On dancing and dissent

About this day last year, I joined this 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition organised by my university — which placed me second and got me to represent the university in social sciences section for the national 3MT (although I didn’t win). The idea of the competition is to strategically talk about your thesis — all 100+ pages of them — into the course of 3 minutes! I am always fascinated by the idea of public speaking, spoken word, and the idea of expressing your complicated research into the most adaptable version for all your audiences possible, so even though I did not win, I learned greatly from the experience. I decided to skip the competition this year so I could fully focus on thesis writing and aim for submission this year!

My thesis currently speaks of networked movement — essentially a movement which is distinguished by their use of digital platforms to organise protesters, document state violence, as well as showing solidarity with other extended movements through these platforms (you might want to watch this 1-hour lecture from Manuel Castells, whose one of the theories influenced my research) — and how these platforms could also alter the key tenets of these movements and influence their form of leadership or leaderlessness, in fact. Some of my early findings from my social network analysis showed that in order for a leader to emerge in these networked movements — where they are initially deemed leaderless — is to have one lone follower to believe in this leader and show the rest of the potential movement recruits that this is the person whose opinion we could value, learn from, and let them lead us.

We were all required to submit a single slide that will accompany us during the presentation. This is what I came up with.

Video screencap credit: Coyote & Crow’s YouTube

While practicing the presentation with some of my friends, one of them pointed out this 3-minute TED Talk on the lesson of leadership, aptly called How To Start a Movement.

A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he’s doing is so simple, it’s almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow!

Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow. Notice the leader embraces him as an equal, so it’s not about the leader anymore — it’s about them, plural. Notice he’s calling to his friends to join in.

It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.

What a revelation! And as much as I was initially worried that someone else has come to the same findings of my research before I did, I was also happy to find that in a way, great minds think alike?

Also I’m not sure if I could cite Vonnegut in my thesis, but I’ll keep his three types of specialists needed for the success of any revolution in mind:

Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening team with a peculiar membership goes to work on them. Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust, ludicrous, or downright dumb that life may be.

The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.

The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius — a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in general circulation. “A genius working alone,” he says, “is invariably ignored as a lunatic.”

The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find: a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad. “A person like this working alone,” says Slazinger, “can only yearn loud for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be.”

The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain everything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. “He will say almost anything in order to be interesting and exciting,” says Slazinger. “Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.”

Slazinger, high as a kite, says that every successful revolution, including Abstract Expressionism, the one I took part in, had that cast of characters at the top — Pollock being the genius in our case, Lenin being the one in Russia’s, Christ being the one in Christianity’s.

He says that if you can’t get a cast like that together, you can forget changing anything in a great big way.

Towards the end of my script for the presentation, I talked about the challenges on how to sustain and translate the attention economy a networked movement has been receiving into significant political and societal results — because with attention, a protest movement can do a lot of things: it can frame its cause, recruit new members, strengthen solidarity and so on so forth.

And this is how I concluded it, “So if you want to lead a movement, pay a very close, and constant attention.”

That was fun. Maybe I will participate again next year.

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