Insulating against isolation
[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
We currently think it is natural to alienate people who are outside our very narrow understanding of how things could be, and this holds true for many ‘radicals’ .This tendency is counter productive to the struggle as it limits solidarity and also our resources as we shun those who are not exactly the same as us. This snowballs if we consider how the the banter of the everyday is littered with niceties. Our communications are short-circuited by these platitudes,hampering our agency. One of the goals of this paper is to illuminate our need to organise ourselves so that these and other fracturing structures cease to percolate through our movements unchecked.
Exploring the concept of human isolation is key to creating strategy around the individual. By creating interpersonal systems which aim not to alienate, we allow people to imagine a new way of existing. By organizing in a way which is a taste of what we want to see, and an embodiment of how we want to be,we are able to dismantle much of the dissonance in our own lives. Doing this will also enable us to create and build movements which are more holistic and so more efficient. The macro and micro are oriented around each other and so real change needs to include a thorough understanding of both, as well as strategy which acknowledges this.
Many struggles have been limited by identity groupings not working together. If small scale solidarities can demand large scale change, the possibilities of large inclusive solidarities is behemoth.
By fostering inclusive solidarity, real change becomes possible, and alienation from the process of production, from each other, and from decision making can be minimized. The actions of positive solidarity are many and widespread. However it is still necessary for us to create strategy on how to realize a non alienating community. Solidarity which is not based on excluding and making vulnerable is slightly trickier then solidarity based on marginilization.
Fundamentalists and counter-cultures, which depend on exclusion, are very often thriving communities. Here is a list of some strategies functioning well in many of these communities (please feel free to add to them).
Things we can learn from isolating communities
- Division of labour – in these communities work is divided amongst the community. In one that is functioning well, many people will do little things that have a large effect- i.e. fundraising, potluck, sewing clothes etc. Also people are involved in things that they like doing and so they are inspired by what they do and are able to sustain it.
- Support structures – The society will be organized so that it catches people when things are not going well for them. Ideally we should create communities which are holistic enough to help prevent unnecessary crisis. As its often inevitable, having a plan of action for both individuals and the community is useful and helps alleviate unnecessary disillusionment.
- Life - These communities also foster belonging by having events and factoring in fun. These events are provided to lure in, or become accessible to outsiders or just to strengthen solidarity.
- Furthering of thought/Education - Whilst it many of these cases mainly be the furthering of indoctrination, the discussion and transfer of information is something which isolating communities do well.
This is not particularly radical theory but I want to emphasize how people use strategy to organise. A very useful analysis can be done of communes. Communes and many co-operatives have fairly rigid structures which are implemented so that everything can get done. Whilst we may be skeptical of groundrules, it is liberating to have the cards all out on the table, and a lot of time can be saved by having everyone on the same page. If everyone is involved, strategy does not have to be oppressive though admittedly many times it is. It is good that we may be uncomfortable from an integrity perspective with some of these strategies, but we can implement them in a way which is not abusive. We have limited resources and it would do us well to remember that.
Here is another little list of things communities should try and implement which will help them be less isolating for both the members and for outsiders. (Thank goodness inspired by inclusive communities this time)
- Non-hierarchical - Everybody has something to contribute. A Non-hierarchical structure ensures that no-one is sidelined in the community as this has disempowering results which ultimately have a debilitating effect on the community. It also limits a single person pursuing their agenda to the detriment of the community.
- Non-exclusive(anti-nationalistic tendencies) - By being exclusive a community limits the linkages it can make with the outside world. This means that the more open a community is to other communities and individuals, the more networks can be made and the more that can get done for and by the community. Exclusivity limits the reach and diversity in a community which hampers the development of the individuals involved. As discussed later, this kind of inclusiveness does allow discretion . Cross-pollination between communes/social movements and communities is useful and builds large scale solidarity which is very useful.
- Empowering - Work we do should ensure transfer of skills, and encourage spending of time which has a positive effect on the community. Countering feelings of redundancy is important. On the same note, if for instance someone has a disempowering job during the day they should not be given the boring disempowering tasks in the movement. This point is about encouraging respect and unity, which is very good for peoples ideas of self.
- Reflexive - The two above should help this happen relatively easily but it is important to guard against becoming besotted with an idea.While it may be a beautiful scheme, it may not be as practical as something else. By interacting with others on equal footing, this reflexivity and testing of theory should ensure good useful strategy which is efficient and well advised.
- Macro/Micro - People can be involved in both large scale and small scale projects. Large scale projects are necessary but often are difficult to achieve. Small projects are normally more people based and whilst it is difficult to measure the value of projects in general, they are often very fulfilling as individuals get to see change happen in a short space of time. These projects keep peoples spirits up. At the same time the micro and macro are interlinked and I think a balanced approached to projects is necessary. This will keep them grounded and feeling useful, while allowing a struggle for ideals to continue.
Efficiency - Most people in communities have a limited amount of time and the community usually has limited resources. Therefore strategy for projects etc should aim for a maximum impact for a minimum of input.This point is to emphasize the need to do things that can and will work and as morale is important, a tangible payoff is ideal. Doing this we will help people realize their autonomy and power and also guard against bitterness and cynicism.
Making it real: Two short projections with the above strategies in mind
Much work has been done around the urban environment decreasing levels of solidarity and the fracturing effects of the hardening of the city as it becomes increasingly controlled and regulated. Chasms are not just being formed along the usual marginalizing lines, but also in the very streets we live. Many individuals are without a support network in cities, resulting in them becoming increasingly vulnerable. Old people die alone, often in terrible and preventable conditions; children are not incorporated into positive social systems but are either left to their own devices to loiter or shunted around, while single mothers hustle continuously on the brink of despair. This seems bizarre. Why do we let this happen? The severity of the crisis demands that we need to develop theory around how to counter the large scale marginalizing effects. One of the ways to do this is though building positive affirming communities, incorporating at least some of the above strategies.
All members of society have something they are able to contribute positively. If we develop networks, the case of some people feeling redundant and machine-like while others totter from one struggle to the next, can be mitigated. Life should not be simply about one’s position in the workforce and networks are one of the strategies which can ensure that we remember this. As activists, the community should interest us immensely, as a positive community is what we are building towards. If we help facilitate communities which are inclusive a large portion of people will not have to resort to fundamentalism to help them feel like an ‘individual’. By allowing people to feel less isolated they will have the space to grapple with the aloneness which being a human involves in an environment which is non threatening. Ultimately they will have the chance to embrace being alive, allowing for a more positive outlook which is not based on a value system which depends on alienating certain groups and individuals.
Communities are the place where people can get involved in projects which resonate with them and can eventually help alleviate cynicism and foster hope. By getting people interested in what happens around them, we make politics accessible and we have a space where ‘radical’ thought comes more naturally. People who have hobbies and interests that are needed by the community as well as being fulfilling, are empowered and realize a portion of their agency. This agency can help develop unity and solidarity, which if constructed positively and inclusively has huge implications for us who want to ‘reimagine’ as people on the ground will be open to reimagining with us. By getting people involved with issues which directly effect them they are given the chance to shift from being what the situationists call ‘undead’ to being alive and so transform the way they live.
Luckily for us there are already many people doing positive things in their communities, and one of our challenges for this project is to find ways to empower and educate these individuals further.
The strategy for insulating against the isolating effects of urbanization is to work on creating functioning networks which are not only driven by survival but echo the future we want to see. It is possible to rouse people who are currently not integrated into a community which is inspiring, supportive and inclusive . This calls for nebulous intellectual discussions to be made in tandem with and advising practical effective action on the ground, demanding that we too have to become more fully functioning which is a wonderful thing. Positive networks should eventually filter into every avenue of life.
Social movements need to strategize with inclusivity in mind. Society is very stratified and as any movement we create is formed in the context of these hierarchical cages, we are not exempt from the struggle against marginalizing along lines that already marginalize. We need to constantly ask questions like’ Are you excluding people that should be involved by having x y z habits and practices?’
Social movements need to be representative of ideals in the way they are organised. Creating movements with equal representation is not enough. We have to move beyond quotas,though they are sometimes useful as a foil, and create new systems of organization. Asking questions such as 'Who is in this movement and why? Who has access to power and decision making? Who is given support? And also to ask the seemingly more mundane questions like, Why are our meetings held in this location? '
'Skills development' is a mantra that often permeates altruistic social movements and organizations. A straightforward strategy for actually implementing this could include sharing essential skills. For example should a highly educated person enter the organization with a needed skill, they could spend more time training and educating members of the movement in that skill then necessarily practicing it. This skill-sharing strategy is based on minimizing the monopolization of a skill by an individual or group. By holding the skills or knowledge tight, the individual would have power over that area would more often than not isolate the other members of the movement from certain judgments and decisions. This is unacceptable, especially if the possessor of the skill is transitory. The tendency towards vanguardism is something we tend to underestimate.The power people derive from being the benificient giver of the skill to the unskilled ,whilst being problematic, is sometimes a better process then for the unskilled to be dependent. Paternalism needs to guarded against.
Discretion can be exercised as the inclusivity of this strategy does not exempt it from sabotage. By truly interacting and engaging we run the risk of being compromised, but this is better then the marginalizing compromise made every time to protect against disappointment.
'Living is hard. Life on the other hand -is beautiful ' The Grid
Personal interactions are the basis for healthily functioning social movements and the implementation of large scale change. The way we currently allow movements and strategy to function is often alienating and hinders our progress. We need to be better organized and more reflexive in the way we run our movements so that we include people in them and don’t marginalize those already involved. Strategy which increases inclusively and promotes participation needs to be developed. Shifts need to occur in our interface with society, from the way we treat our spouses, to the the people we buy bread from. The aim is to create a society which in not united against, but rather with, itself.