He who knows the opponent and knows himself need not fear in a hundred battles.
He who knows only himself and not the opponent will lose one for each that he wins.
He who knows neither will fail every time.
The quote above is from the last verse of the 3rd Chapter of Sun Tzu‘s The Art of War. A book that whilst it is over 2,000 years old, it’s teachings are still valid today, and I believe need to be studied by those in the vegan and animal rights movement.
Whilst we may claim that we know who our opponents are, can we really say that we know them?
For example, a recent Australian Meat Industry Council business forum highlighted how vulnerable Australia’s beef industry would be to a social media attack similar to the one seen after the Lean Finely Textured Beef (pink slime) scandal in the US.
Australia’s beef industry seems to be following this advice, with Leith Tilley of T&R Pastoral saying,“As an industry, we need to act as one, engaging those attacks with fact-based arguments when they do come up. What is going to be raised as the next challenge is hard to define, but it’s going to happen – it’s just a matter of time. But it has to be done with vigorous engagement, acting as a single industry voice.” Using PETA and it’s use of social media as an example.
Carman Rossi from Trident Global goes even further, saying, “You need to have identified a small group of people in your industry who are trained to be expert in communicating a positive side to what you are doing, as opposed to the negatives being thrown at you. There is now a constant stream of reinforcement in the US media about industry practise, and that is the only way to combat groups like PETA”.
Now I do understand that there are vast differences in the resources and funding between industry groups and grass roots organisations, though the principles are still the same.
Sadly, I feel that the movement, in general and possibly only locally, is still languishing in the first part of the four stages of competence. Unconscious Incompetence. We don’t know what we don’t know. We are inept and unaware of it.
I’m often left wondering whether some groups really want to be taken seriously when they are run like a social club, rather than a strategic organisation with clearly defined targets and goals.
It is no longer acceptable to say that these groups are only learning and still new when most of them have been around for the better part of a decade, if not more.
In the same way that a business wouldn’t launch a new product or service without making sure that it’s team isn’t sufficiently trained, neither should those groups in the vegan/AR movement.
There’s no harm in doing a skills audit of those involved and a SWOT analysis of any activities that are planned for the future. If there are particular skills that are found to be lacking in the audit, get your team trained or find people who are able to make up the shortfall.
When it comes time to plan and carry out your project/activity, do it as if it was a commercial exercise. Work back from the desired outcome and plan for contingencies, even going as far as plotting it on a risk assessment matrix. If the risks outweigh the benefits, either reassess the goal or find team members who are better trained.
In these times of people being time poor along with most groups having limited resources, activities should no longer be planned just for the sake of being seen to be doing something. They must be organised to achieve the maximum Return On Investment of time and resources, not only for the profile of the organisation, it is for the benefit of the activist and those taking part too.
Even if the group that you are in only consists of volunteers, with no paid staff, and very little funding, it isn’t too hard to give the impression of being highly organised. Remember it is the fact that most activists are volunteers and are relatively unorganised that your opponents rely on.
Using the AMIC discussion above, the fact that they are actually talking about social media and how they are planning on tackling any issues that arise should be indication enough that anything social media related will have to be done differently. If this means thinking outside of the box, and using tactics/methods that haven’t been seen before, then that’s what has to be done.
Going back to the original Sun Tzu quote. How well do you know your opponent, and how well do you know yourself?