Monday, August 06, 2007

Intentionality and Activism

At times I find the irony of my situation, a woman who doesn't believe in the inherent worth of politics, in which I spend so much time writing about the whole mess to be a bit sardonic.

I am a dedicated believer that you have to go around obstacles. Trying to plow right through items or processes blocking your intended path, or become one with them so that you can just move them do not make sense to me. But I've also lived in the southwestern U.S. long enough to know that if you go around barricades you might just get swept away by a fast current or a flash flood's wall of water.

In anthropological graduate school there was a distinct disdain shown by mentors and professors for anyone foolish enough to flirt with the idea that any one person can impact a cultural system in a predictable fashion. Individuals have influence, sure, but intentionality and emergence are problematic concepts or so say some of the most informed discussants in fields that discuss such things over coffee and for fun as well as to make their bread and butter.

That's right, I'm talking post-modernist thought. (Run away, run away!) No really, it is okay. I'm talking thought not application. Premature application is almost as devastating as premature .... well, you know. Sorry. Couldn't resist and just had to see if you were paying attention. (And no I wasn't one of those undergrads who salted term papers with sentences like, "check here if you read this.") The banality of unnecesary use of complex tools for analysis of simple procedures is evident when you watch a group of young persons listening to literary "theorists" applying post-modernist thought to specific written works or performances. The truly profound can turn to mush when used by someone who really doesn't have a handle on the complexity of systems and the narrowness of any interpretation.

Any way let me talk about this via some examples.
  • When you are inside you can't observe from the outside.
  • All singular entites have a viewpoint from which they collect information and from which they act.
  • You will choose a different path when you are walking with a group in contrast to when you are walking alone.
  • Sometimes unintended consequences are small, sometimes large, but they always are.
For years I stayed away from any attempt to influence anything, taking this "knowledge" about systems to the extreme, but then I realized I would still have influence as "to not make a decision is to make a decision." I finally reached the point where I HAD to act. It was a selfish act. I didn't want the guilt or bad karma of "knowing without acting." . I don't know exactly how I reached and recognized that point, but I knew it when I was there. It was in D.C. while I was participating in a CODEPINK march around the end of February or beginning of March 2003. For me the appeal was about the organizational structure that was networked and self-organizing rather than imposed, rigid and bound to breakdown. This was the first time I had encountered a group of people working for change who were doing so in a way that accepted and encouraged the worth of networks rather than hierarchy, emergence and its unpredictable nature over status quo predictability, as well as the noncompartmentalization of the groups actions that allowed and promoted integration over disintergration.

In the grassy area south of the White House and north of the Mall an effigy of Bush was pulled down by a web created when women encircled the effigy and, while hanging onto one end of the thread, threw balls of yarn over the Bush effigy to the woman on the opposite side of the circle. A web was woven in this process and it then pulled down the Bush effigy.

The metaphor was beautiful and illustrative whether I believed in, acknowledged or even knew about Wiccan aspects of the action. There was also direct action and with it the consequent arrests. Women had banded together and taken back control over symbols associated with them,
this allowed the budding network of women to sprout and grow it's own frame (and trunk) rather than attempt to layer change over existing structure.

Ignoring is bliss. We don't have to pound through barracades, or go through channels to have them removed. We can go around them, tunnel under them, or even remove them spoonful or splinter at a time.

I'm wondering whether now is the time to start going around our Government in a new way? I'm not sure what that means. We have to grow it.

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