Saul Alinsky was a very interesting man. He was the bane of Republican existence because he was an Intrepid of sorts, breaking the code that kept many people and groups in poverty for far too long.
Alinsky was clever and observant, and his book Rules for Radicals became the war manual for the American Left.
You can see the faithful adherence to Alinsky in much of political discourse, and you see much of it used in publications such as the New York Times. The structure of thought is unmistakable. Saturday Night Live lives by #5.
Alinsky tested his own rules in his lifetime, but once he passed, no one really bothered to refine his rules. There is a blind adherence to them, and after decades, the cracks are more than just beginning to show: the cracks are revealing a lot of rot from those applying those rules.
In my book, I outline how Rule #5 backfired on the Left.
But it is not the only rule that no longer works because it has serious limitations if mishandled:
4. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules."
If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
Which is all well and good...so long as your enemy does not see through your ruse, and then make you live up to all of your rules.
Because the rule has a built in assumption that you are living up to all of your rules as well. Credibility is not in a vacuum: if one hypocrite points out the sins of another, you are at a stalemate at best, but at worst, you become the bigger hypocrite, trying to deflect attention away from your own sins by pretending that you have the moral authority to pick on someone who isn't applauding you.
Alinsky's rules were not universal: they were designed to help a very specific demographic. Not Left-wing people, but poor people who had no resources. The book was the slingshots for Davids who were up against Goliaths. One Goliath fighting another changes the dynamics; and hence, the rules begin to fall apart.
All rules have their limits. People who look for hacks and shortcuts think there is such a thing as TORTEE, and then believe mindlessly following the rule to the letter is the key to winning at life.
Alinsky tested his rules with a very specific group of people fighting another very specific group of people: two uneven groups with different experiences and resources.
You cannot be a rich and educated white collar type who thinks they can pass as a poor and dispossessed person and the rule will still work.
Because all someone has to do is use Rule #4 on you, and the rest of the other rules become neutralized.
This is not weakness in Alinsky's rules. It is merely the failure of those who blindly followed them without foresight or empiricism.
In the late 1800s, the Vienna Secession was a fascinating art movement where you had young artists rebel against their Establishment counterparts. They broke away, and were part of the Art Nouveau style, known over there as Jugendstil.
The movement did not last too long for a reason: the architects of the movement, which includes Gustav Klimt, used the movement to establish themselves as serious artists, and then no longer needed the rebellion. They could not break through to express their own style and advances over the previous generation; so they made their own movement, labelled it as such, did things differently, got noticed, and then no longer needed to use an outsider's handbook once they were insiders.
It did its job. The end. Move on.
But somehow, the Left are still clinging on to Alinsky, not questioning why the rules have remained static, or whether another set of strategies may be in order.
The rules are starting to backfire. We have lots of chest-thumping, but all things considered, the returns have become increasingly disappointing.
That's why you cannot always stick to the old rules. While we have old texts such as The Art of War, The Prince, and The 36 Stratagems of War, that are still being used, even these "rules for war-mongers" have serious limitations. For example, one of the 36 Stratagems is this one:
Or, make a sound in the east, then strike in the west.
This often is a good ruse or deception: make an enemy believe that you are focussed in one place, but are planning to strike them from a place where they do not expect you to hit.
But should the enemy have foresight and see your pattern of thought, they can easily force your hand to make a sound east, because they want you to try to strike them in the west.
If they have lured, primed, and groomed you, they can make it seem as if it was your idea to deflect their attention.
If you adhere too blindly to the rules, they become your prison walls and you become too afraid and untrained to be able to know when to deviate from them or abandon them completely.
Sports is often a very good analogy for combat: it is like watching a living chess board of plays and strategies. Boxing is a fantastic sport that makes various strategies intuitive, but football (i.e., soccer), is also a very good live action version of strategy.
Here, rules can work for a while, until someone cracks the code, and then neutralize the rules.
Oranje Machine used to be The Netherlands' seemingly unstoppable football team, usually making it into the final four of World Cup soccer. They had the winning strategy -- until, of course, other teams started studying it and then beating them to the point that they weren't in this year's World Cup at all.
They keep sticking to the rules that now work against them.
Spain and Germany have also seen their old methods lose out to newer plays. It worked for you once, or even fifty times, but some Intrepid can still crack your code and find a way to beat you at your old game.
Alinsky's rules are suffering in much the same way: they were meant to be applied and refined, not memorized and then used as part of a ritual or habit.
The rules were not some sort of answer key used to now cheat on every test, thinking you never have to study ever again. Alinsky did not just make up the rules from whole cloth: it took a lot of trial and error, and these were the best strategies for the completely powerless to use during the days when there were media gate-keepers who held all the cards.
In 2018, having A-list actors play the same gambits from their limos as they disparage poor working-class people for not voting the way they were told by Hollywood is a gross misapplication of Alinsky.
Because Alinsky's rules were entirely situational: the rules play out differently when you are poor, than when you are rich, and are not based on political affiliation. They do not work well for the wealthy Left against the poor Right because if you are expecting poor people to live up to their book of rules when their financial hardships make it impossible, that is more than a little insensitive.
That is as immoral as you can get.
Alinksy's rules need an update. They did for the last thirty plus years. Like journalism, those who follow those rules never gave their own personal evolution a second thought, and thus, neglected to modernize their methods.
Art Nouveau did not last long for a genre, but it was the personal success of those who pushed for their own professional breakthrough that made it unnecessary. They were educated and exposed in the old ways, and when they tried to modernize their profession, were met with resistance.
And then they broke away, writing their own manifestos and opened up a new market for younger patrons by making art accessible and a more personal experience. Once they built up their new audience, they moved on away from their movement.
Somehow, modern thought is stuck in a vortex and is stagnating.
Because we are still following the old rules that no longer apply...