Chill Out?

In response to my email request sent to  Doug Henwood to please let me know what he meant by his comment that…

"I don’t think off-the-shelf utopias like Parecon are very helpful; there’s just no imaginable roadmap from here to there."

which comment he included in his reply to the Ehrenreich/Fletcher Nation essay … and which I couldn’t react to in that exchange, since I am not included in that exchange… Doug wrote back and said – and I here quote his reply in its entirety…

"Man, you need to chill out.

Perhaps Doug is right.

Maybe I do take incredibly dismissive behavior directed at parecon too seriously. Maybe I do feel that trying to envision, discuss, advocate for, and, yes, reimagine, visions for a better future is more important than I ought to feel it is. Maybe I think reimagining deserves way more care, space, and seriousness than I ought to think it deserves – and therefore maybe I think Doug must have reasons for levelling such a swipe and would of course be willing to convey those reasons, when really, in fact, it is so inconsequential that he doesn’t need any reason at all, or at least has no responsibility to communicate one.

But I wasn’t convinced of those possibilities by his adding dismissal on top of dismissiveness – telling me to "chill out." Thus, glutten for punishment that I am, or, if you prefer, stickler for getting to the heart of the matter, I wrote him again. Of course I get into all sorts of trouble like this – people deciding I am annoying, a crumuddgeon, etc. etc. Perhaps they are right. But in any event, I am still awaiting a reply, if any…



I don’t think so. I am quite relaxed. I had questions, so I asked them. I would like to know your answers. I assume you have answers, because you wrote, well, what you wrote. Asking what you meant by your choice of words seems perfectly reasonable to me.

I can’t respond within the discussion, by the way, because despite that Bill invited me to do so, and sent me direct email addresses to use, all before you and others were posted, even, and despite that parecon is even mentioned, and despite that I submitted promptly, I was rejected – so to speak – no surprise. The excuse, believe it or not, was that there was insufficient editorial energy or time to deal – and then, of course, a bunch of others were published.

I would like to hear, I repeat, what you meant in writing the words you offered.

If they really meant, well, pretty much nothing – so that it is reasonable for you to say that I should chill out – fine, that’s good to know, but then why not append that. And why would you say such a thing, yet mean nothing by it?

If they meant something – which I assume is the case, well I can’t discern what it is, and I would very much like to know, since I spend a great deal of time advocating parecon, speaking publicly around the world on it, etc. etc., and if you think that all that is worthless time wasting, dabbling in utopia without relevance, that’s fine, but knowing why might save me a lot of time.

So I would like you to take a moment, please, to answer my questions…

Here is the note I wrote, in case you have lost it…



I am curious what you intended to communicate when you wrote in the exchange for the Nation – "I don’t think off-the-shelf utopias like Parecon are very helpful; there’s just no imaginable roadmap from here to there."

What is in your mind, I guess I am asking – when you call parecon an "off-the-shelf utopia" a phrase nicely suited to conjuring in the mind of the reader all manner of dismissive sentiments, but which precludes your needing to give any real reason, just the swipe…

In other words, what does a dismissive comment like that contribute, or mean to contribute? I am trying to figure it out, and honestly I can’t. So I ask.

"Off the shelf" typically means, I think, an option that has long existed, one that is old hat and not suitable due to being familiar, tried, out of date, etc. We need to get beyond such off the shelf options, would be the usual connotation, as they offer nothing new and we need something new. Surely, though, you don’t mean to say that, do you?

Utopia, used like in your quick swipe, typically means impossible, as in ruled out by natural laws or social ones, and thus not worth any time or attention. But again, could you possibly mean that?

As to the last – is it the case that you really can’t imagine a route from now into a pareconish future? And not only can’t you imagine it – but you think that means that no one can? And, more, if no one can, it makes the vision worthless, as compared to implying that we ought to try?

Finally, what does "not very helpful" mean? I would think this part is pretty unequivocal and could only mean believing in the efficacy and worthiness of parecon would have no useful benefits for activists, or even just for analysts, now. Could you mean that? That even if the model was viable and worthy, knowing it, advocating it, would be an abstract undertaking with no current implications?

I would be curious your reactions – I know I have given your few words more time than you have given the entire edifice of writings about or related to parecon – but that’s because, I guess, I attribute more importance not only to the vision, but to seriously addressing it, and vision more generally. If you think it simply not worth the time, okay, but please let me know one way or the other…

On the other hand, if you do think there are important issues lurking here, perhaps we could have a formal exchange, a debate/exploration in the manner of many others that we have sponsored on ZNet – see the debates section of the site…


Michael Albert

Leave a comment