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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

The not-understood dead weight of cultures

November 6, 2011
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As would be expected the two perennial strategies for social change are emerging from the Occupy Movement: reform and radical change. The latter, thank god, has a new and vital twist to it. Instead of trumpeting a new system (socialism, etc.), many radical change people are talking about creating alternative institutions as the way to go, not reforming the old.

Two dynamics suggest that the dominant modes of the two strategies are not inherently opposed. (At least it appears that way from the Solidarity Economics perspective I am involved with.) Most 'reformists' aren't thinking of tinkering with the 'system', but making deep and broad changes. Most of the 'radical changers' are not primarily warriors against the 'system, but more advocates of building experimental new alternatives.

One could say that is the 'good news.' Here's the 'bad news': not much thinking is going toward figuring out what to do with the dead weight of established cultures that virtually make exploitation un-removable no matter how deep political change goes. One example: the New Deal. Another: the so-called 'democratization' of every Western country and many others across the globe. Others: all the revolutions you can think of.

Exploitation is like the insidious weeds of every garden--they constantly infest no matter what. Or, like a heavy baseline pulling every social situation downward into social entropy.

RD Laing described that dead weight once with great exasperation. He was discussing a complex research project in an interview in which he and others studied both the families of 'schizophrenic' children and the families of 'normal' children:

When it came to looking at the families of so-called normal people, there wasn't anything to redeem it. These families of normals were like gas chambers...Every member of the families totally fitted-getting up and going to work and going to school and coming back and watching television and doing nothing and going to bed. Nothing to say really. To get them to say anything about anything was almost impossible. They thought about nothing, they said nothing very much, there were just fucking dead and there was no edge or no sharpness or no endless drone, about nothing...It was like Samuel Beckett...If anyone thought that you could mobilize the masses for some social change, forget it.[1]

Let's not fall into the trap of trying to identify these 'normals' somewhere over 'there'. The ones writing and reading this blog are among them. And let's not underestimate its power. Out of this social 'nothing' comes an overwhelming acquiescence that sustains exploitation in major ways. Nor should we hold it in disdain in anyway. We don't understand it, and any disdain just leads us to ignore it or to romanticize the 'oppressed' and 'downtrodden'. As a result, revolution after revolution after revolution is just that: historical events that start out at a particular version of the status quo and return full circle to another version of it.


[1] Mad To Be Normal: conversations with R.D. Laing, Bob Mullan.

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