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This is the final part of a series on Spirituality, Science and Socialism. See the other parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

CN: racism, fatphobia, queerphobia, rape apologism, trauma


I breathe in, I breathe out.

We are not in control of our bodies. Dragged from our beds by a 9am start, to places we would otherwise never willingly go, to create things we do not own and carry out tasks we have no control over. Or else we struggle by on meagre benefits, subject to surveillance and harassment by the state and marginalisation in the press.

Even outside of the drudgery of work and unemployment, our mental health is at rock bottom. We struggle inside our own bodies, judged as too fat, too thin, too ugly, too vain. That black kid was dangerous, that woman was asking for it, that queer was disgusting. Even that heterosexual white man: he’s not manly enough. Someone else always owns our bodies and has the final say. 

I breathe in. I breathe out.

We are embedded in social bodies larger than our own, but they are bodies made alien to us. Pay at the barrier to travel. Pay to sit down, pay to be warm. Pay to exist in your own space, to be kept barely living.

Of course, if you can pay, you can go where you like, take what you want. Take that public space for yourself, knock it down, build some expensive flats on it. The right to the city goes to the highest bidder. Homes become rubble, communities become ghost towns. Our social bodies become corpses.

breathe in. breathe out.

The political body joins us in this spiral of rigid order and total chaos. ‘Take Back Control’ the Brexit campaign said, and it’s no real surprise that it resonated. People are experiencing a real, bodily sense of their worlds being out of control. The loss of the jobs that we are forced to compete for in order to survive, the loss of the social safety nets that supported us, the loss of a sense of any hope for the future, for your friends and family. Loss is not just thought, but felt. Of course, the anti-immigrant sentiment stoked by the campaign is in no way a ‘legitimate concern’ – it is a misdirection, made possible by pre-existing racist tendencies. The actual legitimate source of that pain is capitalism: tearing up what is of no use to it (‘all that is solid melts into air …’), and re-ordering the world to serve profit making. You move to where the jobs are, to where the rent is affordable – across borders if necessary.

This accelerating chaos is fuelling a swing to the other direction, in a desire for control, for the ascent of a leader with easy answers. But handing over power to demagogues like Trump, Farage, or Le Pen is no answer, nor is rigidifying borders or increasing police powers – these are all part of the problem. In order to really ‘take back control’ in any meaningful way, we must restructure every level of society, every institution, every Body, so that we – conscious, feeling humans – are what have control. Not the ‘invisible hand of the market’, not a bunch of warmongering politicians at the helm of the state, but all of us, in control of our bodies and with deep, meaningful input into how they are run.

a breath in

In the midst of all this, can we really ask for more acceleration? Not if that means to accelerate the processes which are creating this misery. But underlying it all, often hidden beneath the barrage of violence, are growing potentials and tendencies, new tools of liberation. It is about finding those points of harmony and novelty, and identifying how to accelerate their reproduction, without causing harm elsewhere. In all the expanding circles of life – ourselves, our communities, organisations, cities, nationstates, the earth – we find outselves in bodies beyond our control. Embodied accelerationism means finding ways to taking control of those bodies. All of them.

Each of us has access right now to a body that we can change, one which is our home – the human body.  In order to be able to transform the wider scales of social, cultural, political and economic bodies, we must regain control of ourselves. We must look inside and restructure ourselves, to strengthen our ability to act in the world, individually and collectively. Healing from traumas. Building new ways of understanding and acting in the world. Taming our destructive behaviours, and unlearning internalised oppressions and privileges. Smashing head-on those parts of us that refuse to change, that repeat our pain and the pain we cause in others. Where chaos reigns, we bring order; where rigidity reigns, we embrace chaos.

and out.


Secular mindfulness …

Although it is by no means the only way we could engage in bodily change, I am going to focus on Mindfulness – for reasons which should become clear. Mindfulness refers to a set of secular practices derived from the Buddhist tradition, and also to a goal: an increase in the intensity of your awareness of the present at all times. This awareness can help people to both manage their emotions and to analyse and alter their unconscious reactions. It means taking back control over your body. This is why psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk argues that mindfulness and similar other embodied practices have such powerful (and empirically founded) therapeutic effects on sufferers of trauma and other mental health issues.

The vividness described by mindfulness practitioners is not our normal experience of consciousness. Through mindfuless, you come to an awareness that:

“the mind is seized constantly by thoughts, feelings, inner conversations, daydreams, fantasies, sleepiness, opinions, theories, judgments about thoughts and feelings, judgments about judgments – a never-ending torrent of disconnected mental events that the meditators do not even realize are occurring except at those brief instants when they remember what they are doing”

(from Varela, Thompson, Rosch – the Embodied Mind: cognitive science and human experience)

By drawing attention to the ongoing processes of the mind, you gain an appreciation for the constant flows and interconnection within us and around us. This ties neatly into the metaphysical framework used in this series, as flow and interconnection are its core elements (as they are is in the Marxism, complexity science and process theology I’ve drawn from).

… and its discontents

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However mentally resilient you may be, you still have to pay rent, you still have to find work, or navigate the minefield of state benefits. You will still experience racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism. Listening to the breath is not going to stop capitalism, even if helps you to cope better within it. Unlike Buddhist forms of mindfulness, there is usually no explicit ethic attached to these secular western practices. The focus instead lies almost entirely on the individual. What could and should be a tool of liberation is instead used to further integrate the human body into neoliberal capitalism. Survival strategies are commodified, the real source of our pain remains hidden, and it ultimately risks defusing vital revolutionary anger. As cognitive scientist and philosopher Evan Thompson puts it, “the modern fetishising of Buddhism and yoga, and Asian religions in general, fits perfectly into a consumerist corporate culture that needs to pacify itself from the endless stress of global capitalism.”

To enable mindfulness to fulfill its liberatory and revolutionary potential, it must be brought into contact with a more complex and critical understanding of the world, along with an appreciation for the power of collective action. By integrating mindfulness practice into the ’embodied accelerationist’ ethics proposed in the previous post, individual liberation changes from an end goal, to an initial step in achieving global liberation. It is neither individualist nor rigidly collectivist: all levels of the body are valued. I should make it clear that the mindfuless I’m referring to from here onwards is the Western secular form, in line with the attempt in this series to remain accessible to atheists and religious people alike.

From the solid grounding of the human body, we expand outwards into the world. From here we must not only analyse but also feel the disharmonies around us, that we produce, including those that do not directly affect us, and even those that involve non-human actors. We feel ourselves and the quiet room around us as one body. We feel our relationship with a person as one body. We feel the buzz of a crowd as one body. Our organisations, our cities, our earth: one body. But we don’t simply marvel at these radical interconnections – we use these perspectives to seek out disharmony, analyse where it comes from (through our intersectional, anti-capitalist framework) and use that to drive change on every level. This practice is what I will call Radical Mindfulness.

The organisation of the unconscious mind

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What is it that blocks us from feeling the interconnections between our bodies?

Imagine this scene. You are walking down the street, and you encounter a person sitting on the wet pavement in dirty clothes, holding a cardboard sign. In this moment – in every moment – you are taking in information, triggering pre-formed categories in your mind (e.g. ‘homeless person’) and then positioning yourself in relation to this. In other words, as we’ve seen in previous posts, Bodies are created through present flows, activating past structures, leading to future powers. This is as true for the flower or the car as it is for the production of your unconscious mind: the ground of internalised oppressions and privileges. And as with all organisation of Life, this occurs at varying degrees of rigidity.

  • Present flow: do we acknowledge that the person before us is complex and filled with history and interconnection, or do we cut these off, and judge them entirely based on the simple image we see?
  • Past structure: do we allow flexibility of these categories, within and between them? Or do we force things into rigid, unmoveable binaries?
  • Future power: do we maintain a flexibility of our internal sense of self, and the connections we can make with other bodies? Or do we create a hard segregation between our self and others, an Us vs a Them?

In our scene, these translate to:

Do you see a homeless person, and only a homeless person? Or do you see a person who must have experienced things to arrive in that place, who has a unique character, has a history and family and friends, has talents, dreams, desires and pains?

If you learn that this homeless person doesn’t sleep on the street but instead sleeps on a friend’s sofa, do you immediately reject their claims, reject them as homeless? Or do you re-evaluate your category, understanding them as always flexible and imperfect?

And whether or not you feel positively or negatively towards them, do you disconnect your sense of self from them – do you create an Us and Them? Or do you include them in Us? This distinction is reflected in the difference between charity and solidarity. The former requires you to remain on a pedestal above those you help, segregated from them, whereas solidarity is an act of coming together, of creating or re-emphasising your connections.

These are all unconscious processes, happening without our say-so. But mindfulness provides us with a space in which to use our conscious mind to examine and mold those unconscious processes. We can re-emphasise the flow and interconnection of bodies, challenge the boundaries of our categories, and uncover multiple overlapping identities within ourselves.

Left unchecked however, these rigidities will manifesting as hatred or fear of the other, complete self-assurance in the correctness of your beliefs and actions, an ignorance of context and history. The rigid mind loves borders, leaders and the violence used to preserve them. The poor deserve their fate. Transgender and non-binary people do not exist. You’re either a criminal or a law abiding citizen. ‘All Muslims are terrorists’. Identifying where our unconscious is producing rigidities is therefore an important part of unlearning our reproduction of systems of domination, whether it’s white supremacy or the normalisation of capitalism.

Softening rigidities in our own minds can help us on an individual level, both to cope with the struggles we are faced with and to minimise the pain we cause to others. But it does little in itself to help dismantle the systems of oppression that led to those experiences in the first place. For this we have to look at what produces those states, and that means looking to wider scale social bodies.

Social reproduction of rigid relations

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All of the institutions of the modern capitalist nation state resonate together to help produce this rigid unconscious. This is one way in which capitalism perpetuates all forms of oppression – not just individually benefitting from and supporting white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism and so on as distinct systems, but actually molding the human subject in such a way as to make these seem utterly normal. Getting past our current capitalist stage is not simply a case of changing minds individually, but of collectively changing the whole structure of society on all scales, and how it influences us to think.

As we’ve also mentioned in past posts, when a body’s structure is activated it is also altered: the past of the body becoming crystallised in its structure. Repetition of a certain way of interacting between bodies will over time influence their mutual development. The person of colour adapts to survive in a white supremacist society, and the white person adapts to take their privilege for granted. The social bodies of which we are part are themselves self-reproducing and adaptive – what we have called Minds. They therefore display similar processes as in the production of the human unconscious:

(The following examples are all ideal forms, and any real world example is likely to conform to some parts but not others)

Nuclear Family

  • rigid flow: all members are seen as simply their role in the family, rather than being complex unique beings of their own right;
  • rigid category: mother, father, daughter, son, each coming with their own rights and responsibilities;
  • rigid self: family is conceived as a whole, cut off from others – we are a family unit, and they are not us.

When are you getting married? When are you having kids?’ people ask – not ‘do you want to?’ Your individual characteristics are wiped away. You are presumed to be heterosexual and monogamous. You are a housewife who cleans and cooks and looks after the kids. You are father who brings home an income and disciplines your children. You are a son or a daughter, you are obedient and you will pass through the conveyor belt of school, university, work and marriage. Outsiders are treated with suspicion, and within the family upholding its ‘honour’ becomes justification for physical and emotional violence.

School

  • rigid flow: to the school you are reduced to ‘an admission’, ‘a fee’, or ‘a score’ equivalent to any other, rather than being a complex and unique being
  • rigid category: teacher, student, parent, headmaster, each coming with their own rights and responsibilities.
  • rigid self: this school is conceived as a whole is cut off from others – we are a unit, and outsiders are not Us. ‘You’re in school now, not at home.’

The whole of you as a person is replaced with numbers. You are funnelled through each class and must follow a rigid set of rules around behaviour, dress, hairstyle, orderliness of bodies, topics, language, all of which you have no input, and no democratic power.  They are the teacher, you are the student, and that is that. It is worth noting of course that the rigid categories imposed are also based on the dominant privileged identity; hence dialects or hairstyles common with children of colour being deemed unacceptable.

Work

  • rigid flow: people are made into their job role and nothing else
  • rigid category: worker, boss, customer, each with their own rights and responsibilities
  • rigid self: workplace is conceived as a whole, cut off from others: you compete with other businesses, you compete even with other departments.

The whole of your personality is ignored for only that tiny aspect that the employer can extract a profit from. Everything you do must be justified within the remit of your role or you are punished – no Facebook, no chatting, no toilet breaks, don’t arrive a second past 9am or leave a second before 5. You are the worker, they are the boss. You own nothing you make or do, and you control nothing in your environment without their say.

These are only a handful of examples, and by no means the only ones. What each of these does is not simply create a sense of rigidity within that particular sphere (in the family, at school, at work) – but rather molds the whole subject so that they begin to reproduce those relations everywhere. Our tendency is then to assume disconnection, binary categorisation, and segregation. We are cut off from each other. We do not see those who produce the world for us. We do not see ourselves reproducing others’ oppression. We do not see how our consumption relies on others’ poverty. We do not see our pollution reaching oceans, or the journey of our waste to be dumped in enormous landfills.

How then do we reshape these institutions, to break the cycles that reproduce systems of domination, in order to make revolution possible? It’s too easy to see the problems as transcendent: capitalism bearing down on us, patriarchy bearing down on us, the state bearing down on us. But we have to reckon with the ways in which these are reproduced within us, through our everyday thought and action (and inaction). It’s not just a case of ending capitalism as though there were some off switch located in a government office somewhere. Nor is it possible to end it simply through a top-down state-led approach of reform or revolution. It requires a transformation of consciousness, from the bottom up, through all bodies at all scales.

Embodied accelerationism as practice

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Embodied accelerationism means taking control of our bodies. All of them. Where we identify harmful rigidity or chaos, we must intervene. We must restructure the bodies that we are part of, and that reach out to affect us. We analyse the flows that are in motion, identify disharmonies and where they are produced, and then inject either chaos or order to rebalance them. What an injection of chaos or order will mean in a particular body at a particular scale cannot be determined in the abstract terms we’re using here. It can only be judged by knowledge of that body, of the context it sits in, and through experimentation.

This ‘acceleration’ must not be taken to mean the amplification of everything that exists. Nor even does it necessarily have the sense of accelerating technology and automation to lead us beyond capitalism (the thrust of the original Accelerationist Manifesto). The desired acceleration is instead of what we identified in the previous post, of the tendency towards harmony and novelty in all bodies. Accelerating growth in a specific body is only one tool towards this end. That end will be achieved through a combination of interventions:

– Accelerate self-reproduction of those elements already producing harmony and novelty: Healing 
– Accelerate replication of a body, to spread into or create new bodies: Building
– Decelerate production of those elements that produce disharmony: Taming
– Accelerate collapse of those bodies producing disharmony which prove incapable of change: Smashing

I have previously set these out as sub-strategies at the level of whole social movements in an article called Shock Doctrine of the Left. Here however, these logics are relations between any equivalent bodies, on any scale. Between two organisations, two humans, even two parts of yourself. Certain actions we take might not fall neatly into a single category, but they remain useful as a tool for thought, to understand the different angles we can attack a problem.

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Healing is support for processes which reproduce bodies. We look inside a body that we are satisfied with and wish to preserve, uncover what is producing that body, and support it. Many of these processes will fall under ‘social reproduction’, usually including things like health and social care, housework, emotional labour. But it should also include processes of reproduction of any body, both individual (self-care), organisational (admin, training), or urban (transportation, communication infrastructure, waste disposal). None of these actions could be said to be revolutionary of themselves, but in a particular context, through their role of reproducing a revolutionary body, they certainly can be.

Healing strategy therefore provides the basis of revolutionary action. On the individual and interpersonal level, it enables a wide variety of people to be supported not only in surviving capitalism, but also to be actively involved in revolutionary movement. Without it, at best a movement will be lopsided, led by those least affected and most privileged (usually white, middle class, heterosexual men). On a wider social scale, it provides the means which keep that movement resilient. Healing is far from sufficient, but it is the necessary grounding element – if all else fails, Healing must endure, in order that a movement survives. It has been said that ‘care is revolutionary’; this applies to all types and scales of body.

(This particular aspect of Radical Mindfulness has elsewhere been referred to as The Care Ethic. A full comparison will have to wait for another time, but in short, for me – I can’t speak for others who’ve used the term – the Care Ethic concept is the same idea of taking reproductive processes as primary, reworded in order to provide a direct challenge to the dominance of the work ethic.)

Building is the production of new harmonious bodies, and the expansion of those that exist. So whilst Healing intensifies existing processes between two bodies, Building extends them into new bodies. We create new alliances, expand friendship networks, start new organisations, create new mental models (as I’ve attempted to do in this series) or utopian visions of the future. The purpose of this is twofold – in some cases, a new body created will succeed simply through evolutionary pressures. In other cases, the growth of our ideas will be stunted by the forces acting against us, and a chaotic event will be necessary to break through this. If our alternatives are already in place when chaos breaks out, a social body is able to re-order around those models. If we wait till after the revolution, we’ve missed the boat. Hence the frequency with which workers councils have played a role in revolutionary movements, from the Soviets of the Russian Revolution to the communes in contemporary Venezuela. You start building the future social bodies today, before the revolutionary moment.

Taming is where we identify a body which is actively producing disharmony, and seek to decelerate those processes. If as a man I am repeatedly experiencing misogynistic thoughts, despite my genuine support for feminist ideals, then clearly my Building of alternative mental models hasn’t been sufficient. I have to actually identify what within or around me is reproducing this behaviour and seek to reduce its impact. On wider scales: we identify problems in our relationships, clarify our boundaries and responsibilities, be open and honest about our problems. We identify the problems in our organisations, alter their structures and processes. At a wider level, problems may be tackled through changes in laws and regulations. Broadly speaking, these are reforms. Reforms of the state body, but also reforms of the human body.

After Healing our bodies, Building their futures, and Taming our difficulties, some disharmony-producing bodies will remain. A body that has failed these strategies is then a canditate for Smashing. This is a massive injection of chaos, produced by blocking flows into, out of and within a body, in order to prevent its reproduction. This can create massive, unpredictable disturbance, which is why it should ideally only be attempted after all else has failed. It should also escalate where possible, so we maintain control: beginning with smashing bodies of smaller scale and lower complexity. Ideally, blockades come before property damage come before physical violence towards a person – though of course, ideal circumstances don’t always present themselves. Smashing on a social level will generally mean breaking apart social networks, rather than the harming of individual bodies – though as stated in the previous post, punching Nazis is perfectly consistent with this framework.

(There’s not enough room here to go in detail into the ethics of violence that this system would seem to lead to, but the importance of consciousness set out in the previous post should give us pause before contemplating things like killing, at least in anything other than immediate self defense. You are afterall not just destroying a body, but a body that knows it is being destroyed)

Combined, these sub-strategies add up to something which doesn’t fall neatly within the still prevalent reform/revolution binary – as it shouldn’t, given what was said above about destroying rigid binaries. What it means is instead designing a strategy from the ground up, based on conditions that exist at that moment in time, taking into account everything we know about the dynamics of complex systems, and not simply relying on 100 year old revolutionary theory and failed organisational models.

Conclusion – where to now?

This series of articles has hopefully outlined a useful framework for bringing the body into a more central role in socialist theory and practice – or at least given you something to think about. This does not have to be the only way. In fact, I encourage anyone and everyone to take these ideas, make them your own, and act upon their own new synthesis. This series only scratches the surface of what a cohesive, spiritually-literate socialist practice might look like. It will need to be spelled out in more practical steps in posts to follow – but from here on this becomes a collective matter, rather than one I can do on my own. True to the practice set out here, the next step must involve a lot more than simply abstract debates and writing into the ether. The plan is to organise around these ideas. I already have a number of trusted people ready to begin an initial research group, and there are suggestions for future think tanks and media centres, revolutionary community organisations and educational programs. If you want to get involved, get in touch.

As you might have gathered from the introductory post, writing all this was part of my own healing process. Hopefully I have tamed some of the resistance a few readers may have had to questions of spirituality. Now we must build, and build and build and build, to prepare for the cascades of chaos to come, and be ready to smash back.


References

Barash – Not Just the Lotus Blossom: Buddhism and ecology partner up
Berila – Integrating Mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy
Beth Berila – Towards and Embodied Social Justice
Buchanan – Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: a reader’s guide
Culadasa – The Mind Illuminated: meditation integrating Buddhist wisdom and brain science
Deleuze and Guattari – Anti-Oedipus
Deleuze and Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus
Durand – Organisations, Strategy and Society: the orgology of disorganised worlds
Fisher – Capitalist Realism
Fisher – All of this is Temporary, on capitalism and consciousness
Fisher – Terminator vs Avatar (in Accelerate Reader)
Fraser – Capitalism’s Crisis of Care
Holland – Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: introduction to schizoanalysis
Massumi – A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Noys – Communization and its Discontents: contestation, critique and contemporary struggles
Reed – Seven Prescriptions for Accelerationism (in Accelerate Reader)
Rifkin – The Empathic Civilisation
Roberts – Capitalism, psychiatry and schizophrenia: a critical intro to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus
Simpkins and Simpkins – The Neuroscience of Dao
Syedullah, Owens, Williams – Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation
Thompson – Mind in Life: biology, phenomenology and the sciences of mind
van der Kolk – [book] The Body Keeps the Score: mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma
van der Kolk – The Body Keeps the Score: mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma
Varela – Ethical Know-How: action, wisdom and cognition
Varela, Thompson, Rosch – the Embodied Mind: cognitive science and human experience
Waistell – Marx and Buddha: a Buddhist communist manifesto
Yellow Bird – Neurodecolonization https://vimeo.com/86995336

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This is part 4 of a multi-part series on Spirituality, Science and Socialism. See the other parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 

CN: trauma, war, sexual assault, slavery, homophobic violence, sexism, colonialism, Nazism, cancer, cutting, drowning


What is the meaning of life?
What is good and evil?
How do I live virtuously?
What is the source of happiness?
How do I deal with rejection?
Is there more to life than this?

Of all the questions that humans have asked themselves, these are among some of the most enduring. They are themes that underpin vast swathes of our culture, from the tragedies of the ancient Greeks, to Rumi’s mystic love poetry, to the latest Oscar winners.

And yet these questions are largely ignored by the contemporary left. Though once a part of the socialist imagination, they have come to be seen as irrelevant to the task of fighting capitalism and oppression. We spend our days talking about the ‘common ownership of the means of production’ with barely a mention of the love that must hold together such utopian communities. We talk of the road to revolution, but not the road to happiness; of struggles at work but not struggles of the heart. And we wonder why no one listens.

Abandoning these questions doesn’t encourage people towards a more ‘rational’ point of view. Nor does it help to shift people’s concerns away from the self and towards more social issues. It just means people look elsewhere for answers. There in wait lie our enemies – capitalists, fascists, demagogues who indulge in all flavours of bigotry. And they are always more than happy to provide ethical guidance. As long as we fail to do likewise, we will always be on the back foot.

How do we begin to re-engage with this sort of question? Let’s take the big one: what is the meaning of life? It’s understandable that atheists might struggle with this question – it’s often taken to imply a pre-programmed external purpose, such as a god might have chosen for us. But it doesn’t have to. It could lead us to more theologically neutral questions: is there a path to the development of the universe? Can I affect that path? And if so, how does this compel me to act?

Order and chaos

jokechaos

In the previous post I set out an atheist-friendly framework for integrating spiritual, scientific and socialist concerns, centered around three overlapping concepts: Life, Body and Mind. Each has a slightly different meaning to what you’d expect.

Life is the organisation of everything. Everything is flow and inter-relation. Contrary to how we usually speak, Life is not a substance found in some parts of the universe and absent in others. The difference between an elephant and a rock is not between life and non-life, but merely differing levels of complexity in life’s organisation. You might say they show different intensity of life.

Bodies are those points where flows settle into enduring wholes. An atom is a body, as is the human body, the body of a city, the body of the earth. Each has a past, a present and a future, expressed in their structures, flows, and powers.

Mind is the potential of bodies to self-reproduce and autonomously adapt to their environments. This is where Bodies begin to ‘sense’. To the extent that social bodies such as cities self-reproduce and adapt, we can also think of them as sensing minds. But as we’ll touch on later, this doesn’t mean they’re conscious!

Now in order for us to apply this to topics like overcoming pain, struggle, evil and so on, we must next acknowledge that the tendencies of Life, Body and Mind each implies an opposite:

  • The tendency of Life to form bodies of increasing complexity – whilst always being in flux – implies the possibility of their collapse

    (Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    )

  • For the flows into and within Bodies to crystallise into learned structures, there must be a cutting off of other potential futures, and a permanent mark upon the body 

(I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.)

 

  • The ability of Minds to sense implies the potential for senselessness. To learn and adapt, there must be lack of knowledge and the possibility of failure

    (Nobody heard him, the dead man,
    But still he lay moaning:
    I was much further out than you thought
    And not waving but drowning.)

In other words, whenever there is stability, choice, empowerment, awareness, learning and survival, there is the potential for decay, loss, trauma, confusion, ignorance and death. Order is met with chaos.

An isolated body left to its own devices can only become more disordered over time. If I isolate myself in my home and do not communicate in any way with the outside world, my friendships will eventually fade. My clothes will tear, but will not mend themselves. Without food, I will die. Bodies fall apart.

But bodies are not normally isolated – they are highly interrelated. And those relations allow us to combat this tendency towards chaos. I message my friend, and we feel again that rush of love. They help me repair my clothes, so I can brave the cold outside. Together we walk to the supermarket to buy me food, which keeps me alive. To stop bodies from falling apart requires work. Physical, emotionalconscious and non-conscious.

The interplay of order and chaos within a body produces a precarious balance. Where order becomes too prominent, the body is rigid, and is unable to adapt to a changing environment without collapse. Where chaos rules, bodies struggle to form at all, no powers can emerge, no growth can occur.

For example, if in response to my isolation I am given a rigid routine, a fixed understanding of the world, one that never changes and which I am punished for deviating from, I remain utterly dependent, and will not be able to react to emergencies. On the other hand, if I am simply thrown out into the world, if all routines are upended, if I have no secure housing, if I am given no advice as to how to understand or predict my situation, I become incapable of doing anything.

But when balanced, the interplay of order and chaos can produce a state of harmony and novelty. Harmony, because ordered relations allow bodies to endure, to predict the world, to work together for mutual empowerment. Novelty, because an element of disorder or breakdown frees up flows to be re-organised differently, and so to adapt, learn, evolve.

To find balance, we have to work towards creating harmony not only within our own bodies, but also in how we couple with the bodies around us, and in how we design the larger scale bodies which we are part of.

Consciousness – the birthplace of ethics and apocalypse

eric

If order and disorder are natural tendencies, how can we say that either is better or worse? If it’s just the universe doing its thing, why should we intervene? How even could we? This is where it becomes important to clarify the distinction between mind and consciousness.

Mind, as we have noted above, is the body’s capacity for sensing and adapting. Consciousness only emerges in those most intense of minds that become able to sense their own sensing. This opens up a number of important capacities.

  1. Self-awareness: Rather than our bodies simply taking in flows and reacting to them without us being aware, we can now actually experience the negative or positive quality of an input – that is, we feel and are aware of feeling pain, pleasure and so on. The order and chaos that all bodies undergo becomes, for conscious bodies, the subjective feeling of oppression or liberation.
  2. Signification: As we can now associate particular bodily sensations (e.g. pain) as arising from certain stimuli (e.g. a sharp knife), we can learn to anticipate them. We create a chain of links between various experiences: the image of the knife, the touch of the knife on the skin, and the pain. We no longer need to be physically cut to be aware of pain – the image of the knife is enough to set off a train of associations. The most sophisticated version of this is the symbolic communication of written and spoken language, but in its broader sense it is shared by all conscious beings. We are able to understand one thing as standing for another. For a dog, the sound of a bell can come to signify food, just as for us the word ‘dog’ signifies a real dog.
  3. Empathy: Just as your body can simulate future pain, so too can it simulate the pain of others, which opens up the potential for empathy. We are viscerally horrified by images of war, the court details of sexual assaults, by police brutality – which move us to protests, boycotts, arguments and fist fights on behalf of others. This can happen because we are capable of feeling another body’s pain or joy within our own. Ethics is emotional and embodied, not merely rational.
  4. Will: Being able to predict how I would like to feel (and how I would like others to feel) gives me a basis for making decisions. I can compare the body state I would feel in 1 minute with or without an icecream, in a month with or without going on a date, in a year with or without a change of career, in a decade with or without global climate apocalypse …

The combination of these features – self-awareness, signification, empathy and will – leads to a massive amplification of the scale of impact on the world that conscious beings can have. A single person can create effects that travel across the world and even through the ages. The pen writing the sentence and the eye which reads it can be separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles – and yet this relation can transform opinions, refresh perspectives, even compel people to action. A memory from childhood can re-emerge without any external stimulus, triggering trauma in the present and paralysing the whole body. A politician’s tongue can sentence thousands to death – or free them from slavery. A self-immolation in North Africa can spark protests in the Middle East. Our shared mind becomes spread wider and wider, creating culture, language, belief, expectation, and allowing the triggering of emotion across huge distances of time and space. This has given human beings in particular an extraordinary power over the the planet, and over each other. For good or for ill, the emergence of consciousness is the very basis of ethics itself.

On its own however, emotion is not enough. Relying on personal disgust, or even communal moral codes, risks denying the massive interconnection of bodies at the centre of this framework. There are plenty of examples that would clash with modern socialist ideals. The sexist devaluation of one type of body next to another. The capitalist veneration of an individual despite their exploitation of the wider community. Or the queerphobic violence against an individual in the name of the community’s rigid parochial morals.

To avoid this kind of dangerous cultural relativism, we need to specify that our goal is the end of all experience of disharmony, in all conscious bodies. This is to be achieved through concerted action to harmonise conscious and unconscious Minds on multiple scales. I therefore define Good acts and Evil acts as those which respectively contribute towards this global harmony, or work against it.

That is to say that neither your individual harmony, nor that of your community’s, nor even a general harmony across a whole nation state, can exempt you from culpability if there is pain around you that you ignore, or that your ‘harmony’ even feeds on (in which case I think it’s better called just ‘stability’). Stability can never be a justification for political repression, nor war, nor colonial domination, nor systematic marginalisation or any form of oppression. Over much of the 20th century, the ordering forces of the state certainly balanced with the chaotic forces of capitalism to produce a certain nation-level stability in many parts of the world. And yet that has still created massive disharmony in many of its people, and in nations outside it.

Conversely, just as stability is not an inherent good, instability is not an inherent evil. If someone is seeking to create wide scale disharmony – like genocide – then reacting with smaller scale disharmony to prevent this can be justified. So punch all the Nazis you like. This form of ethics requires us to judge actions in their whole context, as to whether they’re a contribution towards a greater ultimate harmony. This is unlike typical liberal ethics, which tends to involve the arbitrary application of some eternal moral code regardless of circumstance, such as ‘don’t punch people’.

Of course, this utopian level of harmony is not fully achievable. We cannot cease to be flowing, interacting bodies, and any interaction creates the possibility of new disharmony. But we can alter the world so that no disharmonies are consistently reproduced. Human relations will always produce disagreements and tensions, but systemic oppression of an entire group based upon some physical or social characteristic is not a necessary feature of social organisation. An image of global harmony can serve as a compass point to collectively orient us towards this better world.

The World to Come

victorian-postcard-automated-barber

What does this utopian world look like? Specifying the exact details of the future as a blueprint is neither possible nor useful, an argument made in the Communist Manifesto itself against the utopian socialists of the 19th century. But the total abandonment of utopian imagery is a mistake: we need powerful images in order to create collective emotional investment in a communist project. This is something which the left has been missing and which is now being increasingly called for.

We can see its outline in a variety of historical sources, in art, literature, philosophy, politics and religion. I’m going to contrast two categories: a broad sweep of religious utopias (encompassing afterlifes, Messianic ages, higher states of shared consciousness etc.), with the political-philosophical concept of Full Communism. The aim isn’t to argue that these are all the same, but that they share enough elements that allow them to be articulated together. In particular, I suggest that they all share an underlying impulse: an end goal of harmony on multiple scales.

I take Full Communism to mean that future utopian vision of a stateless, classless society of abundance envisaged by Marx and Engels (also known as the ‘higher stage of communism’) – that which has never yet been achieved. Full communism is “the real solution of the antagonism between man and nature, between man and man”. It is the end of social relations that are “based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few”. Yet it is not a rigid harmony, but heralds a new age of freedom and expression, where work is not performed for capitalist profit. It is rather “the creative manifestation of life arising from the free development of all abilities of the whole person”. It is a vision of harmony and novelty within the human body, and between conscious and unconscious bodies at many scales.

The link between economic and religious utopias is not a new one. Gerrard Winstanley, one of the founders of the 17th century Christian socialist group the True Levellers (a.k.a. the Diggers), quotes the utopian vision of Isiah 2:4, whilst blaming money and ownership as a barrier to its realisation:

And the nations of the world will never learn to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and leave off warring, until this cheating device of buying and selling be cast out among the rubbish of kingly power.

The observation is of course a much older one, itself found in the Bible at 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” Contrast this with the description of the Hindu golden age, the Krita or Satya Yuga:

Men neither bought nor sold; there were no poor and no rich; there was no need to labour, because all that men required was obtained by the power of will; the chief virtue was the abandonment of all worldly desires. The Krita Yuga was without disease; there was no lessening with the years; there was no hatred, or vanity, or evil thought whatsoever; no sorrow, no fear. All mankind could attain to supreme blessedness.

The lack of need to labour clearly resonates with the end of relations of class domination. But this goes beyond mere economic distribution: ‘supreme blessedness’ indicates a sense of personal enlightenment and liberation. Despite the common mischaracterisation of communism as destroying the individual at the expense of the collective, this was not actually part of the vision. (Even if it was arguably part of the practice of some 20th century communist states). Marx and Engels at numerous points describe how full communism will emerge not only from the development of productive forces in society, but also the “the all-round development of the individual”. They describe the “development of human power” as “its own end, the true realm of freedom”. Elsewhere full communism is characterised by “free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and on their joint mastery over their communal, social productive powers and wealth.” And in case the social character of that individuality was not clear, the German Ideology states that “Only in community [has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.”

This is neither an abstract social harmony nor a pure individualism that is aimed for, but the harmony of all bodies at all scales, in all their interrelation. There is a necessity therefore for a liberation of the individual, the community, as well as the social whole, including the natural world of which it is part. Buddhist socialists like Seno’o Giro have likewise emphasised this link between the liberation of the self and liberation from capitalism. The Bodhisattva vow is one source to draw from, which states that enlightenment will be sought not just for the individual but “for the sake of all beings”.

Just as with the individual, Marx and Engel’s vision of communism is far more ecological than usually given credit for, emphasising as above, “the real solution of the antagonism between man and nature”. Fixing the metabolic rift between human society and the nature would represent both success in the battle against climate change, and also in ending the constant human battle with material scarcity. And natural abundance is of course a theme that runs through many religious utopias, such as Islam’s paradise of Jannah. It is a garden with ‘abundant fruits’, ‘lofty dwellings built … one above the other, graced with flowing streams’, where you ‘will be comfortably seated on couches’ and will ‘eat and drink with healthy enjoyment’.

As I said before, the intention here isn’t to collapse the important differences between all these sources. What I’m trying to do is to plant some seeds, in two ways. Firstly, to contribute to a discussion about how we might express in lyrical, poetic, artistic form some positive, accessible visions of a communist future. Secondly, I think it’s also vital for the atheist left to improve its religious literacy. This will help us both in showing solidarity to people facing oppression, and also in identifying those points where our ultimate goals align, where we can work together on positive projects towards the future.

If all this isn’t enough to make you appreciate the link between theological and communist utopias, allow me to quote Ernst Bloch:

A remark by the young Engels in 1842 (MEGA I, 2, p. 225f.) contains an echo from Joachim, only a few years before the Communist Manifesto: ‘The self-confidence of humanity, the new Grail around whose throne the nations jubilantly gather … This is our vocation: to become the Templars of this Grail, to gird our swords about our loins for its sake and cheerfully risk our lives in the last holy war, which will be followed by the millenium of freedom.’ Utopian unconditionality comes from the Bible and the idea of the kingdom, and the latter remained the apse of every New Moral World.

Conclusion – Embodied Accelerationism

accelerate

So what then is the meaning of life?

Full Communism is tantalisingly close. Finally coming within our grasp technologically and culturally, it could yet be derailed by human intransigence and short-sightedness. Its realisation will require work on every scale – the reshaping of our bodies, our organisations and communities, our physical and social spaces, cultural artefacts and discourses, and our systems of distribution and governance. This then is our goal, our meaning of life: to accelerate our path towards a global harmony-novelty of the future. To challenge those forces – those acts of Evil – which would seek to impede this. To end systems that sustain the harmony of a privileged Body at the expense of others. To dedicate our lives to the realisation of Full Communism.

This is a battle that we will not win without a fight. It is a battle which at its apex threatens to be one of the most catastrophic of all human history. But we can take solace and hope from knowing this: Good has always won, since the beginning of human history. It might not feel like it right now. Maybe it hasn’t felt like it your whole lifetime. But we are the ones with history on our side – on the side of the trajectory towards harmony.

Look around. You are surrounded by Bodies, many complex enough to activate their own powers of Mind, many of those complex enough to bring about consciousness, and others still complex enough to create culture and language. Although it is not a smooth path, the Life of Earth nonetheless tends towards harmony. Had it not, had at any point the power of competition obliterated cooperation, had chaos flung off all structure, or order frozen all motion, we would be less than dust hanging in the emptiness of space. We would never have emerged from the primordial soup. We would have annihilated ourselves aeons ago. Societies would have broken apart before they had had a chance to form. But no: we have won, time and time again. You, here, now are the beautiful pinnacle of a billion years of harmony, of novelty. For every evil blow of disharmony struck upon the world, good and harmony has struck back tenfold. The world we want to see is prefigured in the harmonic relations of the world before us today. Our existence on the Earth is proof enough as to the enduring strength of that harmony, and of the collective will. God or no god, our world has a path.

We will not win by sitting back. Human power has grown too great, its capacity for destruction too real. To win, we have to fight. We have to heal. We have to build.

But we can win. We must win. And we will win.

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If you enjoy these posts and want to help them continue, or want to support my IRL organising, you can donate at either of the links below 🙂

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References and Further Reading

Order and chaos
Birch and Cobb – Liberation of Life: from the cell to the community
Bryant – Entropy and Me
Deacon – Incomplete Nature: how mind emerged from matter
Fairchild-Pomeroy – Marx and Whitehead
van der Kolk – The Body Keeps the Score: brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma
Walker and Salt – Resilience Thinking and Resilience Practice

Consciousness – birthplace of ethics and destruction
Churchich – Marxism and Morality: a critical examination of Marxist ethics
Damasio – Looking for Spinoza
Gallagher and Zahavi – The Phenomenological Mind
Kain – Marx and Ethics
Lorraine – Deleuze and Guattari’s Immanent Ethics
Varela – Ethical Know-How: action, wisdom and cognition
Whitehead – Process and Reality

The World to Come
Bellamy-Foster – Marx’s Ecology: materialism and nature
Bloch – Principle of Hope (read the intro here)
Boer – Criticism of Heaven
Fromm – Marx’s Concept of Man
Marx / Marx and Engels – Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844Critique of the Gotha Programthe Communist Manifestothe German Ideology; Grundrisse; Capital volume III
Prothero – God is not One
Shariati – Marxism and Other Western Fallacies – an Islamic critique
Shields – Liberation as Revolutionary Praxis – rethinking Buddhist materialism
Winstanley – The Law of Freedom

Spiritual Accelerationism
Fedorov – What Was Man Created For? The philosophy of the Common Task
Frase – Four Futures
Singleton – Maximum Jailbreak (in ‘#Accelerate: the Accelerationist Reader’)
Vansintjan – Accelerationism… and Degrowth? The left’s strange bedfellows

This is part 3 of a multi-part series on Spirituality, Science and Socialism. See the other parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 

CN: trauma, violence, death


I look around me, and the world is filled with life.

The movements of cars and bicycles back and forth on the main road, the leaves spilling out through the fence of the community garden as I head towards the high street, the bustle of the market, people as they enter and exit, buy and sell, pick up and put down, the work and work and work and home

People gathered outside the pub, drink flowing from glass to lips to tongue to throat to belly, bubbles rising in liquids and stomachs, heat slowly escaping from the fibres of their coats, escaping their hands into the cold glasses, through their hot breath made visible in the winter air

They talk of rising prices, falling wages, rising hatred, people falling through the gaps, falling Unions, falling bombs dropped unheard a thousand miles away, bodies falling into the sea

A cheer spills out from inside the bar and the assembled bodies turn and move towards it. Another leaf falls across the window and joins a wet pile on the pavement, the sounds of joy inside faintly penetrating the glass.

***

Everything flows.
Everything is interconnected.

These are both time-honoured observations. Throughout human history religions and philosophies have seen forces present within and tying together all of the universe. Contemporary science is rediscovering these ideas after largely abandoning them during the Enlightenment: fields such as ecology, embodied cognitive science and evolutionary biology all return to this idea of change and relation. And the methods of Marxist materialism have since the 19th century been used to understand the flows and relations that produce class, exploitation, alienation, poverty and endless accumulation of wealth.

Here then we have the three main ingredients I proposed in the previous article that we need for a socialist spirituality accessible to atheists. There are of course differences and contradictions between these sources, but there is also a large amount of similarity and overlap. This framework doesn’t aim to uncover some absolute truth; it is merely proposed as a tool for allowing us to work together, and build networks of solidarity that do not yet exist. For the same reason it is not attempting to be exhaustive, but is an introduction to some broad ideas.

The following builds up a framework for understanding what exists in the world (a ‘metaphysics’):

We will start by defining Life
Then we will show how life produces Bodies at various scales
And how these bodies produce Minds

Each is a familiar concept that we have an emotional connection to. But each will be extended beyond its normal usage. This allows us to highlight aspects of our world that get swallowed up when we focus on static individuals, whilst maintaining the human bodily connection that is often lost in scientific systems of thought.

Life

Life is an uncertain concept. In everyday usage, it can refer to those complex beings we interact with socially: from humans, through pets and other mammals, down to insects, and sometimes including plants. Biologists would extend this to any organisms with properties such as self-reproduction and stimulus response, like fungi, individual cells, sometimes even viruses, although again the extent of the category is contested. And it can also take a more metaphorical meaning, when we talk of a lively room or a dead atmosphere, a lively culture, or a lively person (as though you can somehow be more alive).

In this post I will be using Life in a specific and perhaps unusual way. There is normally a hard binary drawn between life and non-life – the latter based on either life ending, or being too simple to be considered alive in the first place. In contrast, here I will simply say that everything is Life but at different complexities. Life is the tendency and capacity of things to come together, rather than fall apart. That is to say, Life refers not to some substance that runs through things, but is rather the way that things are organised. Life is the reason we have galaxies, the Earth, the Pacific Ocean, Bangkok, hurricanes, flocking starlings, diamonds, the electron … rather than nothing.

What then is the difference between those various types of bodies? Consider an elephant and a piece of coltan rock. The elephant, if its organisation breaks down, can die. It enters a lower level of complexity – it becomes a corpse, then a skeleton, and eventually that too will crumble into nothing. On the other hand, the coltan, if it enters into a new more complex form of organisation, can become an electrical capacitor, which can become part of a circuit board, which can play a part in an artificially intelligent machine capable of making decisions and solving problems. In both cases it is a difference in organisation which produces new properties and capacities, not the substance. Life doesn’t turn on and off, it persists through all as the potential for and tendency towards organisation.

This can help us understand why so much outside ‘life’ as commonly understood can nonetheless feel so alive. Just as our living bodies are assembled from parts that, in isolation, are not seen as ‘life’, so too are our societies assembled from our buildings, language, stories, music, clothing, rituals, dance, sport, symbols … Culture is alive. As post-colonial writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o have long said, to kill a culture through the classroom is an act of violence on the body no less than the brutality of the battlefield.

What I am calling Life bears a resemblance to what others have understood through ideas such as Mother Earth, the Tao, the omnipresence of God, Tawhid, dependent arising, Brahman … We do not have to fully accept any of these ideas to nonetheless appreciate that they grasp at similar phenomena. We don’t have to seek to change anyone’s belief in order to aim ourselves in the same direction. With that acceptance we can overcome the competitive yet ‘tolerant’ relationship of atheism vs religion, and instead create genuinely cooperative action towards some common good.

Body

But the world isn’t just made up of a jumble of flows interacting unpredictably. All around are scattered bodies, and bodies-within-bodies, all more or less stable. The cup, the book, the phone or tablet in your hand. The grandfather clock. The warship. The ebola virus. Beyonce. They are all made up of flows in the present, crystallising into structures as they become the past, and giving rise to future powers and possibilities. These bodies-within-bodies are like Life folding over on itself, like an origami model, enabling more and more complex forms to emerge from the field of Life with every fold.

Consider the human body:

Bodies are an intersection of flows
Human bodies are crisscrossed by flows into, out of, and within itself: food, water, oxygen, sight, smell, touch – carbon dioxide, heat, solid and liquid waste – blood, hormones, neurotransmitters …

Bodies are structured
The human body is not only a set of parts – skin, muscle, organs, neurons – but the particular way they are organised, their consistency of collective function. Brain, heart, lungs, veins and arteries are coordinated to enable the constant pumping of blood around the body, its oxygenation, and the replenishment of organs. This system interlocks with other bodily systems – musculoskeletal, digestive, nervous – to produce the stable human body.

Bodies have power
The interrelation of parts activate new potentials to affect others and be affected ourselves. We discover the things we can do. We become empowered. The whole human body is capable of much more than its parts – legs alone cannot move, but the human body can run, walk, jump …

When a body is formed, it becomes a flow which can nest into higher bodies. Our human bodies become linked into collective bodies, giving rise to new collective powers. Two people together, playing, working, talking, arguing, hugging, kissing, loving, shagging, singing, fighting. These can enter into higher social bodies again like games, workplaces, stories, philosophies, care homes, dating agencies, families, brothels, choirs, feuds. These bodies enter into tournaments, economies, libraries, academic fields, the welfare state, a town, an industry, a genre. Each nests up and up, in just the same way that cells become plants become ecosystems become climates become the earth.

Think back to the elephant and the rock, and see these now as parts within the whole Body of global capitalism – in particular the ivory trade and the tech industry. For the elephant to become a corpse and the rock to become a machine, they were intersected by far more than just by the flow of the bullet and the flow of the chisel. There is the international demand for ornaments like buttons and jewelry, for electronics like mobile phones, by the balance of international laws and national economic needs, by the armed groups in the Congolese war involved in the trade, and by the historical flows of European colonialism and imperialism which sowed the seeds of that war. A range of global and national bodies had to intersect to bring about the change of the body of the elephant and the rock. Each with a bloody history in its structure, bloody present in its flows, bloody future in its powers.

Mind

At a certain level of complexity, Bodies become able to self-reproduce and adapt to their environment. The human body is replenished and cleansed as its breathes and eats and drinks. We don’t need others to reproduce us, as you do for your house during a spring clean, or when you wash your car, or when you wind up a clock – the human car washes itself, the human house tidies itself, the human clock winds itself.

At this adaptive level of complexity, the Body is able to learn from its experience. You make a mistake: you avoid making it again. You meet a new person, and remember their name the next day, or forget it if you were focused on something else. The things which are deemed relevant to survival are selected. The used strengthens, and the unused dies away – or as the saying goes, neurons that fire together wire together. This is the emergence of Mind, albeit mind as a process.

Compare dogs and bats and humans and dolphins. Despite all being mammals, each has evolved to create a different world, experiencing different strengths of sight, smell and hearing, even entirely different senses like echolocation. Their bodies have adapted to suit their environment, altering how they interact with the world around them, and so in the process have altered that environment’s evolution. They have brought forth their own unique worlds.

We can see the same in social bodies, such as in how the state organisation deals with benefit claimants. It has evolved to only sense what it deems relevant information (the limited boxes given on forms); it relates this to existing structure/knowledge (good or bad answers); and then it synthesises this to conclude an overall judgment (your claim has been rejected). We can say that the ‘world’ created by the jobcentre does not include things like variable disabilities or honest mistakes, but only understands rigid categories like legitimate claimant and scrounger.

Thus the ‘power’ that emerges from bodies is not necessarily a desirable or ethical one. A stimulus can activate memory based on hatred and a desire to disempower the other. The change in power may reduce your ability to act in the world, be it through trauma triggers, destructive habits, or internalised self-hatred. All are learned and rehearsed patterns of action, embedded in the body.

These worlds that we each create are not ‘false’ perceptions of an objective reality – they actively shape the physical world. They are real experiences with real effects. Your experience of the colour blue is as much a part of the universe as the flows of light into your eye. Likewise, if you experience pain at how others have treated you, that is as much a real part of Life as their lack of intention to cause harm.

This move from intentions to effects brings us back to the flow and interconnection of everything. Although we may not have conscious access to the web of minds around us, we are nonetheless deeply connected, and every action we take has an effect on this shared Life. This has become more evident than ever in the age of social media, where an event in one part of the world – even a single tweet – can create waves of anger or sadness or joy in seconds, flowing across the planet. We have always been one global body, but we have now begun to enter into one global Mind, and it is becoming more complex all the time. If we can learn to act as a whole, we can wield immense power for creating change.

Conclusion

The implications of the above metaphysics of Life, Body and Mind are multiple, and we will go into more detail around some of the ethical implications in the next post. But for now here’s what I think are four of the most significant points to take away:

  • change is part of the very fabric of Life

This is not the end of history. Things change. We do not have to accept the conditions that exist in this moment. All bodies are in the process of falling apart, and require work to be reproduced. All can be transformed. Capitalism must be constantly created afresh by both its bosses and its workers. Patriarchy, white supremacy, structures of ableism are the same. As are our homes, communities and organisations. As are our personal struggles in our relationships, in learning to cope with our bodies, learning to exist in the world. All change.

  • everything we do affects everyone around us

We are not just individuals. Every action matters. Every inaction matters. We affect the world constantly, in every moment. We are never alone, but are always a part of the earth and part of Life, part of the complexity which makes up our human bodies and the social bodies which have shaped us and which we shape. We are always collective, always one, even when we do not see it.

  • we live in worlds created by the history of our bodies (and bodies-within-bodies)

Every perspective on the world is in some way real, because that person has lived it. That doesn’t mean we have to accept that perspective. But it means understanding where people have come from, why they have been shaped the way they have, what their world consists of, how it is reproduced. A person’s bigotry, apathy in the face of others’ pain, misplaced anger – what has brought these about, and what interventions can we make to disrupt that and guide them in a new direction? It also means accepting our own biases, our own powers and privileges, understanding what has shaped us and brought us to the place we are now in.

  • by our present choices in the world, we create the world and open up the future

By working to preserve what decays, and to build anew what we want to see in the future, we spread ourselves into the world. In some small way, we become immortal. Organising in our communities, and struggling against dominant powers, we enter into a tradition with its own history and ancestors. We become part of that history, and change it. When the socialist cries out ‘organise!’ we can now hear in this not just a call to strike or protest or occupy, but to be awake in every moment to how we create the future world around us as we intervene in the organisation of the present. Although things will always change of themselves, we cannot guarantee the direction. But we do have the power – and therefore responsibility – to direct the path of change, and to accelerate it into the future.


If you enjoy these posts and/or my real-world organising and want to help it continue, you can donate at either of the links below x

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References and further reading/watching

The core concepts above are broadly drawn from the following works (though I’ve not necessarily remained faithful to their original use!):

Life

Monica A. Coleman – Making a Way Out of No Way: a womanist theology
C. Robert Mesle – Process-relational Philosophy – an Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead
Prigogine and Stengers – Order Out of Chaos
Rosi Braidotti – The Posthuman
Daniel Wildcat – Seven things we must do to advance the rights of Mother Earth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz25Velw6cE

Body

Manuel Delanda – New Philosophy of Society
Alexander Bogdanov – Essays in Tektology
McKenzie Wark on Bogdanov http://www.e-flux.com/journal/63/60889/molecular-red-theory-for-the-anthropocene-on-alexander-bogdanov-and-kim-stanley-robinson/
Karen Barad – Meeting the Universe Half Way – Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning
Three Minute Theory: what is Barad’s intra-action? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0SnstJoEec

Mind

Fritjof Capra – The Systems View of Life (chapters on cognition and autopoeisis)
Terrence Deacon – Incomplete Nature: how mind emerged from matter
Terrence Deacon – interview about Incomplete Nature https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvFE1Au3S8U
Evan Thompson – Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind

Misc

John Protevi – Political Affect – connecting the social and the somatic
John Bellamy Foster – Marx’s Ecology: materialism and nature
Silvia Federici – Revolution at Point Zero: housework, reproduction and feminist struggle
Ngugi wa Thiong’o – Decolonising the Mind
Deleuze and Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus (3. Geology of Morals)
Gregory Bateson – Steps to an Ecology of Mind
Monica Coleman on Process Theology https://homebrewedchristianity.com/2012/04/27/what-is-process-theology-let-monica-a-coleman-tell-you/
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki – What is Process Theology https://processandfaith.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/what-is-process-theology.pdf
James Shields – Liberation as Revolutionary Praxis – rethinking Buddhist materialism

This is part 2 of a multi-part series on Spirituality, Science and Socialism. See the other parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


I have always been secretly spiritual. Growing up it was difficult to avoid. Catholic ornaments scattered around the house by my mum. Sat on the pews of one dusty, empty church after another, listening to my dad as he repaired their organs. Playing the piano at Christmas: O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, Silent Night. The nativity scene under the tree. At school the Children’s Bible was my favourite book, my link to a magical past. I sat in assemblies, singing hymns with back straight and falsetto soaring over the other bored, slouching bodies around me. I would apologise silently to god for my impure thoughts.

And then I grew away from it. Hymns turned to pop songs. Bibles turned to novels. Thoughts of God turned to thoughts of the atom. Psychological submission turned to rebellion. Jesus stopped being real at about the same time as Santa.

For a while I welcomed it. It felt like maturity, a release from authority and fantasy. Yet I never lost the yearning for … something. A greater purpose, a feeling of wonder. You felt snatches of it from time to time, but always fleeting, in a song or a film or in a moment of love. So I buried myself in rapturous, ethereal music. In quiet contemplative arthouse cinema. In romantic obsessions. In hindsight, I was longing for a secular divinity.

Atheists talk about replacing love of God with love of science – but where are the churches where we worship the infinite? Where are the hymns we sing to the glory of the electron? Where are the accepting scientific communities we can turn to for ethical guidance (that don’t require a PhD to engage in)? Just as the individual seeker of truth replaces the community of faith, our support systems have been increasingly privatised and individualised – to therapists, doctors, job centres, the nuclear family. And to ‘self-care’, which many have noted can play both a liberatory or an oppressive role. Freedom from religious dogma has come at the expense of atomisation, and has helped along the rise of neoliberalism.

Our understanding of the universe has become divorced from our bodies. Far from increasing our awareness, the dominance of atheist rationalism has stripped people of their systems of explanation. Speculation and creativity in understanding the world is patronised and attacked. ‘No, you’re wrong. Trust the experts’. Yet as long as that expert knowledge is so safely guarded behind paywalls, university walls, cultural and language barriers, there is not and cannot be a public understanding of science. Capitalism fuels not just economic inequality, but educational inequality too.

Many people know, rationally, that global warming is bad. But it doesn’t hit them in the chest. The information they receive is divorced from a wider understanding of place in the universe, divorced from their bodies. You would scream at those who tried to burn down your house. The world has forgotten how to scream.

The Left

The socialist left, at least in the west, tends to avoid spirituality, often seeing it as directly contradicting the materialist philosophy associated with communism. On the other hand, those on the left most attracted to spirituality and its embodied practices – such as in the peace movement – tend to move away from what socialists would think of as a materialist analysis of society (sometimes even veering into pseudoscience and orientalism). This ambivalence towards spirituality has implications for how the left organises in communities. Given that the vast majority of global workers are in some way religious, to lack a spiritual practice (or a proper appreciation of it) is a barrier to creating trust and solidarity, and hinders movement building.

So how do we move beyond this division and create a synthesis of socialism, science and spirituality? Can atheists reclaim spirituality without necessitating a return to religion (and without patronising those who do)? It’s not enough to simply appeal to people to learn more about religions – we have to actually construct spaces in which people can come together to collectively explore these questions, to develop emotional bonds with one another. Rational inquiry alone is not enough; people need to see the relevance to their own lives and feelings. They need to experience spirituality and recognise it as such.

To begin with then, we need to define ‘spiritual’ more precisely. This will help us to show how religious and non-religious people share certain rapturous bodily experiences, regardless of the system they have for explaining it.

Pluralistic Spirituality

Rather than merely being a synonym for ‘religious’, I take spirituality to be something distinct: the bodily experience associated with religiousness. In the eyes of theoretical physicist Fritjof Capra, spirituality conceived in this way is fully consistent with complex systems science, and particularly the theory of embodied cognition:

Spiritual experience is an experience of aliveness of mind and body as a unity. Moreover, this experience of unity transcends not only the separation of mind and body but also the separation of self and world. The central awareness in these spiritual moments is a profound sense of oneness with all, a sense of belonging to the universe as a whole.

With this in mind, I take spirituality to mean:

  • exploring the metaphysics of the infinite

  • which becomes expressed in ecstatic embodied experiences

  • and which informs our ethics at both the individual, collective and wider social scales

In other words, it involves asking three questions: What exists beyond my immediate perception? How does this make me feel? And what therefore does acting justly entail? This includes religious belief in the traditional sense, but also goes beyond it. The feeling of being humbled by the scale of the universe when staring into the night sky. The feeling of the weight of history and your debt to it when walking through an old building. The feeling of infinite power and possibility on a protest march, surrounded by your friends and community in joyful union. All of these are comparable to a ‘religious experience’.

Whilst this definition allows us to identify spirituality in secular experiences, it does not imply that all of these experiences are good. For example, nationalism might also fall within this understanding:

  • a metaphysics based on racial and cultural essentialism
  • becomes expressed in the embodied practices of singing anthems, pride in the flag and love for the monarchy
  • and informs the ethics and organisational principles of hierarchy, fear of difference, and violence seen as legitimate for protecting racial or cultural homogeneity

Unlike certain commentators however, I would totally reject any suggestion that the left adopt elements of nationalism in order to be successful. Ash Sarkar from Novara Media details here why English nationalism can never be disentangled from racism and imperialism. But it is nevertheless instructive for helping us understand why nationalism is so successful in the West, where the left currently is not. To actually succeed against nationalism we need to have something as emotionally powerful. And to do that we need shared practices for creating communal, embodied emotional connections, based around a shared ethics and metaphysics. A socialist spirituality, but one which is internationalist and intersectional.

The rest of the articles in this series will concentrate on elaborating what this socialist spirituality could look like:

  • We firstly need a metaphysics which bridges the divide of spirituality, science and socialism. To do this I’m borrowing from 3 main areas, all of which converge around a focus on the constant motion and interconnectedness of everything:

    • Complex systems science, particularly the concepts of self-reproducing systems (‘autopoeisis’) and embodied cognition

    • Marxism – drawing both from the earlier dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels, as well as from contemporary Marxist Feminism and ecological Marxism

    • Process theologies informed by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, such as those of Monica Coleman and Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

  • Secondly, we need to take this framework and apply it to the body: how do we position ourselves in this world? What does it suggest about power and oppression? And what practices can help us to feel this knowledge? I draw in this section from work bridging social justice issues and mindfulness practices, such as Michael Yellow Bird’s neurodecolonization, Beth Berila’s feminist pedagogy and Bessel van der Kolk’s embodied trauma therapy. I am referring to this as Radical Mindfulness

  • Lastly, we need look at the ethical and organisational principles and strategies that emerge from these practices. The ideas in this section are drawn from discussions in the groups Radical Assembly and the Mental Health Under Capitalism support group, in our engagement with Marxist Feminist and post-work concepts such as social reproduction and emotional labour. We refer to this as The Care Ethic, to contrast it with the work ethic.

Although the metaphysical system set out in the next post will have to be fairly detailed, I’m going to try to keep it as simple as I can. For one thing, this will allow it to be more easily understood by non-academics – something which the theory-focused left often fails to do. It also gives space for the framework to adapt as our knowledge expands and changes. And also, most importantly for me, this allows for it to remain relatively consistent with differing beliefs as to whether any deity or supernatural force is involved. This can help form the basis of shared spaces – perhaps even organisations – that allow socialist collaboration across faith, without requiring people to divorce their spirituality from their organising.

Because whatever your position on the ultimate nature of the universe, we need to be able to work together on earthly matters like capitalism and climate change – while we still have an earth left to fight for.


If you enjoy my posts and/or real-world organising and want to help it continue, you can donate at either of the links below x

One off: https://www.paypal.me/onalifeglug

Regular: https://patreon.com/onalifeglug


References and further reading/watching:

The Tao of Physics – Fritjof Capra documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBJFJVZMnlo

Capra and Luisi – The Systems View of Life

Monica Coleman short intro, black feminist activist and ‘process theologian’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DjQcE5zo1Y

Documentary on Muhammed Allama Iqbal, Islamic Socialist process philosopher   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFhatfkBsI4

Iqbal – The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam

Beth Berila – https://vimeo.com/97862528 Towards an Embodied Social Justice

Bessel van der Kolk on trauma as embodied https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWEjnGsLN-0

Michael Yellow Bird – Neurodecolonization https://vimeo.com/86995336

Christmas from a liberation theology perspective https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/christmas-culture-wars-revolutionary-gospel-left/

Francisco Varela on science, art and religion 1983 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgZMPcrRmio

1. Fail Better

This is part 1 of a multi-part series on Spirituality, Science and Socialism. See the other parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Content note: trauma


I am tired of hurting people.

I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say, I fucked up. In one fell swoop, I destroyed a friendship with one of the most wonderful people I have ever known. Someone I shared all my anxieties with, and who shared theirs. Who helped me survive dark years, and I them, with words of encouragement and cat pictures and rubbish in-jokes and reassurance that it.will.be.ok. That it’s not your fault. That we can get through this.

The fault was entirely mine. That I didn’t realise at the time cannot excuse my actions. But I have come to see a pattern, one that links various moments of my recent life. Moments of pain I have caused people, even when meant with joy and enthusiasm and genuine love. That culminated in retriggering the traumatic memories of a dear friend through my carelessness and failure of consideration. It is a pattern that ends today.

I’ve been preparing a series of related articles for a while now, culminating in one on ‘The Care Ethic’. The irony of writing on the necessity of care in political organising, just as I was so spectacularly failing to exercise it in my personal relations, is not lost on me. The words I wrote, I believed. But I did not embody them. It has resulted in a profound questioning of myself, my actions, and whether I was living up to my principles. I realised I was not. But I will.

In what might seem a jarring juxtaposition, this is to be an introduction to that series of articles. Perhaps it needs to be jarring. I want this to be not just an apology, but an expression of intent: to change myself, to help others to change, and for us together to help change the world. Here’s the gist: I believe we cannot win against the combined ravages of capitalism, fascism and climate change, that threaten to destroy everything, unless there is a massive shift towards a new global consciousness. Many of us had assumed, even only 5 years ago with the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, that this was arising organically in our highly networked society. It was inevitable, we just had to wait it out. The trajectory of 2016 has made it clear how naive that was.

Instead we need a new concerted effort to build that subjectivity. I believe it will require a synthesis of socialist goals and theory, contemporary scientific knowledge on how to understand and guide complex systems such as cities and the global climate; and – crucially – must involve a new, emotive, embodied perspective. At the risk of you all thinking I’ve gone [more] mad [than I already was], I believe we need a Socialist Spirituality. I will set out why in the following post.

My suggestion for this spiritual synthesis – which I believe can be made compatible with both religious and atheist perspectives – is based around a ‘metaphysics of organisation’. What I mean by that, is that the universe is not so much made up of ‘stuff’, of just matter, but rather is made up of stuff organised in particular ways. The particular form of organisation that this socialist spirituality is concerned with I am simply calling, for simplicity’s sake, life.

Why are my personal failures relevant to this? Because organised life is not just a singular physical body, a mammal, a bird, or an insect: it is also our friendships, our mental structures, our cultural artifacts, our communities, our cities, our planet. It is the relations of production, distribution and consumption which we call capitalism. It is the systems of oppression that traumatise bodies and which we reproduce through our ignorance. Each can be understood as organisation. And to experience a mental collapse, a social separation, and to retrigger past traumas, is to see multiple organised forms fall apart simultaneously. Years come crashing down in moments. A torrent of old experiences, conversations, images. Days become filled with endless tears and nausea and an inability to move. Futures end. All the things you both said you would do together. Gone.

First the body.

Our imagined futures, our understanding of ourselves now, our interpretation of our past, all of these together help to maintain our daily stability, our bodily organisation. Most of the time, when potential futures are shut off, we can find new ones. When we find something out about ourselves, we adjust our perspective. When we realise we misunderstood something, we feel guilt and endeavor not to make the same mistake again. We tend to remain resilient in the face of these minor knocks. But if all are shaken at once, then the entire structure can collapse, and we are sent somewhere else altogether. For the mind, this precipitates what you might call a breakdown. Your system for interpreting the world and yourself is turned to rubble, and all that is left is the chaos of flow and intensity, the unconscious noise free to rise into awareness as you scramble for understanding, for a sign, for hope.

Basis for Hope: any organisation can collapse. Friends. Enemies.

My experience was not particularly unique. We all experience chaos in our mental structures from time to time. A breakup, a death, even a shocking news event like Brexit or Trump. These periods of chaos happen in all living systems – financial collapses, forest fires, epidemics. They sweep away the stable foundations that we use to understand the world and to act in it. But they also allow us to rebuild. Out of chaos comes order, as physicist-philosophers Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers argued is an inherent tendency of all life. You create new futures. Re-orient. Find new ground. Grow.

Begin today.

Make your words more than words.

Systems, ecologies, bodies, emotion, trauma, empathy. Organisation. This is what I believe we need to understand now, in order to start building a compelling, resilient, intersectional movement that can shift the global trajectory away from barbarism, and towards a genuine, egalitarian socialism.

Fail again.

Fail better.

Two people together are not the same as them both apart. Every new coupling brings out new characters, new possibilities, new emotions. They imprint upon you both, and you are forever changed, forever entangled. Every loss does the same. But we can heal. The pain will guide me, until it is no longer pain, and is only guide.

This was a scrappy first draft bashed out on Facebook, of an article now published at Red Pepper, so go read that there. I’ll keep this post up just cos, but the final article reads much better (though my ultra high quality diagrams didn’t make the cut, dang):

http://www.redpepper.org.uk/shock-doctrine-of-the-left-a-strategy-for-building-socialist-counterpower/


The left continues to engage in a variety of different strategies that are usually taken separately, or even seen as opposed, such as:

SMASHING – direct action to disrupt systems
BUILDING – creating alternatives today which aim to take over
HEALING – spaces and practices which enable people to survive capitalism and all its overlapping oppressions (without necessarily aiming to take over)
TAMING – the electoral social democratic route

Already today I’ve seen people clashing over how is the best way to move forward – do we put all our energies into supporting Corbyn, or is the rise of fascism the final nail in the electoral coffin? Do we focus on care, or smashing the state? Here is a proposal for how these might be combined to form a coherent meta-strategy that actually works together. This comes out of the complex systems course, combines ideas from social movement theory (including the Egyptian April 6 Movement), intersectional feminism and bits of Marxist/anarchist analysis. Basically the last chapter of my yet-to-be-written book. It’s not a blueprint to be dogmatically followed, it’s an initial idea to be tried, tested, adapted.

The vehicle for this metastrategy is an ECOLOGY OF ORGANISATIONS


CORE ELEMENTS OF THE ECOLOGY

– includes groups struggling against the system and building alternatives
– both ecology and constituent groups have a clear ‘DNA’
– mechanisms for virally replicating that DNA (education / training / induction)
– preparedness for moments of chaos both planned and unplanned

The ecology of organisations is a network of autonomous groups both struggling against existing systems and also creating alternatives which will take over.

Crucially, each group has an explicit DNA – this means a clear and simple layout of the shared Story (what is wrong with the world and what would be right), Strategy (what we’re going to do), and Structure (principles, how decisions are made). An organisation’s DNA is used to virally replicate it without a hierarchy or command-and-control structure. The method of growth is through bringing people into face-to-face training. It must be comprehensive enough that they can leave the training with the confidence to start their own subgroup of the organisation immediately, without any top-down control. (The DNA also helps to avoid the ideological drift and lack of clarity often seen in rapidly growing organisations, e.g. Occupy)

The ecology itself also has a DNA, to ensure all groups are working in common, without having to give up their autonomy, and without the ecology needing a leadership. The ‘unity’ is instead inscribed in the organisations themselves and their interactions. It should for example make it clear that your alternatives refuse to be sucked into the existing capitalist system, and intend to replace it (see for example the FairCoop principles).

[There should however be one or more autonomous groups whose task is to help keep the ecology healthy and resilient, find where there are gaps, direct new people through the ecology – but they should have no decision making power over other groups whatsoever]

Chaos is a final critical part of the mix, and is what makes this a ‘Shock Doctrine’. This usually means where neoliberals use moments of chaos to privatise public services, start wars, and spread their ideology. We should be equally prepared for these moments, but use them to strengthen our ecology, and eventually (once at an appropriate size and breadth of function) use that ecology to shut down failed capitalist systems. Moments of both planned chaos (such as the buzz around a successful direct action and large media coverage) and unplanned chaos (from political events, like Trump today) are *the* moment for people to be brought into the ecology through training, for new organisations to be formed, for new links between disparate groups to be established. We should constantly await these moments, and create them ourselves.

THE META-STRATEGY

The ecology’s DNA must take the four sub-strategies into account (Smashing, Building, Healing, Taming). It must:

  • allow for direct action (where done specifically to create public support for the ecology)
  • facilitate support to that direct action through alternative organisations (e.g. delivering free food to strikes, providing spaces to organise in etc)
  • involve a caring atmosphere / mental health support / anti-oppression culture
  • allow people to engage with the state *but only on the basis of gaining reforms which support the ecology* (roughly what Gorz called ‘non-reformist reforms’).

The latter might be things campaigning for decriminalising squatting, removal of laws against solidarity strikes, or lowering the working week. The ecology refuses to formally support any specific candidate or party – there is even no mechanism which would allow anyone to make that decision for the whole ecology (though individual groups are free to support whoever they like). But it is clear about its demands from any government, as encoded in its DNA. Autonomy from the state and political parties is crucial, otherwise it will almost certainly be derailed in the long run.

With this in place, these four strategies can then become four self-amplifying feedback loops which all strengthen the ecology:

revolution-feedbacks-2

→ direct action (where done for the purpose of gaining public support for the ecology) creates moments of crisis/chaos, allowing new people to be brought in

→ the ecology helps to support and establish alternatives, which in turn provide material solidarity to those taking direct action (‘solidarity economy’)

→ establishing an ethic of care from the get-go (in the DNA), along with accountability processes, awareness of power relations, and also a FUN, makes for a more resilient movement, where those who normally drift away or become marginalised on the left can instead thrive

→ as the ecology grows, it gains legitimacy as a political force. This means it is more likely to see the reforms it wants, specifically those which help to strengthen the ecology.

Each strategy is then pumping energy into the ecology. That energy is quickly absorbed and new people are empowered. People aren’t drifting away – entropy is reduced, growth can happen. Common goals, strategy and structure are set in the ecology’s DNA, without interfering with the autonomy of individual groups or individuals.

GRAND STRATEGY

So what then? How does our ecology become dominant? It might grow and grow and grow, but so might our enemies. This is where mass non-cooperation comes in – or if you prefer, the ‘general social strike’

non-cooperation

Once the ecology is large enough, it demands that the state cedes control. The ecology must include local alternative democratic councils outside the state, so this bears some resemblance into ye olde strategy of dual power. But here, decentralisation through DNA is again crucial to help prevent these being sucked back into a new authoritarian state.

If this doesn’t happen, we perform mass non-cooperation to shut down those systems. In the meantime, we support our alternatives to take over completely. Showing our alternatives are capable of running without a centralised state or capitalists will provide them greater legitimacy, and embed them more deeply in the fabric of society. We can reiterate strikes if necessary to allow consecutive deepening of institutions and crushing of capitalism.

Just ‘organising a general strike’ might sound like wishful thinking, but a very similar model of DNA + replication + catalyst to build a movement in this way was successfully used in the Arab Spring and also by the Otpor movement to topple Milosevic (just don’t make the latter’s ridiculous error of accepting funding from the fucking US government). See the book This is an Uprising for more info. Both of those movements failed partly because they had no strategy for what to do *after* the toppling of a government, and so existing powerful actors took their place. In this alternative strategy, we have coherent alternatives ready and waiting to take over at the moment of a revolutionary rupture.

If you’re interested in this and want to get working on it, get in touch, it’s a project we’re going to be working on with Radical Think Tank and the new Revolution and Complex Systems group over the coming weeks and months: @onalifeglug

x

I’ve recently finished writing and presenting a course that brings together some of the ideas I’ve been playing around with on this blog, bridging both complex systems and activism/radical community organising. Recordings of all six sessions, and most of the optional readings, are linked below. There’s also a recommended reading list at the bottom if you fancied doing your own study

Plans are afoot with Antiuniversity to rerun the course early next year

CROWDFUNDER – I’ve decided to turn the course into a book! If anyone wants to support me in doing so, I’ve put up a Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/onalifeglug
or chuck me a one-off donation at https://www.paypal.me/onalifeglug


Session #1
Introduction to Complexity

Audio recording
(recorded on September 27th 2016)

Optional reading: Preface and Introduction from Capra and Luisi – Systems View of Life

Slides


Session #2
Smash the System – creating and harnessing chaos

Audio recording
(recorded on October 4th 2016)

Optional reading:

  • Preface from Prigogine and Stengers – Order Out of Chaos
  • Laszlo – Chapter 3 from Vision 2020: Reordering Chaos for Global Survival

Slides

Extra notes


Session #3
Erode the System – building the new world in the shell of the old

Audio recording
(recorded on October 11th 2016)

Optional reading:

Slides


Session #4
Escape the System – bodily affect and surviving oppression

Audio recording
(recorded on October 18th 2016)

Optional reading:

Slides


Session #5
Tame the System – reforms without reformism

Audio recording
(recorded on October 25th 2016)

Optional reading:

Slides


Session #6
Bringing it All Together – a trajectory for revolution

Audio recording
(recorded on November 1st 2016)

Optional reading:

Slides


READING LIST:

Best all-round texts:
Capra and Luisi – Systems View of Life
Manuel Delanda – A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity
Walker and Salt – Resilience Thinking and Resilience Practice
John Protevi – Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic

The core concepts are originally derived from:

Living systems‘ – Maturana and Varela (biology) and Niklas Luhmann (sociology).
Complexity and Chaos – Prigogine and Stengers (physics/chemistry)
Networks – Barabasi (physics), Strogatz (mathematics), and Manuel Castells (sociology – see Communication Power for his more theory-based stuff as I’m not that into his pop writing)

Some of the non-complexity political writers drawn on include Murray Bookchin (direct democracy), Patricia Hill Collins (intersectional oppression), David Harvey (urban class struggle). The social movement theory drawn on is contained in Engler and Engler’s This is an Uprising, and Dynamics of Contention by McAdam, Tilly and Tarrow.