Tag Archives: Egofodder

Ego-foddering: Why is it awful, who benefits, what is to be done? #oldfartclimateadvice #climate

I believe that one of the biggest problems “we” face as individuals-in-groups-trying-to-unfuck-the- world, is the seductive call of ego-foddering. This piece explains what I mean by ego-foddering, the two main types that I have spotted (there may well be others!). It then moves on to who benefits from it, who does NOT and what consequences ego-foddering has. Finally, it turns to the ever-important “what is to be done?” question. This is published “in beta” – that is, it’s provisional, subject to modification (hopefully improvement!) I’d really appreciate any reasoned critique of it. Many thanks in advance

What is ego-foddering?
Back in 2011,when I came up with the term, I described ego-fodder as

“the audience at any public event (big or small) which has not been structured by the organisers to provoke the highest possible amount of participation, engagement and mingling.“

So, ego-foddering is the process – deliberate or merely “passive” – of destroying the potential of attendees/participants and turning them into an audience, into ego-fodder for you/your organisation/another speaker who you’ve got along to get more people to come along and make you feel validated.

Here’s a possibly controversial bit. Traditionally the sages on the stage have been old white men. In my opinion it doesn’t actually help so very much if those on the stage at the front are black, radical women. If it’s ego-foddering, it’s ego-foddering, not movement-building. In the same way that neoliberalism can find willing meat-puppets of any gender or race, without changing its basic operating system, so it is with ego-foddering.

The label ego-fodder(ing) comes from “cannon-fodder”, with its understanding of rows of soldiers being fed into the mouths of guns. But there is a “modern” variant. Let’s call them for termin(ator)ological ease, the T-800 type and the T-1000 type.

The T-800 of ego-foddering is big, lumbering but deadly and comes with a Germanic accent, of people in rows, with those at the front to focus of attention/adulation.
It’s pretty easy to see T-800 ego-foddering, they’re not so good at disguise. And in fact, we’ve all been in plenty (too many) of these meetings. In fact, most people’s experience of schooling is this. Sit in rows. Stay silent. Absorb what the teacher is telling you. Squeeze out the sponge on the appointed (exam) day. Get the result. Repeat. A society built on the Peter Principle, filtering, filtering, always filtering sheep and goats. But I digress…

The second variant of ego-foddering, the T-1000 is far harder to spot, far hardier. It’s slinky, shape-shifting, really really deadly, super-good at disguising itself.
No longer are you stuck in rows, but you’re in a circle, or sat around in small circles, at tables. There may even be flipcharts and coloured-pens.
But ultimately , you’ll be focused on what they want you to be focussed on, answering questions they think are important, that help THEM do what they want. You’ll not be actually invited to find out anything useful about the other people around your table (for more on this see here and here).

Who benefits from it?
The powers-that-be, basically. They achieve/sustain and maintain their hierarchy, their sense of (self) importance and knowledge.
Speakers get a captive audience, and people likely to buy their books. Organisers get to see dozens/hundreds of people present, and bask in (reflected) glory.
Though that’s only part of the story. There are, depressingly, other beneficiaries. To quote myself-

It finally occurred to me today the level of collusion in this. Yes, the people at the front want their egos stoked and stroked. Yes that is endless and destructive. But the ‘audience’ wants – for the most part – to be infantilised, to be “taken care of.” We want parents to blame, we want parents who will take care of us. We surrender our autonomy, our ability to make connections, to forge (in every sense) our own paths. We allow ourselves to be seated, bored and patronised. In exchange, we get to offset responsibility for our own education, our own movement-building.
The parents (not “adults”) at the front of the room want children who will obey, and be dutiful and respectful. But it’s not as if the audience is all rushing for the door marked “adult.” Through that door are the horrible fearful rooms marked responsibility, uncertainty, self-mastery.
Better to suck the thumb, suck the dummy. Watch the powerpoint. Listen to the plenary.“There there, it was just a bad dream. Sleep. We are here to protect you.”


Who does NOT benefit from it?
Anyone/thing with any investment in a habitable (not-just-for-humans) planet, obvs. All those – present humans and other species, future humans and other species who are being sacrificed on the altar of the great god Economy, of Growth. Who thought that social movements (especially in countries where we have formal freedoms around information, speech and assembly) were going to get their fucking gamefaces on and do something about the eco-cide. Them, they’re getting screwed by ego-fodder. But they don’t vote/turn up to meetings or fill out direct debits, so, you know, screw them.


What are the consequences?
The consequences of ego-foddering is that the few people who do occasionally turn up to meetings feel alienated and don’t come again. They think they don’t have the stamina/intelligence to be an “activist.” They also tell any of their acquaintances who ask that organisation X is not interested in their skills, knowledge, perspectives and is just more of the same grand-standing middle-class complicit boring condescending wankery.


Why/how does it persist?
So if it is so terrible, why does it persist? Because it meets the emotional needs (for attention or for denial of personal responsibility) of speakers, organisers and attendees. Those who might “change the system” never stick around long enough, or don’t have a name for what they are being subjected to.


What is to be done? “You” could do about it.
I’m not going to waste everyone’s time by saying much about what event organisers could do. They tend, in my experience, to be very small c-conservative, and quickly realise that a change of format could mean they could not offer up captive audiences to visiting Celebrities. This would upset the business model, and mean fewer bums on seats and less ego-fodder for them too.
Here’s a checklist from ages ago

Nor shall I waste much time on speakers, who are not going to refuse it. It would be too much of a (monkey)-wrench to forego the pleasures of basking in the adulation (or at very least attention) of a captive audience.

Both types could, in theory, forego the dubious and parasitical pleasures of ego-foddering, but they have not done so to date, and to “hope” they will is just silly. We need courage, not hope.

So, it’s up to us – we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Here’s a few things we could do.

  • We could refuse to participate. We could let organisers of meetings know that we’re not going to meet their ego needs unless they meet the broader movement’s needs. We could send them a letter/email beforehand, along these lines.


  • If we decide to trust their blandishments and go, then we could always separate under the law of two feet (I personally do this, to the disgust of people who think that it’s rude to walk out of meetings. Me, I think it’s ruder to stage meetings that people want to walk out of. Again and again and again).
  • We can NAME what we see. We can explain to other people (in blogs, conversations, on social media that what is happening is ego-foddering, and that it is not okay, because it has terrible consequences).

See also (and omfg have I written a lot about this topic)

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this”


Citizens Gathering – we need new institutions

Last night I went to a “meeting” of, oh, let’s call it “Citizens Gathering”. After 90 minutes I came away with a very small amount of new information (nothing that I couldn’t have learnt by reading a three minute blog post) and a lot of suspicions confirmed.

I have put the word meeting in scare quotes because we were not encouraged to, um, meet, anyone.  Instead after three speeches (the second and third mercifully shorter than the first) the floor was open to… mostly more speeches and exhortations, declarations of faith. As for the question of what we do next – well, demonstrations, obvs.  One on Saturday. Another in July. Then the Tories come to Manchester in October.  There was some marginal acknowledgement that this was not enough, and that a recent thing had not gone well, but nowt concrete on what is to be done differently.

I could go on for hours, but instead I will quote one of the new Labour MPs, Marsha de Cordova

“I haven’t got the final figures, but turnout on some of our estates, among the more impoverished communities, increased massively. What’s really important is we keep these young people who have been volunteering involved and engaged, and all the CLPs have to be really opening and welcome. But I also want us to look at how we can change the dynamic and do different things to keep them engaged, because local party meetings can be pretty dry.”

It seemed to me that most (all?) of the people there were established activists (I base this on how people spoke, how they described themselves).  I didn’t see any nervous/confused looking new people.  Which is a relief,  to me at least, because it would in my opinion have been an intensely alienating experience.

Basically, we have all the organisations we need. We need different habits of meeting that help new people integrate, that help us find out what each others’ knowledge and skills are, that make the creation of new relationships and ‘weak ties’ easier.  Holding specific networking events, or doing it ‘in the pub’ is not adequate.

So, I made some predictions beforehand.  I did relatively well (#fishbarrel)



My friend suggested three other criteria

Prediction Correct/Incorrect comments
It will be very ‘dramatic with regard to language Yep  
It’s gonna be the system’s fault Oddly not! A few mentions of ‘neoliberalism’, maybe one or two of capitalism, but mostly about Theresa May….
“Planning” is only part of the title. Concrete, actionable, and actually game-changing plans will be absent.    


Other points

To be clear, I do not blame the facilitator – she did as good a job as you could expect. It was the format and the rituals of the meeting that were the damage. And that’s ALL our fault .   Having one person speak and 26 listen is incredibly inefficient. It encourages people to use everyone else as ego-fodder to meet their emotional needs.   But my effort to suggest a relatively minor innovation sank without trace, of course.  Oh well.

At one point someone acknowledged that there will be more problems after a possible Corbyn Prime Ministership begin.  And he said – totally incorrectly, imo- “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”   Nope. We need to be building the structures to hold any future Labour government’s feet to the fire.  Has the experience of living under the total Labour dominance of Manchester City Council taught us nothing?  Seems not.

The  turnout at this thing was mostly plus 40 (or 50). There were about 6 of the 27 there who were under 30 I reckon. Everyone white. Male to female ration 2:1.



Terrible meetings? Here’s a nesta reasonable ideas…

According to the American humourist Dave BarryMeetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot masturbate.” (As in, meetings aren’t just ego-potlaches, they’re also for the recycling of anxiety and responsibility).
While meetings might be full of wankers, they’re surprisingly joyless experiences. “Nesta”, a UK think tank, thinks it has some ideas on “Meaningful meetings: how can meetings be made better?

meetingslonelyThey sort of do, but the paper, as it states is “part of a larger research programme” and couldn’t/is not intended to stand on its own.
The author, Geoff “Connexity” Mulgan explains that we have “old formats and new tools”, ponders on “why so many meetings?” and then offers advice on “linking meeting format and purposes” (see Barry above) and gives some recommendations;

  • The ends and means of meetings need to be visible
  • Meetings need active facilitation and orchestration
  • The best meetings are often multi-platform, and use visualisation as well as talk and paper

Good meetings make the most of their participants – and rein in the extroverts, and the most opinionated and powerful

“one recent psychology study found that three factors were significantly correlated with the collective intelligence of a group: the average social perceptiveness of the group members (using a test also used to measure autism, that involves judging feelings from photographs of people’s eyes); relatively equal turn taking in conversation; and the percentage of women in a group (which partly reflects their greater social perceptiveness).” [Woolley, A. W., et al. (2010) Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. ‘Science.’ 330(6004): 686-688.]

    • Good meetings begin and end with a deliberate division of labour
    • Good meetings benefit from a conducive physical environment that heightens attention
    • Good meetings apply ‘Meeting Maths’: balancing time, scale, knowledge and breadth
    • Good meetings are cumulative – part of a longer process
    • Some of the best meetings don’t happen (or why you shouldn’t hold unnecessary meetings)

Mulgan then goes on to give succinct explanations of flipped conferences (send in youtubes of your presentations first, then turn up and engage), world cafe , dynamic facilitation, open space technology, the revolutionary thinking method (no, I am not making this up) , De Bono Six Thinking Hats, Sytegrity (see above for RTM), buurtzorg, holocracy governance meetings and agile.
As he drily observes
“There is relatively little evidence about when these work and when these don’t, and an odd feature of innovation in this field is that new models quickly crystallise as highly prescriptive methods, with little feedback to help them improve, or create hybrids, and very little formal testing or evidence.”

So, this is definitely worth a read, and perhaps thrusting into the hand of the stale activocrats who run stale meetings (for all the good it will do). As to what’s missing-
Parkinsons Law of triviality
Any sense that the radicalism of the “open space” will be captured, co-opted and used as a marketing gimmick, or just done so cack-handedly that it will empty the terms of meaning (Instead of ‘how not to be bossy‘)
The psychological needs of both the bosses (to be in charge) and the attendees (to be infantilised)

“The rest of us, with less responsibility in our day-to-day lives, are able to regress merely to being a school-child, sat in rows, listening to the Clever Parent at the front. No jobs, no direct-reports, no kids to look after, we can, for the length of the event, just be the docile/obedient Child.
Attempts to turn us into Adults in this setting will be resisted, both by those who wish to be Parents, and by those who want to be Children. Efforts at de-ego-fodderification are, thus, futile.”

I think there is a glancing reference to Jung [can’t find it now], but nothing on the fantastic psycho-analytically informed work of Rosemary Randall – “Collective and Community Group Dynamics… or your meetings needn’t be so appalling”- which someone has helpfully scanned and uploaded onto the interwebs

Other concepts worth exploring