In my previous article I looked into the January events in Piaţa Universităţii and the campaign of Nicuşor Dan later this year; some similarities suggested they might be a part of a larger (though sketched) fourth project for Romania. Lacking a better word, I called it an alterstream: the fourth project rejects both the statu quo upheld by the mainstream and the irresponsible populism of PPDD (People’s Party Dan Diaconescu). I was intrigued by the combination of moral idealism (people putting in time and effort against the odds) and sociological cynicism (relative lack of naivete).
I recently stumbled upon a concept that might explain the fourth project even further. It is called “murmuration” and here is how it looks like.
A murmuration is a collective noun for starlings (rom: grauri?) flying together. Unlike a flock, there are no leaders or direction. Says a video comment:
Each bird flies as close to its neighbours as possible, copying changes in speed or direction. As a result, tiny deviations by one bird are magnified and distorted by those surrounding it, creating rippling, swirling patterns.
I have not verified 100% the science behind this as it does not really matter. What matters is whether the concept seems to apply to the fourth project. The murmuration is leaderless, “chaotic” and yet effective for protection – at 00:50 you can actually see the birds seemingly chasing a predator. This can be a good point for searching similarities.
What makes a murmuration fly? As the comment suggested, there is a flight protocol of sorts. The birds must fly no less than a certain distance to avoid collision, while some of the birds may increase their distance, steering the others. The protocol is strictly respected: it would appear that no two birds collide. But within the protocol, everything goes. That is, any input (new bird) or output (chaotic movement) are tolerated by the collective behaviour as long as they fit the protocol.
This can be well extended to the themes of the political events mentioned earlier. I argued that for Piaţa Universităţii there were four major themes: “Down with Băsescu!”, independence from political parties, non-violence and calls for mobilization/unity. Such themes were strictly enforced. No collective chanting that would contradict them has ever been reported, to the best of my knowledge. I have also observed first hand how a group of newbies was educated to the “Down with Băsescu!” chant. But within this protocol, indeed, everything goes. All observers noted the surprising variety of groups, chants, and forms of manifestation. Likewise for Nicușor Dan’s campaign. Let us assume that the main themes were “a positive vote” and “census of common-sense people”. Since the candidate seemed an honest embodiment of these themes he was supported despite all odds, despite a lack of charisma and a somewhat sketchy program.
If the murmuration is a suitable concept, then we have an uniquely useful tool that allows us to detect when (if ever) the next wave of the fourth project takes off. I already spoke last time about the importance of having highly respected people to coalesce around. A political murmuration starts when such people cause (propose, facilitate) the appearance of a protocol and people start working to support the protocol rather than the personalities. The protocol will be an idea that appears to be so important that all others are subordinate.
What will this idea be I do not know. I would guess it will have some consistence with the principles that make a murmuration work. Of course, we will not have a leaderless state – too many resources need to be protected. But I suspect that, despite appearances, members of a murmuration will not ask new and better people but rather new and better protocols within the state. Remember how people protected SMURD and not really Raed Arafat, the concept of a different Bucharest and not really Nicuşor Dan. By the way, SMURD is actually a protocol and not an instution; ND was a protocols enforcer.
I expect that the murmuration’s requests will be meta-political (pardon the fancy word). It might start before parliamentary elections (though obstacles are significant). Or it might start if a new Constitution is being drafted,
Sounds naive? Think about this: the current anti-Băsescu societal reaction is quite similar to a murmuration. Much of the political action is planned (at least I do hope so) but improvisations are widely spread. So, you need to know why some people disapprove government actions but do not protest? – it is simple: people and cabinet are in the same murmuration. Want to understand why the party does not get fed up with mr Ponta and forces him to resign on accusations of plagiarism? – it is easy again: the protocol (section: “Down with Băsescu!”) will not allow it.
This article is loosely inspired by Don Tapscott’s TED Talk and will be cross-posted on the TED website.