Our political Quote of the Day comes from John Yemma, editor of The Christian Science Monitor, who looks at the Occupy movements in the United States and Europe and asks whether we are in a new era of leaderlessness. Here’s part of his must-read-in-full post:
The tea party and the “Occupy Wall Street” movements evolved on different planets, even if members of both groups sport red-white-and-blue face paint, funny hats, and placards proclaiming their anger. Tea partyers tend to be older, antitax, and more Midwestern or Southern in origin. Occupiers are younger, in favor of higher taxes on the wealthy, and more urban and coastal.
But in that way that left and right can sometimes intersect, the tea party and OWS are in the same place in at least one important sense. Both have lost faith in established institutions. TPs are more down on Washington, D.C., than Wall Street. OWSers are more irked at big money than big government. But both are deeply skeptical of the stentorian voice that says “trust us, we know best.”
The spirit of the times, whether in town-hall shoutfests or on the streets of Europe and North America, is infused with anarchy – and I mean nothing pejorative by that. “Anarchy” is now a synonym for chaos and wild-in-the-streets mayhem, but in the original Greek it simply means “without a leader.”
Anarchism is not just the absence of government. It has a large body of theory behind it that emphasizes enlightened individualism, charity, voluntarism, and community. It envisions individuals being purely self-governed. That’s the theory, at least. Anarchism doesn’t have such a great history. Attempts to create leaderless societies in 19th-century Europe and early-20th-century Russia ended with the guillotine and gulag. But every political system – democracy, monarchy, oligarchy – has been hijacked by bad guys at times.
Are we perhaps living in a time when leaderless groups can flourish thanks to the open-source, peer-to-peer sharing, social networking wonders we enjoy? With cheap, instant communication and vast amounts of information at our fingertips, could we run a society without a ruling hierarchy? One of the more popular management books in recent years (read everywhere from business schools to the Pentagon to tea party book clubs) has been “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations,” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. It sings the praises of decentralized organizations (Craigslist, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Apaches of the 19th century) as resilient and superior to hierarchies where everything rests on the leader. Think of the starfish, with its regenerating legs, versus the spider, which is kaput when decapitated.
The copyrighted cartoon by Pavel Constantin, Romania, is licensed to run on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.