Communications in Conflict
Before November 30, 1999, most people in the world had no idea what
the World Trade Organization (WTO) was or did. The anti-globalization
special forces changed all that. N30, the Battle in Seattle, and the WTO became part of history.
Had there been no special forces, however, no one would have known
the devious plans of this secretive United Nations agency working in
tandem with transnational corporations to enslave the world. The
marchers in Seattle would have had their thirty-second news spot, and
disappeared from public memory.
But as the world knows, even a mainstream media blackout and
subsequent cover-up by government officials were not enough to prevent
N30 from being the downfall of the Seattle Chief of Police, and the Battle in Seattle from becoming a badge of honor for the pro-democracy movement.
And that only happened because some of the anti-globalization
activists were thinking strategically about communications in conflict,
and adapted their tactics accordingly. Those engaged in conventional
marches and seminars were minor news items, easily dismissed by media
and officials alike. They would not change the world, the Independent
Media Center images from the lockdown at 4th and Pike would.
By outflanking network news through use of live streaming on the
Internet, anyone in the world could watch Seattle police beating seated
young people singing freedom songs, while television talking heads
claimed protestors were running amok. The age of netwar had arrived.
In December 2008, the United Nations met in Poznan, Poland to hatch a
new scheme for transnational corporations and investment banks to
control the world: it was called REDD, a Ponzi scheme for carbon-market
trading that would make the Wall Street heist of today look like chicken
feed. Indigenous nations sent delegates to protest this
life-threatening fraud by the UN and its agencies like the IMF, World
Bank, and WTO. Civil society groups spoke in support of the aboriginal
peoples, UN officials closed them out, and the world never knew.
December 2009, ten years after the Battle in Seattle, the
world’s first nations and Fourth World peoples attended the UN
Conference on Climate Change held in Copenhagen. Whether the
carbon-market cartel will be allowed to take over the world, without a
fight, depends in part on what happened there. Will the
anti-globalization street-fighters, a no-show in Poznan, once again
remind the planet’s netizens that, another world is possible?
Working with Words
The four modes of social organization — tribes, institutions,
markets, and networks — all intentionally utilize words to communicate
their unique perspectives and preferences. Words are chosen for their
effect in creation stories, in mythologies, in advertising, and in
Words themselves are invented for a purpose. They serve as tools of
social organization, as weapons of war, as means of manipulation, and as
medicine for the maligned.
Depending on how they are used, words can cause horrendous harm or great good. Meanings can be distorted or clarified.
Working with words can gain one respect, renown, and reward, but it
can also generate resentment. Not all messages are appreciated.
Learning to use words effectively requires an understanding of the principles of communication, especially in what is termed netwar,
which assumes that all communication in all its dimensions is
contested, no matter the stated intent of the participants. Words are
meant to achieve, and as propositions in the arena of human
consciousness, they will be confronted; as such, working with words is
As an editor, blogger and correspondent, I frequently come across
brilliant scholars and committed activists struggling to communicate
vital stories to institutional leaders, philanthropic donors, and media
gatekeepers. As a communications advisor, I am amazed at how little
attention is paid by these devoted humanitarians to the principles of
As it is, many writers in academia – while often informative – are
sometimes difficult to follow, as they offer bits of topics here and
Part of effective storytelling is to be interesting, which few
writers accomplish, but to arrive at academic stature, that story needs
to be sufficiently coherent. With essays by emerging authors, it is best
for them to learn to think about structure and narrative coherence by
doing that work themselves, but for those lacking a background in
journalism or literature, manuals on such topics as briefings are worth looking at. Some pertinent articles are listed below.
Storytelling and Globalization
Networks and Netwars
Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society