Communications in Conflict
Before November 30, 1999, most people in the world had no idea what the World Trade Organization (WTO) was or did. The anti-globalization special forces changed all that. N30, the Battle in Seattle, and the WTO became part of history.
Had there been no special forces, however, no one would have known the devious plans of this secretive United Nations agency working in tandem with transnational corporations to enslave the world. The marchers in Seattle would have had their thirty-second news spot, and disappeared from public memory.
But as the world knows, even a mainstream media blackout and subsequent cover-up by government officials were not enough to prevent N30 from being the downfall of the Seattle Chief of Police, and the Battle in Seattle from becoming a badge of honor for the pro-democracy movement.
And that only happened because some of the anti-globalization activists were thinking strategically about communications in conflict, and adapted their tactics accordingly. Those engaged in conventional marches and seminars were minor news items, easily dismissed by media and officials alike. They would not change the world, the Independent Media Center images from the lockdown at 4th and Pike would.
By outflanking network news through use of live streaming on the Internet, anyone in the world could watch Seattle police beating seated young people singing freedom songs, while television talking heads claimed protestors were running amok. The age of netwar had arrived.
In December 2008, the United Nations met in Poznan, Poland to hatch a new scheme for transnational corporations and investment banks to control the world: it was called REDD, a Ponzi scheme for carbon-market trading that would make the Wall Street heist of today look like chicken feed. Indigenous nations sent delegates to protest this life-threatening fraud by the UN and its agencies like the IMF, World Bank, and WTO. Civil society groups spoke in support of the aboriginal peoples, UN officials closed them out, and the world never knew.
December 2009, ten years after the Battle in Seattle, the world’s first nations and Fourth World peoples attended the UN Conference on Climate Change held in Copenhagen. Whether the carbon-market cartel will be allowed to take over the world, without a fight, depends in part on what happened there. Will the anti-globalization street-fighters, a no-show in Poznan, once again remind the planet’s netizens that, another world is possible?
Working with Words
The four modes of social organization — tribes, institutions, markets, and networks — all intentionally utilize words to communicate their unique perspectives and preferences. Words are chosen for their effect in creation stories, in mythologies, in advertising, and in propaganda.
Words themselves are invented for a purpose. They serve as tools of social organization, as weapons of war, as means of manipulation, and as medicine for the maligned.
Depending on how they are used, words can cause horrendous harm or great good. Meanings can be distorted or clarified.
Working with words can gain one respect, renown, and reward, but it can also generate resentment. Not all messages are appreciated.
Learning to use words effectively requires an understanding of the principles of communication, especially in what is termed netwar, which assumes that all communication in all its dimensions is contested, no matter the stated intent of the participants. Words are meant to achieve, and as propositions in the arena of human consciousness, they will be confronted; as such, working with words is serious business.
As an editor, blogger and correspondent, I frequently come across brilliant scholars and committed activists struggling to communicate vital stories to institutional leaders, philanthropic donors, and media gatekeepers. As a communications advisor, I am amazed at how little attention is paid by these devoted humanitarians to the principles of this science.
As it is, many writers in academia – while often informative – are sometimes difficult to follow, as they offer bits of topics here and there.
Part of effective storytelling is to be interesting, which few writers accomplish, but to arrive at academic stature, that story needs to be sufficiently coherent. With essays by emerging authors, it is best for them to learn to think about structure and narrative coherence by doing that work themselves, but for those lacking a background in journalism or literature, manuals on such topics as briefings are worth looking at. Some pertinent articles are listed below.
Storytelling and Globalization
Networks and Netwars
Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society