The ant is a collectively intelligent and individually stupid animal; man is the opposite.
Tea Part Rally, September 12, 2009
Estimated turnout of 1.2 million
~Karl von Frisch
Do a Google search for “The Tea Party,” and you get the following top results:
Join the Tea Party (www.jointheteaparty.com) – owned by Todd Cefaratti of Glengary Inc. in Gilbert, Arizona
Tea Party Patriots, “Official Home of the Tea Party Movement” (www.teapartypatriots.ning.com) – owned by attorney Mark Meckler of Grass Valley, CA
Tea Party (www.teaparty.org) – owned by Dale Robertson of Drums, PA (infamous for his “n-word” sign)
The Tea Party Express (www.teapartyexpress.org) – owned by Our Country Deserves Better PAC in Sacramento, CA
Tea Party Day (www.teapartyday.com) – owned by the American Family Association in Savannah, TN
Tea Party Nation (www.teapartynation.com) – owned by Judson Phillips of Franklin, TN
…just to name a few (but we’ll leave www.teaparty.com out of it, since they’re a Toronto rock group).
Let’s pause here to say The Renaissance Mob is not a political blog in the sense that we don’t get down in the mud villifying and demonizing political parties and/or politicians. So before going further, perhaps it would be good to clarify the purpose of this post.
At first, it seemed àpropos to publish this post before the November elections which took place earlier this month. However, while it might have been a “hotter topic” then, this post is not meant to instigate or provoke. Rather it is meant to ask: Can a mass of humans self-organize and carry out positive change? The “Tea Party” seemed an ideal contemporary case study, since the claim, among their admirers and advocates (insert any of the big name “Talk Radio” hosts here), is that the group:
1. Has no one visible leader (collective intelligence)
2. Is a “grassroots movement” (diverse sampling of population)
3. Was spontaneously organized (emergent organization)
Indeed, both allies and enemies of the Tea Party Movement seem to be in… at least semi-agreement on these claims:
If you look underneath the surface of the Tea Party movement, on the other hand, you will find that it is not sophisticated. ~Karl Rove
So the challenge, I think, for the Tea Party movement is to identify, specifically, what would you do?” ~Barack Obama
Many [Tea Party activists] are proud of their decentralization, which makes them feel like their voices are being heard. ~The Daily Beast
There is no single Tea Party. The name is an umbrella that encompasses many different groups. ~Matthew Continetti
…It’s actually pretty hard to find quotes about The Tea Party that aren’t charged with strong rhetoric. But if you distilled the views of everyone from Michael Moore to Glenn Beck down to the most basic elements, they all are saying the same thing about the movement: that it has no leader, that it comes from individuals, and that it is self-organizing. (True, Nancy Pelosi called them “Astroturf” a while back, but that may have been more wishful thinking since she is now talking about the things she has in common with The Tea Party.) It should be said that, while most seem to agree on these three points, not all think them a good thing. The post-election news shows a brewing battle between “establishment Republicans” and “The Tea Partiers.” In particular is the issue of leadership and control. Career politicians aren’t usually big fans of movements they can’t predict or control. But we’ll leave battle for someone else to sort out…
The interest here is how the Tea Party thinks. On the Washington Post website, Robert J. Goodwin attributes some of the success of The Tea Party to what he calls “distributed leadership:”
The Tea Party movement embodies that of a “starfish” organization. It is difficult to attack with no clearly defined leadership, and even if one cell-or candidate-is defeated, the movement lives on.
Readers of this blog may hear an echo of a recent post in which we looked at Al Qaeda’s growing use of “swarm attacks.” No, this is not meant to equate The Tea Party to terrorists. But – if it is possible to remove yourself from political views – it is interesting to see how the strategies (not the motives and goals) are similar.
Let’s assume for a moment The Tea Party is a bone-fide example of swarm/collective intelligence that works – separating yourself from your feelings for or against the movement. What compelled it to form in the first place? How can it be strengthened/weakened?
For the first question, we can go back to last month’s “Tweeter of the Month” Dave Snowden, who teaches three conditions for innovation: starvation of resources, pressure, and perspective shift. According to Wikipedia, the first Tea Party protests (imitating the Boston Tea Party) were over the 100-some new taxes being proposed in New York State. The perception was that there was a starvation of resources via taxation, the pressure of isolation of the individual from government and a perspective shift away from the two-party (or any party, for that matter) system.
As far as how the movement might strengthen or weaken, that might be accomplished by resisting or giving in to groupthink. Tea Party rallies have been described by some as a circus, with all kinds of freaks. Advocates of the movement tend to be dismissive of the “freak show” element, not realizing that it is that very diversity that gives the movement viability. Enemies of the Tea Party really may not need not do anything, because if the movement tends toward centralized leadership, it will weaken under the weight of groupthink. Groupthink is defined as “a type of thought within a deeply cohesive in-group whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas.” In other words, thinking is homogenized to the point of losing individuality and diversity.
This means, for The Tea Party to stay viable, it must stay decentralized and increase its diversity. A movement, then, is limited to the degree of faith it puts in its members. It is also limited by its willingness (or lack thereof) to listen to very different opinions.
The Tea Party’s Weird Science