1. At a public talk someone asks you, "okay, I understand what
you reject, but I wonder what are you for? What institutions
do you favor that will be better than what we have for the economy,
polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you have vision for?
I am for a society that lives by basic principles of goodness, principally non-domination. People simply should not be dominated and oppressed by others, nor should people benefit from dominating and oppressing others.
So, for the economy, we cannot maintain the institution of private property as it is. That institution allows the owners of, for instance, the means of production, to arbitrarily decide the wages, work schedules, and overall fate of other people. I support a participatory decision-making process in which producers and consumers come to an agreement in a democratic way about what to produce and consume. And, I think we should organize our job responsibilities so that nobody must specialize in a really disempowering task. I think wages should reflect the amount of time and effort someone works, as well as their working conditions – that is, if their working conditions are worse, they should receive a little bit more. But none of these medieval disparities in income that do not reflect any reasonable measurement of work like we still have today.
I think the principle of non-domination goes along with the principle that those who are most affected by a decision should have the most power to make or to influence that decision. I think we need turn this representative political system we have, in which it is clear our representatives actually represent the rich and powerful more than us, into a participatory democracy where everyone involved has a say proportionate to how much they will be affected, such as workers in their own factory.
These principles can go a long way and can be extended to all parts of society, including gender and race relations and the environment. For instance, the institution of marriage is really discriminatory; it completely excludes non-heterosexual relationships and gives all kinds of privileges to heterosexual couples, and culturally it strengthens men’s power to dominate women. We should replace it with a system of partnerships which do not privilege either sexuality, and which emphasize equality as well as the bonds of love and mutual support rather than a patriarchal and classist concept of the proper structure for intimate human relationships.
I could go on imagining how things could be if we just lived by sound principles as a society, but I’d like to listen to your opinion. What do you think?
(Now the person who asked me begins to explain how these ideas sound nice but are unrealistic and not going to happen…)
2. Next, someone at the same event asks, "Why do you do what
you do? That is, you are speaking to us, and I know you
write, and maybe you organize, but why do you do it? What do
you think it accomplishes? What is your goal for your coming
year, or for your next ten years?
I strive to allow my principles to shape all my actions because it is right, beautiful, and immensely satisfying to do so. And, it causes great pain to live in an unjust way, unless I totally shut off my conscience and just go with the flow and, you know, submit to unjust authority or grab for money to buy things. I know I have successfully changed my own mentality and actions in a way that brings about a more just world, and I think I have had an impact on quite a few individuals through my example, but beyond this, I am not sure if I have accomplished any particular goals with regard to truly putting an alternative, just world into practice. I think I need to unite better with others who share at least some of my basic principles, and emphasize the ways our particular goals are mutually beneficial, in order to build movements.
3. You are at home and you get an email that says a new
organization is trying to form, internationally, federating
national chapters, etc. It asks you to join the effort. Can
you imagine plausible conditions under which you would say,
"yes, I will give my energies to making it happen along with
the rest of you who are already involved?" If so, what are
those conditions? Or – do you think instead that regardless
of the content of the agenda and make up of the
participants, the idea can’t be worthy, now, or perhaps ever.
If so, why?
In general, I am skeptical of new organizations forming. I think there are already so many organizations of all types that we should really focus on uniting them, consolidating by discarding those that are flawed, and building on our present strengths. I think a lot of organizations could and should merge into fewer, broader organizations in order to work toward common goals and not compete for media attention, membership, ideological particularities, contacts, and funding.
However, there are times when new organizations are doing work that it seems nobody else, or too few, are doing, such as developing a principle-based vision for where we want to go and focus our energies. I think such a new organization is worth it.
Now, as for the conditions under which I would say "yes, I will give my energies to making it happen along with the rest of you who are already involved," it depends on what “making it happen” means. It also depends on how much time and energy I am logistically able to devote to the organization. If the organization is responding to a life-or-death situation, then I think I would be willing to sacrifice most everything to make it happen, but if it is not, then I would have to evaluate its importance compared to my other life projects, including the need to have a form of basic economic sustenance.
4. Do you think efforts to organize movements, projects, and
our own organizations should embody the seeds of the future
in the present? If not, why not? If yes, can you say what, very
roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an
organization you would favor?
Yes, I think movements should embody the seeds of the future in the present. I would favor an organization that does not get debilitated by its own efforts to live exactly according to its vision for a perfect society in every moment, but at the same time has a healthy deliberative process for deciding the appropriate compromises to make while taking gradual steps toward an alternative, just society.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others
did not answer it?
I answered this interview because I believe in the potential of the Resoc project. I think even if a few dozen participants, especially those whose names are widely recognized, end up agreeing on some basic principles and institutions of a more just society, that is a step forward. We can then work individually and together to articulate that vision persuasively to others, and grow. Also, it is a very healthy and positive challenge for a radical activist to take some time to answer questions such as #1 and #2.
I think others did not answer the interview because they are trapped by everyday urgent tasks or they do not agree in principle with the practice of collectively envisioning the alternative society toward which we are working. Perhaps they believe the project is homogenizing or isolated from reality.