Recursive thinking is very familiar to computer scientists; it needs to be on the radar screen of social activists.
In a way, Malcolm Gladwell touched on some of the ideas in this book in his own work, The Tipping Point, with which many of us are familiar. The essential connection that Gladwell makes in his book is that for an idea (or organism or movement) to propagate, it needs to be reproduced at a rate equal to or greater than 1.0 (on average) by each entity that encounters it. Otherwise it peters out.
That's why the archetypal activist structure is the phone tree. (Imitated and amplified, of course, by newer technologies like Facebook and Twitter.)
(Of course, American revolutionaries of an earlier era were all about getting the word out!)
So I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.
I conducted an interesting experiment with this a few years ago: a group of us committed to tweeting about ending the war in Afghanistan every week, on Tuesday -- #AfghanistanTuesday -- and the hard core called ourselves "Tuesdayistas". The hallmark of a Tuesdayista? The commitment to encouraging others to be Tuesdayistas, of course!
In 140 characters or less, that can be expressed as:
@(friend's screen name here) PLEASE! Become a http://bit.ly/Tuesdayista and ask 10 more folks to (become a http://bit.ly/Tuesdayista and ask 10 more folks to (become...OK, maybe that's a very nerdy expression of the idea of recursivity. But it started me thinking about the need to find the right balance between activism that consists principally of doing something, myself, and activism that consists of involving more people in doing that something. And to be sure that what I really do is "involve more people in doing that something (including involving more people in doing that something (including . . . . . ) )."
All of us are familiar with the need in our groups to do "outreach." How many times do we return to this issue, only to drop the ball?
There are lots of tools available today for conducting activism, many of which fall under the rubric "social media." There are many techniques for using social media effectively. But the most important is to understand how to propagate "recursivity."
EASY: Share this post with people in your affinity group and discuss how you will put "recursivity" into action consistently.
EASIER: Personally invite one person to be an activist today. (Show them how you do it!)
EASIEST: Tweet this post to several people (including @scarry) and ask them to share it with others.
There is an eerie similarity between events in the book Paul Revere's Ride and events in our world today. I'm thinking particularly of how a network of mass resistance springs into action.
(See New World Counterinsurgency: Deja Vu All Over Again)
Tuesdayistas are people who (a) take time each week to participate in a national (and now global) conversation about ending the war in Afghanistan; AND (b) help spread the word by reaching out to others (who will reach out to others (who will reach out to others .... to do the same!
(See I'm a Tuesdayista!)
(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me)