Grand Strategy & Backbone's Theory of Change

Though we work on many causes, Backbone frames it all as part of one battle between paradigms. One paradigm idolizes capital, gives corporations rights, and considers everything For Sale. It commodifies people, democracy, communities, and the planet itself. The paradigm we fight for is one in which people communities and nature and our obligation to future generations are considered sacred, and clearly NOT for sale.

Here's a PDF version of our presentation on Grand Strategy and Creative Tactics. See video and and further exploration of concepts below.

Love Wins:  Grand Strategy, the Art of War in Defense of the Sacred

Though we work on many causes, Backbone considers it all part of one battle, a battle between paradigms. One paradigm idolizes concentrated wealth and power in the form of capital. It endows rights to corporations, investors and even transnational capital.  In this paradigm everything is For Sale. People, democracy, communities, and the planet itself is commodified. The paradigm Backbone Campaign champions endows people communities and nature, and our obligation to future generations with ultimate value, i.e. sacred, beyond price, and therefore clearly NOT for sale.

[An extended version and more about this presentation can be found HERE.]

What's the battle in which "Love Wins"?

At Backbone we gradually shifted from an ideologically progressive platform to a human rights framework.  But arguing for and about rights pushed us to dig more deeply to the source of those rights.  Why, because rights are derivative… they flow from something else, i.e. fundamental value assumptions.  "Unalienable," "endowed by creator," "self-evident" all point assumption of ultimate value, a sacred source from which rights are derived.  

So, what is sacred in a system where property, corporations, investors, and capital have rights?  Is capital itself considered sacred? If so, then perhaps we should consider whether Capitalism in its current trans-national, corporate form is more than the indifferent, efficient economic system we been taught to believe it is.  Shouldn't we at least ask the question of whether Capitalism's character, scope, and reach into the deepest aspects of our lives, its claims to our democracy the resources of this planet elevates it to the status of religion or paradigm defining cosmology?  

Now the Backbone Campaign characterizes the growing movement we are part of and the overarching work ahead as a battle between paradigms.  In one paradigm, everything is For Sale.   We fight to defend and grow power for the alternate paradigm in which NOTHING of ultimate importance is actually For Sale.  We have Rights because at their foundation/essence: Life, Community, Nature, and our Obligations to Future Generations are beyond price, or in other words - sacred.  Thus, "Protection of the Sacred" is the foundation for protecting self-evident, endowed by creator, unalienable rights.  Love is the principle of connectivity that binds us together in the paradigm we fight for.

(Below adapted from the work of Chuck Spinney, Col. John R. Boyd, Sun Tzu and others.)

Grand Strategy principles summarized: 

  1. Expand alliances, increase cohesion, deepen resolve.
  2. Undermine alliances of opponent, lesson their cohesion, weaken their resolve.
  3. Win without sowing the seeds of future conflict.

Domains of Conflict: 

  1. Attrition (only appropriate with symmetrical power),
  2. Maneuver (probe and test for moments of advantage),
  3. Moral (hearts and minds - our power proportionate to the degree that our actions’ and messages’ resonate with and reflect deepest values and aspirations of the population)

It is fundamentally important for us in asymmetrical conflict against a system with functional monopoly on violence and money, we must fight in the realm of moral conflict.  Our power is proportionate to the extent that our actions and words reflect the aspirations and values of the people. 

Central to Moral Conflict "Motherhood and Mismatch" (via from Spinney/Boyd) i.e., 
MOTHERHOOD: Our cause must be an unassailable good - anyone attacking loses purchase on peoples hearts and minds, while we increasingly draw people to our cause/their cause, reflecting their values and aspirations.
MISMATCH: We attack the mismatches between:

  1. what our opponent asserts as reality and people's experience of reality,
  2. what our opponent claims it is doing and what it is actually doing,
  3. who they say they are and who they actually are.

It is essential that we avoid and minimize our own mismatches because they become our vulnerabilities. 

4 attributes to strive for from "patterns of conflict" by Col John R Boyd:

  1. Variety - Spectrum of tactics at fingertips (Art of War - in same situation, do it differently)
  2. Rapidity - Capacity for speedy mobilization, unencumbered action, fast deployment. [Napoleon concept that is quoted in the movie Paton is "audacity audacity audacity always audacity"]
  3. Initiative - Related to above and sense of authority to act to shape the frame of perceptions/arguments, see and take advantage of opportunities
  4. Harmony - Through shared theory of change, lexicon, vision, goals for autonomous actors to use/exercise their initiative, with rapidity, deploying broad, changing, unpredictable tactics, that are inline with the Motherhood/Mismatch goals in order pull people to our cause/champion their cause. 
  5. [To Add from Art of War, Momentum]

OODA Loop (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) is a way of looking at the process of individual or collective action, and seeing how with accurate perceptions/intelligence, unbiased by filters/biases/obsessions one can act in a way where consequences match intentions, and when inserting initiative/variety/rapidity (in harmony with vision/goals/strategy/mission) then one can put opponent out of balance and create advantage (across a web of autonomous but harmonized movement agents)

Sectors of Agency: 

Co-authoring or co-creating our shared future requires many different approaches.  We often celebrate the activists, but what are other gifts that people bring? How do different kinds of people engage as change agents?  Which of the “Sectors of Agency” listed below do we or those we know best fit into?

  • Artful Activism - creative campaigning to make invisible visible, bringing light to cause and creating friction in broken system and championing alternative
  • Creative Community Organizing – non-transactional inquiry and engagement building leadership and community power
  • Story Telling/Media Making - communicating through media etc. our alternate story for the past present and potential futures to both internal (actively allied) and external (not yet actively allied) audience)
  • Healing-Cultural Work - healing historical sources of trauma that fragment and alienate for selves, each other, natural world, relationship to ancestors and future generations
  • Solutionaries/Emergent Society Practitioners - the Transition stuff... Food, Finance/Exchange, Transport, etc. etc.  Building and proving that another world is possible

Implications for Our Work?

  1. If you apply this framework to a campaign you are familiar does it present any insights into your experience of success or failure, strengths and/or weaknesses of the work you've been part of?.

  2. What does this imply priorities for building movement capacity - vs - party politics? 

  3. What would you prioritize? 

  4. Do Backbone Campaign's priorities seem appropriate for this moment?  

  5. How might we all be more effective?