The 10th Man

In an article entitled “The Global Water Grab: A Primer”, Sylvia Kay and Jenny Franco discuss the phenomenon known as water grabbing, situations where powerful actors take control of or divert valuable water resources for their own benefit, depriving local communities of them. This practice is linked to the privatization and commodification of open and readily available natural resources that are turned into private goods whose access must be negotiated upon and, in most cases, is based on one’s ability to pay. Why do people grab water? It’s a part of an economic model wherein one accumulates capital by increasing control over cheap yet abundant supplies of natural resources which include food, water and energy. The global economic crisis of 2008 gave new life to this practice as governments and investors sought financial security and stability that was not being provided by volatile and unreliable markets. Who’s grabbing the water? Mainly investment funds that target water resources, transnational water companies and other entities who depend on the trade in “virtual water.” Amazing, isn’t it? We’re talking about people that are deliberately privatizing and commodifying water, the base source and sustainer of life for all living things on this planet. It’s almost incomprehensible.

Whilst we were discussing this last week in class, the questions were asked: How does this happen? How is it that nobody speaks up and says something to stop this from happening? With all the bright minds that form the collection of people who propose and implement policies that allow water grabbing to flourish, nobody says anything to the contrary???

I had a thought. Perhaps the reason that water grabbing and other inhumane practices continue to prosper is because of the absence of “The 10th Man.” I first heard of this concept whilst watching “World War Z”, a zombie film released earlier this year starring Brad Pitt. In this film, a zombie epidemic takes over the entire planet, save for Israel who apparently was prepared in advance. During his investigation, Pitt’s character travels to Israel to speak with the man in charge and ascertain precisely how Israel knew before anyone else. The gentleman answered simply, “the 10th man.” Almost two weeks before the outbreak, Israel received an email that contained the word “zombie” in it. Ten men reviewed the document. Nine of them discounted it as utter nonsense, however, the tenth man was required to disagree. Their policy was that if nine people came to an agreement on something, it was the tenth man’s responsibility to disagree no matter how improbable and impossible the idea seemed. So, the tenth man, the man that Brad Pitt’s character spoke to, assumed that “zombie” meant exactly that: the walking undead. Thus, Israel prepared themselves accordingly and built a massive wall that surrounded the entire city which isolated them from the zombies.

It’s a smashing idea, is it not?! Even more intersting is the fact that this concept is actually used by Israel’s intelligence office! The Brookings Institute published a PDF in 2007 entitled “Lessons from Israel’s Intelligence Reforms.” In the section “Ideas for Reform from Outside the Intelligence Community”, it reads:

“As the organization responsible for national intelligence, AMAN has many experts who focus on political issues. But the key reason that AMAN has not become an arm of the military is that it has in place a number of tools to ensure the promotion of diverse views. First, in order to make sure that different and opposing opinions are heard within the Israeli intelligence community, AMAN has a culture of openness, where individuals are expected to voice dissenting opinions. The organizational slogan that reflects this openness is, “Freedom of opinion, discipline in action.” AMAN has two other tools that promote diversity: the “devil’s advocate” office and the option of writing “different opinion” memos. The devil’s advocate office ensures that AMAN’s intelligence assessments are creative and do not fall prey to group think.”

The concept of “The 10th Man” creates a forum where logic and decision making are not presumed to be infallible and, more importantly, allows an individual, or a group of individuals, to freely and openly speak out in opposition. There are similar iterations of this concept, namely deliberative democracy, which uses elements of consensus decision making, majority rule as the source of legitimacy for laws, as opposed to mere voting. This is missing in planning. Throughout history, we have seen policies in urban and transnational planning that have netted negative results, that prey on the marginalized, that benefit few and exclude many. It’s crucial that we not only speak out against plans and practices that can exploit or exclude but, more importantly, develop platforms and systems of governance that allow for creative and critical thinking, for outside-the-box thinking, to plan in ways that have never before been conceived or implemented.

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One thought on “The 10th Man

  1. Thanks for writing this. I just saw WWZ, and this topic has been on my mind. With the exception of your citation of AMAN, in the course of writing this piece, did you find any other examples of this–instiitutionalizing a skeptical voice in the culture of in organization in a way that prevents the 10th man from being scapegoated but also in a way that ensures the collective values the 10th man point of view. That is not easy to do, even in non-hierarchical groups, let alone hierarchical ones. I am less sure what happens after the 10th man makes the alternative case, someone or some group still have to decide, so does that 10th man really have clout?

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