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Imagine a Stadium

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Imagine we were to assemble in one massive stadium everyone who favors changing societies to attain political, economic, and social justice for all. Everyone who wants to end war and poverty and begin civilization.

What views would this endlessly diverse assembly overwhelmingly share? 

  • Capitalism must be replaced. We need to produce and consume so that everyone has a fair influence in determining outcomes and everyone gets a fair share of the social product. The needs and desires of all, not the dictates of competition or advance of a few, should guide outcomes. All social and environmental costs and benefits should be accounted. We need economics without exploitation and alienation, economics without class rule.
  • Patriarchy must be replaced. We need to nurture and socialize the next generation, handle daily life arrangements, engage in sexual life, and generally interrelate across genders, ages, and preferences such that no groups are subordinated to any others. We need kinship without denial and denigration, kinship without sexist hierarchy. 
  • Racism and community hierarchies of all kinds must be replaced. We need communities to celebrate life, language, belief systems, and habits - whether national, religious, ethnic, or racial - such that those involved always respect ways different than their own. We need free entry and exit from cultural communities that guarantee all cultural communities ample room to develop and operate. We need culture without subordination and superiority, culture without cultural hierarchy.
  • Authoritarian polity, whether dictatorial or electoral, must be replaced. We need legislation, adjudication, and collective endeavor that deliver to each actor collectively self managing say in their lives and in the life of the whole community. We need polity without having a state above its population. We need politics without ruling and being ruled, politics without political hierarchy. 
  • Ecology must be protected and unsustainable choices replaced. We need ecological and social practices that take into account the full ecological implications of our options wherein people deciding their own fates take into account those implications to decide outcomes consistent with environmental wisdom. We need ecology without un-sustainability, ecology without ecological suicide.
  • The world's peoples must be nourished and protected. We need international relations which transcend violent war. We need an end to international relations that relegate some to poverty or exclusion while others are enriched or elevated. We need international relations without war. International exchange without colonialism and imperialism, internationalism without national hierarchies or any others.
  • Finally, in pursuing the implications of all the above, activists who develop vision and strategy and engage in programmatic tactics and projects should practice mutual respect and mutual aid. We should guard against sectarianism. We should welcome and protect dissent should. While shared views should guide and create a basis for all else, beyond what is shared and foundational, variety should be welcome. The seeds of a better future should be planted in the present both by the demands we win for society but also by the relations we establish for ourselves in our own efforts.

I claim that sober and calm discussion, even for just a short span, if it could occur within the giant stadium of leftists we have imagined, would yield very wide and deep agreement with the above points. In fact, it would probably yield more agreement than what is noted above, but at least that much. 

That said, we have a problem to solve. If hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of people share the above views, how many manifest that commonality jointly? How many seek to collectively participate along with the rest to pursue the implied changes? How many want, seek, and would rush to join the rest who share the above views in an organization operating locally in cities, nationally in countries, and internationally for the world? 

So far, we know the historical answer. We have seen no such massive federated unity in the past five decades, and more. We have had no vehicle cohering the energy and desire of all lefties, or most lefties, or honestly, even a significant minority of lefties, into organizational coherence sufficient for them to together share vision, strategy, and collective campaigns spanning the globe or even most countries. The closest I can remember lefties coming, post sixties, internationally, to this type coherence, is the World Social Forum - but that wasn't an organization in which lefties worked together. Rather it was a wonderful project with a small set of convenors and hosts which had no enunciated collectively shared politics, vision, and program, though it did span many countries. 

So, if it is true that when given a little time for sharing and trusting, we lefties in an imagined stadium would discover that we think and feel pretty alike about at least the points listed earlier, why haven't we gotten together? What is stopping us?

Is it the power of the states we confront? Is it police and jails that have obstructed deep and wide unity? No. Not that I am aware of. Not over the past fifty years. Of course states with their police raise obstacles, induce fear, and repress dissent. But to say we haven't gotten together into federated local, national, and international organization that has shared analysis, vision, strategy, and structural commitments roughly at the level of the earlier listed points because states have prevented us from doing so is tantamount to saying that all over the world, the act of joining a unifying organization would yield violent, unavoidable, and insurmountable repression. Certainly that hasn't occurred. And even where something akin to that has occurred, it has rarely itself been a wholly effective deterrent to shared organization. In fact, the actual repression often even spurs greater response from those repressed, at least until that response devolves for other reasons.

Is the obfuscation and confusion sown by mainstream media the obstacle preventing deep and wide unity? Certainly media madness factor also exists. Certainly media madness plays a quite large role for non leftists, for example. But for those who already share the above listed views, while media madness can and does often induce some confusion, depression, and somnolence, to say media madness is the cause of our not getting together goes too far. Watching, hearing, or reading media doesn't extinguish our capacity for mutual aid and collectivity. It doesn't cause us to renounce our views, for example those listed earlier. Even with media madness, we can still conceive the above mentioned level of wide agreement. We can also, if we choose, seek to implement it organizationally and programmatically.

Is the obstacle preventing emergence of wide and deep organization with shared vision and strategy - that we just can't stand each other? Is it that we are so individualist and so nasty that our personal selfishness and arrogance and plain old anti social orneriness literally undoes our efforts to get together? There is some truth to that, but to say our antisociality is it - do you believe it? I don't.

I think, actually, even all these factors taken together don't amount to a compelling explanation. Not for lefties who already share the views listed earlier. On the other hand, the fear in our minds that these factors will cripple us, even if they in fact haven't done so in life and can't do so in life, materially, I think that has a lot more weight. The fear that these factors will rear their ugly ways forcing us to fail, is far more powerful than the reality of these factors actually having a material impact. That is, the belief we will fail due to these reasons has way more weight than the actual power of any of these reasons, or even all of them, to cause us to fail if we didn't give them such power in our minds. 

In other words, our worries about failing - whether due to repression, due to confusion, or due to our selfish anti sociality - is far more powerful than any actual manifestations of these factors materially interfering with our efforts. In short, we worry about failing for these various reasons, making these factors important by self fulfilling prophesy.  

But I would conjecture that even the fear of failure on these particular grounds is only part of the obstacle to trying to succeed. 

I think, in truth, we not only fear failure and thus don't try to succeed, but we fear success and for that reason too, don't try to succeed. 

We don't try because we think trying will be a waste of time because we won't succeed. But we also don't try because we think we may succeed, and if we do succeed, it will be harmful or at best useless, and in any event, not highly beneficial. 

There are two sides to this. First, we think we may well be able to get together and generate mutual aid and coherent action, but, even if we do, we won't get far in winning a new world anyway - either because there is no new world to be won, or because the opposition is just too damn powerful to overcome. Or, second, we think we may well be able to get together, and we may even be effective enough to win a new world, but, if we are, we will just usher in even worse outcomes than those we currently endure. 

I am not saying that everyone gets up each morning, looks in the mirror, and chants, "we can't work together. We can't get along. We can't overcome repression. We can't win against powerful opponents. We can't win anything worthy because there is nothing worthy to win." I am saying these beliefs, assumptions, fears, and worries, inhabit our minds and keep us separate and weak, and they do this when we don't admit they are there, much less explicitly express them.

So what is to be done? Well, there are three pretty obvious ways out of this largely emotional and psychological cul de sac.

  • First, we can seriously assess history and society, our visions and our own inclinations and capacities, and in a reasoned manner, come to the conclusion that the idea we can't win a better world is pure nonsense. We can. We must. And we will.
  • Alternatively, we can arrive at the same mindset by a different route - a kind of faith. Call it optimism of the will if you want. Call it religious. Call it whatever you wish. We can simply have faith and have that annihilate our fears.
  • Third, we can ignore our fears and worries, even as they do persist, and simply act as though they are not there. Why would we ignore our persisting, rational, worries? Because if they are true, we are doomed. But if they are false, our large scale inaction is the problem - and our large scale inaction is a problem we can try to solve.

Maybe organizational coherence has been a worthy and appropriate aim for a long time, but whether it has or not, it is certainly an appropriate aim now. We don't need a few good folks exerting to the hilt, thinking, conceiving, acting - and multitudes of other folks following in their parade. We need a whole lot of good folks, really a whole lot, all thinking, conceiving, acting, and, to the extent they find the space to personally do so, locally, nationally, and internationally exerting to the hilt, together.

We need a participatory movement, projects, and organization, and there is no way to have these other than for all the people who could sign on to the above listed points to rise above our doubts and fears, and not just to join some project or some movement, but especially to together join and create an organization embodying all the views mentioned earlier, and more, as the case may be. 

So, okay, think back to the stadium we are all in. We have arrived at our shared commitments. We elaborate them some. We pledge to refine and develop them together. And we ask - how many are on board?

Maybe the way to go is the International Organization for Participatory Society. If the above makes sense to all of us, or most of us, or a nice sector of us, or any of us, in that hypotentical stadium, we should check that effort out, as a possible approach. Seems like doing so would make sense - given that it exists, is growing, and elaborates just the views we all basically share. Then those who like what they find, could hook up by joining and engaging, contributing to the effort evolving into a powerful organization of the sort we all want. Those who don't like it, however, could think about why, and then come up with what they feel is a better approach and make that happen. 

That is where the above conjectures and assessments seem to me, at least, to lead. It really isn't apocalyptic or overdramatic to say: If not now, when? If not us, who?

Discussion 13 Comments

  • Marlo Pedroso 16th May 2012

    I like the psycho-spiritual analysis of the problem you offer Michael, because after all the movement is made up of individuals and we bring all our best and worst to bear upon our efforts. As a clinical social workers and buddhist, I do think that the left, as you point out, does have a fear of succeeding, even more than a fear of failing. I think it has been inculcated into us not only by the powers that seek to maintain the status quo, but also by historical examples, such as those in Soviet Union and China.

    Sure we can say we are a different type of organization, but I think those fears are valid. It is good to air them.

    I also think one of the problems of the Left uniting is a form of egotism and dogmatic adherence to ideological points of few. It's good to consider ideas, debate them, and so forth, but I see so many unproductive and futile discussions that end up dividing us before we even stand a chance. And I see a zealous quality in those debating, as though they have the right way or answers. Obviously these disagreements are unavoidable, but I think that integrating spiritual values of humility, mindfulness, non-judgmental awareness and faith in each is critical.

    We've grown up in a competitive capitalist culture and so often I see that kill our movements as we become mired in competing over how has the best version of the future world, or who has the best tactics, rather than constructively building together. For that I think we need to form a movement that does not simply rely on ideas and the mind, but also the heart, body and spirit, and as such we must honor contributions of artists, musicians, healers, and faith communities.


    • David Adamcik 17th May 2012

      Very good essay Michael. We need more people agreeing with our mission, vision and structure and then becoming members. Then we need to connect more in person and find more people that agree with the principles.

  • Darcy McClare 16th May 2012

    Hi, I like both your blog entry, Micheal, and your comment, Marlo. This site and the wider project is still new to me though I've been thinking about similar ideas for quite some time. Emphasizing the need to change the psychology of our cultures, rather than confronting governments and businesses which only respond with military force, seems important to me. Though I've been excited about becoming a part of this organization, reading various arguments and criticisms being thrown around discourages me from contributing to the movement. Clearly at this stage constructive criticism is needed to shape the site and the organization as a whole, but encouragement and inspiration are perhaps more valuable.
    The idea of thinking of how to improve the health of communities according to the analogy of how to improve the health of human beings, which is at least as old as Plato and was influentially used to diagnose the colonial condition by Frantz Fanon as well as being an integral part of Gandhi's belief that change begins within, is important at this phase of global transformation. One aspect of this which could be interesting is to apply aspects of our cultures is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is essentially about specifically identifying what needs to change and what should replace it. It is remarkably similar to mindfulness as practiced by Buddhists and to certain understandings of repentance within Abrahamic religions. It would be fascinating to get the movement moving in these directions rather than worrying about which 19th Century political or economic theories best apply to the present. One specific habit of mind which seems important to change is the academic habit of communicating through criticizing. Instead, appreciation and encouragement would be much more helpful for allowing for a non-hierarchical exchange of ideas, while still critically examining specific aspects of our world and putting forth specific ideas for replacing them.

  • Caragh - 16th May 2012

    It seems as though being in opposition is the worst thing we can do. There is something incredibly difficult about criticizing the whole time as it puts us in a defensive state of mind and that in itself leaves us on the back foot. Concentrating on the feasibility of IOPS also seriously disables us, as it is one one thing to be reflexive and aware of our limits, and another to let them define us.

    I am really glad you are engaging Darcy. Both your and Marlo's responses show a sensitivity to what is at stake here. After reading the blog I came across this article - which made me smile a little. http://odewire.com/honeymooneffect

  • 16th May 2012

    Thank you for this. I'm re-posting it everywhere.

  • 16th May 2012

    Darcy: I share your psychological take.

    I would say a balance is necessary, but certainly without the dominance of the rough and tumble tone of a post-grad seminar. This intellectual combativeness should be permitted in certain areas, though, where it is consensual. Such passionate and fiery debate can be very stimulating and fertile! But certainly not as the general mode of discourse and interaction, where the engagements might better be more civil, supportive, welcoming, and warm.

    On the psycho-spiritual aspect: I administered an Anglican seminary in South Africa for about 5 years. I have a few heretical theological ideas that I'll post when I have the courage!

  • LedSuit ' 17th May 2012

    One could say we're all in the stadium coz we believe in the truth of suffering. We can also see that capitalism, patriarchy, racism, community hierarchies, authoritarian polities, unsustainable ecological choices, poverty and war is the path that leads to that suffering. We are also in the stadium coz we see the truth of the possibility of the cessation of that suffering and that a coherent organisation with a multitude of folk exerting themselves to the hilt as part of the the path that leads to the cessation of that suffering.

    A fellow musician once looked at my guitar and asked what all the shit was that was over it. I never wipe my guitar down so over many years a build up of guck had adhered to it surfaces. Particularly round the edges. It was a Gibson ES335 dot. Nice red one. You couldn't wipe it off. It needed to be scraped. I looked down at it, looked back at Ashley, paused and replied,...FEAR.
    He pissed himself laughing and we continued to play.

    I said in another post I am not comfortable being part of this organisation or writing these replies. That's the fear that Michael talks of. I stay and do write coz I think this organisation is a @#$%&ing great idea!

    One more anecdote then I leave with a song. Derek Bailey the late great English guitarist/doyen of free improvisation was describing a performance of many improvisers on a stage. One by one, as the piece got longer, they left the stage and entered the bar. The audience slowly did the same. Over time all were in the bar except for one sole performer, a Japanese dancer whose name escapes me. He kept dancing, to no-one. Bailey made the remark that..., every now and then, someone makes a dash for total freedom. I kind of feel that IOPS represents part of the the beginnings of that dash. And it is a DAMNED important dash!

    I want to leave you with a song by australian band The Drones, called Oh My. It kinda sums up the urgency of our effort. At least for me.

    People are a waste of food
    You'll never hear the end
    They're only ever happy
    When they're burying their friends
    And they take take take
    But they never take a hint
    The ice caps getting skinny
    Still they're not concerned
    They're very near extinct

    People are a waste of food
    The end is nearly nigh
    They've always said the sky would fall
    Now it is you have to wonder why
    You want to shrink your stinky footprint?
    Get your tubes tied
    Or even better yet
    Go commit suicide
    They can't say you didn't try

    And oh my,
    Well i hear the sound of horses' hooves
    Come the middle of the night
    And oh my,
    Its time to get your gun license
    I see four horsemen riding through
    A cold and endless night

    If money is the root of evil
    Fear of death is worse
    This mortal coil is not a test
    And you can't hide in a purse
    So don't go casting no dispersions in the street
    'Cause the half the world that starves
    Will know the half you're in
    Does not deserve to eat

    And oh my,
    Well i hear the sound of horses' hooves
    Come the middle of the night
    And oh my,
    It's time to get your gun license
    I see four horsemen riding through
    A cold and endless night

    People are a waste of food
    Don't bother learning Chinese
    Thou shalt find oneself perturbed
    By less verbose calamities
    Just get some Heinz baked beans,
    A 12 gauge, bandolier and tinned dog food
    We'll eat your dog, bury our dead
    Or eat them instead
    That's entirely up to you

    And oh my,
    I hear the sound of unshod hooves come the middle of the night
    And oh why
    Well, from now on 'til your grandkids finally get what you deserve
    I'm going to be stuck here with you wookies
    Eating fortune cookies
    Until my guts churn

    • LedSuit ' 17th May 2012

      Sorry, summit happened when I clicked submit and the verse chorus distinction got all screwed up. Hope you can follow it!

  • 19th May 2012


  • Alex of... 21st May 2012

    Michael, I have a basic question line, and it's not intended to be rude. In short, I have concerns about accessibility to IOPS. To whom is this piece addressed?

    Who is us, as all or any? As the featured post, who are you trying to reach? Or, to put it more honestly, is this intended to be inviting for all, or intended for interpretation by those who already know your language?

    That's a little black and white, but color to come from insight.

    • Michael Albert 21st May 2012

      Actually - and I guess this should have been indicated in a brief call out at the beginning - this was a post for the rest of the world published on znet - for people outside iops - motivating taking a close look at iops. I think it went up within iops not so much as a message to folks in iops, but rather as an example of the kind writing that people can be doing in other places, other blog systems, or whatever. I think that was the rationale, in any case.

  • Alex of... 22nd May 2012

    Thanks Michael. That makes sense, and such indications are always helpful. I like and resonate with the piece, but am constantly mindful of both the way a newcomer might perceive IOPS as well as the process by which it functions. So i always ask myself, how could this be better, more accessible and more self-managed? - and i know that is my personal process and part of a larger process with so many voices.

    It's a difficult and exciting point we're at. It's natural that we have this starting point created by a few based on a volume of work and effort to guide. With that, comes a little top-down feel, again, naturally. So, sometimes as i see a selected message that's out of my hands, I feel just a little put off… like, is that really the primary message and feel of activity right now? But that's ME thinking that and part of the challenge. In some way, I might say it is a mission for the the current users to overthrow site decisions… nicely. I wouldn't imagine the interim committee of such a project wants to maintain that position, of course, not only for vision but because it takes so much effort (appreciated) that should be maintained by all. But how, when, what exactly is the challenge. Perhaps participation is the answer but empowerment by the process. So here I am, vocalizing within that process.

    I realize there is then the challenge, if current active participants are given the voice of change, then a new hierarchy has been established that could preclude voices to come. But perhaps with small changes, knowing and establishing (loosely) that process, we open up the next wave of voices to do the same.

    There have been a few discussions floating around about voting options, which seems a pretty valid talking point. I'd think establishing such things takes some serious consideration and much input, but also can be experimented with on small levels as different situations necessitate different voting methods. Perhaps experimentation with single issues can illuminate some options that lead to empowerment.

    What I see at the moment is an interim or international admin decided featured post. That's cool (or has possibilities for other features). I see "What Comes Next?" in the side bar with a couple communications from the ICC. That's cool, too. And then in that, i see a Member Blogs section with five posts, three of which are from Michael Albert. Maybe not so cool.

    I also see a recent blog post in the main section (no decision made there but by user) that has a whole bunch of activity, more than any of the featured posts. "It is time for IOPS to evolve!" The message there seems to have struck a chord, as it relates to the gender gap, voices unheard, and personal relationships. I nominate that as a featured post in one way or another. But also select as an example for ways that might create featured posts or priorities. I'm not suggesting a method, as I'd rather hear other voices weigh in, just pointing something out that might be an issue to tackle in this stage toward more issues.

    Hope this is constructive and look forward to feedback.

    PS: Just had the first chapter meeting in Seattle last night with one other Seattle member, and another from a neighboring city. Have agreed to bi-monthly meetings at this point and have lots to talk about and grow from. Reports to come soon as we sort through first contact. Thanks for this site and opportunity. Much to do.

    Peace and solidarity.

  • Alex of... 22nd May 2012

    probably should drop a link if i mention another post...