We Fear That Which We Can’t Comprehend (The NAACP Cathedral vs The Tea Party Bazaar)

18 07 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about this NAACP v TPM row.  The AR thread from this weekend gave me the first chance to posit what I think is a unique theory, but the truth of the matter is that it might not be so unique.

The fundamental question everyone is asking is this:  Why is the NAACP, a long-established and well-funded civil rights organization, bothering to give any attention to a relatively disorganized, disheveled and nickel-dime movement like the Tea Parties?  I think the answer is twofold:  One is a practical answer, and the other is a philosophical answer.

The practical answer is that they’re doing it at the behest of the White House, to try to rally the black vote for November, to keep Democrat Congressional losses from being too bad.

The philosophical answer is more involved.

I began to answer it on Friday, but I can be a little more long-winded on my own soapbox, whereas I have to keep my word count in check while I’m a guest in somebody else’s living room.

People fear that which they can’t grok.  I think the great fear on the part of the NAACP toward the Tea Party Movement is that the TPM is The Great Unknown, IOW, an “enemy” so asymmetrical and unlike themselves that they can’t understand it.  And for the NAACP to issue the resolution is a prima face admission that they don’t grok the TPM.  But for the NAACP to turn right around and ask Sarah Palin or Dick Armey by name as one of the movement’s leaders to purge the TPM of the elements the NAACP doesn’t like actually proves my point:  The NAACP is still trying to project themselves onto something that is unlike them.

The NAACP is an old fashioned, top-down pressure group with a Weberian/corporate style power structure, only few reliable funding sources, and exists for almost a singular purpose, and is therefore suseptible to public policy trends.  For instance, if Congress would decide to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1965 to instruct the Federal judiciary to apply intermediate scrutiny and not strict scrutiny to racial classifications, and also disallow disparate impact as grounds for racial or any other civil lawsuits bought under CRA ’65, the NAACP would go out of business within a year, as a big part of their money stream comes from Federal remuneration to its LDF for its part in bringing civil rights lawsuits, payments which CRA ’65 also allows.  While this last sentence sounds like a lot of gibberish and legalese mumbo-jumbo to the untrained eye, most of you lawyers understand how profound a hypothetical statement it is.  You NAACP-LDF lawyers reading this interpret it as a red flag, or a knife in the heart that’s about to be twisted.

The Tea Party Movement, by contrast, isn’t an organization with a world headquarters, a CEO, has multiple political raisons d’etre, and would continue to exist even in the resolution of one of its chosen political problems and in the absence of its self-appointed heroes.  Sure, the NAACP thinks that Sarah Palin and Dick Armey can make the TPM do something, because that’s the NAACP projecting itself onto something which they know they can’t grok.  In reality, while Armey and Palin are luminaries to some (but not all) in the TPM, they’re not CEOs, they can’t order anything done.  If (Forbid) they both died tomorrow of some tragic disease, the TPM goes on.  If they both did what the NAACP asked of them, then the “racists” for whom the message is targeted will ignore it.

IOW, NAACP vs TPM is a form of asymmetrical “warfare.”  There are other good examples:  Other than Al Qaeda’s terrorist desires, the reason the American government fears AQ so much is because AQ is to USAGov what the TPM is to the NAACP, a mysterious and asymmetrically organized opponent, i.e. loose confederations of relatively like-minded individuals and groups that share relatively common goals and may lionize the same common strong public figures.  The TPM operates across the boundaries of interest groups on the right, while AQ operates across national and racial borders.  We fear that which we can’t comprehend.  We had an easier time battling the Soviet Union, because we were the same thing.  Both we and the Soviets have/had a hard time with Muslim terrorist cabals because of the asymmetrical matchup.  I dare say that the Tea Party Movement might be better remembered in the future for being better able to combat AQ than reducing government spending, because should TPM activists and leaders that properly understand themselves attain positions of power in elected offices, the military and the State Department, then USA-Gov vs AQ becomes symmetrical, and we’d know inherently how to inhibit/preclude AQ proliferation/success because since we are they, we know their weak sides as well as we know our own.

Here’s another example:  The internet.  Dictators and other Weberians hold vitriolic opinions toward it because it’s something they don’t understand.  The internet is a robust (robust in theory, anyway) network of networks, whose participants all desire something in common, and that is the dissemination of some sort of data.  But there are (or should be) no real central choke points of bandwidth or no big vulnerability that means the whole internet can be brought down.

Now that I mention that, I can bring in Eric S. Raymond’s paper from 1997, The Cathedral and The Bazaar.  It’s not a short paper, so Wikipedia can net it out for you.

The Tea Party Movement is nothing more than the Bazaar model of open source software development applied to goals and ambitions of the political right.  In this analogy, long-established organizations on the political left, like the NAACP, and their fear of the TPM, is much the same as Microsoft’s and Adobe’s fear toward open source; the same kind of asymmetrical warfare that you just read about.  The analogy between the TPM bazaar and the open source software movement bazaar goes one better than that:  Just as IT cathedrals can participate in the bazaar in a bazaar-style fashion (e.g. IBM employees contribute a lot to the proposed and actual source code of the Linux kernel, just as a lot of disparate individuals do), actual organizations on the political right can help with the Tea Party Movement.  In both cases, though, the structure of the OSSM and the TPM block actual cathedrals from participating too much to where they can take over those bazaars and turn them into cathedrals.  That’s the problem that a cathedral like the NAACP has with the bazaar of the TPM:  They don’t like some of the rightist cathedrals helping to organize the bazaar, even though the bazaar existed before the cathedrals and will continue to exist after the cathedrals in question.

Where my analogy isn’t perfect is that while the OSSM and the TPM are bazaars, the former actually is an uber-bazaar consisting of many smaller bazaars which may or may not depend on each other, while the TPM is a singular bazaar onto itself.  The better analogy with the TPM is one particular open source project, e.g. Mozilla Firefox.  The vulnerability of a given bazaar is that if the problem isn’t interesting anymore, the bazaar dissipates.  If people no longer have to eat, then farmers markets go out of existence.  If web browers are supplanted by something else, then the bazaar that develops Firefox goes away.  And I fear the TPM bazaar dissipates somewhat after the next major Republican victory, and definitely after the next Republican President is sworn in.  Though knowing some of the elected Republicans we’ve had in the recent past, they’re not much better than the Democrats, so the TPM is needed to combat Republicans almost as much as Democrats.

UPDATE 7/20: Turns out that there is a third method behind the NAACP’s method:  Aside from the practical (Obama orchestration) and the philosophical (cathedral vs bazaar), the third goal, which might be successful in the long run, is Machiavellian.  Some TPers are starting to cannibalize each other over each other’s alleged “racism,” in order to make it appear that the NAACP is wrong.  Mary Frances Berry, a Civil Rights hack under Bill Clinton, admits that stirring up shit within the TPM was the objective.  Of course, if you read James Edwards’s missive, the Machiavellian tactic wouldn’t work if lamestream conservatives weren’t so racially gullible in the first place.  (Keep in mind that not all TP activists and foot soldiers are lamers; this NAACP/Obama shit disturbing isn’t working within TPM factions that aren’t egalitarians/Lincolnians.)

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