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This book is free

.. both as in beer and as in speech:

From Dictatorship to Democracy

It is, in fact, the very definition of free in both senses, because the entire work was published virally, initially in the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, and is now completely in the public domain.

I was not aware this book existed until about a month ago when CNN posted this article about Gene Sharp, the author, and the story of his conception of the book in the context of his discussions with friends and colleagues in Myanmar, and his development of a work that was necessarily rather abstract and general, due to his unfamiliarity the specifics of the protests in Myanmar, but which nevertheless ended up shaping and in many ways transforming the movement, largely due to its uncensored and viral publication.

But it didn't stop there. It had propagated to a number of other countries before Sharp heard from the people who were reading it, and around the time it was beginning to surface thousands of miles away from where it was first released, it had, among other things, provided the blueprint for non-violent anti-government protests in Serbia that brought down the government of Slobodan Milošević.

It's a free download, and officially in the public domain, and anyone anywhere with access to the Internet (or who has friends with Internet connections and printers) can read it.

Almost every non-violent protest I've seen since the mid to late 1990's has borne this book's DNA, from the Arab Spring to the anti-government protests in Iran to the Occupy movement to the anti-PRI protests currently happening in Mexico. Every one of those protests will make perfect sense if you've read it.

The basic idea is pure genius in its simplicity. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and the only way dictatorships maintain power is by maintaining the illusion of the consent of the people. They do this in various ways, by isolating (and Sharp uses the ingenious word "atomizing") individual relationships with the state, and by making the idea of public dissent so frightening that no one dares speak out enough to break the illusion. Perform simple acts of defiance, just visible enough to communicate non-consent, and that small act in and of itself is both empowering and transforming for both the people feeling the heady rush of taking those brave steps out of their silence and for the people watching and realizing they are not alone. The defiance need not be directed at anything or demand anything -- the mere fact of its existence under the nose of the dictatorship galvanizes the people who immediately realize that the disaffection they thought only they felt is actually far more universal.

And some of those acts of defiance are subtle and ingenious, and freeing the defiance from the need to be violent puts it squarely in the realm of art with a purpose. Do something distinctive (I keep wishing someone would set some good Spanish words to Sibelius' Finlandia Hymn, and teach that song to everyone in Mexico who wants to learn it -- imagine hearing that song, everywhere in Mexico!) and simultaneously peaceful, yet defiant, and you not only show everyone who sees/hears what you do that defiance itself is possible, but if the dictatorship tries to silence you with violence, it only weakens its own power. Because this approach (as Sharp makes clear) fights a dictatorship not where it is strongest, but where it is weakest -- the more it abuses its people to hold onto its power, the more it demonstrates that it is exactly what the opposition has accused it of being.

And this book cannot easily be censored, and it's a simple enough read that it can easily be remembered even if it can't be kept around. The idea cannot be stopped except with measures so brutal that they would themselves alienate even the most devoted followers .. it will get through, one way or another.

This, folks, is what genius looks like. My wildest dreams of memetic warfare against any kind of tyrant fall far short of what this book has already done, and will do in the future. It may not by itself trigger the oncoming paradigm shift .. but it will make it very difficult to stop it (or even dodge it) once it starts ..