Simple stuff - vocab and familiarity

David Bovill david at
Sat Aug 21 13:22:50 EDT 2010

Hi Alex, it seems from the outside you've had some negative experience
recently with taking some of these ideas forwards. I think it is great that
you are looking at this so constructively and I agree with you that there
are important lessons buried in there somewhere, and so would encourage you
to keep digging around in that stuff :)

Hope I won't tread on any toes myself, but I think it is worth sharing some
of my first reactions with regard to what happened. Please note, I was not
there, and have not followed the discussions, I am "skimming" - so if I've
got the wrong end of the stick let me know :)

Comments below:

On 21 August 2010 16:50, Alex Rollin <alex.rollin at> wrote:

> I don't want to derail any furthering going on.
> I would like to add in though that my recent experience tells me that I
> simply do not have enough of a command of the vocabulary of the "real
> democracy" process to be much help in educating others.  I may be usefully
> underselling myself but I also feel that "involving" others in a process
> means we, I, provide others with a guide to the tools and vocabulary I'm
> using and perhaps even make some, or a whole lot, of room for them to
> customize the language so they are comfortable.

Language is important, but also not to give yourself a hard time. Doing what
you tried to do is incredibly difficult. It is the stuff of flame wars. My
perspective on this is that you were entering into / were part of a group,
and in the genuine belief that by suggesting some discussions / changes,
everyone would benefit.

The problem is in the area of groups, messing with things like how decisions
are made, democracy, and so forth is messing with the "privates" of the
organism. Tinkering with it's DNA, and human beings, and groups of human
beings, will not take kindly to that ever - period. They will defend
themselves, they will lash out, they will become very, very paranoid.

This is NOT your fault. It is not really the fault of the strategy (though
like you indicate, I think the language being used is problematic - see
below). Most important is to realise, that this is natural, this is how you
would expect the patient to behave.

Doctor offering medicine, have been boiled alive for less.

Lots of learning is needed for this "natural" mode to feel natural again.
>  Small group "real democracy games" could go a long way in that effort.
> I think one of the tricks here is for us to make something ideal,
> democracy, possible, and real, for the first time.. Ever?  Well, I think you
> knpw what I mean.  Not just make it real, but share the opportunity for
> others to go throigh the process of inventing it for themselves, from
> scratch, whenever they need to

I think you are spot on here Alex. I've had similar experiences I think to
the ones you have had, and the only times I've managed to avoid these
problems are with playful, creative projects that do not directly challenge
any interests (but allude to them - and then allow people to draw their own

This is exactly what Theatre of the Oppressed / Forum Theatre did in Brazil.
There was no script, or play that was performed showing people how things
could or should be, nothing suggested, there was no "doctor" in a white
coat, no playwright  - instead there was a process in which people gradually
formed visions of alternatives ways of being for themselves which became
more an more radical over time.

Making the initial steps playful, non-core to a groups activities and self
image, is one way, another is to work with very committed, functional
groups, or at least groups with the explicit endorsement and active support
of the opinion formers / leaders. The best way to ensure you have this is to
get them to pay for it. It is very very easy to think you have agreement,
and get this wrong.

My first reaction to hearing the terminology of "gardening" and "Guerilla
gardening" was that of concern. I thought of viral and pyramid marketing
schemes. I thought of aggressive acts, even if symbolic against an enemy
perceived of as a slow dead institution. These metaphors have a tendency to
re-enforce the concern any group would have to LD / Votorolla taking part in
their own turf - this is not just the case with formal organisational
structures, but perhaps even more so with informal groups as they are in
many senses more vulnerable.

I'm not sure what was discussed or how things were expressed, but it is easy
to picture someone becoming paranoid and disturbed about a discussion,
checking out the wiki, and not quite getting it, or simply disagreeing with
it and seeing it as an alien attempt at a power grab. The metaphor is not
all bad, there are few examples of movements with as positive a radical
image as Guerrilla Gardening, but in this context the associations are not
all positive.

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