The Twenty Percent Problem

Matt talks life, movements, and the problem of the smarmy professional class with Michael Albert, co-developer of Participatory Economics, author and co-author of over 20 books, and now a podcaster. Revolution Z is at https://zcomm.org/revolutionz/ and you can support it at https://www.patreon.com/revolutionZ.


  1. avatar
    Michael Albert August 17, 2019 1:07 pm 

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I think it is everywhere, like pointing to air…in a way. It happens in families, in school, in media, really everywhere. To try and see more of it, think of the U.S. during Jim Crow Racism, or perhaps even more effectively regarding convincing folks of their own subordination, think of sexist U.S. in the 1950s.

    It is probably mostly that one finds people where the mythos says they ought to be, doing the things the mythos says they are only able to do. Like women or Blacks seeing women or Blacks only in their place, back fifty years ago. But it is also literally being prepared by environment, home life, and schooling for exactly that path – having no expectation or even hope for any other offered, felt, even just visible.

    Of course it isn’t accomplished perfectly, but it is very effective. And it is rarely studied or decried – because those who typically study and decry, much less conceive and favor alternatives, are those with confidence, with skills, with time, with access, and so on – and thus not those suffering the subordination.

    For perhaps the shortest far reaching expression of it, try John Lennon’s song – Working Class Hero… There was a book, a long time back, titled Hidden Injuries of Class…and I am sure there are others though, though in some ways, again, it is like getting a book to discern that there is air all around us….

    • Elizabeth Marxsen August 20, 2019 9:00 pm 

      Michael – thanks for your feedback. To be clear, I’m convinced. I’m looking for concrete examples of institutional brainwashing to convince others. General assertions, no matter how obvious they may seem to us, don’t always have the same impact as concrete examples.
      The reason I asked about institutional mechanisms fueling powelessness and non-coordinator mindsets is that I’m trying to figure out how to make other people aware of it. I’ll use my own situation to illustrate. I mentioned that I work in a corporate environment. I’m college educated, in a non-managerial role doing data analysis. The culture is dysfunctional in many ways, but one signifcant force at play is non-managerial and mid-level managerial assumption (subconscious and that’s the problem) of powerlessness. Along with that goes an inability or unwillingness to, and apathy toward questioning authority and management decision-making.
      This results in dysfunctional systems and practices being perpetuated for no reason other than that people refuse to question and assert themselves.
      I’ve discussed this with co-workers, who tend to believe that people who accept dysfunction and don’t ask questions are just born sheep. And we’re trying to understand why some of us, reared in the same society with the same institutions and biases, nevertheless question authority, while most don’t. I think for the last point its as simple as people are different and don’t all behave the same even in similar environments. But for why so many are sheeplike, I’m trying to explain that our society trains people that way. Schools, churches, homes, etc.
      I think explanations are always more effective when specific examples are used, rather than general assertions. I want to zero in and illustrate a good example of, to pick a specific case, where our schools teach submissiveness – The teaching of competition v. cooperation inherent in the grading system, the structure of the classroom with one authority figure over 20 or 30 passive listeners,etc.
      My efforts to illustrate the forces at play do include assertions, such as “look at women in the 50’s – underlying assumptions about their abilities and roles defined their existence. Once those assumptions began to be questioned, the sexist structure began to exhibit cracks”. There is a provableness to the assertion when one looks at historical events. The trouble is, when the discussion is tranposed to the arena of leaders v. followers, general assertions such as “look at our educational institutions” are less likely to persuade people who believe there is some inherent quality that determines who is a leader . I guess there are historical corollaries to the weakening of sexism, where blind obedience to authority was jetisoned in favor of bottom-up coordination. I think there was a link to a story in your podcast, or I looked it up, and read about a group of factory workers in Brazil I think recently who assumed ownership of a factory after “capital” had abandoned it, and they assumed leadership roles and learned how to run it. I just need more concrete examples.
      And now that I’m writing my thoughts down its dawning on me how vast a subject this is. Just the whole dichotomy of indiidual v. collective efforts, which results in hierarchies, and leader and follower roles.
      See – its pretty hard to start a dialogue at work. The discussion grows too large.

      • avatar
        Michael Albert August 21, 2019 1:44 pm 

        My best guess is a place to look for practical cases may be literature by working people. Also critiques of education and home life, etc. try old book titled hidden injuries of class. But my main take away from your comments is that you should be writing essays. Seriously!
        Determining why some rebel whether in comfortable positions, or oppressed positions, is of course, if possible, incredibly important. I used to wonder why I went the way I did, some classmates went similarly, others did not. It has always seemed to me one factor was confidence and a sense of efficacy…but that alone isn’t enough, though it may be necessary. If so, it means movements ought to strive to produce it in people – which movements often do not do.

  2. Elizabeth Marxsen August 16, 2019 7:49 pm 

    Can you please point me to some discussions of exactly how the society/institutions brainwash people to be powerless, non-coordinators? This is a terrible problem in my (corporate) workplace – people literally assume there is some inevitability about the hierarchy.

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