Books

Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

The author compares Rules for Radicals to The Prince by Machiavelli. The comparison is apt. Both books are about power, its uses, maintenance, and acquisition. Saul Alinsky, as indicated by his own words, cared about power and winning. If honor and morality had to take a back seat, so be it. I don't know for sure, but I suspect he was a bad man.

That doesn't mean that the techniques described in this book are ineffective. I've never been a community organizer, nor do I have any desire to ever be one, but in my much-less-than-expert judgement, Alinsky's rules seem to be useful. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in community organizing.

I also recommend this book to anyone else who cares about self-government and keeping his personal liberty, for the same reason that I have long recommended that everyone read The Prince. Be aware that anyone who seeks power has either read The Prince or is being advised by someone who has read The Prince. You need to read it so that you are aware what the SOBs are up to, even if you have no desire to apply the principles yourself.

Now that I have read Rules for Radicals, I'm reasonably sure that the same thing can be said about it: The SOBs are using it, so you probably should read it in self-defense. Fortunately, it's an easy book. The prose is clear and contains some humor to help it go down smoothly.

Comments

  • Wow, this is the first time in at least three years that I've seen the name Saul Alinsky without the name "Obama" being mentioned within the proceeding or preceeding paragraphs. Wait... that isn't completely true... there was an article about the anniversary of a building being blown up on the UW campus where his name came up recently.

    I have trouble believing that Trump is making it a point to follow rules from any books he or his father didn't write... but I could definitely believe his advisors, friends, etc are following it.

  • I have noticed that certain words have become enders of intelligent discussion. Among these words are racist, fascist, Nazi, and eugenicist. Once they are wielded, intelligent discussion ends and the hurling of invective begins. Such words are so potent that they even are capable of ending intelligent thought. They have the power of taboo.

    Margaret Sanger broke taboos, and her writing has always been found shocking by various sectors of our society. For instance, she was staunchly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, she began her life's work well before the establishment of our modern taboos. Today, those most under their burden will find her writing shocking in ways completely different from Sanger's contemporaries.

    Was Margaret Sanger a eugenicist? Yes, she was. The Pivot of Civilization proves it beyond all reasonable doubt. She took pride in it.

    Does this imply that she was a fascist or a Nazi? No, it does not. She was neither of those things. In her day, she was most closely aligned with the Progressive Movement. Whereas it's true that progressives and fascists have some things in common, they aren't actually the same thing.

    How about a racist? In 1922, the copyright of the book, most persons were somewhat racist by our standards. I detect no more racism than the average of her day.

    The Pivot of Civilization is an interesting, sometimes heartrending, historical document. Its readers can learn a lot about the United States of roughly one hundred years ago. The author makes clear that even as late as 1922 the "good old days" were still rotten. Child labor was common. Hard labor and malnutrition in early childhood resulted in permanently stunted adults, as was shown by the World War One draft. Sixth grade was the average level of education. Infant mortality was high. Even while having large families, many women worked outside the home in factory jobs.

    Worse, we are still fighting some of the same battles from circa a century ago: sex education, tracking by ability in school, treating education as a magic solution to social problems, illiteracy, the contribution of heredity to behavior, standards of education, sexually transmitted infections, the care of the insane, social welfare programs, and so on. Fortunately, Ms. Sanger could never be mistaken for a writer of today. She was too blunt, unapologetic, and vigorous.

    Margaret Sanger's life's work was the promotion of birth control – not just contraception, but also family planning and "social hygiene." She endeavored to teach women how to have fewer but healthier children, to control the population, to stop the birth of unwanted children, and, yes, to promote eugenics, including negative eugenics.

    Therefore, I'm reasonably sure that The Pivot of Civilization will horrify a large percentage of modern persons who read it. Margaret Sanger, the hero of Planned Parenthood, is therein promoting the sterilization of those she forthrightly terms "defectives." "O my God!" the modern reader exclaims, "She was an inspiration to the Nazis!"

    Eh, maybe, but so was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If you don't believe me, look it up for yourself. I suggest those interested in the 1920s, the history of the Progressive Movement, of eugenics, the Women's Movement, Planned Parenthood, sexuality, birth control, and related subjects read it anyway. If you aren't already an expert, you will learn something. If nothing else, it will give you a look at the early twentieth century from the inside.

    Please do beware of the author's medical pronouncements. They are, of course, out of date. For instance, she declares that insanity is primarily hereditary. In her day, a large amount of insanity was caused by syphilis. In our day, the jury is still out on the primary causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the two most severe mental illnesses. Other flaws of the book are that it is often polemical and repetitive. It could have been advantageously cut.

    Note that the copyright of this book has expired, so it's easily found online. This review also appears here.

  • I read a bit of Alinsky out of dad's library and came to the conclusion that most of the fuss was basically just to have something to attack Obama with. I mean, there's the odd juicy quote, but he was writing about how to effect change in corrupt systems, not how to make friends.
  • Propaganda by Edward Bernays:

    Edward Bernays was one of the founders of modern public relations and the namer of the art. He forthrightly called this book about the profession Propaganda, for he wanted to combat the bad connotations the term propaganda had accumulated even by the 1920s. Bernays considered public relations to be an unfortunately necessary euphemistic synonym. He preferred to focus on the propagate root of propaganda and considered the activity a value neutral tool that could be used for good as well as harm.

    The book, published in 1928, is an interesting historical document that still is relevant today. Bernays describes the uses of propaganda for various institutions – religion, politics, education, and so on – and gives examples of its successful employment. Considering that propaganda is universal today, and more sophisticated, it behooves the modern person to know something about its techniques.

  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut:
    I read this for the first time this month. I can't say it did much for me.

  • The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray:

    You can tell just from the title that I think this is an important book. It makes it clear that Western civilization is under dire threat.

  • If anyone else had suggested the book I'd wonder if Europe was killing those three things. :-)

  • So *that's* how Europe died. I'd been wondering.
  • Oh, markdown doesn't work here?
  • Double asterisks for bold.

  • And single asterisks for italics, usually. In places I'm used to, anyway - there are various competing flavors if markdown and, annoyingly, the guy who invented it got snippy when people tried to standardize anything.
  • edited September 24

    test
    test

    Let's test in the middle of a sentence.

    Let's test in the middle of a sentence with underscores instead of asterisks.

    Let's test's with inappropriate apostrophes to imitate a contraction.

  • I'm confused.

    @fenomas said:
    So that's how Europe died. I'd been wondering.

  • Ooh, weird. Probably because I posted from a phone?

  • There are quite a few YouTube videos of Douglas Murray, too.

  • Crystallizing Public Opinion by Edward Bernays:

    If I had it to do again, I'd read this one before I read Propaganda by the same author. (See above.) Anyway, the long introduction, added after the first addition, discusses the history of public relations. The rest of the book, published in 1923, is about the need for public relations, some of its techniques, and its ethics.


    In the last couple months, I've read a lot of books written in the 1920s. It's interesting how relevant they remain. There might be some truth in the cyclical model of history.

  • edited September 30

    In my late teens I remember reading some L. Ron Hubbard tripe on PR. Much like his feelings on psychiatry it sounded like he was just jealous he wasn't as good at it as the characters he wrote or the imagined 'masters' in his head.

    Forgive me for not trying to find a copy of it now. If you ever read his 'Mission Earth' books though the portrayals of PR are pretty similar.

    (Edit: I'm not recommending Mission Earth.)

  • edited October 6

    @fenomas said:
    Ooh, weird. Probably because I posted from a phone?

    It looks like mobile is currently set to 'TextEx' markup. I don't actually know what that is, and my google-fu is not up to the task on this one. I'll have to look later.

  • edited October 22

    The Whateley Academy:

    I've been sidetracked in my reading of Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, mainly because the writing style is beyond dull. It has been a long time since I've had such trouble getting through a book. In the meantime, I've been in the mood for something mindless.

    Now, if you have ever spent much time sucked into the TV Tropes site, you have run into references to either "The Whateley Academy" or "The Whateley Universe." A couple of times in the past, I've looked it up and then immediately dropped it as being too large and complicated.

    This month, I again ran into a Whateley reference, but this time I dived right in. I can sum it up as amateur writing about transsexual superheroes in boarding school. And the site is huge, millions of words.

    I wouldn't go so far as to say it is good, but that is what I have been reading for the last two or three weeks in addition to my regular websites. There is no way any of this would be released by a traditional publisher, so it has that going for it.

    If the idea intrigues you, accessing the site through its wiki is probably the best way to go. I found the navigation on the site itself to be wanting.

    Wiki

  • Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War by Wilfred Trotter:

    I read Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War by Wilfred Trotter because it was heavily referenced in Crystalizing Public Opinion by Edward Bernays. Instincts of the Herd isn't a report of scientific evidence based on controlled experiments. Rather, it is an essay of speculative deductions based on taking the nature of man as a social animal seriously.

    First off, the title is misleading. The book isn't about crowd psychology. It's about the effects on individual psychology of being a social animal. In the first two chapters, which were originally a long journal article published in two parts in 1908 and 1909, the author posits a herd instinct in human beings to go along with the classic drives for self-preservation (these days called "fight or flight"), food, and sex. This strikes me as not unreasonable. We human being are social animals who are reliant on the group for long term survival.

    Wilfred Trotter then explains the ramifications of our needing to fit in with the group, and provides several examples drawn from life. For example, human beings tend to be much more sure that their opinions are correct than is warranted by their knowledge of the facts. I suspect that most thoughtful persons have considered the ideas in these chapters already, but it is nice to have them gathered together in a neat package. I don't know if the result is capital "T" Truth, but it might be a useful mental model, and it does throw light on our current political situation.

    After laying the groundwork, the author, while admitting the oversimplification, divides human beings into the "resistive" and the "unstable." The resistive are those who adapt themselves to their social group by either ignoring the experiences that don't fit the beliefs absorbed from their group or by rationalizing them until they become acceptable. The resistive are the pillars of society. On the other hand, the unstable are those who tend to notice that what they have been taught doesn't match what they have experienced. The unstable are the misfits.

    In the next section of the book, originally published in 1916, the author speculates about various facets of human inherent gregariousness and its effects. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to follow just what he is trying to say. For instance, at one point he appears to be endorsing socialism, but I'm not sure. Indeed, the biggest fault of the book is the author's prolix, old-fashioned style. His point often is buried under a pile of words. His sentences have a tendency to become so long that the predicate moves out of hailing distance of the subject, and one is forced to reread to figure out what the author is trying to say. I estimate the book could have been shortened by at least twenty-five percent by omitting needless words and by the author simply saying what he means. To the extent that I can decipher the meanderings, though, I believe it is a great deal of nonsense.

    Finally, in the postscript written after World War One, the author again becomes somewhat intelligible. His comparison between societies led by a segregated upper class and societies led by those being pushed upward at need from social homogeneity working toward a common goal is of interest.

    The book is out of copyright and easily available online.

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