Monday, June 8, 2009

Musings: On Goliath's Terms

The full moon was holding forth in the southern sky, the sun was announcing its fiery intent to occupy the east and Venus and Jupiter floated on apricot clouds at points in between when Koko and I went out walking this morning.

And then some dark clouds came in and snuffed out the moon and tamped down the sun and everything went into a flat gray holding pattern, anticipating the change of dawn.

A similar situation is under way in Peru, where indigenous people are in a stand-off with President Alan Garcia’s government over his plans to exploit their native lands for oil, gas and other development purposes.

Thousands of indigenous protesters fought back and reportedly killed some 22 members of a paramilitary police force sent in to shut them up and down. For this, Garcia accused them of “barbarity,” a term he apparently does not extend to the actions of his own riot police. As Democracy Now! reports:

On Friday morning, some 600 Peruvian riot police and helicopters attacked a peaceful indigenous blockade outside of Bagua, killing twenty-five and injuring more than 150. Eyewitness accounts indicate the police fired live ammunition and tear gas into the crowd.

Alberto Pizango, the leader of the national indigenous organization, the Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association, or AIDESEP, accused the government of President Alan Garcia of ordering the, quote, “genocide” of the indigenous communities.

Pizango is now in hiding after a judge ordered his arrest Saturday on charges of sedition and for allegedly inciting violence.


Hmmm. So apparently it's OK to use force and violence to carry out the repressive actions of the state, but if one uses such tactics to resist those actions, its sedition and inciting violence.

I also was intrigued that Garcia accused the protestors of “impeding progress” due to their “elemental ignorance" or manipulation by outside interests, a situation that he warned would lead Peru into “irrationality and a backwards primitive state.”

That very same language has been used repeatedly in Hawaii to deride and denounce those who have bucked the powers that be on everything from building telescopes on Mauna Kea and desecrating burials to growing genetically modified crops and running the Superferry without an EIS.

In Peru, as here and elsewhere, it’s a standoff between those who advocate the pursuit of money at any cost, and have the guns on their side to facilitate it, and those who understand that natural environments and indigenous cultures are irrevocably damaged and even lost in that mad rush toward a perverted definition of “progress,” and so their defenders should have a say in what happens to them.

ALBERTO PIZANGO: [translated] They’ve said that we indigenous peoples are against the system, but, no, we want development, but from our perspective, development that adheres to legal conventions, such as the United Nations International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, that says we, the indigenous peoples, have to be consulted. The government has not consulted us.

As often happens, I was musing over these parallel struggles when I picked up The New Yorker and happened to turn to a fascinating article entitled “How David Beats Goliath,” which shed light on this very topic.

In it, Malcolm Gladwell reported on the research of political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft, who “recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases.”

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”

Yet most of the time, Arreguín-Toft discovered, underdogs didn’t fight like David. Instead, they chose to go toe-to-toe with Goliath the conventional way — and usually lost. Why? Drawing upon the analogy of an underdog basketball team defeating opponents through use of the full court press, Gladwell notes:

It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing. We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It’s the other way around. Effort can trump ability—legs, in Saxe’s formulation, can overpower arms—because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coördination.

Perhaps that's why persons either unarmed, or armed only with spears, have been able to successfully blockade roads and waterways, take over an airport used by Argentine oil company Pluspetrol, shut down oil production and halt the flow of oil out of the Peruvian jungle.

Further, Gladwell notes, the underdogs have to be willing to endure the cries of foul play — Garcia’s claims of “barbarity” in Peru and Anonymous' claims of "superstitious tribalism" in the Naue burial dispute, to cite two examples — when they decide not to take the conventional route of playing by Goliath’s rules.

But let’s remember who made that rule: Goliath. And let’s remember why Goliath made that rule: when the world has to play on Goliath’s terms, Goliath wins.

31 comments:

Katy said...

Terrific post.

Power to the people.

irk said...

enheartening as experiencing "the change of dawn"

Ben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

You write as much sensationalist bs as you do and you have the tenacity to delete other peoples comments? seems a little contradicting to me...

Anonymous said...

that comment was deleted by its author it seem, fyi

and as to gladwell...overrated. makes good speaking fees tho

the peru story is interesting. alotta local folks get screwed in SA, esp in columbia and ecuador (via oil corps, as i recall)

i really like SA; have many friends there. "normalcy" seems so rare there tho. per the theme/topic of the post, seems like either the local gov is unilaterally kicking out corps (peru), or some multinational natural resource extraction firm is repeating their angola playbook and dumping all types of toxic stuff right next to a rainforest village

i can offer some good news tho - a good number of folks down there have been able to bring claims against these corps in US courts via the foreign tort claims act, among other laws

technology also helps -- 100x easier to video document this stuff today, relative to 10 yrs ago (just like w/ cop brutality)

otherwise, i dont know what "superstitious tribalism" means, exactly. but i dont see how superstition is any good at all. as to tribalism, well, clan-like groups do a good job in looking out for the old and sick and orphans, etc....can give it credit there, but i dont see much else good about it

dwps

Anonymous said...

"seems a little contradicting to me..." How so? It is her blog therefore she has the absolute right to add or delete anything at will. If ya got a problem with that start your own blog.

Anonymous said...

4GW (fourth generational warfare) works like this. A 300 pound bully in a small boxing ring has a distinct advantage over an equally talented 100 pound opponent, but put them both in a football sized field and the 100 pound opponent will escape, exhaust and defeat the 300 pound bully. In asymmetrical warfare quickness not strength becomes the deciding factor.

Anonymous said...

It's good to be queen (of the blog).

Off with their heads (posts) if they dare to contradict her version of the world too much.

Anonymous said...

Waaah! What a crybaby.

Anonymous said...

"if they dare to contradict her version of the world too much."

Pure supposition that posts are removed that "contradict her". I have seen many posts that contradict. There are many possible reasons for an owner to remove a guest's post. Your criticism is equivalent to saying "King of the home making people leave just because it is their home". Well a personal blog is not a public park.

Anonymous said...

the odd unjustified delete here and there is of little overall import (such as when my asking if the SF had hit any whales was answered with a quick delete). any well put comment should stand, in my view

dwps

Anonymous said...

dwps - "any well put comment should stand, in my view"

Only if the blog owner decides the comment is "well put", but since you are not the owner a comment you judge "well put" (esp if it is your own comment) is of no consequence. One person's pearl of wisdom is another's idiot wind. You are not the "decider" much as you would like to dictate the policies of a blog you do not control.

Anonymous said...

There are blogs out there that require passwords just to read. People have to be invited into that "private cyberhome" to participate in any fashion. Thus, the "members only" clique can all hold hands and make each other happy.

Public blogs, such as this one, since it is open to anyone to read, merit any form of comment, short of personal flames....real flames...not personal criticisms...or profanity.

Short of that, anything should go. It's not like the blogger is paying for the bandwidth, like a website message board. It's free, as should be the comments.

Katy said...

Yes, it's free. Which means that anyone can start a blog of his or her own.

I closed down anonymous commenting on my blog simply because people were leaving incredibly insulting comments about me and my family. I don't see any reason why I should have to put up with that kind of idiocy, and I didn't think it added any value to the project. It seems that Joan has gotten tired of the insults on her blog, and I don't blame her. I've noticed that she doesn't delete comments that disagree with her positions - just those ones that attack her or others personally.

Does it really matter so much to you what Joan decides to do with the comments on her blog? The world is a giant free-speech zone. Surely, some of you anonymous posters can find a place to shout your opinions to the world about anything and everything - and I'm fairly certain Joan won't bother to try and stop you.

Anonymous said...

"You are not the "decider"

-- no kidding sherlock

but again, deletions a small matter. the merit of the comments (or how funny they are :) seem more important

oh, and i notice bacteria are reported to have killed the fish, not some darpa project. looking forward to that KE article..

dwps

Anonymous said...

"Public blogs, such as this one, since it is open to anyone to read, merit any form of comment"

What gave you the idea this was a "public blog"? Free is not about cost but control. Learn the difference between reading and commenting. I can read The Garden Island newspaper, but only comment if allowed. Cost matters not. I may buy or be gifted a home, but I still have the right to invite people in or insist they leave if I as the homeowner decide their actions merit they do so.

Anonymous said...

"deletions a small matter."

Not really. The power to delete is the power to censor. With enough access and an eraser one can redefine world history. People have and are now doing so.

Anonymous said...

"The world is a giant free-speech zone"

I wish, but I hear people are arrested and even put to death for their speech!

Anonymous said...

"Surely, some of you anonymous posters can find a place to shout your opinions to the world about anything and everything - and I'm fairly certain Joan won't bother to try and stop you."

She might however exercise her constitutional right to anonymous free speech and give you a taste of your own medicine!

Anonymous said...

excuse me but the original deleted post that started this discussion was deleted BY THE AUTHOR. It notes that in the post

Anonymous said...

Bring it on! I'd love to see it.

Welcome to the Jungle!

Anonymous said...

"excuse me but the original deleted post that started this discussion was deleted BY THE AUTHOR. It notes that in the post"

Excuse you for what? Surely you are not an advocate of a person's right to redact themselves.

Anonymous said...

"Bring it on! I'd love to see it.
Welcome to the Jungle!"

OK George Bush. Tell me where "it" is and it's on!

Anonymous said...

the interaction of multinationals with south american governments (and i am sure their are some foreign corrupt practices act violations there), local folks, intl law, and the environment --- more or less the topic of the original blog article -- is much more interesting than a periodically arbitrary but largely predictable blog comment deletion policy

are such topics broached by the local GI? no

are they brought up in KE some? yep

should credit be given for that? only seems fair to do so

objective KE articles? eh, not really but that is ok. it still offers a value via comment opportunity, and its probably polite to offer thanks for same


darwin_was_pretty_smart

Anonymous said...

I think comment deletion policies are more interesting than international politics.

"it" is an absolutely uncensored comment policy. Since that will never occur here, I guess we'll not have a place to meet.

Anonymous said...

""it" is an absolutely uncensored comment policy. Since that will never occur here, I guess we'll not have a place to meet."

Duhhh..... You could start your own blog and we could meet there. Or are you all bark and no bit. The kind of person that criticizes the actions of others and uses their venue to do so but afraid to open your own blog and demonstrate (practice) what you preach? I didn't think so!

Anonymous said...

"the interaction of multinationals with south american governments (and i am sure their are some foreign corrupt practices act violations there), local folks, intl law, and the environment --- more or less the topic of the original blog article -- is much more interesting than a periodically arbitrary but largely predictable blog comment deletion policy"

Indeed!

Anonymous said...

"Indeed!"

I said GOOD DAY Sir!

Anonymous said...

I'm a professional criticizer. I gravitate towards blogs spewing the tripe I need to kick arround. Like this one.

Dawson said...

"Does it really matter so much to you what Joan decides to do with the comments on her blog?"

To many people it does indeed matter what the Joans of the world do, and say, and allow. In the class of behaviors that are not forbidden by law, few things give a person the rush of power like insulting strangers with impunity.

The internet is second only to Citizen's Band radio in its ability to provide instant gratification to the anger projections of the powerless, the frustrated and the culturally sociopathic. The anonymity is the turnon.


"I'm a professional criticizer. I gravitate towards blogs spewing the tripe I need to kick arround. Like this one."

No. In point of fact, that's not what you are.

Anonymous said...

OK...so I'm a culturally sociopathic professional criticizer.

The sociopath is correct, at any rate...and not just culturally.