My Resoc Interview
By Jean Robert 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?
This is indeed either a very difficult question or a supermarket choice.
It is a difficult question, because it cannot be answered without establishing a philosophical, cognitive or epistemic frame. I belong to a constellation of persons who find inspiration in the works of Leopold Kohr. According to (t)his way of thinking, judgments about institutions are no essentialist
questions, but before all, questions of magnitude and scale (of appropriateness, fitness, proportionality, "convenentia"). So I am in favor of institutions that are "of the right size", which is the reason why I think many (most!) should be downscaled. Let's for instance speak of the economy. What we call "the economy" and economics, the corresponding "science" has little to do whith what Aristotle could eventually have called "he oikonomía" (actually I doubt that he ever did it, because the Greek word from which we have derived the nound economy was for him a verb, oikonomeô, I administer my own house, close to oikodomeô, I prepare a piece of land for cultivation of for the construction of a house. What we call "the economy", Aristotle woud have called krèmatistikè, and economics as the "science of the allocation of limited means to alternative (=unlimited) ends", he would have seen as something that cannot happen in the realm of the house of the "oikonomía".
As to the word polity, thank you for having chosen the English word that more closely remembers the Greek word politeia, the city's body social or "body politic".
In my opinion, "good" political institutions are the ones that still allow a certain degree of face to face contact between citizens. TV-democracy American style, or, increasingly, Mexican style, is not only a "bad" institution: it is a parody of people's power. As to the ecology, I think that it should be a defense and a recovery of the commons, but contrary to a recent Nobel prize winner, I cannot conceive of any "global commons", in my view, an oxymoron. Are there "institutions" specifically dealing with notions of gender and race? Of course, I know these themes can attract funds on programs which are "carrières ouvertes aux talents" (to quote Peter Brown), but I wonder how urgently we "need" these programs. My experience of the so-called "race problem" in the US is that when you work or share community bounds with whomever is "conspicously different" from what you think you are, you rapidly learn to consider her-him as a person and call him-her by her-his name.
"Supermaket-like choices" would consist in establishing preferences and priorities between, say a national health-care program, the Democratic Party or the telephone. All I can say is that I have a slight preference for the telephone, but when your country's Telephone Company belongs to the second richest man in the world, and that every one of your calls makes him richer, what do you say?
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 a big question. What do I do? I write and deliver public talks, which is not really "doing something". A couple of years ago, I have - not quite willingly - iniciated a five year civic protest against MM Jim Sinegal and Joel Benoliel and their company, COSTCO, that destroyed a site dear to Cuernavaca's people, the city wher I live (the same Casino de la Selva where Malcolm Lowry's novel, "Under the Volcano" starts and continously comes back).
I have also been a anti-WC militant and a builder of Vietnamese two-vault latrines.
I also try to be a walker, that is I have no car but accept a ride once in a while mainly for the pleasure of conversation.
My goal? Maintain a certain coherence between ideas and practice, remembering that old age is not for sissies.
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?
Wow! sounds a little like a social Ponzi scheme, excepted the fact that it is for good intentions, no for cheating. If you asked me, I would say "too pyramidal for my taste". Is it only question of the "right metaphor"? After his Cuernavaca years, Ivan Illich favored the metaphor of a cloud. Sub-comendante Marcos speaks of some mysterious connections between different "bubbles of forgerfulness". Of course, I could ask you silly questions: what exactly would you give your energies to make happen? And then: what for? These are silly questions because they would be inspired by a kind of instrumental imperative. Yet, if you would have launched, even in these terms, a world campaign against the automobile - or even the WC - I might have fun joining. Do you rememer Mokum's (Amsteedam´s) Provo´s of the early 60's? They still sometimes inspire me. They were local. Act local and THINK local, but there is always the possibility of supralocal inspirations.
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?
Locally, certainly. I have done it on occasions. The future does not exist. Ivan Illich used to say: "I do not want to live under the shadow of the future". A "prophet" is one who sees things, in the present.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
For fun, out of sympathy. I don't know.