Once the monopoly of “artists” over “creativity” and “culture” is broken, it becomes possible for people to create real history and real change from their own personal experience. This is what “art” really is, and for obvious reasons it cannot be found in “art ” galleries nor in exhibitions nor in books; only by discarding the concept altogether and then, acting on our own awareness, changing our lives, does the concept gain meaning.
To break through our alienation is to act creatively, and to break through our alienation right now in Australian society means changing our everyday life, altering our relationships with others, with society as a whole, with the city and country; means, in other words, political change. If real culture lies in the total of all our everyday lives then it is possible for any of us to change cultural values by changing the way we live.” —Ian Milliss (1973)
(Hat-tip to @jimrhiz)
Here are a few juicy tidbits that stood out for me:
On the loss of traditional binding narratives and the downsides and costs of individualism:
Modernity is the ensemble of changes – intellectual, political, economic, social, cultural, technological, aesthetic – that have altered the world drastically since roughly the 17th century, until which time the world was, in the above respects, far less different from the world of any previous epoch of recorded history than it is from the world of today. The modern predicament is the set of problems these changes have bequeathed us.
One problem is our loss of ontological, social, and psychological embeddedness. Formerly, the meaning and purposes of life were, to a far greater extent, simply given for most people by the religious, family, and societal structures in which they were born and grew up. Very few people, and even those people to a limited extent, were expected or encouraged to become individuals, free to make fundamental choices about love, religion, occupation, political allegiance, even location. Only a tiny elite could aspire to an individual identity and an individual history.
Nowadays everyone, or at least most people in the rich countries – I realize that this still leaves out most of humankind – can be an individual. But that turns out to be difficult. Over millions of years, we evolved characters and psyches that needed to be held in and held up by intense bonds, usually provided by strong families and local communities. For many reasons – economic development, geographical mobility, religious tolerance, the rise of nation-states, the emancipation of women – those bonds have weakened over the last few centuries. The resulting freedom obviously has enormous benefits for the previously unindividuated. But for many people it also has costs: isolation, loneliness, purposelessness, powerlessness, and hyperstimulation.
The modern predicament, then, is the difficulty of finding a sane, harmonious balance among all the vast and various consequences of science, technology, democracy, mass literacy, feminism, and the other forms of modern progress.
On the need for a sense of limits and creating a human-scale society:
When the modern world was being born, the supposedly inescapable limitations of human nature was a conservative theme. Inherited traditional beliefs and forms of authority were held to be all that most people could understand or live by. To convince a wide public to reject these a priori limits and trust themselves morally and politically was the first, heroic task of Enlightenment intellectuals. Faith in progress was once a precondition of progress. It still is, to the extent that contemporary right-wing libertarianism insists that democratically controlled enterprises must always be less efficient than hierarchical ones like corporations.
But entwined with democratic self-confidence, there grew up a less reflective faith in unlimited material progress, based partly on a belief that human wants and needs would grow to match increases in productive capacity. This may have seemed plausible before the environmental limits to growth became obvious in the mid-twentieth century; but more important, it was also convenient for those who wished to deflect attention from the gradual and many-sided loss of autonomy that industrial mass production and bureaucratically organized medical/educational/psychotherapeutic expertise imposed on nearly everyone. As the state, the economy, and the institutions regulating everyday life all grew in scale, the only sphere of autonomy left to ordinary people was consumption. And so an entire ideology and technology of consumption arose, on the premise that happiness consisted primarily in consumption, which could apparently be increased without limit. And if that’s true, then our powerlessness doesn’t matter.
But it’s not true. Powerlessness and lack of autonomy do matter to our psychic health: they produce weak, immature selves and a culture of narcissism – the latter a psychoanalytic concept that has little to do with the popular notion of “narcissism” as mere self-absorption or self-importance. We can’t grow to psychic maturity through social relations on just any scale – they have to be on a scale that allows us at least a modest sense of mastery in work and community life and imposes personal, not purely impersonal, obligations. That scale may not be achievable in a mass society.
The people who understand this best at the moment seem to be conservatives of the “paleo” or religious variety, like those around The American Conservative, a very interesting (and quirky) magazine for which I’ve been writing occasionally in the past couple of years. But paleoconservatives often seem to think that the state is the primary agent of massification. Radicals know better (as Lasch did): the modern state is a creature of corporate capitalism, which can only be controlled through what Lasch called “completing the democratic revolution of the 18th century.”
I don’t have any clear idea (and neither did Lasch) how to combine modern technology, sexual equality, and democratic nationhood with a sense of limits, rootedness, and human scale. The most successful attempt I’ve seen to imagine such a society is Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia. But it’s only the beginning of a beginning.
On the Occupy Movement:
I bless it and am grateful for it. But as they know perfectly well, it’s only a beginning. And occupations, like demonstrations, are an inherently limited tactic. It seems to me that any successful long-range strategy for fundamental democratic change, in America or anywhere, must be built around activities that take place in homes, workplaces, municipal buildings, public libraries, church halls, colleges, and similar places, outside of working hours, with child care provided. In other words, they have to be activities everybody can take part in, every week, for years on end, without bending their lives out of shape. Most people’s lives are already too insecure and overstressed for them to do much politically, which is how the ruling class likes it.
You describe #Occupy as an example of peer producing political commons. In what way is this different from historical ‘anarchist’ or ‘communist’ movements like the Paris Commune, Barcelona 1937, or perhaps even the Russian Revolution?
Michel Bauwens: If you observe an occupation, you see a community that is producing its politics autonomously, not following hierarchical or authoritarian political movements with a pre-ordained program; you see for-benefit institutions in charge of the provisioning of the occupiers (food, healthcare), and the creation of an ethical economy around it (such as Occupy’s Street Vendor Project). This is prefigurative of a new form of society in which the commons is at the core of value creation; these commons’ are maintained by non-profit institutions, and the livelihoods are guaranteed through an ethical economy. Of course there are historical precedents, but what is new is the extraordinary organisational, mobilization and co-learning potential of their networks. Occupy works as an open API with modules, such as ‘protest camping’, ‘general assemblies’, which can be used as templates and modified by all, without the need for central leadership. We can now have global coordination and mutual alignment of a multitude of small-group dynamics, and this requires a new type of leadership. The realization of historical moment of Peak Hierarchy, the moment in which distributed networks asymmetrically challenge vertical institutions in a way they could not do before, forces social movements to look for new ways of governance… but these are not given, and have to be discovered experimentally, and of course, there will be valuable lessons to learn from predecessor movements!
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.” —Pastor Martin Niemöller
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” —Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
This is what Dog Tweets would look like:
8:00 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
9:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
9:40 am - OH BOY! A WALK! MY FAVORITE!
10:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
11:30 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
12:00 noon - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
1:00 pm - OH BOY! THE YARD! MY FAVORITE!
4:00 pm - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
5:00 PM - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
5:30 PM - OH BOY! MOM! MY FAVORITE!
This is what Cat Tweets would look like:
DAY 752 - My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.
DAY 761 - Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded, must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair … must try this on their bed.
DAY 765 - Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body, in attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was…Hmmm. Not working according to plan.
DAY 768 - I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time however it included a burning foamy chemical called “shampoo.” What sick minds could invent such a liquid. My only consolation is the piece of thumb still stuck between my teeth.
DAY 771 - There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event. However, I could hear the noise and smell the foul odor of the glass tubes they call “beer”. More importantly I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of “allergies.” Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage.
DAY 774 - I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The bird on the other hand has got to be an informant, and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Due to his current placement in the metal room his safety is assured. But I can wait, it is only a matter of time…