Here is your open thread for January 21, 2020.
Wendy James of Transvision Vamp turns 54 today. There’s a whole category of bands that I probably thought were cool back in the ’80s partly because they had pop hits in the UK but not over here, and Transvision Vamp may be closer to the Scritti Politti end of that spectrum than to the Siouxsie side of it. But whatever, this song is still weirdly fun.
And Billy Ocean turns 70. The dictionary says there are two acceptable pronunciations of the word “Caribbean.” Billy Ocean says there are three.
January 21 is also the birthday of Grigori Rasputin. It’s more fun to read about Rasputin than it would have been to know him.
Gene Sharp would have been 92 years old today. You may not be familiar with his work, but he’s very famous in certain circles. His books have been intensely studied by leaders like Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and Xi Jinping. They read Sharp because they’re scared of him, and at the same time they ban their people from reading his books because those books make those people less scared of them.
Sharp has been called the “Clausewitz of Nonviolent Warfare.” He studied nonviolent action to learn how and why it works, cataloging the tactics and approaches that were most effective at challenging the violent grip of authoritarian regimes. Nonviolent revolutions and “people power” movements all over the world have studied and applied the lessons of Sharp’s study. And so have dictators and totalitarian states.
Putin is said to be particularly vigilant for signs of opposition that might be using anything “from the Gene Sharp book.” And he’s worked to inoculate his authoritarian rule from the potential sources of resistance Sharp identified. To understand the potential for civil disobedience, Sharp closely studied civil obedience — of “Why People Obey” as James VanHise summarizes it here. Authoritarians are now learning from Sharp’s theory and actively seeking to fortify the various sources of obedience — habit, fear of sanctions, moral obligation, self interest, psychological identification with the rule, indifference, absence of self-confidence — developing pre-emptive defenses against the weaknesses Sharp identified.
I suppose his legacy could be summed up this way: In some countries, reading Gene Sharp’s work will get you thrown in prison. And if you live in such a country, you probably need to read his work.
Finally, I don’t know much of anything about Norwegian painter Harriet Backer other than that she was born on January 21, 1845. But this is lovely:
Talk amongst yourselves.