Rebels vs the Empire: why real life is like Star Wars

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Posted Oct 11 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
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My brother is not politically or philosophically motivated, not particularly well read, and doesn’t keep up with current affairs. Most people are like that. Let’s call them ‘the mainstream’, if that’s not disrespectful. I don’t think it is – he’s my brother, after all. But he’s a huge Star Wars fan, and when we talk about politics, he says ‘yes, it’s like Star Wars – the Jedi versus the Dark Side, the rebels versus the Empire, and the Empire is winning’.

Empire, rebels and the mainstream

Empire: If the above means nothing to you, see here.

Rebels: There are many people who might consider themselves rebels in this system – permaculturists, transitioners, craftspeople, smallholders, communards, co-operators, renewable energy enthusasts, nature-lovers, hackers, natural builders, downshifters, cyclists, hippies, various flavours of anarchists, distributists, independent business-owners, open-sourcers, occupiers, jam-makers, WWOOFers, campaigners, greens, socialists, libertarians, communists, real-ale-lovers, community organisers, dropouts, survivalists, punks, rastafarians, distributists, occupiers, trades unionists, vegans, bakers, organic farmers and so on; you get the idea – lots of us. There’s a lot of overlap (many people are in more than one group), but precious little coordination (see below).

Mainstream: my brother’s guess is that about 80% of the population is mainstream, the rest being pro-Empire or rebels.

He’s a rebel sympathiser, but not a rebel. He asks what he can possibly do, and it’s difficult to give a good answer. He doesn’t have too much time to think about it – he needs to make enough money to pay the mortgage, pay bills and put food on the table. He has no rebel contacts and nothing to join. There are small things that he can do, and if millions of people do them, they’ll turn into big things – but not enough to really challenge the Empire. I often mistake people for rebels, when really they just ‘get it’. But most people are rebel sympathisers – they’re nice people who want to do the right thing if possible. If we get something moving they won’t try to stop it, and they’ll even join in, as long as their family is safe and they’re still reasonably comfortable.

He lives with a big dog to protect himself from some people in his community, as do many others. This is an Empire mentality – everyone for themselves, there is no such thing as society. He can’t use small shops when they’ve been closed by a giant Tesco that dominates the view from his garden. A rebel victory would involve much more closely-knit communities, getting together to organise, play, work and exchange.

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Why overcoming the Empire will be difficult

  • The Empire is organised hierarchically, but the rebels are organised horizontally, in a network. The Empire hierarchy is directed from the top in command-and-control style, and brooks no dissent – dissenters lose their jobs

  • The ‘rebel network’ is uncoordinated, so doesn’t present a strong challenge to the Empire yet

  • The Empire owns our media (including social media), and so they are able to distract people from the fact that there is an Empire, or to accept it as inevitable

  • All our essentials of life are controlled by the Empire – our financial system, our political system, most of our food, energy, land and housing, and very importantly, jobs. In fact, most of the mainstream has been persuaded that the only way to provide jobs and all our essentials is via the Empire

  • There is no means to keep independent businesses independent (apart from co-operativising them)

  • Even then there are occasional disasters (the Co-op Bank was consumed by the Empire)

  • The Empire owns the arms industry, and control governments who in turn control the military. Ultimately, they have the means to retain power with force if necessary

Grounds for optimism

  • There are more rebels than Empire people, because the imperial hierarchy contains fewer people the higher you get

  • Most people are rebel sympathisers, as long as their safety is guaranteed. The mainstream will follow whoever leads, and in fact, given the choice, almost all of them would choose the rebels – as long as they don’t have to do anything too strenuous

  • The rebels are learning how to provide the essentials of life, and draw customers away from the Empire with community-owned, co-operative, independent and peer-to-peer enterprises (as well as open source)

  • The lower ranks of the Empire are not so committed, and require various kinds of bribery; very few people who work for the Empire are committed to the ideals of the Empire – they do it for money

  • Because of this lack of commitment, the lower ranks of the Empire, including (and very importantly) police and soldiers, can easily be recruited

  • The rebel network can spread indefinitely, without diluting commitment

  • The rebels have the best people – i.e. they score higher than Empire people in terms of intelligence, integrity and compassion. Those are not qualities you require (apart from a certain type of cunning) to climb the Empire hierarchy

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Coordinating the rebel network

The fact that the rebels are a network and the Empire is a hierarchy is the reason we’re losing. It’s very hard to fight a hierarchy with a network. A network is the ideal end point for the whole of society, but it’s hard to get there because command and control is much more efficient. I’m not saying that we need a hierarchy to fight a hierarchy, just that we need to be more coordinated. It’s even difficult to know what ‘we’ means, when parts of the network don’t know that other parts exist. Maybe we need a map.

A network can splinter and fight amongst themselves (which is exactly what’s happening) in ways that a hierarchy can’t. In my travels I’ve noticed vitriol between greens and socialists, urban activits and rural communards, anarchists and independent business owners – much more vitriol, in fact, than for the Empire. Again, this is a bound to happen in a loose network, in ways that are impossible in a rigid hierarchy. But if we’re all working to provide alternatives to the Empire for people to spend their money and get their wages, as well as challenging the Empire’s dominance in terms of propaganda and decision-making, we could and should overlook small differences to work towards a society that the Empire can’t control – we can argue about everything else later.

It’s up to rebel ‘cheerleaders’ like Lowimpact.org to get the mainstream consuming those essentials mentioned above from independent, co-operative, community owned, peer-to-peer and open sources, including DIY. Growing your own veg, brewing your own beer, installing solar panels – even cycling – are rebel acts. They are small ways to take back the provision of life’s essentials from the Empire.

It’s essential that we win, and change our economic system, because ifs fixation on growth is constantly damaging nature. If we don’t stop, at some point, nature won’t support us any more, and we’ll be removed. There are plenty of rebels who don’t understand the need to stabilise the economy. I’m happy to work with them to take power from the Empire. I just hope they get the importance of a stable economy before the biosphere degrades too much more – see here.

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Finally, I think that support is there for the rebels if they coordinate and start to move society in a different direction. That hasn’t started to happen yet. The Empire’s grip on my brother’s town – a typical town – is getting tighter every year. If we rebels (and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably a rebel) can develop plans to turn this tide, we won’t get much resistance from the mainstream. It’s not happening yet though, and those rebels who think it is are suffering from complacency. We need to coordinate our actions without turning the network into a hierarchy, which would produce just another empire.

Lowimpact.org is a resource for rebels. 200+ topics, a blog to broadcast and debate on, a network to find people and advertise on, and a forum to ask specific questions. We’re set to grow; we’ve risen about a million places in the web rankings in the last year, and we’re about to launch in other countries.