Crisis, Evolutionary consciousness, Feeling and embodying, Feminism, Love, transformation

Send your love to Donald Trump

Dear friends,

I’ve not been writing any blogposts recently. I’m having a big moment in my life right now. I am trying to move to a higher level of consciousness, which has made me try to reflect on everything I do and the motivations behind all my actions.

As I recognise (intellectually if not yet fully spiritually) the oneness of all life, of all living entities, and the illusion of separateness maintained so powerfully by the ego, I have come to question the appropriateness or otherwise of blogging in this context. The inner dialogue goes something like this:

Joel 1: ‘Who are you to blog? What makes you so damn special?’

Joel 2: ‘I’m not. This is what my blog has been about – encouraging others to believe in themselves as intellectuals able to understand the world and as political ‘agents of history’ able to change it. But, I recognise openly now that my blogging was influenced greatly by my ego: a belief that, if I’m fully frank with myself, while everyone could understand and change the world, I had a special knowledge to impart; that I had a special part to play; that my destiny was to change the world; that readership would affirm my individuality and its greatness. I checked my viewing figures; I thirsted for likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, readers’ comments in an egotistical way. This egotistical part must stop.’

Joel 1: ‘So, blogging’s really been all about you, then?’

Joel 2: ‘I openly admit this dimension of it, yes, but it was also genuinely about seeking to give love through the way I was able to give it – through the knowledge and writing skills I have been fortunate to acrue. Through my blogposts, I have genuinely sought to encourage and support others. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s a good thing. I am touched by the spoken and written words of others – of philosophers, theorists, poets, friends, loved ones. They inspire me to live, love, grow. If others’ words can inspire me, why can my words not possibly inspire others? And if I believe in, I know of, a radical equality and unity of all human beings then am I not also one of those human beings? Just as I would encourage any human being to express their humanity, to make their voice hear, why should I not encourage myself also?’

Joel 1: ‘So, what are you going to do now, then?’

Joel 2: ‘I’m not quite sure. I have been blogging regularly for quite a while now. I know that people do read my blogposts, and I know that people have been inspired by them. Why should I not, then, continue to write? I will. I will continue to write. But, I will write in a way now that is centred not in ego, but more fully in love. Ironically, this may well mean writing more about myself because now that I recognise how we are not really very different at all, that all the demons in my head, all the fears and addictions, are those in the heads and hearts of my readers too, I should use this blog to try to break down the barriers that keep us all stuck in the illusion of separateness by writing openly about my fears, my addictions, my weaknesses. I will do this. Feminists have taught us that ‘the personal is political’, i.e. the ways in which we think, feel, speak, and act are shaped by our social environment. Thus, it’s also equally the case that ‘the political is personal’, i.e. that transformation begins from within ourselves and that the most powerful way to seek to help others transform is to be that change with all our hearts and souls, to lead by example. This is the only way. Love is the only way. I will do my best to write blogposts from a position of love.’

Yeah, that’s just a sample of the inner dialogue for you. But, on that loving note, I’ve just been inspired by someone and I want to pass that inspiration on. This person just told me that when she watched the news of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, she felt a pang of shock, and then decided that the only possible thing she could do then and there was to send him love. So, let’s all do just that.

I’m not saying that we mustn’t organise, defend rights and freedoms, oppose hatred and bigotry, and work together to create sustainable, just, democratic alternatives. I’m saying that we are consciousness and that Donald Trump has been given an immense amount of our collective energy – positive and negative – to get into this position of power, so if millions of people could send out love to Donald Trump right now this would, at the very least, create a huge amount of loving energy in the world and could possibly affect his consciousness and, consequently, improve the lives of millions of humans and other living creatures.

So, please just take five minutes to sit down, close your eyes, and picture Donald Trump. Picture him with loving compassion. Personally, I picture Donald as a frightened and vulnerable human being, desperate for approval, desperate for anyone and everyone’s love, desperate for the love of his father. Sit with your compassionate image of Donald and send him your unconditional love and compassion…
Then let’s pray – for those fearing reprisals from his election, for those people, families, children fearing expulsion, for the natural world fearing further destruction, for those who will feel greater hunger and poverty if he seeks to implement his plans.

And then let’s all get together and really catalyse what has already begun – the building of the new from the amassing ruins of the old.

With love

joel

Evolutionary consciousness, History, Marxism

Ultimate contradiction, Part II: Dialectical history, evolution, and consciousness

You can listen to a recording of this post here.

Hello, dear friends!

So, I started a series of blogposts recently by talking about my recent attempts to try to make sense of what is happening in our world right now. Clearly, some serious stuff is happening –  some horrifically, unbearably awful stuff…but also some incredible, mind-blowing, exciting stuff too. I suggested that we as humanity are experiencing what I called ‘ultimate contradiction’. It’s a contradiction because the old is dying and out of the old the new is emerging. It’s ultimate because this is contradiction on a planetary, species level.

I said that I’d first explain a bit more about the little I understand about the dialectical nature of history, social systems, and life. I’d then offer evidence for my claim of ultimate contradiction in several fundamental spheres of human life: economy, politics, social relations, and ecology. Of course, it’s vital to emphasise that these sectors aren’t actually separate at all, but are entirely intersected expressions of human life. But, we need to look at the separate jigsaw pieces first before we attempt to put them into a coherent picture of the whole later.

In this post, I’ll talk briefly about what little I understand of the dialectical understanding of history. I need first to be straight with you and tell you that I myself understand very little, that I’m at the very frontiers of my understanding and knowledge, and that, if you want to challenge, critique, add to this offering in any way, please do. I’m here not as teacher in the traditional sense. I seek to teach; I seek to learn; and I seek, through dialogue with others, to produce knowledge that can help us create a better world for all.

Dialectical history

The idea of the dialectic has a long and global history. For a long time, I heard this word in relation to Marxist philosophy, but couldn’t really get  it – a bit like the word ‘praxis’ too. But, now, I see it not just as a complex philosophical concept, but as quite an intuitive and  natural phenomenon.

At its simplest, a dialectical way of thinking sees human history as an unfolding, evolving process driven by contradictions in successive systems of social relations. I understand history to mean the evolutionary journey of human beings across time, but it is more narrowly defined as the time since human beings developed ‘civilisation’, above all writing, soon after the agricultural revolution that took place around 12,000 years ago.

In Western thought, Georg Friedrich Hegel is the modern philosopher most associated with modernising dialectical thought. For Hegel, history was driven by ‘Geist’, which can be translated from German both as ‘mind’ and as ‘spirit’. So, there’s this supernatural, metaphysical force driving history forward and the reason for the journey is the gradual unfolding of reason and freedom.

hegel_portrait_by_schlesinger_1831

Because, for Hegel, the driving force of history is Geist, he is known as an ‘idealist’ philosopher, i.e. ideas shape material reality. Hegel’s idealism was, crudely put, inverted by Karl Marx into an historical materialism that sees history driven by the social relations of production, consumption, and exchange. So, for historical materialists, human beings make themselves, each other, and history when they use their own and collective mind, bodies, and nature to make and grow other things.

(BTW, I don’t see Marx as a materialist in any crude way because he clearly argued that the production of ideas, beliefs, ideology – mental production – was equally a social relation of production and was inextricably connected with physical production. Subsequent Marxist thinkers have made huge advances in developing this vital area of understanding. Indeed, nowadays, any clear boundaries between economic and cultural production are clearly blurring online in the emerging realm of ‘immaterial labour‘. That said, it’s clear that changes in material relations prefigure and provoke changes in ideology and culture. For example, capitalism emerged before the major theorists and ideologues of capitalism and socialism did.)

Anyway, whether you’re an idealist or a materialist, the key dialectical insight is that every reigning ideology/system of social relations has been an imperfect system pregnant with contradictions. From an historical materialist perspective, for example, you can’t do better than to start by quoting Marx and Engels’ classic line from The Communist Manifesto:

quote-the-history-of-all-hitherto-existing-society-is-the-history-of-class-struggles-karl-marx-250999

What I understand Karl and Freddy to be saying here is that every system of social relations human beings have had so far in our history has been a class system – be it slavery, caste, feudalism, capitalism, or, indeed, state examples of ‘really existing communism’ too. Since the agricultural revolution when humans first were able to produce a surplus large enough to sustain large sedentary populations, i.e. towns and cities, we’ve had society divided into classes: the owners of land; the owners of the means of production; peasants and/or slaves to work the land; wage labourers and/or slaves charged with economic production; merchants for internal and external trade; financiers to facilitate economic activity; women and slaves to reproduce society and to pleasure men; and an intelligentsia and priesthood designated to give ideological legitimacy to the prevailing social order. And invariably classes were structured around hierarchical and oppressive institutions of racial and gendered divisions too, of course.

So, every form of class society is founded on interconnected class antagonisms and structural contradictions that must, did, do, and will lead to systemic crisis AND, eventually,…to the birth of a new social order. However, what is equally vital to emphasise is that there is no mechanical determinism at work here. Is it us, human beings, who make history and there are countless factors, factions, and fates at play. Let’s cite another Marx classic!…

quote-men-make-their-own-history-but-they-do-not-make-it-just-as-they-please-they-do-not-make-it-under-karl-marx-308129

So, we’re part of historic systems that we can’t act outside of, but we CAN absolutely respond to our historical conditions and contribute to either the maintenance or disruption and transcendence of our current systems.

Social antagonisms and structural contradictions

Let’s offer some clear examples to make this more concrete.

The debate among historians over the transition from feudalism to capitalism centred in Europe is a long and rich one that I only know a bit about. It’s generally agreed, however, that the transition took place over several centuries; that there were countless interacting forces at work; and that the transition in no way took place in any kind of linear fashion. But, we can clearly see the gradual increase and concentration of private land ownership that enriched large landowners and forces peasants into sharecropping; we can see merchants bound up with colonialism, violently forcing open and developing world markets and developing slavery-based forms of commodity production; we can see the origins of the modern corporation and the concomitant emergence of financial capital alongside this colonialism. These forces and social classes have their origins in the feudal system, but emerge, ultimately, to lead the rise against the bastions of feudal power – the monarchy and the church – in the 17th and 18th Centuries. So, here are examples of social antagonisms and structural contradictions driving dialectical history.

As for capitalism, we can see many structural contradictions within capitalism. Perhaps most famous is the insight that the rate of profit tends to fall, leading inevitably to a crisis. This is because, while profit (surplus value) can only be produced by workers and nature, individual capitalists try to win temporary higher profits and market share by mechanisation (replacing workers with machines). But, sooner or later, other competing capitalists follow suit and, over time, the general rate of profit begins to fall. Another contradiction is that workers are also consumers, so capitalists seek to minimise labour costs in order to maximise profits, but if they impoverish workers too much they don’t have consumers able to buy their products. That’s just two examples that can drive capitalism towards crisis. The biggest structural contradiction of all, of course, is that capitalism is a system that necessitates incessant growth in production, consumption, and, therefore, extraction, while we inhabit an ecosystem of finite resources that requires us to tend to its health and flourishing. More about that in a later post too.

As for social antagonisms in capitalism, in Chapter One of the Communist Manifesto, Marx (him again!) and Engels famously claimed that ‘the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) produces its own gravediggers’. The gravediggers in question, for Marx and Engels, were the working class, the proletariat –  a class of people created by the very conditions that developed capitalism. In Europe, the proletariat was created through the expropriation and enclosure of and clearances from common land, its urbanisation into the towns and cities, and its forging in the punitive factories of early industrial capitalism.

It is widely claimed that Marx and Engels’ prediction has been proved false. In the hubristic days of the 1990s, it was claimed that Marxism had died alongside the Soviet Union and that history itself was over. Francis Fukuyama, an academic-cum-US policy wonk, played the part of a revived Hegel, claiming that history had now culminated in the ultimate victory of American-style consumerist capitalism

And, yet, the contradiction, the antagonism, between capital and labour remains absolutely fundamental to our lives and futures. How else can we begin to understand the profound and, I believe, terminal crisis that capitalism now experiences today? Nowadays, to paraphrase Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the factory today is the entire world and we can see a crisis in which capital is seeking to impose ever harsher costs and pressures on human and non-human life in order to revive its continued system of accumulation. Evidence of this crisis I will provide in the next blogpost in this series.

 

Dialectics, evolution, and consciousness

I started this section by saying that the dialectic was at heart a simple, intuitive idea, but then I went off on a historical jaunt for a bit. But, it is just saying that the very structural forces that drive the system, because of social antagonisms and structural contradictions, also drive the system to crisis and the development of new social forces that lead the historical process of its ultimate breakdown and transcendence. Pregnancy is a good metaphor: the old gives birth to the new. Just like pregnancy, it can, sadly, be protracted and painful. But, where the metaphor ends is that children don’t generally try to kill their parents! Yet, it seems definitely fruitful to see evolution itself as dialectical – species evolve, hit problems caused by contradictions in their interactions with ecosystems, and resolve them, taking them to a more complex form of life.

The most amazing thing about dialectical approaches to history is that, of course, the people presenting history in this way have tended to argue that theirs is the great climax of history and that they are the prophetic voice of history made incarnate. And, unsurprisingly, they tend to be white men! So, when Hegel realised that the climax or endpoint of history was when Geist awakened to itself, he started to thinking that he was the embodiment of Geist and so the authoritarian militaristic Prussian state he lived in must be the ultimate social expression of freedom! And the racism runs deep here. Hegel had a lot to say about the French Revolution of 1789, but what did he have to say about an equally historically profound event – the Haitian Revolution that began two years later – an event described by Susan Buck-Morss as ‘the trial by fire for the ideals of the French Enlightenment? He famously had lots to say about the master-slave dialectical relationship which he saw as driving the unfolding of human freedom in history, i.e. that slaves could only be liberated through their own resistance, but he remained silent over Haiti. Human history, it seems, for Hegel, was made only by white European men.

Haitian revolution

It could also be fairly argued that there has long been a religious eschatology imbued in Marxism. I can empathise with this in the sense that if you’re experiencing injustice and violence and think that you only have one life, but eschew organised religion, it’s very appealing to want to believe in and preach a utopian revolutionary vision. We all need utopian visions and we CAN build heaven on Earth.

So, yes, maybe everyone at every time in human history thought that theirs was the key period for humanity, but I am still convinced that this is the crucial moment because of the planetary scale and the very existential threat that our current crisis presents to us. I am also convinced of this by the emergent thinking of a growing number who are arguing, both scientifically, philosophically, and spiritually, for the oneness of life; for the Earth as a living, conscious, evolving entity; and for human beings as simply the most complex  expression of Earth’s evolving consciousness.

Gaia-Theory.jpg

So, again, there’s this breakthrough moment of evolutionary consciousness waking up to itself, and this breakthrough, combined with the scientific, technological knowledge and ethical and spiritual wisdom we possess, is the strongest source of my hope for our future. But, I’m only really learning about this now, so I’ll return to that in later posts.

 

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So, that’s my brief and limited understanding of dialectical history. It’s a starting point to explore what I’m calling ‘ultimate contradiction’, and I’ll continue this exploration in the economic realm in the next post.

Thanks so much for reading

Joel

Capitalism, Crisis, Culture, Democracy, Education/learning, Environment, Evolutionary consciousness, Food, Globalisation, Knowledge production, Marxism, Network versus hierarchy, Patriarchy, Politics and economics, racism, transformation

WTF is going on?! Ultimate contradiction and the struggle for humanity

Dear friends,

I hope that you have enjoyed your summer. I have. I’ve been off for almost all of it – first, recuperating from my injuries and, second, looking after my kids. I can’t deny that it has been tiring and occasionally exasperating being with three kids all day in what often seem to be ceaseless processes of negotiation, mediation, disciplining, imploring, insisting…and relenting. But, the moments of true love and joy have been countless – moments of simplicity: of play, of love and kindness among siblings and with one and with multiple children, in summer fields, eating ice creams, stargazing, picking berries, and just being together. I cherish them. But, another summer is behind us and we’re back into the school routine.

I find myself currently without employment and in quite an uncertain position, but, as I work things through and find employment, I am not short of work to do and plans to hatch. I will be spending the Autumn writing up five articles based on my experiments in and experiences of radical democratic pedagogy both within and beyond the university. I will also be turning the website designed alongside students at Warwick earlier this year into reality. It’s called ‘Moneypedia’ and will be a site designed to invite users into participatory processes of learning about money – about the world of money, our lives within in, and possible alternatives beyond the current system. I’m also continuing to work with nine other people to build the foundations of the Centre for Transformational Learning and Culture. We’ve now produced a development plan/funding proposal and we are awaiting news from one potential funder. We’re also going to be trying to build a networked community of people and organisations involved in the very broad area of transformational learning and culture, so contact me if you want to join that group.

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What I plan to do in a series of blogs over the next couple of months are to write up some reflections on what I think is going on right now in our world. I want to argue that in recent months we have been experiencing the increasing intensification of the collapse of our entire living system and that, overall, on the level of humanity, this is being experienced as ultimate contradiction. It’s experienced as ultimate contradiction because it embodies the struggle between the old dying system and the new emerging system on a global level.

When we talk about systems far too often we overlook the fact that we are these systems – these systems are our relationships with each other and they live and function within and through our minds and bodies – so, living with ultimate contradiction is very tough indeed. It is toughest, of course, for those suffering the greatest pain at the expense of the old system who often experience their lives not as contradiction, but as intense and unambiguous pain. What I want to contribute to above all with my life is the pedagogical movement to help people suffering the pain of social injustice, oppression, and exploitation – whether receiving or inflicting this pain – to recognise the social and systemic source of this pain and to recognise themselves as agents in unison with others with the power to end this pain and transform their lives and world. So, one thing I try to do is write blogs like this.

What I’ll do in this series of blogs is the following. First, I’ll explain a bit more about what I mean by ‘ultimate contradiction’, systems, and dialectics. Then, I’ll offer real life evidence for this ultimate contradiction being played out and intensifying, i.e. evidence for the old dying and the new emerging. I’ll do this by breaking things down into blogs focused on economics and ecology; politics; and race, gender, and disability. I will basically try to show that the economic crisis is terminal and that people are already organising themselves in ways that herald a move to a post-economic system that is grounded in common trusteeship rather than private ownership. It is ‘post’-economic in the sense that economics exists because scarcity exists and the new system will transcend scarcity. One central expression of this is the move to sustainable ecological relations and the transformation of currently ecocidal ‘externalities’ of waste and pollution into new recyclable inputs into closed-loop processes of food, energy, and industrial production. In the political realm, I will focus not just on the breakdown of old political parties and the emergence of new, but I will argue that we are in the early throes of Copernican revolutionary transformation in leadership from a Ptolemaic practice (everyone orbits the big man) to the emergence of a truly democratic practice of leadership. I think that the movement behind Jeremy Corbyn in the UK represents this revolution in leadership and the rise of Donald Trump represents the fascistic response of the old. In the areas of race, gender, and disability I will look at the hideous rise of violent and other hate crimes by civilians and police against oppressed groups across the world and consider the recent emergence of the resistance movements this upsurge has spawned. I will explore the links between racism, patriarchy, and disabilism and capitalist and ecological crisis. Finally, in a blog on culture, I will focus on the crisis within our institutions producing knowledge and culture and argue that, while the current system does its best to repress it, the information revolution cannot be held back and is the technological catalyst for the new emerging social ecological system of humanity. I’ll try always to relate it to our personal lives to show how this ultimate contradiction is situated and played out within us all.

So many human beings have fallen into the egotistical trap of thinking that their period of history was the most crucial period. Mind you, if history is dialectically evolutionary, they were/are probably right. I do think, however, this is the most monumental period for humanity because now we have evolved our cleverness to a point where we are affecting things at a planetary level. The trick now is to convert our cleverness into wisdom. We need to wake up to the realisation that we are beings embodying and expressing universal evolutionary consciousness and that, since each one of us is (a unique and beautiful) part of the one reality of the universe, we need to use that realisation to create a life system in which both the system as a whole and each and every individual living part of that system can thrive and flourish. This is our historical task. We now have the scientific and technological knowledge to realise this. The obstacles are political and pedagogical. They are political because it is through politics that the old uses power to resist and repress and the new seeks power to transform and emerge. They are pedagogical because human transformation and emergence is a pedagogical process: we change through learning.

What is fundamental to emphasise, then, is that systemic change is no mechanistic process; that the old could well destroy the new (and the foundations of our social ecology with it); and so we need to recognise ourselves as living agents of universal consciousness with the power to take our species, our planet, possibly our universe to a way higher level of evolution. I will end with a call to all of us, but particularly young people, to get involved in catalysing and leading the processes that destroy the old and bring in the new.

In the meantime, watch these two talks. The first, by Daniel Schmachtenberger, is a more scientifistic perspective on WTF is happening; the second is an incredibly powerful argument by Aph Ko for the intersectional systemic nature of all forms of structural oppression, exploitation, and violence.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Back soon

Joel