suggest the sinister, the unhealthy, the Machiavellian-It '- suggests a phantasmagoria of the nether regions. The mo— A Word About Words 51 ment the word power is mentioned it is as though hell had been opened, exuding the stench of the devil’s cess— pool of corruption It evokes images of cruelty, dishonesty/,5"; selfishness, arrogance, dictatorship, and abject suffering.- 1:5. The word power is associated with conflict; it is unac—'I ceptable in our present Madison Avenue deodorized hy-‘ :3; giene, where controversy is blasphemous and the value is _ 'I being liked and not offending others. Power, in our minds, has become almost synonymous with corruption and im-' _--,.;.'._ morality. . 5 . Whenever the word power is mentioned, somebody sooner or later will refer to the classical statement of Aden and cite it as follows: “Power corrupts, and absolute; 'i power corrupts absolutely.” In fact the correct quotation I L“ is: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We can’t even read Acton’s statement ‘-ac-_ -' curately, our minds are so confused by our conditioning. The corruption of power is not in power, but in our- selves. And yet, what is this power which men live by and:— to a significant degree live for? Power is the very essence, the dynamo of life. It is the power of the heart pumping; blood and sustaining life in the body. It is the power'Of-' active citizen participation pulsing upward, providing 'a-2 unified strength for a_ common purpose. Power is an es—T' sential life force always in operation, either changing the-fl world or opposing change; Power, or organized energy," may be a man—killing explosive or a life-saving drug. The" ' power of a gun may be used to enforce slavery, or to.‘ achieve freedom. ' _ ' The power of the human brain can create man’s mest: glorious achievements, and develop perspectives and in- ' sights into the nature of life—opening horizons previously RULES FOR morons . 52 beyond the imagination. The power of the human mind can also devise philosophies and ways of life that are most destructive for the future of mankind. Either way, power is the dynamo of life. Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers, put it I -. ' this way: “What is a power, but the ability or faculty of doing a thing? What is the ability to do a thing, but the - ' power of employing the means necessary to its execution?” I Pascal, who was definitely not a cynic, observed that: - “Justice without power is impotent; power without justice I is tyranny.” St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, .did not shrink from the recognition of power when he issued his dictum: “To do a thing well a man needs power and competence.” We could call the roll of all who have played'their parts in history and find the word power, not a substitute word, used in their speech and writings. It is impossible to conceive of a world devoid of power; the only choice of concepts is between organized and unorganized power. Mankind has progressed only through learning how to develop and organize instruments 7 of power in order to achieve order, security, morality, and civilized life itself, instead of a sheer struggle for physical survival. Every organization known to man, from govern- ment down, has had only one reason for being—that is, organization for power in-order to put into practice or pro- mote its common purpose. When we talk about a person’s "lifting himself by his ,own bootstraps” we are talking about power. Power must be understood for what it is, for the part it plays in every _ area of our life, if we are to understand it and thereby _ grasp the essentials of relationships and functions between groups and organizations, particularly in a pluralistic so- ciety. To know power and not fear it is essentialto its con- A Word About Words 53 stmctz'oe use and Control. In short, life without power is ' death; a world without power would be a ghostly waste- land, a dead planet! SELF-IN TERES T Self-interest, like power, wears the black shroud of nega- tivism and suspicion. To many the synonym for self-inter-' est is selfishness. The word is associated with a repugnant ' conglomeration of vices such as narrowness, self«seel<ing, _ and self-centeredness, everything that is opposite to the ' virtues of altruism and selflessness. This common defini- tion is contrary, of course, to our everyday experiences, as ' well as to the observations of all great students of politics and life. The myth of altruism as a motivating factor in Our behavior could arise and survive only in a society bundled in the sterile gauze of New England puritanism and Protestant morality and tied together with the ribbons of Madison Avenue public relations. It is one of the classic - American fairy tales. I _ From the great teachers of Judaeo—Christian morality and the philosoPhers, to the economists, and to the wise observers of the politics of man, there has always been universal agreement on the part that self~interest plays as H a' prime moving force in man’s behavior. The importance of self—interest has never been challenged; it has been accepted as an inevitable fact of life. In the werds' of Christ, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Aristotle said, in Politics, “Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly ever of the RULES FOR RADICALS eptions of self—interest . . .” ‘ _..of political life is to refuse to see man as he is, to see him -:only as we would like him to be. And. yet, next to this acceptance of self—interest, there _ This is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, fake, cowardly, covetous, as long as you succeed they are ' . _ yours entirel ,- I they will offer you their blood, property, lifg, and children when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. ' and the suppression of the individual that we attribute as A Word About Words 55 ' ‘enough' to include and provide for the shifting dimensions- of self-interest. You may appeal to one self-interest to get me to the battlefront to fight; but once I am there, my . prime self-interest becomes to stay alive, and if we are _vic-_ 3 toriOus my self-interest may, and usually does, dictate en- .' tirer unexpected goals rather than those I had before the ' war. For example, the United States in World War II -j fervently allied with Russia against Germany, Japan, and ;_-'__ Italy, and shortly after victory fervently allied with its} '_ former enemies—Germany, Japan, and Italy—against-‘itsa, farmer ally, the U.S.S.B. ._ ‘ I These drastic shifts of self-interest can be rationalized: only under a huge, limitless umbrella of general “moral” principles such as liberty, justice, freedom, a law higher. - than man-made law, and so on. Morality, so—called, be—- i}. comes the centinuum as self-interests shift. _ ' Within this morality there appears to be a tearing con"- ., flict, probably due to the layers of inhibition in our kind of moralistic civilization—it appears shameful to admit that we operate on the basis of naked self-interest, so we des-. - .Perately try to reconcile every shift of circumstances that” is to our self-interest in terms of a broad moral justification or rationalization. With one breath We point out that we are utterly opposed to communism, but that we love the. :5, Russian people (loving people is in keeping with the; tenets of our civilization). What we hate is the atheism. characteristics substantiating the “immorality” of com-'2 munism. On this we base our powerful opposition. We doi'. not admit the actual fact: our own self-interest. _ ,__ We proclaimed all of these negative, diabolical Bus-. sian characteristics just prior to the Nazi invasion ' of _. Russia. The Soviets were then the cynical despots who - ' A Word About Words 57 the world communist conspiracy or alignment of forces, they would be overnight acceptable to us, acclaimed by us, and provided with all kinds of aid, just so long as they were on our side. In essence, what we are saying is that we do - not care what kind of a communist you are so long as you do not threaten our self-interest. '. Russian allies certainly _ government, fightin employing a scorched-earth policy against the en Let me give you an example of what I mean by some of the differences between the world as it is and the world as we would like it to be. Recently, after lecturing at Stanford University, I met a Soviet professor of political economics from the University of Leningrad. The opening of our conversation was illustrative of the defini- tions and outlook of those who live in the world as it is. The Russian began by asking me, “Where do you stand on communism?” I replied, “That’s a bad uestion since the real question is, assum— ing bog) of us are operating in and thinking of _ the world as it is, ‘Whose Communists are they—— yours or ours?’ If they are ours, then we are all for them. If they are yours, obviously we are against them. Communism itself is irrelevant. The issue is whether they are on our side or yours. Now, if you Russians didn’t have a first mortgage on Castro, we would be talking about Cuba’s right to self-determination and the'fact that you couldn’t have a free election until after there had been a period of education-following the repres- sion cf the dictatorship of Batista. As a matter of fact, if you should start trying to push fer a free election in Yugoslavia, we might even send over our Marines to prevent this kind of sabotage. The same goes if you should try to do it in Formosa.” The Russian came back with, “What is your defi- nition of a free election outside of your country?” I said, “Well, our definition of a free election in,‘ say, Vietnam is pretty much what your definition A Word About Words 59 have no question that if Orwell had been given a military . . assignment from which he could easily have got lost, he would not have wandered to the rear at the price of. jeopardizing the liyes of some of his comrades; he would never have pursued his “self—interest.” These are the excep- tions to the rule, but there have been enough of them i flashing through the murky past of history to suggest that -_ these episodic transfigurations of the human spirit are I: l more than the flash of fireflies. COMPROMISE Compromise is another word that carries shades of weak—- ness, vacillation, betrayal of ideals, surrender of moral principles. In the old culture, when virginity was a virtue-hi,- one referred to a woman’s being “compromised.” The word '- I is generally regarded as ethically unsavory and ugly. . _ _ But to the organizer, compromise is a key and beauti- _ f ful word.fIt is always present in the pragmatics of opera— I, tion. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100._ per cent, then compromise for 30 per cent, you’re 30 per cent ahead. I '_ A free and open seciety is an on-going conflict, inter- __ , rupted periodically by compromises—which then become .- the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and, “1;; on ad infinitum, Control of power is based on compromise” in our Congress and among the executive, legislative, and”__-‘_"_'_ judicial branches. A society devoid of compromise is totali- ' :2: tarian. If I had to define a free and open society in one Word, the word would be ‘fcompfomise? ~ -' ‘ RULES FOR RADICALS EGO else,” is to be a real organizer. _ “Ego,” as We understand and u even vaguely confused with egotism. No would-be organ avoid hiding this from the pe se it here, cannot be - , nor is it remotely related to, rzer afflicted with egotism can ople with whom he is working, F——.“—-—‘——u——-wflv—th.nqtqu A Word About Words 61 - no contrived humility can conceal it. Nothing antagonizes people and alienates them from a would-be organizer more - than the revealing flashes of arrogance, vanity, impatience, and contempt of a personal egotism. The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monu- mental than the ego of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. The organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach—to create, to be a “great creator,” to play God. An infection of egotism would make it impossible to ‘ respect the dignity of individuals, to understand people, or to strive to develoP the other elements that make up the ideal organizer. Egotism is mainly a defensive reaction of feelings of personal inadequacy—ego is a positive convic- tion and belief in one’s ability, with no need for egotistical behavior. Ego moves on every level. How can an organizer re- __ spect the dignity of an individual if he does not respect his own dignity? How can he believe in people if he does not really believe in himself? How can he convince people _ that they have it within themselves, that they have the power to stand up to win, if he does not believe it of hirn-- _ self? Ego must be so all-pervading that the personality of _ the organizer is contagious, that it converts the people from de5pair to defiance, creating a mass ego. CONFLICT Conflict is another bad word in the general opinion. This is a consequence of two influences in our society: one in- ac ' ' ’ ' king :11 prudence '; and on university are fired for the same reason 3 I726 Edamrz'm of cm Organizer THE BUILDING of many mass power organizations to merge into a national popular power force cannot come without many organizers. Since organizations are created, '- in large part, by the organizer, we must find out what 'I creates the organizer. This has been the major problem of my years of organizational experience :-. the finding of po- I : tential organizers and their training. For the past. two years I have had a special training school for organizers with a full-time, fifteen-month program. _ Its students have ranged from middle-class women activists to Catholic priests and Protestant ministers of ._\. all denominations, from militant Indians to Chicanos to 'Puerto Ricans to blacks from all partsof the black power SPBCU‘UI’D, from Panthers to radical philosophers, from, _ a variety of campus activists, S.D.S. and others, to a priest . who was joining. a revolutionary party in South America. Geographically they have come from campuses and Jesuit seminaries in Boston to Chicanos from tiny Texas toms, middle-class people from Chicago and Hartford and Seat- tle, and almost every place in between. An increasing num? ...
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Alinsky_WordAboutWords - Alinsky, Saul D. 1971. “A Word...

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