In the fields of economics and logic, there are basically two types of knowledge that can be communicated between people. The first one is usually through the use of indirect speech:
1) Individual Knowledge – X knows fact A and Y knows fact A, but neither necessarily know anything about the state of each others' knowledge.
e.g., X asks her dinner date, Y, if he would like to come upstairs to her apartment for a drink. Y is pretty sure he knows what’s really going on, but he doesn’t feel like having a drink and it’s possible that X is just being nice. X is pretty sure Y gets it, but it’s possible that Y is taking her offer at face value. The only thing they both know for sure is that X asked Y if he wanted to come up for a drink!
The second type is typically communicated through the use of very direct language:
2) Mutual Knowledge – X knows A, Y knows A, X knows that Y knows A and Y knows that X knows A (and X knows that Y knows X knows A, etc., etc.)
Mutual knowledge obviously has a huge influence on collective psychology and behavior in complex human systems, depending on the time and place in which this knowledge exerts itself. The Santa Fe Institute for Complexity Studies has recently made availble a video lecture by Alex Bentley, who has scientifically studied the role of "social influence and drift" in collective behavior. I highly recommend readers take a look at Bentley's lecture, which can be found here, but a brief summary will also suffice for the purposes of this article.
"Many explanations of human behavior – even among the 'social' sciences – start with people as isolated individuals, maximizing benefits versus costs. Panics or 'herding' events are often seen as anomalous departures from this norm. I would like to suggest that humans, whose very brains have evolved to handle social relations, are 'herding' much more often than commonly assumed
For a variety of modern phenomena,simple evolutionary models of social influence – or even just random copying – do remarkably well at capturing the large-scale dynamics of popular culture change
Such models offer an explanation for the often unpredictable flux of collective trends, especially in a modern society of unprecedented amount of choice and 'decision fatigue'. By then comparing to traditional societies, where both individual choice and social influence are often better informed, we can better understand how population scale data inform us about human decision-making and the dynamics of behavior change."
In the modern world of capital markets, this type of social influence and imitation provides the basis for mutual knowledge that can endogenously drive share prices higher or lower, as opposed to independent knowledge of a company’s “fundamentals” being the most significant factor in investment decisions.
e.g., Big-time Trader X tells big-time Trader Y that he and a few other big-time traders are fully invested in a certain stock with vast amounts of leverage, and big-time Trader Y imitates the leveraged investment.
So, while mutual knowledge can be a force that helps blow speculative bubbles amongst the herd, it can also be a force that incites mass resistance to oppression or even some form of revolution. Take the parable of The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen, for example. In that story, the child who pointed out that The Emperor "isn’t wearing anything at all" was not telling anyone a fact that they didn't already know.
Instead, his use of direct language alerted everyone to the fact that at least one other person, and most likely many other people, had thought the exact same thing about The Emperor – that he was completely naked. Once that mutual knowledge was established, it was used as a rallying point against the vain Emperor that intensified over time, until he was finally transformed into a more serious leader (a rather idealistic outcome when taken literally).
Still, that's the kind of mutual knowledge which builds a wealth of confidence in numbers, since people are more willing to speak/act out against those in positions of power when they can count on some level of support from others. And this is where the movements of our day find much of their core strength, whether we are talking about the “Arab Spring”, ongoing European demonstrations, mass civil disobedience such as the Occupy protests and strikes, local communities moving towards self-sufficiency or online communities fostering extensive discussion/action.
Much of today’s popular protest momentum began with the Egyptian Revolution in January-February of 2011, where hundreds of thousands would gather in Tahir Square on a single day to peacefully express their disdain for the Mubarak government and years of economic oppression and inequality. Most of the population was already well aware of these injustices and the need for systemic change, but the act of gathering together in the Square catapulted their awareness into mutual recognition and, not very long after, Mubarak was forced to step down.
Although the Egyptians did not necessarily achieve their goals of socioeconomic redress and Mubarak was replaced with an even more oppressive military command, the presence they established in mass protest is still continuing on to this day, and not only in Egypt or the Arab region. The entire world had looked on and gained the mutual knowledge of popular resistance to oppression. Well within a year, the Arab Spring inspired protestors to amass in Liberty Square of Manhattan’s Financial District on September 17, 2011.
Again, this gathering wasn’t necessary to inform everyone present what they already knew about economic injustice and inequality; about how the supranational banks have been stealing wealth, destroying communities and ending lives and how the U.S. Government and Fed have been aiding them all the while. Some new facts are always being learned through these experiences, but the real value lies in the information being learned about each other.
The information that, not only are other people relatively awake and aware of what’s being done to them by the “1%”, but they are also willing to sacrifice their time, effort and, in some cases, physical safety towards the process of letting everyone else know who they are and where they stand. It’s a long and arduous process to be sure, and is by no means guaranteed to produce revolutionary results, but it does lay the necessary and mutual foundation for systemic change.
Since its inception in September 2011, the Occupy movement has established a presence in almost every major city in the Western world and some parts of Asia as well. Perhaps the most inspiring part of Occupy is that it so far shows no signs of repeating the mistakes of the European and American anti-capitalist resistance movements of the 1960s and 70s, which frequently used violent acts of terrorism to spread an otherwise valid message. The Occupy movement understands that, regardless of its intentions and ultimate goals, it cannot justify the use of violence against others, and that such violence will only undermine its ability to gain widespread support and be effective.
As a quick aside, let’s look to two of the earliest and most well known anti-capitalist activists in history – Karl Marx and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. These two held a friendship for some years until a series of exchanges threw a bit of cold water on that intellectual fire. Marx sent Proudhon a letter inviting him to become a part of a correspondence network involving German, English and French socialists. Proudhon quickly sent a reply accepting the invitation with one very important caveat, which didn’t sit too well with Marx:
I have also some observations to make on this phrase of your letter: at the moment of action. Perhaps you still retain the opinion that no reform is at present possible without a coup de main, without what was formerly called a revolution and is really nothing but a shock. That opinion, which I understand, which I excuse, and would willingly discuss, having myself shared it for a long time, my most recent studies have made me abandon completely. I believe we have no need of it in order to succeed; and that consequently we should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform, because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, to arbitrariness, in brief, a contradiction.
I myself put the problem in this way: to bring about the return to society, by an economic combination, of the wealth which was withdrawn from society by another economic combination. In other words, through Political Economy to turn the theory of Property against Property in such a way as to engender what you German socialists call community and what I will limit myself for the moment to calling liberty or equality. But I believe that I know the means of solving this problem with only a short delay; I would therefore prefer to burn Property by a slow fire, rather than give it new strength by making a St Bartholomew’s night of the proprietors …
Your very devoted
More recent philosophers/activists have also had their friendships divided along similar lines such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, with the fomer adopting a more hard-line Marxist revolutionary approach, while the latter is known for unequivocally stating that "the ends can never justify the means".
Our peaceful “protests” here at The Automatic Earth and on many other websites/forums are also rooted in both increasing factual knowledge and mutual knowledge. We all have different styles, perspectives, opinions, areas of expertise and general predictions, but we are mutually driven, like Marx and Proudhon, by our desire to see others opt out of the current exploitative system, take back control over their own lives and provide moral and/or physical support to families, friends, neighbors, communities and complete strangers.
Our very own Nicole Foss provides an invaluable service in this regard, as she has tirelessly traveled between communities in Europe and North America relaying TAE’s message to groups of people with varying perspectives and levels of knowledge, but all with the common yearning to know that they are not alone in this journey. The TAE Community, in general, has fostered mutual knowledge of our financial, economic, energy and environmental predicaments for many years now through the comment section.
Statistics for The Automatic Earth (at Blogger)
Those steadily increasing bars you see from 2008-2011 are representative of increasing mutual knowledge. Every new person that decides to “join” the community is gradually welcomed by the mutual knowledge that thousands of others are also joining or are still here. The exact numbers have been scrubbed for privacy reasons, but I can assure you that they are not insignificant. They possess just as much revolutionary potential as the movements taking place “on the streets”, as both types feed into each other and promote mutual awareness of the possibilities for change.
None of this is to say that the strategies or movements towards mutual knowledge are perfect, and some may have very significant shortcomings. As mentioned above, we would do well to dismiss any movement that actively promotes violence as a means of achieving its goals, because such strategies are both unethical and counter-productive. There is also some harm from “going all in” on these movements and using them as justifications to avoid conducting our own preparations at much smaller scales.
That risk is more pronounced with OWS than with an online community such as TAE, since the latter focuses on promoting understanding of these risks as well as a high degree of systemic independence and self-sufficiency. There is always the lingering fear that those solely relying on OWS, on the other hand, will find themselves lacking the personalized preparation that is necessary to weather upcoming storms.
That is why we must constantly balance our movements of mutual knowledge and struggle with our independent awareness of what is happening within our own lives and those of our families, friends and neighbors. Or, as Raul advised, Occupy Your Own Space. We must be conservative, vigilant and broadly revolutionary all at the same time. It is with this balance that we will all continue to mutually stray from the beaten path and discover our own trails into the future.