By Tapani Lausti
Dan Hind, Common Sense: Occupation, Assembly and the Future of Liberty. Kindle Edition: Myriad Editions/New Left Project, 2012.
In the foreword to this thought-provoking book by Dan Hind the editors quote the Italian Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying, and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear." (location 27, see below)
Hind indeed describes vividly the ridiculous spectacle of our political and economic leaders strutting arrogantly among the ruins of the “markets” that they had claimed to be the secret to our continuing prosperity and the cornerstone of our democracy. In spite of recent disasters they refuse to admit that their deeply held beliefs are so much hot air. The truth is that the claim to common sense by our leaders sounds more hollow by the day. Thus Dan Hind: "The common sense that set the horizon of the practical, that ordered and constrained our lives, now stands revealed as a tangle of fantasies." (loc. 63)
From the experience of ordinary citizens' everyday life emerges the realization that what counts as politics and economics is a system serving minority interests. People are allowed to vote in elections and to make decisions about consumption choices. But the broader contours of life are formulated out of their sight. They have no real influence in public matters. Hind explains: "Between them, the cult of the market and the cult of the expert encouraged citizens to think of themselves as political bystanders." (loc. 247)
Thus the ideas of participatory economics and participatory democracy emerge from deep feelings of powerlessness. The question arises why citizens are treated as incapable of forming collective decision-making assemblies. Suddenly ideas of horizontalism are everywhere, even if mainstream journalists don't seem to understand what it all means. They don't understand the ideas that best explain the human condition in late capitalist societies. Mainstream journalism resides cozily in the world of elite opinions. Probably very few journalists can grasp this important observation by Hind: "We lacked the means to control our own lives, and felt this absence as a steadily intensifying sadness and agitation." (loc. 305)
However, in Spain, where I live, some journalists even in the mainstream media have been impressed by the "indignados" movement. They would understand Hind's observation: "The occupations of the last year show us that people are capable of awesome sophistication once they start listening to one another. They need only decide to take themselves seriously." (loc. 423)
Assemblies have often been remarkable in the way they increase mutual trust among participants. Disagreements aren't allowed to turn into weapons used against others. People genuinely listen to each others. Nobody is ridiculed for their views. Complicated arguments don't lead to destructive power struggles. Debates create space for new insights of what a truly free society might look like and feel like.
Hind points out that there are plenty of organizations in our societies which instead of looking upwards to those who have monopolized decision-making could start looking around to find people who have much in common. They could cooperate in a horizontal manner. Their memberships consists of informed and motivated citizens who are probably tired of watching political leaders who see themselves as irreplaceble guides to the future. Their lack of vision has now been exposed. Their myopia contrasts with the need felt by many to experiment with new forms of social life.
As one member of the new International Organization for a Participatory Society put it: "The best way to predict the future is to create it." (See A new Left International launched)
A note about Kindle editions: Not all Kindle edition books show the original page numbering. So in this case the location refers to the numbers given in the electronic version.