Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ellul on the necessity of vertical stratification in a party for propaganda, some thoughts on Mars Hill as a propaganda culture by means of The City and small groups

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 216

... propaganda demands vertical liaison among the party's organizations. This vertical liaison permits both homogeneity of propaganda and speed of application; and we have seen that speed of action or reaction is essential to propaganda. Conversely, in view of the effect of propaganda in creating isolated social and local groups, any horizontal liaison inside the party would be disastrous. Those at the base of the party would not understand why one propaganda is made in one place, another elsewhere. On the contrary, the partitioning by propaganda must correspond to a partitioning within the party, and the only liaison system must be vertical.

Ellul wrote that the most amazing instrument of propaganda was the small group.  In the small group a homogenous social experience was possible and it was possible to have all the interpersonal life necessary to form a tight bond on the one hand and be a useful instrument for a partisan group on the other.  In the earlier years of Mars Hill the idea of small groups or studies, in the wake of Dead Men at least, was that people could join groups that were discussing parts of the Bible members wanted to learn more about.  In a few years, however, the small groups became re-organized around discussing whatever Driscoll was preaching, in itself a crucial step toward transforming a small group into a potentially autonomous unit that could discuss scripture in a way calibrated to the needs of the group toward using the small group as a way to reinforce discussion of Mark Driscoll's teaching.

I was in a group that met just early enough in the week (not that Wednesdays were necessarily "early") that at the group I was part of we might at times abandon any pretense of discussing the sermon.  The group leader might just say "Eh, we all heard the sermon.  How's everybody doing?  What's stuff we should pray about?"  I liked this group, quite a bit actually. 

That was ten years ago, though.  In 2007 with the re-org everyone was expected to pick a campus affiliation and stick with it.  The City got introduced and affiliation ensured that you only got the information pertinent to your campus affiliation. Access to everything else was eliminated.  Under the second era of Midrash (from 2002 to 2007 prior to the re-org) it was open access across all locations during the start of multi-site.  When the firings took place this became a problem, apparently--it was too easy for hundreds of people to communicate across the culture.  The Midrash got shut down and replaced by The City.

Was it Munson who once said that The City was the ideal top-down communication platform for elders to let Mars Hill know what was going on?  Maybe.  Fuzzy there.

But what was less fuzzy was that if you had a community group affiliation with Ballard while actually attending Lake City you could discover in 2009 that what the Ballard attenders were talking about was a sermon you hadn't even heard yet.  That's the kind of situation I was in.  I hadn't stopped attending entirely but I didn't formally renew membership, either. By accident of circumstance I was discovering that while I'd hear about layoffs about once every 12 to 18 months from the Ballard side of things I'd hear from the Lake City side that things were so financially stable "we" were subsidizing Ballard at times to help them out because they had some troubles. 

From a donor cultivation perspective it seemed there was a potentially clear explanation for this--the people who were faithful attenders that actually had money perhaps switched to Lake City while Ballard got the less committed visitors who were there for the Mark Driscoll show.  That's how it seemed circa 2009.

But with some help from Ellul it's now possible to look back and say that what was happening to me could be described as a "horizontal liaison".  Mars Hill had committed to meteoric growth and to top-down information partitioning to go by how they ran The City.  Having been at Mars Hill since later 1998 and not interested in burning bridges I'd managed to cultivate a network of people I knew across a good number of the campus sites.  By later 2013 the leadership of Mars hill was certain who blogged at Wenatchee The Hatchet.  What they apparently didn't know was how many sources were leaking content from The City to Wenatchee The Hatchet; who they were; and how it was done.  It was reported that at least one person within the leadership culture of MH was willing to speculate a hack.  That was never the case.  Sources volunteered content.  What wasn't volunteered, by and large, was information I could look up myself because my City access wasn't revoked until the spring of 2012.  How on earth did Wenatchee The Hatchet have City access?  Recruited for beta-testing in the pre-launch phase, that's how. 

In the kind of leadership culture that evolved at Mars Hill Mark seemed to be concerned with who was going to lead the mission.  The nice people who just sat on the bus and shut up and didn't do anything (as Mark defined "anything") could just be allowed to ride along.   They wouldn't get thrown off the bus because they weren't even pretending to have an interest in driving the bus.  They weren't opposing the bus, either, so there was no need to run them over with the bus.  And because they just sat on the bus and maybe helped out in a limited way it didn't occur to the leaders that maybe an impossible-to-fully-identify group of people just sitting on the bus could, if you will, take detailed notes about what the bus driver was saying about where the route was going and share that.

At a social media presentation Driscoll gave in 2013 he mentioned that a lot of the traffic to Mars Hill sites could fit into the "long tail", older stuff Mark had said or written that people were still looking up.  As Wenatchee The Hatchet began to carefully document historical revisions to the story of Mars Hill (and mined Driscoll's sermons for history of real estate acquisitions and leadership appointments or lessons on spiritual warfare that figuratively and literally demonized dissent against executive leadership) stuff began to get pulled from the Mars Hill media library.

But by the time that started to happen other avenues of "horizontal liaison" were possible.  People within Mars Hill began to figure out that they could not only communicate across the campuses within but also share information with people considered outside Mars Hill. 

The beginning of conflicting and irreconcilable accounts from the top down may have started as far back as the 2007 trials.  Longtime readers may recall Wenatchee The Hatchet published an email from an executive pastor sent prior to the trials that explained a "reconciliation process" had been completed.  Later in 2007 there was the order to shun, so much for reconciliation process. 

Which ... thematically ... could get us to something recent on Twitter.

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