Peter Block, Larry Inchausti – The Plebeian Protocols

Vivian Wright: I just want to see if there are a couple of other voices that want to be plebian lecturers, just for a moment. Is there another voice who wants to add to what we hear before we go to small groups?

Vivian Wright: So what is the problem with this taxonomy of the plebian protocol?

Larry Inchausti: Well the thing that’s good about the plebian protocol, is that it has an ambivalent origin. People are both ashamed and proud of being plebeians. And if you call somebody a plebian, from an aristocratic point of view that’s a put down. But if you call somebody a plebian, who is a plebian, they see that as a compliment, or at least a neutral statement. And the history of that term, that the plebian is always set opposite either the aristocrat, or the communist leadership, or somebody who is credentialed in some special way of knowing that renders the plebeians or the people’s values, less than. And so to make of a plebian value’s a virtue is that you’re making the values of the people in the community, primary. And you’re also signaling that that is uncomfortable for a large number of specialized people.

Peter Block: The credentialed people.

Larry Inchausti: The credentialed people. And I think that’s part of why it’s an attractive term, because the world ‘people’ kind of got morphed into craziness. And the plebian is closer to a search for a community, rather than a search for an alternative power system.

Angeles Arrien: Oh, that’s so good.

Peter Block: It is. Community is the alternative revolution, isn’t it?

Larry Inchausti: Yea. And so when you look at the plebian leaders of history, like Gandhi, like Lech Wałęsa and Solzhenitsyn, these are all people who come from the grass roots who find their power in their identification with people who have been excluded from the power structure. They had to invent new idioms for power, like non-violence, solidarity, or Solzhenitsyn’s term, what was his great phrase? “The solidarity of solitudes.”

Peter Block: Solitudes?

Larry Inchausti: Solitudes, which he discovered in the Gulag prison camps; that there was a whole generation of people who had been weaned off Marxism by the penal institution. We’re ready for a kind of reframing of history. And that didn’t come from the elites re-educating them, that came from them suffering through the illogic of a system. Then when they spoke up out of their own experience, it was intuitive, organic, and revolutionary. But the problem is, the plebeians don’t have the confidence, often in their own experience, so they need help creating this space that you’re talking about.

Peter Block: That’s why they need to community.

Larry Inchausti: They need the community. And the spaces that are provided for them are, as you’ve said, often setups. Like the public speaking 3 minutes you get at city council, which is the heuristic of Q and A- You get two minutes, the bell goes off, the council doesn’t respond, they just let you talk, they don’t treat you as if you’ve said something important, You’re talking like you’re talking to your therapist: they’re not responding. Then they just let it go, and then they say, “thank you for your input.” And then you go back really pissed; madder than if you hadn’t said anything at all.

Peter Block: Well I think part of what you’re angry at is your collusion by accepting that structure.

Larry Inchausti: Yes. And even if you yell at them, you’re just proving how tolerant they are.

Peter Block: Beautiful. I always think of those moments as letting people shout out their complaints like wounded goats. That’s beautiful.

Susan: Larry, maybe you could help me on this plebian framing: I like what you’re saying about trying to get to the common values. But by calling it plebian, it still feels like it’s versus the patrician. Or the example that you just gave about the community member vs. the elected. So I’m struggling – and is there some other way to come at it where we get to the community members – the plebian – the lesser heard voices sometimes need help to create the container, to build the confidence, to come forward… But is it possible to have that conversation without being against the elite, but instead for them to name and claim something that can attract some of the resources so that we can do it together. So it doesn’t have to be against. It’s attracting – it’s creating a new question that we could all be a part of.

Larry Inchausti: This is that question, answer, heuristic. Is there some other way we can talk about this, rather than one person to another. The problem of, us against them, is built into the plebian circumstance. And if the plebeians could all have microphones at the city council meetings, or something… But that’s not something that they would necessarily think of or argue for, right? I don’t know, I’m honestly puzzled by this-

Peter Block: I think it’s a little bit like – that’s a both, and argument. So I’m coming to the conclusion that part of the royal protocol is the “both/and” conversation. Which means we never dramatize, or at least see things clearly on both sides.

Larry Inchausti: The people in power can see both sides. The people out of power can’t. Right?

Peter Block: Beautiful. Right. That’s an interesting thought.

Larry Inchausti: No, that’s how they view. When I talk to my administrator, he says, I was a teacher. I know what you’re going through. But you don’t understand what I’m going through, cause I’m in charge of all these teachers.

Peter Block: Yes. They claim superior knowledge.

Larry Inchausti: Yeah, they claim that.

Larry Inchausti
Larry Inchausti

Peter Block: That’s the conversation. It’s not even an argument. I love what you said, cause it’s a tough question. I don’t want to fight the aristocrats. Mostly it’s like the Dalai Lama who says, are you mad at the Chinese? “No, there’s too many of them.” I don’t want to present myself as arguing as if the people in the elite are the problem. Or need to be argued with. When I say you don’t go to a board room to be surprised, well you go there for a lot of other good things. So what we’re doing here is creating the alternative to that.

Now it sounds as if you’re arguing against. But at some point, you’ve got to say there is a social and human cost to the royal protocols. I like the word protocol, because it doesn’t blame any leader. It says this is something that we’ve collectively agreed as to how we’re going to function together. When you go to a conference that’s organized in the old way, we’re all agreeing to go there, and I listen to the power point. I ask my questions, wait for the breaks, and find somebody interesting to talk to. That’s how you come to terms with the reality. Not to set up a fight with it – but to blur and think that the people – that the superintendent or the state legislature will invent plebian protocols for a classroom. I think that is foolishness. That’s why I like in Angeles’ story – you want the force? Put your life on the line. Let’s not talk about prison sentences under certain conditions based on how wrong you are. Anyways, thanks Susan.

Amber Leigh: I actually feel really embarrassed about asking this, but I realized from last year’s theme that I shouldn’t be. What does plebian mean? I would really like that definition. Because I’m over here trying to understand and comprehend what you’re saying –

Larry Inchausti: Well I think Webster’s definition of plebian would be common people. So common people are sometimes contrasted to the aristocracy or an elite. Karl Marx used plebeians in a famous phrase, where he said, “Plebeians are the common people – ignorant perfection of ordinary people; that ordinary people understood injustice, they intuitively knew when they were getting screwed. But they were imperfect as to their knowledge of what to do about it.”

Angeles Arrien: Say that again.

Larry Inchausti: Common people were perfect in their understanding of injustice, but imperfect in their understanding of what to do about it. And so Marx thought that Marxism would be the solution to the ignorant perfection of ordinary people, by providing this elite who could interpret history to empower the people. But now we know, through history, that that created it’s own elitist, colonization of the people. So what Marx called ignorant, was really maybe a higher religious traditional wisdom, that couldn’t be appropriated by Marxism. And that is what we saw in Gandhi, and that’s what we saw in Lech Wałęsa, and that’s what we saw in Solzhenitsyn. It was an articulation of the wisdom of the plebian mentality that didn’t try to systemize itself into an ideology of either the left or the right – of either modern fascism, or modern Marxism.

Peter Block: Beautiful Larry. Thank you Susan for starting this conversation.