Before the latest rendition of the “Occupy” movement began, my wife and I biked over to the indie zine fest in Golden Gate Park. Much of what was presented centered on fantasy and violence, and both of us were looking for more realistic portrayals of the world around us. Picking up the book “What Would It Mean to Win?”, by the Turbulence Collective, I wanted to get a better understanding of the historical activist stance around globalization, capitalism and state control.
The question asked by the title is in response to noticing the phrase “We are winning” spray painted on a wall during the Seattle WTO protests. The book gives me the impression that the answer apparently stems from Marxism and was last manifested decently amongst the Zapatistas.
The book’s question is presented to various authors and the whole process feels like a retrospective on various movements at the turn of this century. In the reflection, this group recognizes it’s place as a sub-set of the demographics of the movement, and like myself are mostly white males. The two essays which caught my attention were “Politics in an age of fantasy” by Stephen Duncombe and “The crazy before the new” by Kay Summer and Harry Halpin.
“Politics in an age of fantasy” has a lovely phrase, “ethical spectacle” to describe how best to turn vision in to reality. Duncombe describes that progressives have become too grounded in reality, and have lost the ability to dream about the change they want to be. This ethical spectacle looks to amplify and perform truth and reality. It does so by making the spectacle participatory, transparent, real and a dream. In other words as we are called to action to stand up for our beliefs we must do more than stand by and watch. As we engage in action we are constantly reminded that we are fabricating the event, staying grounded in the possible and showing what we want to become. It reminds me of Improv Everywhere and other well-intentioned flash mob type events.
In “The crazy before the new”, the authors look towards complexity theory as an unexpected source of optimism for life beyond capitalism. The essay explains that capitalism’s complex system is behaving wildly and is at a point where massive systemic change will occur. The attractors for this type of change are seen as large increases in energy output and materials manufacture, increasing connectivity, and a looming ecological crisis. With capitalism seen as the accumulation of work, material and energy; it’s motives are in direct contradiction to living on a planet of limited resources. The essay concludes with a vision of autonomous and interconnected groups working in tandem to confront an ecological crisis.
This book also describes briefly the concept of Neoliberalism; the desire to privatize and deregulate, and in that sense liberalize, everything under state control on a global scale. The collective authors oppose the concept and look to strengthening a distributed network capable of response to faults in this global system. While some ways forward are suggested, no clear path is laid out nor is it intended, by the reflective nature of the book.