My Resoc Interview
By Badri Raina at Oct 21, 2009
1. At a public talk someone asks you, "okay, I understand what you reject, but I wonder what you are for? What institutions do you want that you think will be better than what we have, for the economy, polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you think is central to have vision for?
Inherent in what we reject is also what we seek to affirm; i.e, not war but peace, not identity politics but a non-discriminatory, universal humanism, human rights limited not just to matters of custodial detention/death/denial of legal opportunities, but to the equal and compelling right to safe drinking water, shelter, health care, work, education, and so on.
As to institutions, it is to be much doubted that those that we have can deliver this sort of agenda; let us not forget that institutions do after all issue from particular forms of state; such as we have, whether in America or in India, may nervously go welfarist when the market betrays beyond justification, but not much more; the institutions we desire can only come out of a new kind of answer to the question 'who makes wealth, how, and where does that go to, in what proportion/legitimacy'? And is the making of wealth the sole purpose of being human? Be it 'what it means to be human,' and then be it a matter of race/caste/gender/ecology, the vision of a new world must address afresh the paradigms of productivity/and relation to production that have largely shaped the world over the last five centuries. That then can lead to new notions of community formation, rational distribution of decision-making, work and wage, as per need and ability. Ultimately, it is how we see the world of productive purpose/relations and the notion of sustenance either as individual forms of gloating and glee or "joy in widest commonality held" (in Wordsworthian phrase) that must determine what departures we make from the present.
2. Next, someone at the same event asks, "Why do you do what you do? That is, you are speaking to us, and I know you write, and maybe you organize, but why do you do it? What do you think it accomplishes? What is your goal for your coming year, or for your next ten years?
This is the "poetry or pushpin" debate renewed; what do we mean by "accomplish"? To be human is to be bound/and liberated, to rest/come into being in language and communication; imagine this world of chips where we communicate exclusively to solve some immediate problem and never to question or find meanings in spaces between human agents/subjects.
In a world where democracy tends to be a mere matter of formal legitimacy through the ballot (often rigged and abused by power structures), and a nuisance to corporate interests rest of the time--after all, Capital likes nothing as much as a centralised and stable scheme of things sans debate, dissension, protest, question, or multiple/alternate points of view--our stake in speaking/writing/communicating is of the most fatal consequence to the making of a new human subject and order. Where Capital seeks technological innovation directed at profit maximisation rather than any far-reaching science that might upset the applecart, it must be our job to insist through incessant exploration that the world that capitalism has made after bold non-conformism in centuries past is not the final world. Only science as a further interrogating non-conformism can take us there. Goal: carry this forward while connecting with fellow interrogators world wide as much as objective constraints allow. And wherever conditions be ripe, attempt alternate societies as exemplars.
3. You are at home and you get an email that says a new organization is trying to form, internationally, federating national chapters, etc. It asks you to join the effort. Can you imagine plausible conditions under which you would say, yes, I will give my energies to making it happen along with the rest of you who are already involved? If so, what are those conditions? Or - do you think instead that regardless of the content of the agenda and make up of the participants, the idea can't be worthy, now, or perhaps ever. If so, why?
Clearly, the agenda here would be all important; i can hardly imagine jumping into an "international" organisation calculated to shore up, for example, the rights of white supremacists, or snake lovers, or friends of the aliens and so forth; but something like the world social forums of recent years where a broad platform of resistance exists as a common ground, even if no concrete programmes evolve for now, is an attractive idea with potential for the ascendance worldwide of a forceful counter argument.
4. Do you think efforts to organize movements, projects, and our own organizations should embody the seeds of the future in the present? If not, why? If yes, can you say what, very roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an organization you would favor?
Any proposed organisation of the kind the question here implies would be utopian and ultimately counter productive if it sought to disregard the concrete histories of regions, peoples, movements, and their disparate achievements and potentials.
What may seem a passe idea in one place may be hugged as a very modern incursion in some other; But an international organisation that was devoted to identifying and cognizing the sources of oppression in differing conditions, often as bewildering conglomerates of coercion, tradional and modern both, and then attempting in devolutionary ways to intervene in those sources would indeed be a fine idea. The danger that must be avoided is to think that any headquarters of the new organisation could send monolithic and monological directions to regions. The task must be to assemble knowledge and intimacy about and with the coercions through local expertise, and to know that what remedies apply in one place may not in another. Not keeping this in mind would simply risk replicating the follies both of Capitalism and State Socialism.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
Because it is important that we think collectively beyond the rotten present. Those that do not respond may well do so because they have been overtaken by cynicism, or see more sides to any question, or think it more pressing to feed the cat; who knows?