Protest, Inc., by Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron (Softcover, 2014)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This is an insightful book that brings attention to a serious problem. I
disagree with some of the authors' views and arguments, and will explain why
momentarily. Overall, I think this book is a valuable addition to the
One of the things I especially like about the authors' approach is they
use real-life incidents and situations to illustrate their points. Often in
books that deal with social topics, you get a lot of theory and supposition
but not much hard data and not much connection to the real world. Those
academic books are fine for stimulating academic thought, but they don't
help you see what's really going on.
As an example, an academic book might be based on studies and interviews
to see what people think about how Coca-Cola values the environment. This
book looks at the actual efforts of that corporation and actual programs it
Now, understand that the main product line of this corporation is
"osteoporosis in a can" (or plastic bottle). So while the corporation does
make some effort to make people feel better about what they do with the cans
and bottles, the fact remains that this company hugely adds to waste
disposal problems by peddling its poison in those containers. An honest
solution would be for Coca Cola to exit that market entirely, and devote its
resources to products that add value rather than destroy the bone health of
Think about that for a moment. Do you see the conflict, there? This
"doing good at the margins" while "engaging in destructive behavior
generally" is the hypocrisy the authors are talking about in this book.
Increasingly, people go along with token efforts and/or marketing hype in
place of real reform. Most people just don't think about it very much, and
thus just don't get it.
Often, people don't see that the math just doesn't work the way they are
led to believe it does. I like to explain to "liberals" (their mislabeling
of their views, not mine) that when the organized crime cartel known as
(much of the) "the federal government" takes $100 from you and gives back a
dollar, you are not a dollar richer. You are ninety-nine dollars poorer.
This same math applies to the corporatization of activism. It really amounts
to a marketing effort that deflects any meaningful change in the status quo.
In the case of the federal crime cartel (that occupies or runs much of the
federal government), trillions of dollars flow to a few corporations while
leaving the American people with staggering debt.
Where the authors err is their equating of corporatism to capitalism.
These are not at all the same thing. Capitalism is, by its very nature, a
meritocracy. In a capitalist system, if you make a product that people want
and sell it at a reasonable price, they will reward you for your efforts and
competence by paying you for your product. Or, if you are incompetent you
don't get those rewards; you have to adapt or die.
The problem that people of low ability and/or character have with
capitalism is it's a meritocracy. This is why they expend so much effort to
If you're "stuck" in a capitalist system and you're not particularly
competent or industrious but are particularly greedy, you need to find a way
to cheat. A level playing field is your enemy, so you to skew things in your
favor. Enter, big government (aka, force). In the United States, we do not
have a representative democracy or a democratic republic. We have a
corporate oligarchy. And it uses military force against citizens to get its
way. We have seen this in countless examples, including those the authors
mention in this book. That is not capitalism.
This oligarchy is why we see the same family dynasties over and over in
our fake federal "elections" (choose between gangster A or gangster B, both
working for the same criminal employers). And not just in the fake
elections. Look up the name "Biddle." It appears in the bank battles fought
by Andrew Jackson and, surprise surprise, the 2008 banking crime spree.
This oligarchy is also why, for example, nobody went to jail for the
egregious financial crime committed in 2008. The "too big to fail" lie was
actually "too big to jail." Do a Bing or Yahoo search (please don't use
Google, which violates its own guidelines and is more ad spam server than
search engine) for the video where Senator Elizabeth Warren asked a simple
question in a hearing. The employees of the Injustice Department gave her
non-answers that are almost comical in their idiocy.
So to demonize capitalism does not help. It is the solution, not the
Capitalism cannot exist without a legal structure that greatly dampens
cheating. We do not have that legal structure, because the cheats simply
ignore the law and nothing happens to them for doing so. We get what the
analyst Jerome St Cyr calls "unbridled capitalism," by which he means an
"anything goes" environment that is toxic to ethical companies.
The solution to that error in this book is to just add "unbridled" before
the word "capitalism" wherever you see it appear. This unbridled capitalism
has largely displaced honest dealings and real capitalism while falsely
calling itself capitalism.
Another area in which I have some disagreement with the authors is their
view that playing nice with the evil-doers is selling out. In many ways it
is, and they give real examples that prove this point. But as the saying
goes, you can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.
A corporate take-over of America followed the war between the states. It
was briefly interrupted by Teddy Roosevelt, who was shot in the chest while
giving a speech about this very problem--ask yourself why schoolchildren
aren't taught this and you get a keen insight into the reality in which we
Since that take-over, it has become very difficult to get anything done
by simply opposing the criminals. The authors themselves gave several
examples of how this just didn't work. One example was the anti-bankster
protest in Philadelphia. The police there egregiously violated the First
Amendment rights of the protestors.
Of course, First Amendment rights are just a fantasy in the United
States. Speak up too much, and the Institute of Reprobates and Sociopaths
will be on your back or some other group of "government" psychopaths will
get their jollies silencing you. And that is why out and out protest are
usually too dangerous and too ineffective to work in this country.
In some rare cases, they do work. The civil rights movement that began
after Wilson's second world war gained momentum in the 1950s and led to
important legislative and judicial victories under President Eisenhower. The
1960s were more famous in this regard, most notably for Dr. King's stirring
speeches, the bus boycott, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and
1968. But that was a highly organized, effort sustained over decades. And at
root was the fact that the Constitution does not protect the civil liberties
of some people while denying the civil liberties of other people. In other
words, the basic tenet of that movement was a priori in the supreme law of
A movement to, for example, stop the externalizing of costs by
corporations that dump toxic waste into a pit next to a school (real case)
has much less going for it and isn't going to succeed. Even boycotts, once a
powerful weapon for change, are fairly ineffective. First of all, even if it
caused a particular brand to get no customers it would have little effect on
a large conglomerate. Secondly the sheer number of zombies ready to ignore
criminal misconduct means the brand won't suffer more than maybe a 1% drop.
To verify this, just drive by any BP station or Wal-Mart.
Those who want change will need to work from within to get it. The danger
of working from within is the very ideals of those wanting change are prone
to compromise. While incremental change of the offender is better than no
change at all, change works both ways.
And there's the other issue of being satisfied that you're doing
something. But what are you really doing? I am very impressed with how the
authors delve into this issue. As an example, they talk about how consumers
can buy products that have some sort of eco payback. In one case, they
looked at how Bono (rock star from the band U2) urges people to consume more
of a particular item because every dollar they spend on it is helping. But
the math simply does not work.
Another aspect is when companies push an "eco" product and consumers buy
it under the mistaken notion they are spending their dollars on better
products so they are doing their part. An example (not given by the authors)
of such a product is a dishwasher liquid made by Palmolive. It's their Eco
brand, and the "Eco" features prominently on the container. It's
phosphate-free so it won't contribute to the algaeal bloom problem.
However, it contains chlorine bleach--totally lethal to fish and a
powerful carcinogen to humans. Calling this an eco product is a lie. Yet,
consumers buy this product because they think they are helping the
environment. Worse, it forms a hard scale inside the dishwasher, causing
premature failure of the appliance. So the consumer replaces the appliance
with another one manufactured with environmentally damaging methods.
BTW, Seventh Generation makes a dishwashing gel that is actually
eco-friendly and is easy on your dishwasher.
You don't have to be a raving lunatic to be an activist. But you don't
have to "sleep with the enemy" to be an effective activist, either. There is
a middle ground. I was thinking of this throughout my reading, and
discovered much to my delight that the authors made this very point at the
end of the book. You aren't "doing your part" by engaging in the PR stunt
kind of activism that Bono helps promote.
Nor by the way, are you doing your part by going along with
environment-damaging, energy-wasting scams like installing CFLs in your
home. Many environmental activists have been pushing CFLs, but they are
badly disinformed about this particular technology. It's better to
shut lights off, use high-efficiency incandescent lamps ("bulbs"), and use
controls such as timers and dimmers.
The solution to the common problem of "being led down the garden path" is
really think about your decisions and become informed rather than
disinformed. What can you do to actually reduce your own negative effects,
and why are those reduced? Look at all of your options, rather than just
jump onto something that sounds good and doesn't take much thought or
What about political activism? Since we don't have a political system in
the USA (at least not in the federal realm), you again have to think outside
the "low effort" box. Choosing between Criminal A and Criminal B on the
rigged ballot is not a choice; you are merely sending a message that you
approve of the crime and nothing changes except the rhetoric.
If you want to have any sort of actual influence, you need to join a
group that is putting pressure on our mis-legislators to do something right
for a change. For example, repeal16.org seeks to end the long reign of
terror inflicted by a particular group of psychopaths. That long-overdue
change is not going to happen by dint of non-choices made in a fake
Similarly, low-effort "contributions" such as buying more of a bad
product because the manufacturer tosses a few pennies at a charity aren't
really helping. Boycotting those products altogether might not make a real
difference, but you are doing your part and setting an example.
If you drive a fuel-efficient car and combine your trips, you personally
aren't going to end the pollution crisis or the energy crisis. But you are
doing your part and setting an example. That's important. And sometimes,
this kind of effort pays off. Look at the demise of Circuit City, a welcome
change in the retail space due to consumer activism; people began following
the examples set by activists who were incensed over the racism, age-ism,
and other morally bankrupt practices of this company.
You don't get an actual vote at the "election" polls, but you do get one
at the cash register. Sometimes, enough people vote intelligently that way
and we get change. And, of course, there are many other decisions you can
make to help bring about positive change.
I don't totally decry the making of bedfellows in activism. However, the
authors correctly point out that it is hugely watering down the forces for
positive change. I think if people are aware of this danger, they can make
adjustments that help bring about the desired results. This book raises that
awareness, and it does so in a way that is well beyond the superficial.
If you're a corporate "insider," thinking about the issues raised in this
book will help you be alert to "whitewashing" and other such efforts arising
from the corporatization of activism. You will know to ask some tough
questions and help steer thinking along positive lines.
Maybe you can help your corporation work with activists rather than
absorb them into nullification. There are many examples of corporations that
have done this and are still doing it. Even some federal government agencies
have embraced and enhanced activist goals to produce very positive outcomes.
A good sequel to this book would be a book about those success stories.