Progressive Strategy Brain
by Shai Sachs, Sat Mar 29, 2008 at 10:16:26 AM EDT
Last summer I highlighted a report on the state of progressive strategy called Finding Strategy: A Survey of Contemporary Contributions to Progressive Strategy (PDF). At the time I didn't do much more beyond summarize the report and promise follow-up at a later point, which, I grudgingly admit, I didn't really do.
However, the Progressive Strategy Studies Project (PSSP) has recently released a new companion tool for the report, so I thought I'd revisit this discussion. The tool is called the Progressive Strategy Brain, and it's explained in an introductory blog post at the Progressive Strategy Blog. The brain is a visualization tool which allows users to navigate a library of about 4,100 articles or entries related to progressive strategy. The screen is split in two vertically, with the top half depicting an interconnected web of concepts centered on a single, active concept, and the bottom half providing text and description of that concept. You can click on any concept in the top half to make it active. While some entries have very sparse text and merely exist to depict a relationship between other concepts, others include a full report's worth of HTML. The tool is still evolving, and PSSP hopes to update it every week. The software which runs the whole show is called The Brain. (Full disclosure: Wolfgang Brauner, one of the authors of the original report, and of the Progressive Strategy Brain, is a personal friend.)
Clicking around inside the Progressive Strategy Brain is quite fun, as you can navigate between all sorts of interesting topics, individuals, organizations, and even abstract ideas. There are a few interesting jumping off points, though, such as Finding Strategy (2006) strategists (a list of strategists listed in the original report), Progressive Challenges (challenges which face the prorgressive movement), Progressive Strategy Types, and Progressive Strategy Literature.
I think this is a fascinating tool. PSSP has managed to make a lot of very interesting content available in a very accessible and interesting format. I do have a few quibbles. There are some places where I'm not entirely sure how the relationships between concepts are created. The taxonomist in me would also love a way to impose a little more structure or categorization on top of the web. And I hope that as time goes on, the organization opens up the Brain to outside contributors (although I imagine the constraints of the software might make that difficult.) But on the whole, I think this is a great effort which calls attention to, and helps us organize our thoughts on, our conception of strategy for the progressive movement.
What I'd love to see in the evolution of the progressive strategy brain, and in the larger discourse on progressive strategy generally, is increased attention to non-political goals. Put another way, I'd like to see progressive strategists broaden their horizons, to pursue goals that include transformation of non-political, cultural institutions. After all, transformational politics includes both cultural transformation and political transformation. We need strategies for cultural transformation, and particularly transformation of the ideological institutions which usually regulate the interaction of our culture and our politics - religion, the workplace, schools, personal relationships, and the media. Progressives don't talk much about transforming those institutions (except insofar as doing so can produce electoral results), and that shortage of strategic discussion shows in the PSB's entry on progressive ideological infrastructure.
Eventually, I'd like to see progressives develop a series of strategies for transforming these institutions and creating a more progressive culture. I'd like to think that I've nibbled at the edge of this problem in the past, with a variety of series on creating progressive TV and strengthening the labor movement, and I hope to continue in that vein. I'd love to see others take up the reins and develop strategies for progressive change within other ideological institutions. That kind of strategic development is the first step in the development of a grand strategy of progressive power, which would tie together progressive cultural and political transformation.
I'm tempted to draw up an outline of what such a strategy might look like, especially given the great work which has gone into PSB. In fact, I might take a crack at that a bit later on. For now, I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on the Progressive Strategy Brain, and the state of progressive strategy generally.