Matrix & Transformation: Chapter 2


Richard Moore

Copyright 2004 Richard K. Moore



* Civilization in crisis

Civilization, and humanity, are now facing the most severe
crisis of survival that either has ever faced. The unbridled
exploitation and waste of resources, required by capitalism's
growth imperative, is destroying the bio-infrastructure upon
which future human life depends. The pace of this devastation
is ever increasing, as corporations must seek each quarter to
achieve greater growth than the quarter before. In many ways,
civilization has already passed the point of no return. So
much carbon dioxide has already been released into the
atmosphere, for example, that the effects of global warming
will continue to worsen even if we were to somehow stop
burning fossil fuels immediately and totally. Huge tracts of
agricultural land have been irreversibly turned into barren
desert, many fishing stocks are near extinction levels, and
the global population is already so large that feeding
everyone -- even under some ideal system of agriculture and
distribution -- would be a major challenge.

If we look at this situation from an objective point of view,
as an outside observer, it makes no sense at all. Humanity as
a species is behaving insanely, like lemmings jumping over a
cliff. Given finite resources, the only sensible strategy for
humanity is to carefully manage the resources that remain, to
help the environment begin healing, and to transform our
economies and cultures so that we are able to survive
sustainably using renewable resources. And the sooner such a
transformation begins, the better -- the longer we continue on
our current path, the fewer resources will be left to manage
and survive on. There is no natural law or dictate of the gods
that requires us to continue on our ill-fated course. If the
societal will existed, we could readily scale down our
industrial operations and re-purpose them toward producing the
the technologies and products which can be used to build
sustainable societies. When the will exists, as we have often
seen under the pressure of war, societies are capable of great
creativity and resourcefulness.

Some people believe that it is already too late to save most
of humanity -- there are just too many of us. This may serve
as a rationalization to acquiesce in the status quo, but it is
largely a myth. India, for example, could end its own
starvation problem if it simply diverted 5% of its food
exports to feed its own hungry. Although population levels do
present a significant problem, it is not population per se
that accounts for widespread poverty and the rapid depletion
of our resources. The causes of both are the wasteful and
reckless manner in which resources are exploited, and the
excessive consumption that characterizes the richest
societies. The USA for example, with 5% of the world's
population, uses 20% (?) of the world's energy.

As long as there were new lands to conquer and plenty of room
to grow, humanity could operate -- even if unwisely and
unjustly -- under an economy based on the paradigm of growth
and development. Such a paradigm was never sustainable, not in
the long run, but the long run always seemed far away -- and
the visible benefits of 'progress' were seductive.
Unfortunately for those of us alive today, the long run has
finally arrived and the visible benefits are declining as
well. Either we somehow wake up as a species and deal with
this crisis, or else civilization will continue down the
slippery slope to mass die offs, perhaps the collapse of civil
order, and in any case a very dismal future for our
grandchildren and future generations.

* We the People

      "If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with 
      changed minds, people with a new vision. It will not be saved
      by people with the old vision but new programs." 
       - Daniel Quinn, "The Story of B" 

If civilization is in dire crisis, and if only a radical
transformation of our economic and governance systems can
provide a lasting and favorable outcome to that crisis, then
we must inquire into what means might be available to bring
about that kind of radical transformation. Changes in society
are usually initiated from the top, by elites acting through
their various hierarchical institutions. In those cases where
change has been initiated from the grassroots, by elements of
'We the People', that change has always come by the efforts of
a social movement. 'Social movements' is a broad category,
including everything from polite reform organizations to armed
insurrections, from labor unions to anti-globalization
protests. In general, a social movement is an attempt to give
voice to popular sentiment, to provide a vehicle that enables
the members of the movement to act as a whole, to be a
collective 'actor' in society, to have a coherent effect on

Quite clearly the kind of transformation we are seeking will
not be initiated by the elite establishment. If such a
transformation is to be achieved, the initiative will need to
come from We the People in the form of a social movement that
is suitable to that task. That social movement might be quite
unlike previous movements, as its objectives are uniquely
radical. But by examining various existing and historical
movements, we can gain some insight as to the kind of movement
that would be suitable for our needs.

Let's first take a look at the anti-globalization movement, a
movement whose sentiments are largely in harmony with the kind
of transformation we have been discussing. The
anti-globalization movement understands that unbridled
capitalism is destroying the world, and the movement seeks a
radical shift towards democracy, justice, and sustainability.
The movement also has many thousands of committed supporters
worldwide, who are willing to participate in movement events
at considerable expense and risk to themselves. Is the
anti-globalization movement an appropriate vehicle for
achieving global transformation?

Unfortunately, this movement has not proven to be particularly
effective. It's heart is in the right place and it's
supporters show commitment, but it has no clear vision of a
transformed society, no strategy to bring about change, and no
program to expand its constituency. It is in the amorphous
mold of the protest movements of the 1960s, and those kinds of
movements can no longer be effective in this post-neoliberal
age. Neoliberalism brought the economic abandonment of the
middle classes, and elites no longer see any need to maintain
an illusion of popular consensus. In the 1960s governments
were concerned when masses of people protested, and they
responded with a Civil Rights Bill, a Freedom of Information
Act, and an Environmental Protection Agency. Today's
neoliberal elites respond to protests by suppressing them or
ignoring them, and then simply carry on with business as
usual. One of the things leaders are taught at globalist
gatherings is to avoid being distracted by popular

About a century ago, just prior to 1900 in the U.S., there was
a movement which provides a closer model for the kind of
movement that might bring about transformation today. Its
goals were not nearly as radical as what we are considering,
but they were radical, and they did represent a challenge to
the ascendency of monopoly capitalism. This movement did have
a vision of a transformed system, a strategy for bringing
about change, and an effective program for expanding its
constituency. It began as the Farmers Alliance, was later
known as the Populist Movement and the Peoples Party, and it
became a very significant actor in society. In 1890, for
example, Georgia and Texas elected Alliance Governors, and
thirty-eight Alliance members were elected to the U.S.

The Farmers Alliance began in 1877 as a self-help movement in
Texas, organizing cooperatives for buying supplies and selling
crops. The cooperatives improved the farmers' economic
situation, and the movement began to spread throughout the
Midwest and the South. By 1889, there were 400,000 members.
This was a thinking movement as well as an action movement.
Howard Zinn, in "A People's History of the United States",
writes, "The Populist movement also also made a remarkable
attempt to create a new and independent culture for the
country's farmers. The Alliance Lecture Bureau reached all
over the country; it had 35,000 lecturers. The Populists
poured out books and pamphlets from their printing
presses...". Zinn goes on to cite from another source, "One
gathers from yellowed pamphlets that the agrarian ideologists
undertook to re-educate their countrymen from the ground up.
Dismissing 'history as taught in our schools' [ie., The
Matrix] as 'practically valueless', they undertook to write it
over -- formidable columns of it, from the Greek down. With no
more compunction they turned all hands to the revision of
economics, political theory, law, and government." And from
another source, " other political movement -- not that of
1776, nor that of 1860-1861 -- ever altered Southern life so

There is much here that makes sense for a transformational
democratic movement. Our current systems are supported by
cultural mythologies, and "writing it over" is a good
description of what needs to be done if the illusions of the
old culture are to be exposed and the culture of a new society
is to be developed. The emphasis on education of the
membership shows a respect for popular intelligence, and it
builds a shared cultural perspective that enables a movement
to act with increasing unity and coherence. The emphasis on
outreach and recruitment is necessary if a movement hopes to
grow large enough to bring about significant changes.

The Populist Movement arose due to economic problems that were
being faced by farmers, and the movement set out to find
practical ways to solve those problems. I suggest that such a
problem-solving emphasis is appropriate to a democratic
transformational movement. If a movement makes demands, then
it is affirming that power resides elsewhere -- in that person
or agency which is the target of the demands. If a movement
creates solutions, then it is asserting its own empowerment,
it is taking responsibility for its own welfare. Furthermore,
problem solving ability in general is necessary for any
movement which intends to achieve radical goals. Such a
movement is bound to encounter all sorts of challenges and
barriers along the way, and it will need to be able to respond
creatively and effectively to them. The emphasis on economics
in particular is also appropriate to a transformational
movement. Economics is the basis of most social activity, and
it is in the realm of economics that solutions can be found to
our social and environmental malaise.

The Populists, being largely farmers, were closely connected
to place, and their movement was in part an expression of
localism. The movement built up its constituency region by
region, rather than by seeking isolated members spread
throughout the society, as do modern reform organizations like
the Sierra Club. To use a military metaphor, the movement
'captured territory' and then 'consolidated that territory'
through education and by implementing its solutions in that
'territory' -- and by winning elections there and gaining some
degree of official political power. Such a territorial
emphasis is very appropriate to a transformational movement.
Within a 'captured territory' -- a region in which people
generally have become part of the movement -- the vision and
culture of the movement has an opportunity to flower and to
find expression in ordinary conversation among people. The
culture has a place to take root and grow, and people's sense
of empowerment is reinforced by being in the daily company of
those who share an evolving vision, and who are in effect
collaborators in a shared project.

The Populist Movement was also an expression of localism in
another way. At the core of the Populist political agenda was
a set of economic reforms. Those reforms represented an
attempt to stem the ascendency of centralized big-money
capitalism -- and reassert the interests of locally-based
farms and small businesses. The Populists were calling for
fundamental reform of the financial system, the debt system,
and currency policies. They wanted to give local communities
and regions enough economic viability to be able to take
responsibility for their own welfare.

In their relationship to the political process, the Populists
again had much to teach a transformational movement. They
began as a grassroots organization oriented around self-help,
not as a movement attempting to influence the political
machine. They were successful at their self-help endeavors,
and they expanded their focus to recruitment and territorial
expansion. Only when they had achieved overwhelming success at
the grassroots level did they turn their attention to the
ballot box. In this way they were able to achieve some measure
of political power without compromising their objectives in
the horse-trading that characterizes competitive politics.
They were able to integrate politics into their tactical
portfolio and also retain their integrity as a grassroots

But ultimately the Populists faltered and collapsed, and we
have as much to learn from that experience as from their
earlier successes. They ran up against an unavoidable barrier,
one that all radical movements must run up against eventually,
and that is the limit on how much can be accomplished in the
face of establishment opposition. In order to promote their
economic reform agenda, and encouraged by their electoral
successes, they decided to commit their movement
wholeheartedly to the political process. They joined forces
with the Democratic Party and backed William Jennings Bryan in
the election of 1896. The Populists had then placed themselves
in a no-win situation. If the Democrats lost, the movement
would be defeated and shattered; if the Democrats won, the
movement would be swallowed up in the horse-trading of
Democratic politics.

The reactionary capitalist establishment responded vigorously
to this opportunity to put a final end to the upstart Populist
movement. Corporations and the elite-owned media threw their
support to the Republican candidate, William McKinley, in what
Zinn calls "the first massive use of money in an an election
campaign." Bryan was defeated, and the Populist movement fell
apart. The establishment was taking no chances: even diluted
within the Democratic party, the Populists represented too
much of a threat from below, they were too successful at
providing a voice for We the People. Democracy had raised its
ugly head, and elites chopped it off at their earliest

Any transformational movement that wants to go the distance
must be prepared to resist the seductive siren call of
electoral politics -- a siren whose voice becomes even more
appealing after the movement has made some significant
progress. As the Populists' earlier experience showed,
politics can be used successfully to consolidate gains made on
the ground, particularly if the expansion program employs a
territorial strategy. But when electoral politics is allowed
to dominate movement strategy -- before the territory of the
movement encompasses the entire electorate -- then the hope of
ultimate success has been lost. Either the movement will be
destroyed abruptly, or it will die a slow drowning death in
the quicksand of factional politics.

Any transformational movement must also eventually run up
against the barrier of establishment opposition. Like the
Populists, it makes good sense for a transformational movement
to focus initially on what people can collectively do for
themselves, without confrontation and within the constraints
of the existing system. This is how the movement can be built,
and how a culture can be fostered based on common-sense
analysis, creative problem solving, self-reliance, and
democratic empowerment. But the movement's self-help progress
will eventually be frustrated by the economic and political
constraints of the establishment's system, and that's when the
movement needs to decide what it's really about.

At that point the movement can either take the 'blue pill',
and settle for temporary reformist gains within the elite's
political circus, or it can take the 'red pill' and face the
challenges of the real world -- of power and engagement. As
much as we may be enamored of a win-win, love-your-enemy
approach to the universe, we must face the fact that the
currently entrenched regime is ruthless in its tactics,
determined to stay in power, and resourceful in its
application of its many means of suppression, subversion, and
co-option. Though we may carry universal love in our hearts,
the strategic thinking of the movement must at some point
focus on the principles of effective engagement. The Populists
have little to offer us here. A better model for this phase
would be the non-violent grassroots movement against British
rule in India, led and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi is most renown for his non-violence and for his
universal empathy for all people, including even the British
oppressors. Those are wise principles for any transformational
movement that must engage an armed establishment and that
seeks to create a just and democratic society. But Gandhi
should be equally renown for his strategic acumen, and we can
learn much from that aspect of his work. Like a skillful Go
player, he was able to set up situations where the British
felt compelled to respond, yet any response they chose would
undermine their position. They had to choose between yielding
ground to the movement, or else engaging in suppressive
measures which could only serve to build greater sympathy and
support for the movement. The point is not necessarily that a
movement should emulate Gandhi's tactics, but rather that
flexible and creative strategic thinking is absolutely
essential to successful engagement.

Gandhi's movement did succeed in its immediate objective of
ousting the British occupiers, but it failed to achieve
Gandhi's deeper goals for a new kind of harmonious and
democratic society. The leadership of the movement was
concentrated too much in him personally and after his
assassination his followers reverted to traditional political
patterns. His movement was in the final analysis a
hierarchical movement. A successful transformational movement
-- which seeks to establish a democratic, non-hierarchical
society -- would be best served by taking a non-hierarchical
approach from the very beginning. Goals and strategy should be
developed at the grassroots level, and the movement culture
should facilitate the exchange of ideas and solutions, thus
building a self-reliant and holographically led movement --
and a movement which is not vulnerable to death by leadership

The Populist Movement too had a hierarchical leadership
structure, and this limited its transformational potential in
several ways. In the long run hierarchy is the bane of
democracy, so in that sense the Populists were from the
beginning not pursuing a path toward a transformed democratic
society. And by monopolizing strategic thinking, the wisdom of
the movement was limited by the cultural perspective and
prejudices of the relatively small leadership cadre. In
particular the rural, farmer-based leadership limited the
growth of the movement to what we might in some fairness call
'their own kind of people'. Although movement activists
sympathized with urban industrial workers, and expressed
support for their strikes and boycotts, the culture of the
Populist leadership did not lead them to bring urban workers
into their constituency, to make them part of the Populist
family. From an objective strategic perspective, it is clear
that this was a fatal error of omission. There was a natural
alignment of interests, based on mutual exploitation by
monopoly capitalism, and an effective joining of forces would
have propelled the expanded movement onto a new and much
higher plateau of political significance.

Any movement which aims to create a transformed and democratic
society needs to keep this in mind: when the new world is
created, everyone will be in it -- not just the people we
agree with or the people we normally associate with. Certainly
any particular movement is likely to attract certain kinds of
people before others, and that must inevitably give a certain
flavor to the emerging movement -- but a movement must aim to
be all inclusive if it seeks to create a democratic society
that is all inclusive. Is there anyone you would leave behind,
or relegate to second class citizenship? If not, then you
should be willing to welcome to the movement anyone who shares
the goal of creating that new world.

* The transformational imperative

We the People have found our identity and common purpose many
times in the past: on the fields of Lexington and Concord, at
the gates of the Czar's palace and the Bastille, and in
movements like the Populists. We have a tradition to learn
from, and there are many wrong turns we must avoid. Martin
Luther King used a phrase that sums up one of the most
important lessons we need to take to heart, "Keep your eyes on
the prize." If we want a world which is democratic, and which
is sustainable both economically and politically, then we must
stay true to that vision. We must anticipate that the devil --
the elite regime -- is likely to offer us enticing
distractions when we show up on their radar. But only a
thorough and radical transformation can rid us of the dynamics
of hierarchy, exploitation, and elite rule.

There is no one out there, no actor on the stage of society,
who can or will bring about the radical transformation
required to save humanity and the world -- no one that is
except We the People. Not we the electorate, nor we the
public, but we who are members of the intelligent and aware
human species. We who are capable of thinking for ourselves,
and envisioning a better world, and working together with
others in pursuit of our common visions. There is no one else
who will do it for us, and it is a job that must be done.

This is our transformational imperative.