What is the impossible?
Today, we are told that most everything that concerns personal freedom and technical matters is possible. We can download almost anything from the internet and access practically the entire history of human culture; improve our corpus and that of future generations by manipulating our genome and even potentially achieve a form of immortality by transforming our mind and identity into software that can be stored on various devices.
But within socio-economic relations the impossible rears its head as we are told that we would be foolish and naïve to engage in great collective acts (because they are by nature totalitarian); we certainly cannot redefine and reclaim the commons and mustn’t question the profit motive or disengage from the global market. One must accept austerity and the twisted economic calculus that is its justification. In short, one cannot question the current political-economic system. We cannot dream our utopian dreams of laying a better foundation for our human relations and our relation to our planet, dreams that might involve transcending the way we live now and the system that informs all that we do. We live in a Carnival of Dystopia: a perverse celebration of the end of social dreams.
Throughout its history the USA has seen itself as an expression of messianic popular nationalism. Messianic not just it terms of religion (though that is an essential element) but also as an avatar of democracy, no matter how misguided that may be. Today in the USA (and in other countries) we see a growth of an authoritarian populism (trending to a type of neo-fascism); a marriage between the concepts of freedom defined as the market and order that is equated with moral traditions. It is a toxic brew ripe with its own contradictions as the fetishistic elevation of the market tends to weaken, if not destroy, older moralities.
Naomi Klein takes an important step forward in inoculating us against the cynicism and destructive uses of irony that so inform our political discourse. We need to move beyond moral outrage to a concrete politics of .
But first we have to think. In the political context we often believe that thinking is about solving problems when actually the first step is formulating questions. Sometimes we have to disengage from activity and try to ask the most productive questions. How do we go beyond capitalism; how do we transcend the system and mobilize the belief necessary for the realization of a different way of creating and appropriating the social wealth we create?
We have to use our collective imaginations and act in a way that calls the future into being. Our task, among others, is to create a force of anticipation. Imagination and inspiration must inform all that we do.
Another crucial task it to create a sense of solidarity and build alternative political structures such as a connective party (I have discussed that in a previous talk) that can focus and bring together different struggles while putting them in the context of regional, national and international struggles that have as a long term goal the transcending of our current political/economic system. Local cooperative action and long-term strategic action at different levels need to go hand in hand. Eventually, we are going to have to challenge the state but scattered micro powers on the left are too weak to do so. A structure such as a connective party can become a central site for democratic strategic debate and action (Gindin and Panitch).
We have to become more than activists; we have to become organizers because it we do not do so there is a great likelihood that an authoritarian figure of dictator will emerge and we already see the beginnings of that in the USA. Our current protests often reveal their limitations because they lack a transformative vision, they say no yet they lack the power of painting a picture of a new type of society. Let’s not forget that “politics is the realization of an idea of justice and equality” (Porcaro). That must be in the forefront of our minds as we resist and create our collective futures.
It is perfectly reasonable that people need and want security and against the chaos of capitalism and the “freedom” of the market, we on the left need to show that we are the true bearers of law and order and morality and that freedom will and must be redefined as part of our new set of social relations (ek).
We must be passionate about what we want for our future. It is time to think and think again: what are the limits of the possible and the impossible?
We need to make the impossible, possible.
(Thanks to Jodi Dean, Sam Gindin, Leo Panitch, Mimmo Porcaro and Slavoj ek who have greatly influenced my thinking.)