Sunday, February 5, 2012

Decoding Anti-Establishmentarianism

When we look at Disruptive Thinking and changing the status quo, one big question jumps out: Is it better to do so within existing institutions, or advocate for change from outside those structures?

My Disruptive Thinkers co-founder and I have been wrestling with this issue since we started hashing out our concept last August.  There is so much that's seems unworkable within current power structures, yet the solution eludes those who would bring about change.  Most of what follows is his, with a few added thoughts of my own as occasional amplification:

[The solution] is there, I know it. It’s not just that video: “Why I Love Jesus but Hate Religion”--it’s the Arab Spring, the 99% movement, the Tea Party, even the angst that you and three others expressed at the Naval Institute Junior Officer Panel.
You Know Things are Bad When...
In short, people have a sense that institutions today aren’t working.  They aren't necessarily in agreement about what is wrong, yet see pervasive rot.  I think what’s given them that sense is access to information: an ability to better understand one’s own environment in the context of other people’s environments. And, as you note, people today can more easily express those sentiments in public forums without necessarily having a plan for improvement or real change. That is, of course, all due to technology and social media.

While I could not agree more with what Brooks argues, especially as it relates to having an education that spans the ideological spectrum, I think his conclusion falls short. He fails to address WHY there is so much rebellion against institutions and more importantly, where those multitudes might find an outlet for their frustrations.  His solutions very much remain within the confines of the ‘establishment.'  He would prefer that people in reform movements think not for themselves, but instead join grounded, intellectual movements that have been around for decades or centuries.
As you allude to, the Founding Fathers had to break with the establishment to get what they wanted: While they were among an intellectual elite of their time, not one man, by himself, had a complete grasp of political philosophy, law, etc. to originate the movement. As with any change, it developed slowly over time as a group of individuals became disillusioned with an institution and banded together to figure out a solution. In their case, that solution came over the course of more than a decade, countless intellectual debates and armed rebellion.  The solution they enacted was fundamentally different from anything else the world had ever encountered.U
Up to this point in history, institutions have typically been the drivers of organizational coordination, ideas, and change. Today however, because of technology, trends are now driving institutions. The future is only getting ‘exponentially faster’ as per [Ray] Kurzweil’s arguments.

The problem is that institutions are rooted in history and tradition (as Brooks notes) and completely ill-equipped to handle the rapid acceleration of innovation. That video of a guy rapping about Jesus, posted on You Tube and shared (which is an indicator of positive reaction) by nearly 20 million people is a prime example. Even 10 years ago, to relay a message that globally challenged the nature of religion to 20 million Christians or potential Christians would have been almost impossible.
It’s far easier for people to attach themselves to ideas today. Accordingly, individuals who don’t have a comprehensive grasp of intellectual tradition can still very easily access ideas and movements. I don’t think this makes their movements or counter-culture irrelevant, it just makes it much harder to formally organize and understand. And that brings us back to square one, where we’re still trying to understand what all of this anti-institution stuff means.
I am increasingly of the mindset that the 21st century requires some sort of ‘Tectonic Event’ to allow our institutions to align with our ideas. I don’t mean to be an apocalyptic thinker, but something major—good or bad—will have to force this change because in politics and government, our current structures are failing and falling behind faster each year. As crazy as John Robb seems sometimes, he’s onto something with his resilient community ideas. In a post ‘tectonic event’ world, it may very well be small self-sustained communities that leverage global technology and ideas for local prosperity.
There you have it.  This will be an ongoing topic of conversation.  I'd be interested to hear what insights our readers have into this puzzle.  And how they themselves have effected change, both within and without established institutions.


  1. Most of these guys "running" our country don’t even take the time to read the bills before passing them. I recently stumbled upon a movie while doing some research online. It’s called “Fools on the Hill.” You can watch it at

  2. I watched that documentary and loved it! Definitely increases awareness- everyone in America should watch.