Obama: Change From the Bottom Up, Taking Orders From the Top

Barack Obama recently spoke at a summit in Washington, DC with 250 Muslim business leaders from 50 countries. BBC news characterized Obama’s goal as “a series of educational and business exchanges in an effort to improve ties between the US and the Muslim world.”

This is certainly a welcome contrast to the bigoted “Clash of Civilizations” rhetoric that was common for a while. Civilizations don’t clash with each other. Rulers and aspiring rulers from each civilization struggle for advantage over each other while using the appearance of a common interest to get other people to die for them.

But giving Obama’s proposal any more than brief applause would be setting the bar too low. Obama’s Muslim business summit is an excellent example of using “soft power” to maintain the dominance of the US Government.

The Wikipedia page on Soft Power describes it nicely:

“Soft power is the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option and attraction. It is in contradistinction to ‘hard power’, which is the use of coercion and payment…

“The term is now widely used in international affairs by analysts and statesmen. For example, in 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao told the 17th Communist Party Congress that China needed to increase its soft power, and the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke of the need to enhance American soft power by ‘a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development.’”

Colonial powers sometimes found they could better control a population when they recruited indigenous people for low-level administration posts (though a maniacal drive for power might trump concerns for prosperity). Of course, the people they educated sometimes became leaders in anti-colonial movements, demonstrating that one can sometimes take the scraps authority tries to appease you with and use them to your advantage. But any time government makes an initiative to include more people in its policy-making, it intends to be the dominant partner in the relationship.

That is why it is crucial that change is built from the bottom up. Reforming society from the top down means that politicians either expand power by co-opting currents and projects within society, or they fight to cut things that people depend upon (but shouldn’t) out from underneath them. Bottom-up projects for liberty provide a solid counterweight to authority and remove reliance from the state. Encourage self-organization, and the people the state depends on will move out from underneath it and no longer support the ruling gangs on top.

So it might be surprising to read that Obama told the summit attendees, “Real change comes from the bottom up, and that is why we are here.” This is from the highest-ranking official of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen, speaking to business “delegates” in the capital of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.

If real change comes from the bottom up, then those at the top must have something in mind for change. Maybe they want to be open about plotting against real change. Though Obama wouldn’t want to allow changes to threaten his power, I think it is more precise to say that his administration hopes to be the leaders of change, to guide the efforts of common individuals so they can be made to serve the interests of authority. His presidential campaign did rely on crowdsourcing and grassroots action – which looked to a central authority for inspiration and guidance. (Aspects of Tea Parties and Ron Paul’s presidential campaign can be viewed in a similar manner.)

According to BBC news, Obama “added that the market was the most powerful force to create opportunities and lift people out of poverty.” This statement would be Obama promoting a state-controlled market and masking it with the positive effects of a truly free market. State control of the economy and state privileges close opportunities for individuals, and encourage power imbalances that prevent truly free exchange. Government-business partnerships, exemplified by the summit Obama was speaking at, increase inequality and lock people into poverty, alienation, and drudgery.

Politicians try to stay ahead of what society does and ride the tide of history from a spot at the top. But events can move too fast for authority to keep up. Building a new world from the bottom up gives teeth to principled calls for liberation, compelling politicians to throw more and more at us in attempts at appeasement. If we get them running fast enough, the walls of empire will crumble.

Source article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8646124.stm

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