People and Birds Have Wings
Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
-- "Blackbird," The Beatles
Imagine a bird attempting the imaginable, the feasible, the possible, and for this hypothetical bird, what was completely and utterly natural - it sought to realize its potential for flight - albeit for the first time. Of course, it leaps full of purpose from the tree, flapping incessantly, quickly rising and coming to a peak in what is an arch before lack of skill, know how, feather growth, and strength give way to gravity, which sends the bird at an accelerating speed into a nose dive passed the tree, beyond its trunk and base, crashing with the simultaneous sounds of "crack" and "thud", spilling into the ground. The bird stands, ruffles its feathers and gives a disgruntled and curmudgeonly squawk as if seeking an explanation of what went wrong. The bird is fine, and is soon trying to find its way back to the highest point. It will be a while, as well as many more jarring run-ins with the ground, but eventually it will soon do what is in its nature and one day flight will be at its command.
Now imagine the human being in need of social relations -- compassionate, divers and fulfilling -- with others; creative and empowering work, as well as an equitable share and decision making say in the distribution of society's human, material, and productive resources. We all pursue these things throughout our lives. Like the bird example above, we seek these things because they are simply a few of our many innate needs, wants and desires - it is in our nature. However, unlike the bird, the success of our struggle is not dependent on gravity, physical strength, length of our limbs, nor simple repetition of attempts over time. None of these things contributed to the abolition of slavery, nor the civil rights struggle against Jim Crow racism that inspired the Beatles lyric. Rather, our ability to realize emancipation in concert with others is shaped by our consciousness and the society's institutions in which we are born and live. "Take these broken wings and learn to fly" is just as true for race, as it is for gender and sexuality, for class struggle, and for people's decision making capacity to have a say in the things that affect them. As the attack on women's rights, immigrants, the tragedy of New Orleans, the growing gap between rich and poor, imperial war making, popular feelings of hopelessness and the belief that we cannot affect change all point to and should remind, is that race, class, gender emancipation, and popular participation still need to be fought for, but we have also yet to set our eyes on what winning a new society would look like.
After the process of societal transformation, a new society would have new defining institutions very different from the old. Institutions in every society span the spheres of kinship, community, race, the economy and polity. Throughout civilization people have created institutions to carry out and facilitate their religious, spiritual and cultural identifications and beliefs; procreation, child rearing and socialization of future generations; political adjudication, law making and legislation; and as well the production, consumption and allocation of the material means of life. Society's institutions are comprised of interrelated roles and relationships, usual behaviors and expected outcomes. These institutions produce and re-produce outcomes that can be more or less racist, more or less classist, more or less sexist, more or less authoritarian, etc. Because of our capacity for self-consciousness we are able to identify patterns, predict outcomes, and self-consciously alter the course of societal development in such a way that we can re-create ourselves and institutions for more desired outcomes than previously available.
Now imagine a participatory society. One that is classless, without sexism, racism or authoritarianism, and one which sought a judicious and sustainable use of our ecological world. This society would be founded on the values of solidarity, self-management, equity and diversity, among others, and its institutions would facilitate decision making say in proportion to the degree that one is affected, compassion and empathy with others, classlessness, and a variety of life choices and outcomes in all spheres: economic, kinship, community, cultural and political. Each sphere of society has its own defining features and functions while at the same time overlaps, complimenting, accommodating and reproducing dynamics in other spheres.
The Economic Sphere is where the production, consumption and allocation of material means of life occur. The key institutions for the economy are workplaces, allocation mechanisms, property relations and remuneration schemes. The new economy would be a participatory economy with balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, self-managed producer and consumer councils and decentralized participatory planning. (Albert & Hahnel)
The Kinship Sphere is where child rearing, nurturing future generations, socializing and care giving occur. Key institutions are the family, with parental and child rearing roles, where gender and sexuality, and other relations form for boys and girls, men and women, fathers and mothers, adults, children and the elderly. New kinship institutions would have divers familial, socialization, and care giving arrangements. (Cynthia Peters is doing work along these lines)
The Political Sphere is where adjudication, policy formation, regulation and law making occur with courts, a judiciary, legislature and police. A new polity would be participatory and perhaps structured as a nested council system. (As proposed by Stephen Shalom's "ParPolity" political vision)
The Community Sphere is where identity, religion and spirituality occur with race, ethnicity, places of worship, and beliefs about life, death and celebration. A new community sphere would facilitate interaction among and within each other creating a rich diversity of cultures, ethnicities and religions. It would allow individuals within these communities to choose the religions, cultures and communities they themselves identify most with. And it would also seek to eliminate competition for material resources within and between communities as well. (Among others, Justin Podur has provided some early sketches of what a Race and Culture vision may look like for a new society)
This new society would be vastly different from the one in which we live now and is one that would accommodate our natural human needs, wants and desires for fulfilling, and perhaps liberating, societal social and material relations. However, despite the belief that winning a new world is possible, desirable, and is sensibly in line with our human nature, some my still reject such proposals on grounds that they are "utopian." In response, it could be argued that such vision is not utopian, but rather, entirely feasible, possible and in fact necessary (considering the dangerous warming of the earths atmosphere, and threat of perpetual war). First, some people may believe that seeking a world without classism, racism, sexism and authoritarianism is the equivalent of seeking a world where human beings have the capacity to flap their arms to fly south for the winter and roosters could play guitar, ala the classic anthropomorphic Foghorn Leghorn cartoon character -- such a world, albeit entertaining, being just plain impossible. However, seeking a world without classism, racism, etc., is not the same as seeking a world where human beings have the special capacities of animals and birds have the same capacities as humans. Rather, there is a deeper reasoning behind the belief that aiming to win a new world with fundamentally transformative and emancipatory institutions is utopian.
This reasoning suggests that classism, racism, sexism, etc. "have always existed" and therefore "will always exist." The idea behind this rational is to create a better capitalist, racist, sexist society - one with a human face. In other words "There is no alternative" (TINA) to the current societal arrangement which warps human beings in all realms of life. Imagine the depression of coming to terms with the thought, despite efforts to stop injustice, that racism, sexism and classism are all inevitable features of human existence. Anybody coming to this conclusion should be horrified. It would be the equivalent of resigning ones' self to the existence of a horrible crime - say women not being able to vote. It would be like saying, before women's suffrage, that "because women have never voted in the past, women should never vote in the future." Just because racism, sexism and classism have existed in the past does not mean that they will exist in the future. In fact it seems perfectly natural and plausible to seek emancipation.
Chris Spannos is staff with Z, primarily working on ZNet.