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Trees, Forest, and the Future


Today's news: Turkey, Brazil, Greece, Spain, generalized austerity, global warming, energy depletion, gargantuan cyber snooping, drones, Syria…  

Today's response: many commentators and protestors making a compelling, convincing, comprehensive case, in words and deeds, for getting beyond the trees of the details to the forest of the causes.  

Of course the commentators and protestors describe the public commons made commercial, fare hikes, festering massive unemployment, huge cutbacks crippling services, vicious redistribution upwards, unrelenting thermo records fueling storm chaos, databases that coerce as much or more than truncheons, and the machines and winds of war – plus ubiquitous government intransigence about it all, corporate celebrations of it all, and police violence defending it all. But the commentators and protestors also transcend those detailed "trees" to rightly insist that their rejection of current policies is based on deeper phenomena – "the forest of causes" – including profit seeking, racism, authoritarianism, and specific institutions.  

The unmistakable point is that people are angry, chanting, marching, and also hugging. People are fighting and also making community. Not just Parisians are tearing up paving stones to find the beach beneath. Spreading and multiplying, it is enough to bring back memories of my Sixties youth – but please, take that as a warning, not as a silly lusting for glory days. 

The anger we knew in the Sixties is here now. The desire from then, is here now. The sudden enunciation of deep causes we stumbled into perceiving then, is being perceived now. Then we had "we want the world and we want it now." Perhaps we haven't gotten quite to that slogan, yet, at least today, but it appears imminent. In what may be the biggest reversal of recent years, it is also conceivable that we will soon have another earlier element. We used to chant "Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is Going to Win." We were referring to the Vietnamese liberation movement. The operative word to notice, however, is "win." Back then, we were angry, we had a crash course in comprehension which led us to understand that the persistent problem wasn't just bad people but bad institutions, we wanted a new world, and, finally, at least for a time, we believed in winning and not just in fighting the good fight. All of this is needed. Much of it is already percolating with the new generations who are now finding the streets all over the world, and the rest of it may be arriving any day now.  

Hooray for all that. Amidst the horror, hope. Amidst the pain, joy. However, the fact is, back in the Sixties, so long ago, we didn't win. We had major effects – just as Occupy and the Arab Spring, the Greek and Spanish resistance, and the massive uprisings in Turkey and Brazil are having major effects. But the underlying structures that were in place in the Sixties, which we did broadly and sometimes even quite precisely identity, we did not eliminate. The juggernaut of injustice that rolled all around us was blocked a bit, stalled a bit, even buckled a bit, but it was never entirely broken. As a result, decades more decay have been suffered. And here we are, again, confronting it all. 

So what was missing back then? And can we have that extra feature, much needed, this time around?  

Here is my best guess at what was missing. And, in response to that, here is my best suggestion at what is needed, now.  

What we didn't have back then was persistence built upon knowing where we wanted to go and how we might get there. We didn't have a mindset that allowed us to be seriously strategic and not merely episodic. We didn't have informed patience and we often even suffered from juvenile impatience. What was missing from our minds then was shared and insightful vision and strategy. But there was another thing also missing, part and parcel of the missing shared visionary and strategic ideas and views, that would have depended on those views and also made them implementable – and that was viable and worthy organization.  

When a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, or a million people – and more – passionately protest and even make smart demands – if along with that there is no lasting trajectory of struggle enunciated for carrying it through, and if there is no organizational mechanism to nurture and sustain vision, strategy, and activity, and enshrine and defend its gains, what happens is that passion will grow tired and then diminish, and even die. Passion matters. But alone, passion has limits.  

If this is so, and I truly believe it is, then we need to share a conception not only of what is wrong, but of what we want in its place. We need to have passionate anger and opposition, but also passionate desire and intent. And we need organization that not only provides a venue for developing and for continually refining, improving, and utilizing shared vision and strategy, but also for marshaling our energies to support the emerging agendas.  

The task we face is for passionate movements to fight and win changes that improve people's lives but, in doing so, to also self consciously prepare the way for further victories that move closer to what is ultimately sought. This is the difference between passion that is temporarily mucking up the treads of the juggernaut while the juggernaut slows but keeps on rolling – so that when the dust clears, the worst outcomes may have been temporarily put off, but were not eliminated – and bashing the juggernaut in ways that continually diminish its power, reduce its impact, and, in time, simply eliminate it from existence, having developed liberating institutions in its place. The litany of ills all around us is the juggernaut still trampling justice. IT is time to put a full stop to it by attaining new institutions. 

Sure, this sounds like rhetoric. But it is a real, and informed, observation, built on the experiences of decades.  

In the streets of Istanbul and Sao Paolo, Athens and Barcelona, Paris and Mumbai, Johannesburg and London, Belfast and Mexico City, New York and Washington – and, even more important, in many more smaller cities, towns, and hamlets – passion is certainly needed. Anger is needed too. But the mental and emotional glue that can turn passion and anger into constructive achievements is informed desire that collectively seeks a new world. And the operational mechanism that can give the constructive desire power is organization – not the old, moribund kind, but also not something so amorphous as to dissipate in any strong wind.  

Okay, that much is seems to me so evident from so much experience, from such obvious common sense, from all careful thought, that I find it hard to imagine reasons to doubt the claim. My own take on the implication has been to promote with many other people a particular set of visionary and strategic commitments, and of organizational logic. So far, interestingly, while the support for these efforts is growing, familiar organs of communication have been pretty much oblivious to it all. Hopefully that will change. Hopefully Participatory Economics and Participatory Society as vision and associated broad strategic ideas will now get a serious and very broad hearing. Hopefully IOPS – the International Organization for a Participatory Society – will get serious assessment. Presentation and debate about vision, strategy, and organizational plans in left forums, in left periodicals, in left organizations will now hopefully occur, leading to support and progress for those ideas. But, if not those ideas, then perhaps something else will arise that does lead to visionary and organization progress. What is abundantly clear, in either event, is that there needs to be very substantial solidarity and mutual aid from Istanbul to London, New York to Mumbai, and Sao Paolo to Johannesburg, all based on having shared societal vision and at least broadly shared methods, and on overarching international, national, and local organization to actualize our desires.  

These are the issues that must be creatively addressed and accomplished for today's passion to congeal into a sustained struggle able to usher in a truly new world. So by all means, folks need to keep pushing to move from the trees of details to the forest of structural causes – but we must also, now, this time, finally, move from the forest of structural causes to envisioning and seeking and finally winning a future of new institutions. 

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