In my view, both the IOPS and IPPS mission statements do not sufficiently recognize two crucial points:
- the importance of vision in facilitating our understanding of current social systems and the social ills and existential threats they generate and exacerbate; and
- the importance of vision in helping us discover ways of overcoming these social ills and existential threats in such a way where they are not repeated.
Articulating these points clearly and consistently may facilitate the efforts of activists who are interested in embarking on a path towards a participatory society but do not know how to use vision to aid in their daily struggles. Doing so may also help demonstrate to those are less-inclined, even hostile to thinking beyond capitalism that elaborating on a post-capitalist vision has practical import in their lives.
I think in many cases it is simply difficult to understand and find ways to overcome the many and varied deficiencies (including jeopardizing the future survival of the species) of current social systems without having a general vision for a better society. Take for example a conflict between labor and environmentalists in Maryland. In the case of the environmental impacts of the oyster and crab industries in the Chesapeake bay, the choice – given the current structure of the economy – is between: a) improving the health of the bay while watermen lose their jobs and way of life or b) protecting their jobs and way of life while sacrificing the health of the bay.
I’ve spoken to progressives working on the issue and some have expressed to me that they simply do not know who to side with. I explained to them that if we had a more fair and efficient economy – one with a robust social safety net, job replacement programs, better allocation of income, a more participatory structure, and so on – then we'd be better equipped to address the problem, without having to take sides. The reasoning is simple: if the watermen’s livelihoods and cultural heritage were not at stake, then they may be more receptive to reducing their annual catch, becoming stewards of the bay, and perhaps some moving into different occupations. In light of the absence of key features of a more participatory economy, it is impossible to secure the health of the bay in both a fair and effective manner. And in this fight, it is likely that the watermen will lose, with some environmentalists likely to rejoice, which will only alienate those who should be their allies.
This case demonstrates that some economic problems may appear intractable without knowing the features of a more participatory economy. With these features (that together form a vision) in mind, the problem and its various components can be understood as symptoms of larger deficiencies of social institutions as well as absences of much needed institutions, which can be generalized across the various forms of state-led capitalism. In turn, new insights are revealed about the specific problem that are simply impossible to achieve when examining it within the narrow confines of its specific context. These new insights help illuminate how best to solve the specific problem and how to address problems that share its general structure. Doing the latter amounts to restructuring social institutions (as opposed to simply offering ameliorations, such as simply granting monetary compensation to watermen who have lost their jobs). Thorough restructuring can ensure that the problem in its varied manifestations does not keep repeating itself, as is often the case. (Think of the cat and mouse games played by governments attempting to regulate corporations. Even with a willing government, it is still dificult to effectively regulate corporations. Changing the corporate charter to make them accountable to all stakeholders as opposed to only shareholders is preferable to this ongoing saga.) In short, vision helps us move from specific to general back to specific when analyzying a problem — a process that can offer considerable insights and illuminate paths that may take us closer to our vision.
Other cases can be called on as supporting evidence for the argument put forth, but that’s beyond the scope of the blog. The question I want to ask is: are the two points stated above adequately represented in the IOPS and IPPS missions statements?
MissionStatement, Project Definition
The International Project for a Participatory Society (IPPS) is a group of people concerned with inspiring, facilitating, and supporting efforts to develop, share, and promote vision and strategy
for attaining a new participatory society.
IPPS stands for a classless economy based on self-management and equality, for democratic
and participatory politics, and for the elimination of patriarchy, racism, and all other hierarchies
IPPS seeks to elaborate a vision of a participatory society in order to demonstrate that there is an alternative to current race, gender, political, environmental, and other injustices.
1. The organization, IOPS, has as two overarching general priorities to:
- flexibly explore and advocate long term vision that is anti capitalist, anti racist, anti sexist, and anti authoritarian, and centrally addresses economics/class, politics, culture/race, kinship/gender, ecology, and international relations, without privileging any one focus above the rest, all sufficiently to inspire and orient current activity, but without seeking detailed blueprints that transcend needs and knowledge.
- to develop and utilize social strategy understanding it to be largely contingent on place and time and therefore continually revising shared views in light of new evidence – including regularly updating analysis, vision, and strategy.