ParEcon Questions & Answers

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Who Needs It

vvEven if vision has value, why do I need to bother with it. I have things to do now, things that matter now…so why poke around in something that at best won’t be real for years and years to come?

First, vision is relevant now. Suppose someone is building a skyscraper, a gigantic project that will take five years to complete. The builders say, the conclusion is five year’s off, we don’t need to worry about what it will look like, how the air flow will circulate, how the wires will run through it, today we just need to worry about the basement, or whatever. W#e can have plans for the whole thing emerge, later, way later. Nonesense, obviously. The vision informs steps taken even in the earliest stages. It is flexible, to be sure, given the possibility of new insights, experiences, etc. But it is not AWOL. Saying that one has important activism to do now, and is therefore uninterested in what the activism means to seek in the long term is, honestly, incoherent…and at least makes me wonder, often, whether the person really takes seriously what they are doing in the present – unless, of course, they really do assume that eerything larger around them is permanent, and they are only and always merely making structurally minor adjustments.

But there is another issue at stake in asking who needs vision.\

Imagine an extended process seeking to create a new society. Suppose this process has as its participants a significant number of people in the population. Suppose among those people only a small number have a vision of what the new society they are seeking should be. That small group would alone be in position to develop strategy for the process. That small group would alone be able to judge actions against effects regarding desired results. That small group would by default direct the process. Historically such a small group is called a vanguard. By default, even with good will and courageous action, It creates a society that its members rule.

Given the above, it follows that if one explicitly wants a process of change that is led and in time ruled by a small group who alone understand and can evaluate possibilities and choices in terms of the projects’ universally sought but narrowly possessed vision, and  that therefore incorporates its few visionaries as its leaders but leaves everybody else as followers, this approach of a few having vision and others not having vision would be acceptable.

On the other hand, if one wants a process of change which involves a large number of people each able to fully participate, each able to judge unfolding events in light of sought aims, each able to help with determining procedures and outcomes in tune with possibilities but also aspirations, each able to easily enlist steadily more people at relatively quickly comparable levels of participation and responsibility, and which establishes a new system in which all those people play a defining role, not just the role of subordinate followers, than an approach involving few visionaries is not acceptable. 

Honestly, to me it seems like it requires a special obtuseness to the obvious to not see that in seeking insightful participation and not passive obedience, a process of change has to involve a very large number of people each of whom shares the overall vision and each of whom participates based on knowing that vision and being able to evaluate and judge in terms of it, as well as being able to adapt, modify, refine, enlarge, and alter the vision in accord with unfolding lessons. A worthy vision, in short, is not owned and guarded by a few. It is shared and continually refined by many.

As the political scientist Peter Bachrach succinctly put it:

“The best antidote to the shortcomings of participation is still more participation.”

The implications of this insight are plentiful. If a movement’s vision is arcane and incomprehensible, vision will not be shared by all those people whose lives are busy and who operate daily in light of many constraints, which in our society, is almost eveyrone. Only a few, who escape all that, and who have time to explore obscurity, and we are now talking about a very narrow sector, quite elite, will possess such a vision. Yet it is precisely the people with demanding daily lives, that is, most people, who must be visionary if a process of social chagne is to be truely participatory or, for that matter, even just democratic.

Vision seeking a participatory outcome must be shared widely and fully by movement members.  It must therefore be expressed accessibly. It must be shared publicly. It must be updated collectively, and used jointly. It seems to me this is virtually a truism, yet it is widely violated by choices…as in writing obscurely, etc.

Less than full visionary transparency and widespread participation invites disaster. When there is no vision or when there is only inaccessible vision orwhen there is only privately held vision or stagnant vision, then even if the substance of such a vision has great merit, the vision will not help and will actually hinder seeking a new society in which people participate freely and equally.

 Next Entry: Sectarian?

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