To Begin: some thoughts on decisive action

"An unstable, invisible and multiplicitous narrative that dances with the rhythm of experience and knowledge -- that oscillates between the "we" of shared conditions and the "we" of shared direction or inclination -- is the only social cohesion that can produce us as a social force." - Taking Communion at the End of History


Call it ethics or anarchism, the ungovernable or whatever -- there is a notion that goes by many names that describes a way of being in the world where there is a coherence between theory and practice. Such a move seeks to dismantle the forms of domination that seek to capture and direct lives such as hierarchical organizational structures or ideological formations. This type of activity is one that is subject to deep contemplation and reflection but does not fall prey to an aloof academic quietism. The way of being in the world and relating to others are a direct manifestation of one's own personal contemplation and one's contemplation does not take part in a realm apart from action. 

Anarchism, in its refusal to accept forms of authority, is confronted then with a fundamental problem. The problem is that we are not alone in the world but are rather determined by a complex web of social relations, a web that all our actions are contingent upon. In other words, the problem is that we are not alone in the world, that try as we might to live a life that is aligned with our principles, we face entrenched structures that determine how we are suppose to relate to each other and the earth. This fundamental relational character of our existence and action means that we risk imposing or reproducing structures of domination that might allow us more agency or capacity to live a life that feels or appears coherent or good but is actually predicated forms of social coercion.

One common response to this problem is that the ways we act should be determined by collective forms of decision making, that decision making and deliberation can be ends in and of themselves rather than means to an end. This radical democratic ethos of proceduralism has its allure: a long consensus meeting may feel slow but when you accept the premise that this form of making decisions is fundamentally one in which the means reflect the end, one can comfort themselves with the reassuring notion that you are doing the hard work of building a new world in the shell of the old, participating in a type of relational activity where the process itself itself contains the politics. 

However, as enticing as this radical (liberal) logic of participation is, I think that it actually fails to achieve a real coherence between theory and action. The deliberation, as much as one may claim is an end in and of itself, is really ultimately oriented towards some form of collective decision. This means that ultimately one is stating that the understanding of how something is to be done must proceed doing it, that theory must stand above practice. In a very practical situation, this means that one spends large amounts of time discussing how to do things (which is a form of activity, but a rather ephemeral and often painful one) and then can only really do them with the people to whom you arrived at the consensus with. Should someone else see how you are acting in the world, they are unable to participate or collaborate, to embody the particular consistency that has been established through this form of contemplated action. 

Another way is to act without asking permission, without agreement, without mediation. The action is decisive because the decision has already been made. However, this action must also be one that invites immediate participation, collaboration, contestation or other forms of relation. Such a form of action is at the core of speech: I speak to someone without first asking permission, but by sensing some sort of receptivity. They can then respond, to collaborate or improvise. 

The idea of rhythm and play seems to be a creative way of describing this form of action. As someone put it: "Something happens, someone begins to play, and when the rhythm touches others they join in." One isn't seeking to impose something on others by setting or moving to a rhythm but is engaging in an activity which has a potential for collaboration, and in this collaboration becomes a shared improvisational activity that is more powerful and more moving than it was one one was engaged in it alone. 

What this means practically, for political projects, is a move away from the meeting as the primary form of activity. Rather, the goal is to create spaces that invite collaboration, create new rhythms that accord to ones own logic. Luckily, human life is filled with these sorts of activities. For one their is talking, but often people coming into spaces feel uncomfortable talking -- they don't quite speak the same language or the language that is spoken is alienating or infused with subtle forms of power that leave some feeling excluded.

One of the most powerful activities I personally have encountered is cooking together: one can walk into a new space where people are cooking and immediately participate in a project that brings you into relation with others. Regular meals cooked together -- in the context perhaps of a cooperative living situation or a weekly meal at some social center -- create an immediate way for people to begin participating, to become invited to a politics that isn't about interminable discussion about the proper form of action but experimenting with decisive action. 

Similarly, such an approach can free oneself of the fear of vanguardism. Such a fear, while coming from a deep and good place that attends to the dangerous histories of certain people acting and coercing others, is ultimately pacifying. Instead, one begins with simple collaborative projects, of a type of shared activity. It doesn't have to be grand or unattainable -- quotidian things like talking about a shared understanding of the world as one cooks a dinner or arriving early at a space to unlock the door and put out chairs all count as this type of activity. Doing so builds relationships and bonds of trust, builds a capacity to face challenges together and to experience some form of communion. 

This sort of project or activity oriented version of politics has been on my mind a lot lately -- it was ultimately this vision that led me to live in the cooperative I am living in today, for I see there being a great power for connection in sharing the labor of cooking and cleaning. But cooperation needs to go further and I am yearning to set or play to a more ambitious rhythm, a sort of sustained political activity that consists in a series of tasks that link me to other people and build some sort of capacity to act in the world.