This is the Conclusion of Occupy Vision, which is the second volume of the three volume set titled Fanfare for the Future. You can find out more about Occupy Theory, Occupy Vision, and Occupy Strategy, as well as how to purchase the books in print or for ebook reading, at Z's book page for Fanfare which is at: http://www.zcomm.org/topics/fanfare-for-the-future
"What happens to a dream deferred
Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore—And then run
Does it stink like rotten meat
Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?"
– Langston Hughes
We have described desirable defining institutions for four key spheres of social life and two overarching contexts. This is not a finished, complete, and final vision. It is, instead, a flexible core vision people can share, refine, adapt, and use as part of a conceptual toolbox to undertake social change. Some parts are more developed than others. Some parts may need more improvement. But taken together, the preceding chapters provide, we hope, sufficient institutional clarity to fuel hope, inspire struggle, inform understanding of the present, and, as we will try to do in the third volume of Fanfare, aid in creating strategy and program. To conclude this volume, however, we would like to briefly discuss overall attitude to vision and our use and potential abuse of it.
We Are Minimalist
“Reason, or the ratio of all we have already known,
is not the same that it shall be when we know more.”
– William Blake
In talking about vision for a future society, one could go into far more detail than we have provided. Indeed, we have been minimalist in addressing only a few institutions in each sphere and, even regarding those few, we have only addressed broad attributes.
In presenting the vision from this book publicly, in talks, audiences often ask many different exploratory questions.
- What will sex life look like?
- What will people consume?
- How long will the work day be?
- How will Catholicism or Islam change?
- What will happen to population sizes?
- How long will the school day be?
- How old will people be when they retire?
- How big will workplaces be?
- What job will I personally have?
- Will everyone be vegetarian?
- What legislation will pass?
Is our imagination lacking, or is there a positive reason we neglect such matters?
There are actually four reasons why we restrain ourselves.
First, to delve into visionary details is to risk the idiocy of arrogant excess. That is, we can’t, in fact, know visionary details. The future is not an open book but a complex product of choices and conditions no one can fully know in advance.
Second, nor, for that matter, are there any singularly right details to know. A future society will opt for many different choices regarding its detailed features. Saying what those choices will be now, not only ignores that what they will be will depend on lessons learned in the future, but also ignores that in different places, and different communities, not only due to lessons we haven’t learned, but due to different tastes, there will be different choices. There aren’t singularly correct future choices.
A third reason is we wish to avoid a slippery slope that leads beyond arrogant excess to stultifying rigidity. The more visionary details one offers, even if such details could be confidently known – which they can’t – and even if such details wouldn’t vary from place to place and time to time – which they would – the more one is likely to see vision as some fixed, finished, final and complete result and thus the less likely one is to be flexible about assessing, improving, adapting, and refining it. To get overly detailed is a fool’s errand not only because it will yield gross errors and not only because there are no universal details to foresee, but because it risks corrupting the whole process by rigidifying attitudes.
Finally, there is a fourth fundamental reason. The details of vision are not our concern. The task we face is to provide future generations with a society whose institutions facilitate their making their own decisions. Our task is to provide institutions which do not dictate, bias, or even constrain outcomes away from human well being and development. Our task is to provide a societal setting consistent with human well being and development for all, but not specifying the shapes people opt for within that freedom. The actual choice of policies and details in future settings is, in other words, for future people to decide. For us to act like those choices are our province would violate self management (for them) and is a slippery slope toward us dictating for others how they will live.
So we have been and we need to remain minimalist. Of course all sides of life interest us. Of course there are times when discussing in more detail some topic – maybe answering a question or developing an edifying example – can be useful for showing the general benefits and implications of our institutional commitments. But to actually think we can know, or that there is even something to know, or that it is our right to make such choices would violate the self managing, diverse, and flexible values and processes we favor.
We Are Maximalist
We can take everything.”
– Langston Hughes
Our minimalism regarding institutional proposals does not mean we don’t aim high. To deliver a society that is without oppressive class, race, gender, and power hierarchies, and in which just outcomes, diversity, solidarity, and self management are produced by society’s institutions even as those institutions also facilitate people fulfilling and developing themselves and others as the highest priority, is no small goal.
The relatively few institutions we choose to describe and advocate are not randomly chosen. They are a minimal list, yes. But they are a minimal list that can and are essential to accomplishing the maximal goal of carrying out society’s core defining functions in a manner that allows future citizens to self manage their own choices in a solidaritous, diverse, and just setting.
So we are not only minimalist in trying not to overstep what is our rightful task and province and what we can sensibly know. We are also maximalist in trying not to under specify vision in a way that would leave the possibility that a basic defining feature we adopted would subvert the goals we aspire to.
“Will the people in the cheap seats clap?
And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”
– John Lennon
In the first volume of Fanfare, we were minimalist maximalist about theory. We wanted the most succinct list of concepts we could assemble in our conceptual toolbox, sufficient, however, to understand society and history in ways sufficient to guiding our work to change them.
In this volume, we were minimal maximalist about vision. We sought to specify enough future aims to inform our thoughts about the present, to inspire our desire for a new society, and to guide our practice to attain it, without, however, overextending beyond what we can reasonably know and beyond what is our province on behalf of our future selves and future citizens.
In the next volume, we will be minimal maximalist about strategy – respecting limits of knowledge and province, but providing sufficient conceptual tools and insights to facilitate efficient thought about program and struggle in the years to come.
Perhaps we should also add what is obvious, but nonetheless important. Offering new ideas of any sort, particularly bearing on how society ought to be arranged, is unlikely to be initially popular. It isn’t only critics and revolutionaries who can become sectarian about their views and hostile to what challenges them, nor is this confined to overt ideology and religion. One needn’t have succumbed to an explicit coherent brand of fundamentalism to be fundamentalist – one can display such behavior even in daily life. As the philosopher William James warned, quite rightly, “By far the most usual way of handling phenomena so novel that they would make for serious rearrangement of our preconceptions is to ignore them altogether, or to abuse those who bear witness for them.” Amassing sufficient support for new vision to enact it is not solely a matter of insightful argument calmly and rapidly winning over open and eager minds. There is much more to it, which is why we need another volume of Fanfare to address how to win change, not merely how to envision it.