In which I spitball about the mechanics of how you transrupt ego-fodder, the emotacycle and, the Smugosphere in some detail, (but duck the question of what are the success metrics, how you would know you were succeeding in each of these.)
And ultimately, in all of this, the most important thing is not to exhort, or to extort agreement. But it is to model different behaviour, it is to lead by example, and to show that another way as possible.
If you’re the organiser of an event I would strongly recommend that you have a couple of rituals, so that when people are joining online or face-to-face meeting, that they’re encouraged to mingle and talk with other people and that you have provided them with the minimum necessary information that will help them orient themselves. And you provide this information in formats that do not prioritise the fully literate. So that would include videos, memes, timelines, etc.
And you as an organiser, if you’re going to ask people to pay attention, then you have to give them the tools that make it easy for them to pay attention and to integrate what they learn from what they see on the day.
So there’s a before –
making sure that information is provided, that you explain that the format is going to have a couple of tweaks to it to get beyond the usual. And you can keep these tweaks relatively small.
The first is to make it easier for people to mingle. It can be simply “introduce yourself to someone”. It doesn’t have to be having a go round, because that can take forever. And it’s actually quite intimidating for the introverts.
The second is, between any set of speeches and q&a, giving people a chance to confer.
But the other thing is that you as the host of the event are going to demand more of your speakers.
we’d really like you to address our meeting, about [insert name of topic here] because we think that you have useful things, useful knowledge, and perhaps useful perspectives.
However, we’re very keen that this meeting is as useful to those who attend and as interactive as possible. And therefore we have a few requests,
Number one, keep to the agreed time limit for your speech.
Number two, we want you rather than to tell people how awful everything is, which they probably already know, we want you to focus more on what we do about it, why previous efforts to do something about it, were unsuccessful or only partially successful.
We are also going to try to encourage people to do some preparation work. So we’d like you to send us a precis of your comments or a link to a short article that you have written recently on the topic,
Please let us know if you are willing to participate in this.
So you as the organiser have alerted the speakers, you’ve alerted the audience. You hopefully are also trying to collect useful, i.e. anonymous data on how you do.
And you’re trying to skill up other people in the organising team so that you’re not the only person always doing this.
If you’re the sort of person who gets invited to address groups or be on panels, then you might want to reply with something like this.
thank you very much for the invitation to be part of the meeting. x y Zed. It is gratifying to my ego.
I often say no to these sorts of meetings, not because I’m busy, though I am not because I think they are futile – most of the time they are not futile – but because I find them likely to be sterile and depressing exercises, where speakers pontificate, there are a few questions from the most sharp-elbowed and sharp-tongued members of the audience and others are left silent or silenced or demoralised.
Therefore, before I say yes to your invitation, can I make a couple of suggestions?
Firstly, that you keep all speakers to strict time and that you encourage them to say things that the audience has not heard, and may even find uncomfortable.
Secondly, that you take measures to orient the audience before they attend. That you encourage them on the evening or day to mingle and you create possibilities for people to mingle who might otherwise be too introverted or shy, or suffering from social anxiety to take them without creating an obligation or shame around this. And that between any set of speeches and the questions to people, audience members have a chance to confer with each other.
I will be very interested to hear whether you are willing to adopt these modifications.
Obviously, if they were already in place, I apologise in advance,
dot, dot dot.
And then you as the speaker have to model the behaviour. You have to bring in your comments on time or under time. Your comments have to be on point: if you are going to continue merely to whine about how unfair the world is, maybe shut up.
And you should listen intently to questions from the audience, especially ones which are particularly challenging and force you to think
You as the speaker could also ask the organiser, what plans they have for the immediate aftermath of the meeting, because it’s immediately afterwards that people who weren’t able to attend will be most interested in reading about what didn’t happen.
And so some sort of account needs to be produced. But of course, people are usually too tired. And you don’t have a sweeper team. And it all turns to shit.
Okay, so that’s transruptive ego-fodder, for organisers and speakers. I’ve kind of already covered punters. But I suppose here’s another letter,
(against my better judgement) I attended your meeting yesterday. I would note that the speakers ran over time, that most of the questions came from men, that most of the questions were speeches in disguise that many people left without, seemingly having spoken to anyone and their body language was of severe disappointment.
I have a set of suggestions about how the format of future meetings could be tweaked.
If you are interested, you can contact me. If you are not, that’s fine. I will not be attending any more of your meetings.
Yours in solidarity for escaping the Smugosphere and avoiding ego-fodder dot dot dot.
PS We’re not here to fuck about you know, we’re here to change your culture. If you don’t want to change the culture, then then that’s fine. But I’m not going to give you the validation of my attendance at your shity shity meetings. You can go fuck yourself.
Um, that should do for transruptive ego-fodder. I think how you would know you’re succeeding is if organisers started to integrate some of this stuff,
if speakers started to integrate it and,
if you had the discipline to actually stay away from crap meetings.
Transrupting the emotacycle
What can we do? I suppose on the whole, you just name it, and name it and name it and do explain why it feels so good. And then explain why it usually comes crashing down. And I suppose the least offensive thing is the language of getting drunk. Now, obviously the Muslims are not going to be up for that. But what you do is you point out that you know, a little bit feels good, more feels even better. But at some point, you’ve crossed the line. And then you get raging drunk, you say things, you do things that are stupid. You get argumentative. And then you wake up with a terrible hangover. And you swear, “never again.”
And really with the emotacycle there aren’t any, as far as I’m aware just yet, any really practical things that you can do.
You can tell people that they’re in it. You can offer them skills and meeting design. But by doing that, you’re just likely at best to prolong it- improved means to unimproved ends.
And then I suppose you can be there the morning after for after they’ve committed the shameful silly acts. So it’s like that episode in Sex in the City where Samantha goes and shags the billionaire endlessly. And then Smith is waiting for her when she finally comes downstairs and you just have to be patient and help people pick up the pieces.
I mean, if anyone else has got better ideas about how to interrupt the emotacycle, then great, because I am all out of good ideas myself, I think.
Transrupting the Smugosphere.
Well, in some ways, this is easier than transrupting the emotacycle because the emotacycle has an intense momentum and inertia to it, whereas the Smugosphere is just a more general diffuse, long term thing that is there during the emotacycle cycles and also during abeyance. The other advantage is of course that everyone does in fact talk about effectiveness and usefulness and achieving concrete aims. I mean, they don’t on the whole do that, but the language is there, at least and there is an expectation that we allegedly take these things seriously even though we don’t actually achieve any of them.
So in some ways, it’s a bit similar, maybe some of the nitty gritty: form letters, attending/not attending that you have with ego-fodder.
I mean, the Smugosphere is more than just people ego-foddering each other. So I suppose in order to be able to transruptive, of the Smugosphere, I need to be able to think a bit more clearly, and in more detail about the different mechanisms by which the Smugosphere replicates itself.
Partly, the decisions in a Smugosphere tend to get made by unaccountable elites. Now, that doesn’t mean necessarily invisible elites. So you can have the chair of secretary or Central Committee of an organisation that is visible, but is resistant to meaningful pressure from below for change. And they have their own agendas literally and metaphorically, and their own patterns of behaviour. And they do things because they can, because they’re in the comfort zone, (we may come back to comfort zones and zones of proximal develop development and Vygotsky in a bit).
And then also in the so-called non-hierarchical groups, you also have the same unaccountable decision making and power structures, but there’s an extra wrinkle there in that because there haven’t been formal elections, and there haven’t been formal processes with named individuals as coordinator of this or chair of that, then it’s like punching a smoke monster. But the mechanisms remain the same.
And the crucial thing is, you know, “mistakes were made, but not by us.” And humans are very good at blame-shifting. And that’s especially the case when progressive social movements are trying to stop more shit fuckery. Because, almost by definition, in fact, by definition, by trying to stop shit fuckery you’re going up against opponents who are, or seem to be, much more powerful than you. They are certainly better resourced than you whether they’re more powerful is another question, Who has the legitimacy?
So the default is always when you fail, because usually you do that you can shrug your shoulders and go, “Well, we were outnumbered and outgunned.” Even though it might have been a winnable situation, and the rhetoric at the outset was “we can win this” – No one launches a campaign saying, “well, we’re definitely gonna lose but let’s do it anyway.” There’s always at the early stages, the rhetoric of we can win.
And what that allows you to do is set vague objectives where you vaguely want a good outcome with very, very little focus on your outputs.
Now, obviously, there are occasions when you’re not going to know what your outputs will be. Or you don’t necessarily want to advertise them in advance. But on the whole, if certainly, if you’re part of a really achingly reformist group like Climate Emergency Manchester, then you can have a laser-like focus on what your outputs are.
What concrete things, whether it’s newsletters, lobbying letters, blog posts, videos, memes gifs, open letters, letters to the newspaper, what are the things that you are planning to produce?
Now, these might be the wrong things or these might be the right things. The things that you decide to produce will shift over the course of a campaign unless you are a complete genius in that you’ve anticipated everything, or a complete idiot, in that you’re not paying attention to the shifting terrain.
Now, of course, the danger here is that you might set your goals for your outputs quite low, so they’re achieved and then you can declare success. Even when you lose the campaign, the “operation was a success, but the patient died.”
Sort of not hubris, but “reaching for the sky just to surrender.”
So you have to create a list of outputs, that is potential outputs that are a challenge that is just on the outer edge of realistic, that’s a stretch target. That also has some sort of path to victory.
And if you’re creating too big outputs for too small, hoped-for outcome, then you need to raise what your outcome is good and be.
So it’s really about I suspect, the Smugosphere and challenging it for your own group. It’s about setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-frame goals for your behaviour.
Now, there’s a broader question of how you as an individual, or you as an individual within a group transrupt, the broader Smugosphere of the social movement ecosystem in your town, city, or country. And again, as per emotacycles, I’m not sure I have a lot to offer, other than maybe making it explicit when you’re choosing not to interact or support particular campaigns. Because you think there isn’t a meaningful chance of success, and that you are colluding with empty virtue signalling.
That however, will quickly get you a reputation as a supercilious asshole. And, oddly enough, people are reluctant to engage long-term with supercilious assholes. Go figure.
What else do you do about other groups perpetuating the Smugosphere? I guess you just try and explain to them that when they don’t set meaningful targets for their outputs or outcomes, then they’re contributing to a broader apathy and demoralisation. And then making it easier for people to disengage. They’re making it easy for people to not reengage or engage in the first place.
“Giving active citizenship a bad name”, as it were. You have to have those conversations with people I think purely in private. I think you need to do it compassionately. You need to choose your moments. And you need to be speaking from a position of credibility. Because one of the first things that people will do is “Yeah, but no but” and then call you a hypocrite if you are not walking the talk. Now that’s not necessarily healthy, but it’s entirely understandable because they’ll feel threatened or attacked and on some level. They probably know that they are underperforming and they’ll be demoralised and won’t feel like being kicked when they’re down.