After reading the post “ways to begin gutting capitalism” Red Jenny recently brought up an important point on her blog, saying, “the first thing that I thought was yeah, but who has TIME for this. Neighbourhood associations, local currencies, growing my own food, it all sounds great, but geez, there’s practically no time to eat and sleep any more let alone adding all that face time with people.” (source)
I thought about this last night, while watching the tremendous lightning storm, and just finished writing up a response:
Hi Red Jenny. I’m glad you took the time to read these two posts, and that you raised this issue. I would like to say a few things about time, and a few more things that were on my mind when I posted that…
In many instances, the alternatives James outlines in ‘ways to begin’ provide us with something (or a number of things) that just aren’t available any other way. Like the examples that focus on decentralized, participatory-based organizations, this provides us with a voice infinitely louder than, for example, that of one person on their own. Let’s just look what the Teachers (and the APPO) in Oaxaca have accomplished and set in motion there. There is nothing even close to a comparison in North America, among teachers or even activists. The Zapatista too (the Maya) have always engaged in these sorts of actions.
Having said that, I think the most important thing for us to keep in mind is that many of these alternatives are about filling a need and empowering ourselves to make the kind of society and community we want for ourselves and our children.
In North America, there really is no “immediate need” like the one in Oaxaca. More and more people are discovering that need though — and they are replacing conventional forms of organization with egalitarian arrangements that accommodate and enable us far beyond the limited life most people have now—which is a ‘civil’ form of indentured servitude for which we must endlessly compromise ourselves and settle for less, “or suffer the consequences.” This is something I know from experience; I have no family now because I refused to settle for less, and not too long ago I lost my closest friend for the same reason. It may have devastated me, but I don’t regret walking away from them because I have my integrity and that is more important than a relationship or a job, title or image.
The need is what’s important here, because as long as that’s present, then matters like time or a fear of change or of even getting rejected are replaced with a knowledge that we must simply do things differently.
Aswell, thinking about “strategies that have failed”, “ways to begin” is doubly important–especially for activists–because if we sort-of take all those strategies off the table for a second, we find ourselves nearly without any strategies whatsoever.
Something that’s often ignored, is that most of the problems we see in society are not really new or unique to any one region. Sure, they may have taken different forms over the years, but they’re not really different, and they are still created (perpetuated) by essentially the same people for essentially the same reasons. But even if that’s not entirely true, the cause of those problems has always been the same and we can’t address that cause using the strategies that have failed. Especially since, I say respectfully, most of our efforts focus only on the immediate problems—the effect rather than the cause.
For instance, the madmen of the resource-extraction industry. They’re working overtime these days, and all we can pretty much do is react to them. This puts us at a perpetual disadvantage to the extent that even if we are successful in stopping one operation, they just move elsewhere and then it’s back to square one for us. And if we manage to get laws and policies changed, there’s no guarantee that they will remain in place— so then anything we manage to accomplish is tentative at best. And business continues to boom as good as ever.
Because of this, there is a need for us to take a more direct, pro-active (rather than re-active) approach. Ways to begin in particular is a starting point for activists to do this.
The are also a practical starting point for the middle-class, who like activists, are also finding themselves with an increasing need for ‘something else…’ Farmers for example are beginning to see themselves in relation to the rest of us and are taking steps to have their own representation at the big rallies, and they are forming their own associations and councils — working together rather than against one another. They don’t have much of a choice either because in the face of NAFTA and Monsanto they are getting mowed down one by one.
If they didn’t have that need though, they wouldn’t be doing anything. Same with the teachers in Oaxaca (though the same can’t be said for the Maya because participation is a part of tradition.)
… As the facade of civil society continues to degrade, and as governments and corporations continue getting bolder and bolder, we will see that need increase. Of course, I think it would be better if we could start moving some of things forward now even if we find ourselves extremely busy.
We can’t expect ourselves to accomplish everything, especially considering the multi-generational problems around us—but if in our work to solve problems we don’t implement any actual solutions, and if in our lives we don’t move in a way that truly fulfills us and our need for community while we have the choice and even convenience to do so, than, as I think many of us will learn soon enough, it will be like we’re stuck in a hurricane unprepared in every respect.
We’re going to have to start somewhere, sometime. All the better that it’s here and now I say.
Ok, that’s it for me Red Jenny. Thanks again, and hope I have contributed something meaningful to this discussion. Apologies if I was rude or anything here, I’m on fire from this
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