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"There will be no future to win"
Misappropriation of individualist language has long been a tool of the corporatized state to demoralize, but is there nothing left to activate us in organizing for our communalized needs?
The (I long suspected) bad faith argument for the rights of the states was predicated on a belief that, should the federal government fail to act (or simply delegate a matter to state governments), state (or in their inaction, municipal, etc.) governments would enact the policy suited to their constituency. The reality, amidst a global pandemic, where even the one readily accessible method for curbing the spread has become a political statement apparently worthy of the ire of those who neither believe the agency of others is any of their concern to protect, while asserting their right to have theirs protected, as if the two are not inextricable when you (wait for it) live in a society.
I’m theorizing not that people simply are beyond help, or that an impulse towards humanity is no longer inherent, but that we’re simply exhausted as a society; some so entrenched that attacks on their liberty, real or imagined (in the case of the pandemic, anyone failing to take a trivial precaution for the benefit of someone else is in the latter category), seem cataclysmic (there’s a point where the ability to be serviced fully by society must be so complete that anything asked of you seems like oppression, perhaps), or else there’s so many causes competing for our attention at once that all seem existentially crucial (and many of these are— the climate, pandemic, state violence, etc.)
Murray Bookchin once said “Abject misery alone does not produce revolutions; more often than not, it produces an aimless demoralization, or worse, a private, personalized struggle to survive.”— this is as good an explanation for where we find ourselves right now as any, I think, in a highly politically and broad-socially fractured, and still accelerating, civilization. The policy failure begins at the top; failing, or simply refusing, to issue a response (not a prohibition— this came later) delegates that decision down to the states, and down, and down, and in this case, we’re at the point where, for example, even the “wear a mask in public and almost totally elimate transmission possibility between two people in casual contact in public” issue is individualized. Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds, for example, failed to issue a shutdown order or a mask order and simply declared, months after doing nothing, that it was time for Iowans to take responsibility for themselves, so they did, many continued wearing masks, and those who hadn’t didn’t, and nothing really changed for anyone, but similar rhetoric occurred elsewhere, Georgia for example, and the response from the state was to respond to this willing participating by countermanding local orders for masks (where it wasn’t voluntary) at the state level, and turned it into a prohibition; acting out this ideological agenda that, specifically, reduces freedom, while enforcing something that encourages the public to put itself in danger. This is an example of this ability to choose, coming all the way down to individuals, in one case (Iowa) the response was totally apathetic, and in the other (Georgia) it was slightly more organized, and a failure to act in a communalized way (municipally, etc. even) resulted in that power surging back up to a bad faith actor.
I suspect this dynamic is partly the impetus for the autonomous zones we’ve seen crop up among the protesting, and historically, the sort of self-organization we’ve seen in other more effective examples this century alone, however, again, exhaustion; I have a lot of comparisons being drawn to Occupy Wall Street protests, the aesthetic of bogus bureaucracy being cast as revolutionary (rightly or wrongly), but fails to see the larger picture of successfully disrupting the oppressive force it was there to protest in the first place. The relevance to the current wave of protests and the issues they are respondong to (racialized state violence) is that it demonstrates a willingness to only go far, even intellectually, and the popular rhetoric as reformist, rather than abolition, language becomes the mealymouthed line as allyship wanes and paternalism takes over and this becomes about reestablishing civility and order, rather than doing the harder work of determining what justice would look like and in doing so, what the path forward actually is, rather than a proposed half-measure that fails completely as actual policy. The formulation here always seems to equate to zero.
Self-organization is a valid antidote to this, historically, and at its most extreme, you can look to examples like the Kurdish liberation movement, and how a stateless people fundamentally organize (militarily, ideologically, etc.) towards these goals that run counter to the state oppression to which they are subject by multiple states that encompass their region. I don’t mean this to be a comparison of motivations or tactics or even as a proposal, but as a perspective meant to demonstrate the comparative coherence of singular cause, and how fractured a people must be to be able to identify and cognate through the various issues plauging their society and, not only, fail to organize, but actively reject the notion entirely as we’ve done here in everything from pandemic response to organizing against police violence— the exact scenario reactionaries and states rights advocates have been long claiming was the tyranny they were prepping for, which turned out to be, either, no longer politically expedient, totally fraudulent, or both. The likely explanation for most is that the notion bipartisan compromise has normalizing the waning ability to collectivize anything in this country to the point of all resistance seeming unnecessary and entitled.
The part that leftist movements in the United States gets absolutely correct is that mutual aid, however, is a crucial factor— all of these other things aside, it’s at least a primary concern across these movements, regardless of the failings, to some extent or another. Ultimately, the ethos of these protests is to enable and enact remediative alternatives to the policy failures that lead to the present condition, and it speaks to the overarching framework at play here that, I think, if you consider the type of exhaustion I’m describing, is what is specifically not being pursued in a meaningful/actionable/good faith way.
The social ecology of Murray Bookchin does an excellent of job explaining this breakdown between individuals, their participation in society, and the fact that this is a social ecosystem as much as it is a part of the primary ecology, and in some respects, seemingly encourages the sort of supremacist narratives we’re seeing play out politically today (Bookchin didn’t live to see 2020, but we’re achieving near convergence of the capitalist class absorbing many governmental and societal functions to the detriment of the public, while being perceived as necessary constants for an operating society):
“to separate ecological problems from social problems – or even to play down or give only tokenrecognition to their crucial relationship – would be to grossly misconstrue the sources of the growing environmental crisis. In effect, the way human beings deal with each other as social beings is crucial toaddressing the ecological crisis. Unless we clearly recognize this, we will fail to see that the hierarchical mentality and class relationships that so thoroughly permeate society are what has given rise to the very idea ofdominating the natural world.”
- From Social Ecology and Communalism
Bookchin, here, draws a connective trail between ecological crisis and capitalist society, and more acutely in this case, on display is the pervasive belief that individualism is not being valued if you are being asked to act in mutual self-interest, not merely a transaction where in order for you to win, someone else must lose; the order of things under corporatist-influenced capitalist society. This extends outward, more broadly, to everything from opposition of renewable energy, or anything that requires even nominal inconvenience, to the notion of paying a half-penny for a government service you do not need, but millions would benefit from at nearly no cost to you as an individual, being cast as tantamount to forced wealth redistribution rather than merely paying your share for society. Historically, this is the calculus of world revolt; in any other time and place, this disparity would have tipped society over, as we reach a low point in the J curve of rising expectations, but instead, exhausted, we flouder, rolling up and down this low-ebb, even true reform would not be possible, to say nothing of revolution (which isn’t always the appropriate course of action, but that we routinely break these patterns and extend these paradigms further and further each decade, speaks to this sense of post-democratic, anti-communalist modes of existing philosophically).
“These untenable disjunctions between humanity and the evolutionary process are as superficial as they are potentially misanthropic.” says Bookchin of our relationship to the ecosystem, biologically but also interpersonally; it’s self-defeating, by definition, if you look at us through this lens in our commitment to misappropriated individualist thinking to serve a political end to discourage a collectivist modern imagination of our society as an ecology, even if these means are destructive. He says of political systems like municipalities, "Confederation has a long history of its own that dates back to antiquity and that surfaced as a major alternative to the nation-state. From the American Revolution through the French Revolution and the Spanish Revolution of 1936, confederalism constituted a major challenge to state centralism"— this participatory-democratic ideal that smaller bodies can elect to participate in a broader whole where appropriate, rather than this decoupling we seem to be inclined towards against the internal logic of evolutionary processes that might have otherwise encouraged us towards communal thinking.
I often think about where highly socialized experimentalism has succeeded, without getting into the debate of the failure of socialist policy in capitalized countries or that of communism where it became a natural outgrowth of a failed state, such as the voluntary participation of living on a Kibbutz; is this the appropriate scale to begin thinking of how to rebuild communities towards a blend of individuals able to think for themselves, but in a context where a collective interest (the ability for all int heir community to be provided for, for example) is a mandate of this participation.
Human beings who were outside the family and all its elaborations into bands, clans, tribes, and the like,were regarded as “strangers” who could alternatively be welcomed hospitably or enslaved or put to death. Whatmores existed were based on unreflective customs that seemed to have been inherited from time immemorial.What we call morality began as the rules or commandments of a deity or various deities, in that moral beliefsrequired some kind of supernatural or mystical reinforcement or sanctification to be accepted by a community.Only later, beginning with the Greeks, did ethics emerge, based on rational discourse and reflection. The shiftfrom blind custom to a commanding morality and finally to a rational ethics occurred with the rise of cities andurban cosmopolitanism, although by no means did custom and morality diminish in importance. Humanity,gradually disengaging its social organization from the biological facts of blood ties, began to admit the“stranger” and increasingly recognize itself as a shared community of human beings (and ultimately acommunity of citizens) rather than an ethnic folk or group of kinsmen.
- From Social Ecology and Communalism
The pairing of Bookchin’s ecology, and the application I see in his theorhetical forms, where his philosophy has been applied, and where I see other models of communal living reminds me, somewhat, of the argument to be made about all manner of ecological policy; what constitutes arrogance, and what constitutes being complementary to your environment, and in the case of the former, is it even possible to gain the mastery to, not merely assert dominance as Bookchin might theorize, but to autonomously have it service your society, rather than service the delusion that things will always be familiar and digestible, that better things are not only not possible, but that you do not deserve them? The evidence of imbalance from the side of the interests of capitalist society suggests it is not, at least not without acknowledging that it is, indeed, a delusion that our way of life is sustainable for, both, our environment with which we coexist, or for our own society, splintering in ways that shouldn’t even be possible.
Earlier, I refer to this kind of individualism as a misappropriation, and I believe that it is fundamentally correct; individualism has its place, and a very import one, in even the most collectivized and communalist bodies, and that comes into play when delineating policy and administration, where individuals, in a community, act in that capacity to affect the former, while participating in democratic processes of some kind to establish and operate the latter, which can be a government of any type, and at least nominally, that’s how all democratic republics are supposed to work, but at a certain scale, it seems, it becomes easier for a mass media market saturated with corporate influences over political discourse to propagandize that delineation in an inappropriate way— to the extreme that concessions from individuals in contexts of collective interest is oppression, and that only as individuals can administration function, and policy is not a necessity at all. This is where we find ourselves now; deregulation, anti-collective disincentivization, and to challenge this is to challenge an entire way of life.
Recent things I’ve read, listened to, or watched that I am now recommending: