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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Where everything human happens

December 21, 2011
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Where everything human happens
A core operating principle and some corollaries for the Occupy movement

R.D. Laing notes that although a person is inseparably connected to everything, she is at the same time "a center of action and a center of experience." [1] Everything human happens in and through and with the individual person. We are the site where things human happen and where, at least to some significant degree, they all originate. Alienation is a word we use to mark out the degree to which we do not experience ourselves in this way, but live as if the generating centers of human life are somewhere else, which is how they get to be ‘somewhere else' in the first place. It's a powerful circular dynamic. And they stay there to the precise degree that we acquiesce to their being ‘somewhere else.' [2]

Understanding how crucial it is for us to learn how to occupy our very being is essential to the success of the Occupy movement.

So many of us live so much of our lives not knowing how profoundly alienated we are. Rather we take our alienation, shared by so many of us, as normal. That is, we accept such things as the killing of well over 100,000,000 people during the 20th century as normal. We become so like the fish in water that we don't know we are living out of a lack of humanity.

Understanding this lack in our awareness of ourselves is crucial to the success of the Occupy movement.

There is no "the economy." No one has seen it like we have seen our brothers, trees, cars, and the moon. Rather, there are people doing and relating economically. We know this because we actually experience these things in our bodies. In the same manner there is no "society" out there apart from us relating and doing. We are it from our very center and through our relations with each other. There are no stars, suns, comets or other ‘heavenly beings' running the show. We are running the show, whether we care to engage actively in this or engage through acquiescence or submission. Nor is there a "political system" that we just "participate" in or not. We create and sustain it both by participating in it or not participating in it.

A major objective of Occupy needs to be us developing this awareness as if the life of our movement depends on it.

The economic, social, and political bucks stop here with us individual human beings everywhere and as far back in time as we go and as far forward as we will eventually go. Economics and everything human is us creating human realities 24/7 globally through our experience and behavior together. We are vulnerable to being exploited precisely to the degree that we do not fully embrace this responsibility inherent in our humanity. We might even say that realizing this is a key to our humanity. It is very much what we are searching for when we are trying to "find ourselves."

This needs to be a core operating principle of the Occupy movement.

There is no escape from this responsibility even though we are inventive enough to create illusions of ‘feeling' free of these responsibilities. As children we learned how to play "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." As adults we can only imagine and act as if we are not responsible for everything human. And we do this at our peril: all of our human power is inseparable from embracing and living out of this ability-to-respond to what is happening and what is wanted in the moment. Do we want change, deep change, radical change, even revolution? The keys we need to achieve these objectives lie in our choosing to embrace and live this ability-to-respond. It is not easy. In fact, it may be the most difficult thing we can take on.

This needs to be one of the top research and development project of the Occupy movement.

Depending on what we want to do economically or which economic ways we choose to acquiesce to, there are ‘keys' that open doors to the relevant doings and relating we need to carry out as means to those chosen (or acquiesced) ends (such as bookkeeping, organizing production, display, brands, etc.). These are not laws of nature. They are pragmatics inseparable from values. Worker co-operatives operate by different sets of pragmatics and values than big banks as do mom-and-pop stores and nonprofit land trusts. People create these entities, discover the relevant keys, and succeed by re-tooling both as they go along.

People created and are now continuing to create and re-create Microsoft and Mondragon.[3] Microsoft went along with the predominant way of the doing economics in our country. Mondragon, on the other hand, created a whole new way of doing economics, but one that has to work within the predominant global system.

The basic point, to repeat, is this: everything human-economic, social, political, etc.-happens in and through and with individual persons interacting with each other by virtue of their experience and behavior. A good measure of our alienation from the life we could be living is the degree to which what I am saying here seems strange, foreign, weird, even sacrilegious.


[1] R.D. Laing. The Politics of Experience, p 23.

[2] Acquiescence is a topic for a whole other blog. Let me just note my conviction that acquiescence to the status quo, whether through dispositions of fight or flight, is probably the most powerful social force in human life. Successful steroid-capitalists and dictators are masters at using the incredible power of this force. All exploitation depends on this skill to take advantage of our alienation from ourselves and our experience, and then extend it to alienating us from our basic desires and our creative work. When and how people in a given place move from acquiescence to being fully responsible for their experience and behavior is when and how change happens. It is also when compassion and love begin to dominate human affairs rather than just keeping our heads above the raging waters. The Occupy movement is in the infant stages of this process.

[3] The Mondragon Corporation (MCC) based in the Basque region of Spain represents , at east, one of the best example of effectively institutionalizing cooperative entrepreneurship. There are three key elements of Mondragon model of entrepreneurship, namely; the socio-economic conditions and the culture of the Basques in the Basque region, the structure of the democratic governance with worker ownership and control, and the supporting institutions developed by MCC. There is a small ton of material on Mondragon on the GEO website. Just use our search engine.

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