Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe

By Roger D. Petersen | Go to book overview

9.
Fanatics and First Actors

For any given threshold analysis, there must be a set of “first players” who begin the interactive “tipping” process. If the underlying logic of multiple-person assurance games is correct, these first players have an impact totally disproportional to their numbers. For example, in the preceding chapter covering 1989 Eastern Europe, the model represented by Figure 8.1 assumed a very small percentage of “first actors” in a dissident group, and then went on to explain how their action could trigger a strategic interactive process resulting in hundreds of thousands of participants. In cases fitting this model, the entire snowballing process leading to the downfall of regimes may never be catalyzed without these first actors. In many types of mass activities, only a very few individuals are needed to show that “the emperor has no clothes. A small number of hecklers at Ceausescu's last rally revealed that resistance against his tyrannical regime was possible and helped lead to the end of his rule.

In essence, first players hold 0 percent thresholds. They act in the absence of visible signals and actions that help to estimate risk.1 Their existence poses a fundamental challenge to some of the basic tenets of this work. From its opening sentence, this book has concerned itself primarily with “ordinary people” and how they become involved in resistance and rebellion. While incorporating norms and emotions, the analysis has placed strategic calculation and sensitivity to risk at the center of the explanations. The spectrum concept is based on a logic of risk. Individuals usually begin resistance with low-risk actions such as writing graffiti or abstaining from elections. The movement toward riskier forms of resistance generally occurs after signifi

____________________
1
For analytical reasons, this chapter concentrates (but not exclusively) on “first action” as the clearest example of risk-insensitive behavior. The decisions of players acting in the later stages of interactive resistance processes may also be driven by risk-insensitive factors. These decisions take place within the context of interactions between other groups and regimes, and the nature of risk-insensitive factors is therefore often difficult to isolate.

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