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Theories of Change / theories of stasis
As part of a sustainable leadership course i've been given at IFLAS, I'm required to thing about my theory of change. A theory of change is a specific methodological approach to social activism, involving mapping out how you think the world works and how your actions are intended to improve it.
Here are some of the ideas that recur to me, in conversations, reading and thinking about how change happens.
But it occurred to me that I don't actually subscribe to any of these theories, and that i'm not even sure when and whether change ever even happens because it all depends on your perspective. For example did slavery end or was it merely replaced with wage slavery, racism and enforced by KKK? Was feminism a triumph for women or did it hollow out the instution of motherhood and family life as women became more and more required to work? Did the French, American and later the Russian revolutions bring about long term improvements to the lives of their citizens when compared with similar countries? What about the color revolutions? Would I be satisfied to have wrought any of those changes? I don't think so.
Here's another theory of change which occurred to me after reading A people's history of the United States. Change is trying to happen all the time; it keeps erupting to the surface; preventing it from happening takes considerable effort. The CIA has been destroying socialism for decades but the work is never finished. If they only stopped suppressing change, it would happen almost overnight.
Now I realise that every theory of change has an implicit theory of stasis, which is probably best made explicit. Think about it. Humanity's social systems are dynamic and complex, they have stable states and unstable states. Such systems, even very resilient ones protected by many kinds of negative feedback loops, DO change from time to time as their external conditions change and black swans happen.
Let us for now just pick an arbitrary word, capitalism, to label the dominant economic system which is even now eating itself. We should recognise that capitalism is resilient against many kinds of change. It is especially stronger than socialism, but it is also unlikely to fall to Bitcoin, or Islam or some hackers from an unknown country. In capitalism, a small elite has (arguably) unlimited resources to spend on technology, lobbying, surveillance & covert operations, and perhaps above all propaganda to persuade the people to pay their mortgages and their taxes, and not put their heads above the parapet.
So that is my theory of stasis! In view of it we can perhaps narrow our theories of change.