Suicide Girls interview about Homeland, part two

Suicide Girls has just published part two of its two-part interview with me about Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother (here's part one). In it, we talk about activism, clicktivism, and the future of Internet-connected politics:

There is a lot of cynicism about clicktivism and the idea that if it’s too easy to be politicized, if all you need to do to take action is click an online petition, then it siphons off energy that could be used to change the world. It’s probably true that some people go, I’ve done my bit, I clicked that petition. But other people who never would have taken any political action start with that one click.

The height of the barrier to entry has to be correlated with the overall size of the movement. If it takes an enormous affirmative step to start your journey, then a lot of people will never start. If on the other hand it’s cheap to try, then a lot of people will try. And the more people you have trying, the more people you will have who will find that it’s what they want to do. That’s the upside of it. This is why I’m not cynical about clicktivism. This is why I’m glad to have a spectrum of ways that people can engage. The shopkeeper understands that the first requirement for selling things is getting people in the door; a political activist has to understand that the first requirement for building a movement is to have people take some step to want to be involved in a movement. And the smaller that step can be, the easier it is to get them involved.

I think of it like a church…It’s a tiny minority of people who join the clergy, but all of the people who join the clergy started by showing up on Sunday. If step one is eschew all material things, take a vow of silence and a vow of chastity and wear a hair shirt for the rest of your life, your clergy will be thinly populated. You need a step one that isn’t total engagement for the rest of your life, right?

Cory Doctorow: Homeland Part 2

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  1. “It’s a tiny minority of people who join the clergy, but all of the people who join the clergy started by showing up on Sunday.” The Christian church is your model for successful social change? They haven’t gotten much of anything that they wanted since the end of Prohibition.

    When you’re going up against entrenched interests, when you’re appealing to a politician for a position that’s contrary to all of the “expert” opinion and for a position that’s contrary to his financial incentives? He wants to know one thing: if he says no to you, what are you going to do about it? If what you’re going to do if he says “no” to you is, “if you say no to me, I’ll click another button on the Internet!” then he doesn’t care what you want. He doesn’t have to.

    But if you put time and effort and money into expressing your opinion to him, then he has to worry that if he says “no” to you, you’ll put an equal amount of time and effort and money into opposing his re-election. If he finds out that you successfully brought a lot of friends with you, he has to worry that you’ll take that group of friends with you to his opponent’s side. He may still vote against you or rule against you, but he at least has to take you seriously.

  2. Back in the 90’s I used to fantasize about translating Robert’s Rules of Order into a version that would work in IRC. I thought it would be good to have a meaningful political process happen on line.

     It took me a while to figure out that when people can nip in and out at their convenience, the meeting doesn’t mean nearly as much. 

    Online meetings seem to work well in very tightly defined agendas, small groups who already know each other. But yeah, when venting spleen is as easy as sending a letter to the editor, there’s nowhere interesting for that outrage to go towards motivation.

     I don’t think political power ultimately comes from the end of a gun, but it does have something to do with people’s willingness to get outside and take some risks.

  3. I was one of those frustrated by the ‘late binding’ of Occupy. It more than frustrated me; it offended me in a way I have trouble articulating. I place a lot of value on social order and self-restraint, but also value justice. Occupy presented some general concepts I agreed with (corporations are too politically influential and income inequality is a problem which requires attention) but wrapped them in a noisy, emotional, disruptive, ill-defined mob I could never get behind. It twisted something I wanted to believe in into something I wanted to hate, and ultimately I could do neither.

    But the world is not all about me. I suspect Cory is right that the late binding of Occupy HELPED the movement, and for the reasons he mentioned. It’s not an argument I have heard before.

    Also, as someone who finds even clicking ‘like’ to be going out on a limb, I definitely appreciate that there are different degrees of political engagement. People like to mock creating awareness (my favorite mockery is here: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/01/23/18-awareness/ ) but there value in just letting people know an issue exists and that there are people with opinions on it.

  4. They do interviews now?!
    I have to wonder if all the problems they had a few years back with being moderately evil have been sorted out.

  5. The talk about independent candidates is interesting right now, because here in Bristol, we’ve just elected and independent mayor, and an independent police commissioner, in what looked to me like a backlash against the three (two and a half?) main parties.
    Now the people behind the mayor’s campaign are trying to organise a support system for independent candidates for the local council elections, which will be interesting to watch if nothing else.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-21118470

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