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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Looking backwards and wanting what 'ought' to be

October 10, 2011
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This is a comment I left on a blog at

(DISCLOSURE: I am a partner with Cheyenna Weber, author of the blog, in the SolidrityNYC.)

I want to address both Cheyenna and Cameron, who commented on her blog. She talks about democracy, justice, cooperation, etc. as if these are things that ?ought' to be. I think we should look at these things in a radically different way: in terms of what they are and how they can work to make our worlds better places to live out our lives.
It is standard operating procedure for the left to preach its moral ?shoulds' while the right preaches theirs. Consider the possibility that this morality approach has gotten us into the horrendous mess we are in, the mess that the various ?cooperative,' ?collaborative,' ?connected,' ?solidarity,' etc. alternatives being proposed are trying to remedy. It would take several blogs to fully present this analysis and an alternative strategy. This isn't the place for that, so grant me some benefit of the doubt.

I think we can do brilliantly by leaving all the ?shoulds' and ?oughts' out of the public domain, The alternative is to think together instead about what is the practical, the useful value of cooperation, justice, etc. Most people want to be helpful and useful, and to relate to meaningful stuff. They can listen to a pragmatic value without getting all morally charged up by political preaching.

Second, I don't think talking about what's ?left,' ?right,' or a ?messy middle' will bring us much ?conceptual and political clarity to the rapid expansion' of alternative economics. I think we should focus our eyes and minds down the road that we are rapidly travelling rather than in our rear-view mirrors. Hopefully, with the impact of #OWS we are in a synthesizing moment of what Paul Hawkins has called ?the blessed unrest."

I offer the following ?what is' reflections to help gain some clarity for connecting usefully to what is unfolding. The theme that winds through all of these reflections is how to achieve meaningful mutual advantage.

1.Inclusivity. It would be useful for each organized response to the crises at hand to be as inclusive as possible of each other's thinking, objectives, and interests. We all know that networks and institutions of mutual advantage can empower each member in their particular pursuits. So, let's start our various dialogs for clarity and shared strategies by getting to know each other, and listening deeply so we can identify what is wanted and needed as well as the ways we can and cannot work to mutual advantage. Let's not dismiss the differences. They are vital in many ways, especially the ways we won't realize until later on down the road.

2. Empiricism. Ideologies can inspire and raise a lot of energy, but this almost always involves making somebody the enemy, the wrong-doer, the villain, etc. Romantic idealism leads to unrealistic expectations, then to let-down and burn-out. On the other hand, science shows the power of focusing on what is, seeking to understand how it works, knowing that no one person will have the answer because there is no ultimate answer, just more learning about what is and how it works. What's more, this is how we develop good tools: trial and error learning by finding out what is going on and being able to imagine another way to experiment forward.

Let's use our moral values for living our personal lives. If there are ways they can help in fashioning practices and institutions that can help us achieve broader, deeper, and more functional modes of mutual advantage for building the road our blessed unrest needs, that's fine.

3. The Pogo Principle. Do you remember this: "I have met the enemy, and it's us."
As committed as I am to cooperating and justice, I am also intimately aware of how embedded the individualism, top/down modes of relating, etc. of our current culture are embedded in my nervous system. We all have personal work to do in this regard, and we need cooperative, compassionate, and intelligent ways to do that work. Trust. Transparency. Humility. Feedback. Responsibility for self first. Compassion. How do we make them flourish among ourselves so that we can transform this special ?enemy.'

4. Power. Nothing may be more misunderstood than the nature of power and its role in our lives. We need volumes of thinking and experimentation. Here's few notes.

a) Power is one thing, not many. It's the ability to do, the ability to raise energy and use resources to move in a desired direction.Each individual has by fact that they are alive. Each group has it to the extent that the living people in it are joining together. It cannot be shared by those who have it and those who don't because we all have it, even  parapalegics. There are two persistent questions regarding how we relate to power: how do we use it and what do we use it for.

b) Everything human is always personal, social, economic, political, etc. We are holistic, integral beings, not segmented beings. When we use economic resources, that action will effect everything. Nothing is inside is its own box. There is no ?the economy,' ?the environment,' etc. A network that focuses on connecting alternative economic projects is personal, social, economic, etc. Its in this framework that we can start looking at ?power' in order to understand it so that we can fashion the best ways to use power for furthering mutual advantage.

c) 'Difference' with regard to power is how we use it and what we use it for-our differing interests. Everybody gains to the extent we can do this to mutual advantage. When we can't, then everybody will lose if we try to force things to mutual advantage. Things get vicious and nonfunctional when we use power to exploit, either out of ignorance or malice.

5. Democracy: a practical value not a moral right. Here's a radical idea: from here on out let's think of and talk about ?democracy' as a practical value. No moral trips allowed. Democracy is valuable, among other things, because it can achieve effective forms of mutual advantage. Roughly speaking, we play out our lives at three levels: on the small scale (face-to-face), the medium, and the large scale (nation). Each scale has particular opportunities and particular limitations. In addition, every particular situation is unique. For example, we all consent to follow the rules of the road (right side, turn signals, etc.). This doesn't require what we usually think of as cooperation, just acquiescence because it is a mutually advantageous arrangement for me and many, many others to satisfy their relevant interests. Sustaining face-to-face democracy is also a ?beast,' but a very different kind. It requires strong, leaderful cooperation that depends on good listening as well as personal trust, transparency, reputation, etc. We have so much to learn about when and how 'democracy' can be used usefully in so many different kinds of situations on all the different scales. Please, let's take off our moral glasses long off to see what is and, hopefully, what might be possible.

One other advantage of treating ?democracy' as a practical value is that it becomes pleasing to think together about the issues this approach raises, rather than the confrontational, stressful, tiring approaches fired up by treating it as a moral right.

I hope folks find these reflections "useful." :-)


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