Monday, June 04, 2018

I Thought I Was Reading An Updated Version of a Saul Alinsky Manual

We Need A Movement: Four Problems To Solve To Restore Rational Government

Author: John Jensen
Publisher:Self-published, San Bernardino, California, 2017

Full disclosure – I am a “conservative”.  Now, read on.
The book’s title intrigued me enough to agree to read it and review it. Certainly, many would agree that the West has lost any vestige of rational government. We’d also agree we want to fix the problems that result from such a loss. And I thought Dr. John Jensen, a clinical psychologist, educational consultant, and a former Catholic priest, would lead us through the waters of social change to the promised land we crave.  He certainly made a valiant effort.
His book is broken down into four main sections (really, they’re chapters). These cover the four problems he believes need solving -- Meaning, Selfish Power, Mediocre Thinking, and Organization.
While he offers many gems of wisdom, the organization of his material leaves much to be desired. For starters his four chapters are each, on average, 70 pages long. He engages points and subpoints, and bullets and sub-bullets to the point that the material becomes tedious for the reader.
Nevertheless, he is bang on when it comes to describing why we’re in the societal mess we are in – and clearly, to Jensen, we are in a mess. Our economic and success models are geared to raise one up at the expense of many others – sometimes unintentionally, often while unaware of doing so, and regularly, quite intentionally.
Early in his book he lists many issues and then asks, “Is it right?” But he’s very careful to only include issues of the political left, not the political right. For example, he raises concern for global warming, high rates of teen death and child poverty, poor child care, high rate of incarceration, inequality in education, inequality in the justice system, an over-funded military, etc. But there’s no mention of issues like abortion, euthanasia, broken marriages, single parenting, etc.  So right away he alienates his conservative readers.
He also uses words that are polemic to some.  For example, on his dedication page he warns us of only using 300-word quotations from the book, but it appears that “activists’use of the text for promoting ideas outlined within” is totally okay, with no limit. 
Jensen does many things well. For example, he explains the necessity for great care when we seek freedom from government interference, pointing out that if the government is not in control, others rush in to fill that gap.  He warns that many democracies have been or are ruled by autocrats and that Hitler took over his homeland when German democracy was ineffective.
I must admit Dr. Jensen may think he is writing an apolitical book, but his examples seem quite one-sided for one who follows American politics these days.  In fact, he has a unique way of criticizing the Trump phenomenon on several occasions. He writes things like, “We must not design society to violate justice and respect.”  And yet, to a conservative reader who believes he is a proponent of the left, he seems to be totally missing the fact that this is exactly what the side he favors is doing.  He makes a discrete point for increasing or widening the voter base, but in so doing, he speaks directly against what most Americans want – voter identification. He writes, “Every attempt to exclude individuals, demographic groups, or regions from the electoral process by making their participation harder, longer, or more confusing degrades democracy and leaves a minority in control.”  He lost me ideologically after that.
Sticking with his desire, Jensen identifies the issue before us as simple: “The issue,” he says, “is basic. Can society grow efficiently and profitably and still account for everyone? The data do not say. It appears to be a matter of choice.”  But while he gives us lots of details on how to change that society step by step, person by person, it’s not clear as to how successful such a process would be.  After all, there were many community and societal organizers (Saul Alinsky being one) before Jensen came along and look where we are.  He himself writes, “A ten-foot ladder does not free us from a twenty-foot hole.
The author wanders into the issue of refugees and ethnic groups and objects to our seeing them as being our enemies simply because of where they were born and where we were born. Unfortunately, while as a Christian like him, I can, and I must love individuals from any part of the world, I don’t believe I can realistically expect everyone not to see some groups as enemies when they want to kill us.
The book has many redeeming values.  For example, there is a myriad of great lines.  Here’s one with regard to expecting assistance from those who know a crime has been or is being committed: “To turn in a family member (terrorist, murderer, etc. to the authorities), people must commit to the values of a society that values them (the people doing the informing).” [Italics mine.]
He includes a great deal of detailed instruction for almost each step of a movement’s creation and implementation. Those are most helpful to anyone working on any cause.  His list of “analytic tools” and their use is top-notch. As an example, there is a list of 153 questions to use in having a discussion when challenging people with your ideas.
There are also some great and very useful insights into how to argue with extremists.  If you don’t mind the author’s slant, even though he tries to hide it well, this is a great book for how “to do” what needs to be done to start any kind of movement, let alone a social one.
Jensen also seems to miss the real purpose of the Church instructing his readers on how to infiltrate it for your cause. (He calls it ‘appealing to the churches’, I call it ‘manipulating the Church’ based on the social teachings of Christ.). In so doing, ex-Father Jensen misses the higher calling of the Church – the salvation of mankind.
Nevertheless, I intend to keep it on my shelf as a reference not only to use when running discussion groups or formal meetings, but also to remind me of how political and social activists operate.
Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, June 4, 2018

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