On Political Awakenings
I recently found a UK based Parecon group here called “Project for a Participatory Society UK” (PPS UK) and signed up to their online forum. There was a section called “Introduce Yourself”, so a wrote a “mini-essay” on my personal journey towards some more radical political ideas. Here’s what I posted, under the title “Finding my way here”:
here’s a bit about me and why I’ve just joined your group:
I finished a physics degree at Durham in 2008 and then started a PhD at Southampton. At some point in my first year of the PhD, I happened upon some of Noam Chomsky’s videos on youtube and since then I’ve been on a bit of a political journey…
I wasn’t at all politically involved as an undergraduate. Doing a science, particularly a more abstract one like physics, makes it all too easy to ignore any focus on politics – you spend a lot of your time working hard to understand issues that have nothing at all to do with human behaviour or human societies. I always felt a certain disdain for mainstream politics and politicians, but assumed it was all that existed, which is how the propaganda system pacifies most of us our whole lives I guess. I think of propaganda as somewhat like the water in a fishbowl and we’re the fish swimming through it the whole time – unless you happen across someone like Prof. Chomsky who can talk about the world outside the fishbowl, the parameters excluded from mainstream discourse, you never even realise what it is you’re swimming in, or the existence of a world beyond it; the water just IS and the fishbowl becomes your whole world.
I’ve spent the last few years since then trying to piece together some sort of realistic understanding of the world, more or less from scratch and more or less by myself. I’ve observed activist causes from the sidelines from time to time, but (somewhat like PhD science!) they always strike me as very fragmented and over-specialised. The tendency is to address the symptoms of societal malaise in isolation, which is fine and matters very much to the people suffering now, but as these symptoms continue to get worse I feel we need more people going after their causes. It’s like Thoreau said: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” I think we need a better ratio today, ‘cos from where I’m sitting the branches are winning!
I’m quite an abstract thinker and found some of Prof. Chomsky’s older and more philosophical talks on political vision, particularly “Government in the Future”, really inspiring. I started to check out a lot of the liberal and anarchist political philosophy he referenced in that talk and discovered I was basically an anarchist. I wanted to see these ideas developed more systematically into a consistent and NEW (i.e. neither Marxist nor Capitalist) economic vision for society, so when I read Michael Albert’s book “Parecon: Life After Capitalism” I got pretty excited! It seems to me that in this book Albert has described more explicitly than anyone before the sorts of economic institutions that would be needed to fully and consistently realise a stable and functioning anarchist society.
So that’s what lead me here! Hopefully I can be active in discussing and developing the ideas behind a participatory society and how we might put them into practice. Will it be possible for us to develop this new society within the existing capitalist one, which will be extremely hostile to it and throw a plethora of obstacles in our path? I don’t know, but we only find out by trying 🙂 And try we must, or else I worry that capitalism, lacking any concept of “enough”, will soon destroy our prospects for a decent future.
I guess maybe some of you reading this might have similar stories or perhaps very different ones? What experiences bring people to radical alternative visions for society? Are there typical backgrounds or stories behind their journeys, or are there as many different paths as there are people? I think it’s an interesting question and the answer could be important if radical ideas aim to reach a more diverse audience, as they must do if they aim to succeed.