In a post-dialogue world, there has been a subtle shift of vocabulary from engagement to empowerment. While empowerment (the removal of shackles) is something all rational beings should support, what does this shift in vocabulary mean? Without engagement, how is empowerment achieved? Who is doing the empowering?
This third part of the Evolutions in Trust (or Blockchain Trust) series will examine how empowerment in the decision-making process (particularly research decisions) are changing the policy landscape. The first part of the series looked at how trust and credibility are being determined by constant community surveillance (a blockchain of shared reviews). Part 2 looked at how certain actors, having created a distrust of authority and expertise, are extending this blockchain trust into citizen-led policy processes. To enable this, another type of authority needs to be envisioned – that of the individual free from any external powers or perceived influence: the self-empowered.
Power through Disempowerment
I had a wake-up call one morning while attending a citizen-science event for a European Commission FP7 project closing conference. My jaw dropped open when one of the consortium members said the following:
In order to empower citizen science, we first have to disempower the scientists!
By citizen science, the speaker was referring to those experts working for activist organisations (loosely called: “civil society”). I had just recently published the Portier Papers blog, where shamelessly deceptive groups like Corporate Europe Observatory had admitted that Chris Portier was “their scientist” acting on behalf of “their citizens” (just secretly compensated handsomely by law-firms with a definite interest in the “citizen outcome”).
Who has the right to disempower others? In a world of social media tribes, just about anyone, it seems.
To give opportunities to people (what rational actors mean when they use the word “empower”), do we have to take away what others have? To empower women, do we have to castrate men? To engage stakeholders from civil society, do we have to chase industry and the academe away from the table? Or is this activist notion of empowerment achievable only through disempowerment a juvenile concept of the radical left?
Knowledge by Ownership
As we move into a world managed by millennials, our “old ways” will continue to change in manners that seem subtle, but are quite fundamentally different. I see it everyday in my lecture hall. For example, fifteen years ago when a student asked me a question, I gave an answer and the student would take notes. Today, I would give an answer, and the student would then check it on a phone, nod and then continue. Trained to double-check online sources, young people work by a trust but verify approach – they need to take ownership of the information they acquire – knowledge is empowered. But without expertise or understanding (if they are scientifically illiterate), are they able to ask the right questions?
This knowledge by ownership (a form of empowerment) is not necessarily a good thing since the sources millennials often go to may not be the most credible (accessible and transparent does not always equate to credible in a world built around confirmation bias silos). The algorithms developed through decades of search histories tend to direct people to information sources they want to surround themselves with rather than the sources surrounded by facts and evidence. Facts and scientific information can be easily disempowered in a world of confirmation bias silos with a distrust of authorities and experts.
I feel there should still be a respect for knowledge acquired from experts: that we are all standing on shoulders of giants and would do well as apprentices to listen and learn from those with experience and education. But in a world where people are content learning what they “need” to know via Google search terms, are not prepared to listen to those whom they do not trust and seek affirmation of their beliefs rather than information and facts, expertise and authority have little hope in earning the public trust. The Information Age quickly morphed into the Age of Stupid.
This leaves those seeking information vulnerable to manipulation from ideologues feeding the public into their information channels.
Within the context of dialogue and engagement, one would expect the public to become more empowered. But that does not seem to be the goal. The neo-Marxist wing of the activist movement (the groups that killed dialogue like Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Avaaz and SumOfUs) define empowerment with the objective of disempowering others – that there needs to be some systemic change for their ideology to truly prosper.
In order to have justice, they argue we need to radically change the global trade structure. In order to have a fair economic system, we need to destroy the banks and large industrial groups. To get green energy, we will need to abandon all other power sources now … and let the lights go out. To change to a “sustainable agriculture”, we must first abandon all conventional agriculture. Disempowerment is built into all of these environmental campaigns – first you need to break up the system and then their people will be empowered.
In the same way that, as a white man, I don’t fancy my forced castration, I don’t favour willingly creating famines, energy poverty, economic stagnation or trade interruptions just so these little revolutionaries can take over the world. Can’t we have a world where both systems compete? If renewables produce abundant, cheaper energy, if agroecology gets better yields, if a trading system for people creates more jobs, then we would adopt these practices – that’s what science does.
Revolutionaries are ideologues – they don’t care much for facts or science.
This neo-Marxist brand of empowerment that I often see outside of the Berlaymont (with their expensive stunts, make-up artists and maybe five paid interns tagging along) is all about stopping dialogue, creating fear among the ignorant, changing the power structure by discrediting authority and creating uncompromising public expectations about policy decisions (that should require compromise).
The term “neo-Marxist” should be used with caution as it has recently been applied to many types of disagreeable personalities. I use it here in reference to those political opportunists capitalising on the present green narrative to push for a breaking up of the system (eliminating multinationals and global trade, neutralising the policy process and redefining power structures). They are the hard left of the green movement demanding a total break-up of the energy mix in favour of only renewables, a new way of farming with no technologies and a suspension of global trade. Disempowerment is a tool of the extreme left and a cheap substitute for political theory.
There is definitely a need for a better word here. These neo-Marxists could easily be called “anarchists” as they desire policy incontinence and institutional impotence. Depending on their feelings for immigrants and minorities, they could also be called fascists as they have a cult-like zeal and little tolerance for people who disagree with them (the political spectrum extremes meet at the bottom). Given how they express an arrogance of ignorance with their simplistic, single-minded solutions, I have come to call them “radical rednecks” but that has a geographical peculiarity.
These neo-Marxist zealots are not terribly concerned if economies will fail or people will suffer commercial loss – that indeed is the point. They are not very environmentally attuned but have the political acumen to realise the vulnerable will support them only if they cloak their revolutionary ideology in the narrative of the day. For these 9-to-5 activists, the green campaigns are simply a convenient tool to undermine the political and financial structures and disempower policymakers trying to develop socio-economic programmes.
Disempower ad hominem
The lack of intellectual integrity of these disempowerment masters can be seen in a principal tool they consistently use: argumentum ad hominem. By attacking and discrediting scientists or policymakers at the personal level, their strategy of empowerment via disempowering others is at its most vile. They are not having a debate on substance or ideas, but simply trying to remove any threat to their ideology. The activist zealots will not rest until the policy debates are purged of their opponents, the lecture halls are cleansed of objective thinkers and the media assume the green narrative.
Disempowering others is an act of intolerance as heinous as anything that may have caused the need for empowerment. While these activists pretend to empower, they are enslaving others for their personal interests. Behind every neo-Marxist revolutionary is a flawed wannabe autocrat thirsting for blood. As they are wielding more and more influence within the regulatory halls of Brussels, this needs a little more attention and a lot more public awareness.
With social media, the ability to create a shared feeling of alienation (activist opportunity) is as easy as drafting a short SumOfUs Save-the-Bees donation request email. Disempowering others is as easy as a simple ban or block from a social media account – problem solved!
Then we turn on Trotsky!
Even more contradictory, these small groups of hard-left activists who claim to represent the disempowered, have empowered themselves to speak for groups that are never in reality consulted or represented, without scrutiny, accountability or transparency. In the attempt to create an EU dialogue process, the European Commission funded umbrella groups of NGOs (like EPHA, HEAL, BEUC, EEB …). They have given large amounts of money to small offices to then redistribute to networks of NGOs across Europe who are “disenfranchised”.
What has happened though is these umbrella groups, with ample public funds, then tell the small, local NGOs what to do, how to support the Brussels-based campaigns and what to say. And maybe then, they will get a slice of the EU taxpayer pie. This is not empowerment of civil society, but a further disenfranchisement to a small group of self-serving militants dangling carrots at them from within an close-knit, closed-minded Brussels Bubble.
I don’t think this is what the European Commission had intended EU taxpayer money to be used for, but that beast now seems untameable. The British taxpayers woke up. The rest of Europe has been blissfully ignorant.
Towards an Empowerment of Dignity and Inspiration
If you had ever wondered why 35 years of “equal opportunity” employment has failed (35 years of trying to disempower white men for a nominal advantage for minorities and women), one need only look at the difference between equity and equality. Equality is a numerical determination that allows tokenism to seem adequate. Tokens expect and demand from others, they do not inspire, they are not mentors and they are not expected to achieve. Being a token has no worth. Equity is the recognition of fairness – that the individual is valued according to an inherent worth or dignity.
Equality among individuals sounds like a very nice idea but demanding that only saps each person’s unique worth while destroying integrity. And creating an inequality (disempowerment) in order to address what is perceived as an unfairness (an inequity) is like using a hammer to turn a screw. Young women need female mentors, minorities need cultural role models – they don’t need nor benefit from someone tokenistically giving them a push on a shoulder through a door not designed for them. Discrediting scientists to pave the way for citizen scientists is just plain stupid.
We need to empower people through inspiration and not through the castration of some envied class. These neo-Marxists abuse empowerment for their revolutionary games – they don’t produce inspiration, but rather unrequited expectation post-disempowerment. In trying to cause our political system to fail, in destroying public trust in authorities and expertise, in crippling economies, food supplies and energy sources, these little revolutionaries with bad attitudes have contented themselves with failure. This is hardly something to aspire to … and hardly inspiring.
These disempowerment games work in a world of blockchain trust. This three-part series has been critical of the numerical structure of everyone watching and counting everything. By disempowering public authorities and experts, we only have this blockchain of shared evaluations to fall back on – but there is no leadership, no inspiration, no integrity upon which trust was once built. A blockchain of integrity and inspiration is what we used to call “humanity” – before neo-Marxist activists ran a campaign of distrust and disempowerment, we used to trust that.