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Saul Alinsky: Rules for Radicals

Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, via a Canadian site: (I have boldfaced the most noteworthy)

Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people.
The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

Some quotes:

We had to construct experience for our students. Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns, and synthesized. (p. 68)

That idea is important. It explains the rate at which people gain wisdom– or remain as foolish as they were in their youth. People who analyze when young will gain on their non-analytic friends, so we would expect ability and income gaps to rise with age.

Most people have gone to church and mouthed Christian doctrines, and yet this is really not part of their experience because they haven’t lived it. Their church experience has been purely a ritualistic decoration…

[Of someone who found God and tried giving away his money to bums.] Our friend attempting to emulate Christian life and emulate St. Francis of Assisi found that he could only do so forty minutes before being arrested by a Christian police officer, driven to Bellevue Hospital by a Christian ambulance doctor, and pronounced non compos mentis by a Christian psychiatrist. Christianity is beyond the experience of a Christian-professing-but-not-practicing population. …

I’ve been asked, for example, why I never talk to a Catholic priest or a Protestant minister or a rabbi in terms of the Judaeo-Christian ethic or the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. I never talk in those terms. Instead, I approach them on the basis of their own self-interest, the welfare of their Church, even its physical property.

If I approached them in a moralistic way it would be outside their experience, because Christianity and Judaeo-Christianity are outside of the experience of organized religion. … The moment I walked out they’d call their secretaries in and say, “If that screwball ever shows up again, tell him I’m out.”

Communication for persuasion, as in negotiation, is more than entering the area of another person’s experience. It is getting a fix on his main value or goal and holding your course on that target. (p. 89)

This last passage is a devastating criticism of Christianity in America. Alinsky would have applied his rule of making people play by their own rules if he thought it would work. He didn’t, with Christian pastors. He doubts they can even conceive of genuine Christianity.

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