May Day Mutiny: Radical Transformation Rises

Today is our “spring forward” day in the U.S., when we move the clocks forward an hour thus “losing an hour” in the morning, but gaining an additional hour of light at the end of the day.

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Massachusetts, with birds singing their love songs in the trees, and the sap rising steadily in the thick sugar maple forests.

It’s hard to feel gloomy or pessimistic on a day like today, with our great source energy, the Sun, shining so brilliantly and steadily down on us.

Even contemplating the social landscape, it seems that there are reasons to be hopeful.

Last night I attended a brilliant one-act play by a Bard College at Simon’s Rock senior, sensitively and with almost painful honesty focusing on the relationship between a pair of best friends, 15-year-old girls, as one of them goes through a secretive, excruciating home abortion.

At the talk-back after the play, the author, who also played the lead, said she wrote the play because it was so clear to her that young women’s voices need to be heard more broadly in the theatrical world—not just as love objects written by men.

To me this is a hopeful sign, because as more women’s voices find their way into the great collective unconscious of the human public sphere, they will have an impact on the way we think and act as a social body.

The shame, secrecy and psychic anguish felt by the lead character of the play is so unnecessary, as is the fact that although it took two to implant that fetus, the other teen parent, the guy, was entirely absent from the drama that followed.

If young men were more aware of what an abortion entails, I dare say that many of them would be more responsible in doing their part to avoid pregnancy until they were ready to assume the mantle of fatherhood.

If high school sex ed included sessions on abortion the way drivers’ ed includes sessions on the consequences of driving drunk, complete with graphic images and re-enactments, abortion might become a rarity, and having teen sex without contraception as stigmatized as driving a bunch of friends home from a party dead drunk.

***

I am feeling hopeful today too because yesterday I read Tidal 2, the second journal put out by a group calling itself Occupy Theory.

The journal, entirely web-based, includes articles by Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak, written in as accessible a voice as I have ever heard those two formidable theorists muster.

It also includes articles by unnamed CUNY Graduate Center students on a variety of issues, as well as a wealth of other interesting short pieces and vivid photos and artwork of the Occupy movement.

Judith Butler

Butler makes the excellent point, in reference to the call by the political/media establishment for “a list of demands,” that “the appeal or demand that sought to be satisfied by the existing state, global monetary institutions, or corporations, national or transnational, would be giving more power to the very sources of inequality, and in that way aiding and abetting the reproduction of inequality itself.”

Instead, Butler calls for a movement for “radical equality,” the achievement of which would require “the making of new institutions,” rather than trying to push existing institutions to change radically while still maintaining their social dominance.

She also envisions an Occupy strategy that would be strategically “episodic and targeted,” rather than the sitting-duck encampment strategy of last fall.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Such a strategy might build on the historical model of the General Strike, as Gayatri Spivak discusses in her contribution to Tidal 2.

The General Strike, as undertaken by Gandhi against the British, “has always been special because it is undertaken by those who suffer, not by morally outraged ideologues,” Spivak says.  “It is by definition non-violent…though the repressive apparatus of the state has used great violence against the strikers. Although the results are transformative, the demands are usually focused on laws….If one sees the connection between the General Strike and the Law, one realizes that this is not legal reformism, but a will to social justice….Unlike a party, a general strike refuses to cooperate until things change.”

Tidal 2 ends with a bold call for a General Strike on the symbolically important day of May 1, 2012, May Day.

I have no doubt that it will happen, and that it will be big.

I am sure police forces across the world are already planning their own strategies.

The truth is that if the 99%, “those who suffer” from the structural inequality of globalized capitalism, were to come out in large enough numbers on May Day, and refuse to go home until those in power began a serious dialogue on transformative, institutional change that included the retooling of our political, social and environmental systems for 21st century realities—the truth is that we might actually get somewhere.

Somewhere new, somewhere joyful, somewhere beyond the bruising, gridlocked, decrepit and corrupt politics that currently has our entire planet in a stranglehold.

The social and political elites who have inherited the 20th century reins of power and do not want to let go need to be made aware that they are driving us all over a cliff with their refusal to summon the political will and the technological know-how to adapt to anthropogenic global heating.

They must be made to understand that they and their children will go down with the rest of us!

That is the one blind spot in this issue of Tidal 2: there is very little mention of the impact of climate change and human overpopulation on the carrying capacity of the planet.

This awareness shows up more in metaphor than head-on, but metaphor is powerful too.

At one point, the anonymous authors of Tidal 2 describe the 1% as the captain of a ship “who steers while we shovel coal and  swab decks.  He seems to have us headed towards a typhoon.

“The captain stares at the impending doom on the horizon and grins ecstatically.  He’s clearly thrilled to be captain.  He faces down a storm that we can only wincingly glance at with one squinting eye, and he jabbers incessantly about hope and destiny.  We realize that he does not see as a normal person, by passively receiving light through his pupils.  Rather he uses his eyes offensively to project what he wants to see on the world.  He has become so practiced at his fantasia that he can no longer recognize what we, cringing on deck, see as certain catastrophe.”

Well, my friends, it is time to stop cringing on deck.

Mutiny is justified if the captain is a raving maniac and the alternative to mutiny is catastrophe.

On this sunny day, let’s pledge to take a great leap forward this spring, take charge and steer ourselves into safer waters.

See you on May Day.

Leave a comment

20 Comments

  1. Those are good suggestions: episodic and targeted. The only problem may be… a general strike works if people who have jobs walk off them. The unemployed/students milling about may not have the same impact. Worth trying though…

    Reply
  2. I’ve noticed that the elements that criticizes our current systems really offer nothing as an alternative. It is easy to be critical of what exists, but what is it you are looking for? Capitalism has allowed for a better standard of living for a greater number of people than any alternative ever has. We can all agree that privatized profits on the backs of socialized losses is wrong. You are mistaken when you believe this to be capitalism. That is crony socialism in the guise of capitalism.

    A capitalistic system allows for greatest income mobility. People are mistaken when they believe that the 99% are always the 99% and the 1% are always the 1%. Less than half of those within the top 1% in 1996 remained in the top 1% in 2005. Roughly half of taxpayers who began in the bottom income quintile in 1996 moved up to a higher income group by 2005. Economic growth resulted in rising incomes for most taxpayers over the period from 1996 to 2005. Median incomes of all taxpayers increased by 24 percent after adjusting for inflation. The real incomes of two-thirds of all taxpayers increased over this period. In addition, the median incomes of those initially in the lower income groups increased more than the median incomes of those initially in the higher income groups. The degree of mobility among income groups is unchanged from the prior decade (1987 through 1996).

    I respect your ideals, but they are misguided.

    Reply
    • Seems like Jennifer is busy with the conference, so I’ll respond. You are right, it is crony socialism, but that term has not caught on. Free market does not exist. So maybe capitalism does not exist.

      As for incomes and all that jazz, well, ok, but where is the next planet gonna come from, to fuel all this growth, all this waste? Besides, life under this system kinda sucks. Despite all the toys…

      Reply
  3. Life under this system is imperfect, but it is much better than the tried and failed alternatives. You are asking the right questions. What are we going to do?

    We need to move towards freer markets (not laissez faire because that is impossible) to encourage innovation. If you don’t mind, I remember this video I watched recently that makes a lot of sense regarding the world’s resources and the importance of a free market economy in relation to our concerns:

    Reply
  4. Life under communism was not bad, it just had certain disadvantages. Just like living under this system does. First of all, nobody was destitute. Everybody was educated, and literacy was 100%. Nobody went hungry, nobody was jobless. The pace of change was slower, food still had that old fashioned home made quality. And so on. I know… I lived there. So I don’t know what you base your claim on… knee-jerk “pro-what-I-know” stance?🙂

    Second of all, there are some resources that can be substituted. Others can’t. Economists don’t like to talk about that. But beyond that, a growth economy on a finite planet will eventually run into a wall. You know, the little problem of exponential expansion. And any system that cannot alter it’s course when that wall approacheth is a stupid and dangerous system. So there… my salvo back…🙂

    Reply
  5. It is ironic that our education in America is lacking because it resists the free market ideas that would allow it to flourish.

    I base my claim in my earlier post on researching history and economics. On a more personal level, my best friend grew up in communist Romania, and even though she is a self-proclaimed liberal, she is very thankful that communism ended in her homeland and prefers the freedom she has now.

    What are some examples of resources that can’t be substituted?

    A free market economy is best equipped to alter it’s course when the wall approaches.

    Reply
  6. G, there is no free market. Why do you keep repeating it like an incantation? I think vouchers for every family with children to use as they see fit would work, but it ain’t gonna happen, because schools were initiated as indoctrination pens. Some work relatively well (within that paradigm) and others don’t. I recommend unschooling. You don’t need to wait for permission from a system gone byzantine.

    I did not say I was not glad communism fell. But I am appalled with what has happened there since… piratization and tunneling out of still viable enterprises, and selling off what was still of value at pennies to the dollar. Old fashioned plunder.

    Resources that can’t be substituted? Here is one. Water.

    A free market might correct itself, but this system that we have (crony socialism, you called it) cannot. So, what now?

    Reply
  7. I sincerely appreciate this conversation.

    Water was all I could think of too, but there are already solutions in the works. Singapore turns sewer into drinking water and many parts of the world are using desalination processes to transform ocean water to drinking water.

    What we need to do now is remember that we did not get in the trouble we are currently in over night and persevere until we have corrected it. The best tool available to us is the electoral system to start replacing all the career politicians with new ones. Then we have to hold the new ones accountable. Fortunately there is enough information available for us to inform ourselves on the issues. It is important that citizen medias continue to expose the corruption of our main stream medias.

    Once we get a majority of We the People politicians in office, we can begin to make headway in changes. Fiscally speaking, we need to repeal ObamaCare, pull government out of micromanaging the economy, and reform Social Security and Medicare. Culturally speaking, we need to reform our education (indoctrination) system and give some of our fellow citizens some tough love. Let them and their offspring learn personal responsibility from their mistakes.

    Reply
  8. G, me too!🙂

    The instances of cleaning out contaminants or salt out of water (at great expense, I might add) are not instances of substitution. And if you privatize water, soon people will be dying for lack of access. (They already are.)

    As for electoral reform, I very much commend to you a lovely book called Taming Democracy, by Bolton. This is what people tried in Pennsylvania after the Revolution. It did not work. It boggles the mind… why keep repeating what has been known to fail before?

    Are you a fan of privatization of the Earth’s resources and/or land, and why?

    Reply
  9. The thing with water… if you run out of the Ogallala aquifer, where is your substitution?

    Reply
  10. Are you still there, G? I am wondering if land is also in the category of unsub-able goods. Along with air. (?)

    Reply
  11. Sorry for the delay in a response leavegirl, but I’ve got big things in the personal life afoot. About to switch companies and relocate, so I’ll be hit and miss on here for about 6 weeks.

    I anticipate as water does enter the consciousness as being a limited resource, the cost of water will rise. When that happens, private industries will get involved and technological advances will happen quickly. It will allow water to be desalinated and cleaned much cheaper than what it is now.

    If global warming is true, at least plenty of land will open up at the poles, and the glaciers will provide billions of gallons of water. 😉

    Reply
  12. Aw. Sure. gazillions of gallons of fresh water from melt will shut down the Golf Stream, Europe will freeze over, and maybe a new ice age will be precipitated. All our troubles will be over. (NOT.)

    I did not realize you were a technotriumphalist. Best wishes for your move~

    Reply
  13. My global warming comment was tongue-in-cheek (hence the wink).

    The resilient Earth has been warming and cooling on it’s own long before we were here and will continue long after we are gone. However, I do support keeping our planet clean.

    Reply
    • Whew!🙂
      Yup, and yup.

      So back to the original thought… it looks like there are some resources that cannot be substituted, and they happen to be ones that no one can live without. Might they be best kept as part of the commons?

      Reply
  14. Ah, the tragedy of the commons. Private property rights and markets are the solutions to these dilemmas. I remember researching this before and here is an articles that I thought addressed it the best:

    http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/the-commons-tragedy-or-triumph/

    Reply
  15. But my dear G, your informant is way behind times. Garret Hardin recognized before his passing that he was wrong, regarding the Tragedy of the Commons. Elinor Ostrom got her Nobel in 2009 for work showing that cooperative management of the commons works extremely well, provided a few basic rules are met.

    The article above says, rightly, that people set norms regarding limits on anti-social behavior. Privatizing the commons is perhaps the original instance of anti-social behavior, would you agree? As the old rhyme says: “The law doth punish the man or woman who steals the goose from off the commons, but it leaves the greater villain loose, who steals the commons from the goose.”

    Reply
  16. Not that it would much matter, but Hardin did no such thing. He said he should have inserted the word “unmanaged”. Here is his quote, “To judge from the critical literature, the weightiest mistake in my synthesizing paper was the omission of the modifying adjective “unmanaged.” In correcting this omission, one can generalize the practical conclusion in this way: “A ‘managed commons’ describes either socialism or the privatism of free enterprise. Either one may work; either one may fail: ‘The devil is in the details.’ But with an unmanaged commons, you can forget about the devil: As overuse of resources reduces carrying capacity, ruin is inevitable.” With this modification firmly in place, “The Tragedy of the Commons” is well tailored for further interdisciplinary syntheses.”

    (The article I linked was by Bruce Yandle who is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus, Clemson University; Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Economics, Mercatus Center, George Mason University; and Senior Scholar, PERC. He is coauthor with Andrew P. Morriss and Andrew Dorchak of Regulation by Litigation.)

    I’ll research Ostrom and comment later.

    Reply
  17. Exactly. I read somewhere he said he made an error in overstating the extent and inevitability of the tragedy. Ostrom actually went and studied the people who are good at managing their commons.

    Reply
  18. I finally found the time to read some about Ostrom. I agree with her on the fact that challenges that arise around commons can sometimes be solved by voluntary organizations rather than by a coercive state. It is the coercive state that I fear and that I am against.

    Reply

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