Preliminary Elements of a Liberated Culture

 Context of the Need for a Liberated Culture

We now live in a world in which corporations are finding new ways to make money off of our private lives. This is clear through apps like task rabbit, which show that some workers are so busy working that they have to outsource their errands to workers in worse economic situations and then will have to work more to be able to afford more errands. This a continuation of a centuries long change of humanity as an fundamentally economic, rather than social creature, as our jobs become the primary way we experience and orient our life.  At the same time, with trade deals like the TPP, corporations are starting to try to overstep the control and regulations [a.k.a. accountability] of national governments.

These two processes taken together are sometimes called neoliberal globalization or transnational post-modern capitalism. These invasions of capital and market forces into our private lives further increases the marginalization or social outcasting of communities on the basis of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation and national origin while weakening or displacing us from the communal spaces and cultural traditions that have historically sustained us and been the basis of opposition to previous invasions of the market into our private lives.

This is in addition to the infringements of the government into our lives either for the same interests or for the sake of “national security” or “American Values.” For instance, New York state has recently based legislation that creates a public terrorist registry, akin the sex offender registry and made not registering on the list [which include finger prints, photographs and a DNA sample] a felony. Most disturbingly, this list is based on the federal terror watch list,  in which mere perceived association with a individual involved in terrorism or an organization categorized as a terror group is proof of terrorism. Basically, if you are a Muslim or political dissent you might be a this list. It is only a matter of time until ridiculous applications of anti-lynching laws get M4BL activists on a similar list. Not to mention all the ways in which mostly male legislators try to curtail bodily autonomy of women.

It is my belief that in order to stop [and hopefully reverse] the advance of this new totality of post-modern capitalism and state dominance a new political analysis and strategic outlook is necessary. A politics that allows us to recognize each new incursion of capitalistic forces and state dominance and develops a posture and strategy of opposition tailored to repeal it. It is one that is able to stretch and bend itself to fight in different terrains; from the workplace, to media and cultural commodification, to the psychological and pharmaceutical invasions of the market to the bedroom and the politics of sex. Such guerrilla opposition to capitalism and state domination seems the only feasible mode of opposition to an arrangements of corporate and elite interests [post-modern capitalistic hegemony] that has steadily abandoned centralization in specific countries or bodies like the WTO in favor of totality and near omnipresence.

The differential modes of organizing outlined by Chela Sandoval in “The Methodologies of the Oppressed” seem to be such a politics. Briefly, it is the strategy of reading these corporate and state invasions into our communities and assessing the power dynamics that make them work in order to disrupt them with strategies from previous eras of social movements used as tactics. For instance, when Wal-Mart tries to enter you community you can either fight to unionize them as a labor organizer might have in the 70’s or take a strategy from a more liberal play book and try to get community members elected to the zoning board. These decisions would be based on which tactic better suited your community’s needs, abilities and goals rather than a dogmatic theory of change from an earlier era.

This piece is an attempt to start a conversation about the communal culture from which such a guerrilla opposition could be mounted and a politics like the methodology of the oppressed could be utilized.  Such a culture is crucial to the use of a differential methodology of the oppressed in order to ensure that what Chela Sandoval calls “oppositional consciousness.” Oppositional conscious is a revolutionary outlook needed to use things like the liberal strategy tactically which is to say, as a means and not an end.

Put another way, liberated culture allows for organizing from a vantage point outside of [i.e. liberated from] state centered capitalist ideology, values and paradigms so that we can strategically demolish those ideologies, values and paradigms while dismantling the structures and interests they serve.

Liberated culture is the ground from which modern urban maroons [communities of resistance] can raid and weaken post-modern capitalistic societies without running the risk of recuperations and co-optations or other forms of “selling out” or doing our opposition’s work for them.  Drawing from third world feminist perspectives and strategies, Chela Sandoval’s differential politics also allows for the broad based, transformative coalitions that are inclusive of all the socially constructed identities of modern life [including race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and national origin] necessary for social transformation.

This is because central to the differential politics reading of power is an intersectional framework that illuminates how power effects different people based on their identities. It conditions the strategist to include the social location and specific material interests of all stakeholders in planning our opposition. This ensures that our proposed tactics create solutions with spaces for all oppressed bodies and builds coalitional power in which our diversity is an asset to be celebrated not a potentially divisive fact to be elided.

 

Elements of a Liberated Culture

 

Below are cultural elements that, taken together, represent a significant break from mainstream ideology and culture which is capitalistic and domineering. It is mt hope that readers will be able to use them as preliminary materials to constitute a liberated culture. This is not to say that these are the elements of the “right” or “correct” culture. Rather, this is the result of an analysis of cultural tendencies that combat and dismantle dominate middle class white capitalist culture, toxic masculinity and the authoritarian “high modernism” of the state.

More immediately, the hope is that this will also complicate our understanding of “safe spaces” and cultures of resistance. Too often safe space is a meaningless phrase used to encourage people to share or be vulnerable. It is exceedingly difficult to create spaces that are safe, in the sense that the likely hood of harm is low when the goal of space is to explore the tender and unprotected parts of our being in order to collectively strategize resistance.

This is doubly true around issues of race, class, gender and other marginalized identities in which disruption of comfort zones and agitation are crucial to growth and transformation. Therefore, supportive spaces of agitation is usually a more helpful goal than making a place safe. These elements are an attempt to start a conversation about what do supportive spaces for transformational agitation and anti-capitalist resistance look like as capitalism moves into a trans-national post-modern format and the illusion of a “free society” crumbles in the wake of proto-fascism.

Likewise, cultural organizers often talk about the need to change our culture before any new alternative institutions are created. Yet, many organizers lack a concrete vision of what culture would replace the current status quo. This is then an attempt to outline the elements of such a culture and to begin to highlight social practices that might infuse spaces and communities with that culture. This is attempt to go beyond merely saying that culture of resistance is anti-racist, feminist and non-hierarchical [which is all true]. It is worth noting that in this sense culture is described in terms of values, view-points and practices. Another study of potential institutions and structures is needed to make this truly operational.

As with all preliminary materials from the Well Examined Life, this is a starting point for conversation. These aspects borrow heavily from conversations with Omolara Williams McCallister and Erika Totten. They are also inspired by the writing and intellectual work of Adrienne Maree Brown whose work [Emergent Strategies]  highlights invaluable tools for practicing differential politics and Alexis Pauline Gumbs [Revolutionary Mothering and her work on dreams]. The part on nuturance was inspired by Nora Samaran’s “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture.

This was also written with an eye towards building, reclaiming and sustaining “the commons” as the basis of a potential network of new Maroon Societies in which new social relationships could be fostered. With that in mind this work is indebted to writers like Silvia Federici and essays like “The Dragon and the Hydra” by Russel Maroon Shoats which I strongly suggest readers explore.

Again, these are preliminary materials. Please comment with feedback, push-back and constructive criticism. If you have any resources that you feel would be helpful in refining these elements, please send to the wellexaminedlife [at] gmail.com.

Iterative:

  • To value iteration is to value continual experimentation and constant reflection. It is the belief that conversations, projects and campaigns should be tweaked and repeated until it brings us closer to our greatest good.
  • Epic Memory: long, running oral histories and multi-generational collective memories that value multiple forms of memory creation and story creation ensuring that histories of resistance and communal identities are passed down in their most useful form.
  • Value of fluidity and change in process, language and understanding in way that prevents dogmatic approaches to change or belief in a firm destination.
  • Understanding that constructive process are ongoing and will have to be constantly re-worked as situations change and new information is incorporated

What this could look like in practice:

  • Viewing all documents and statements as living and unfinished. Establishing a practice of editing foundational documents, notes, syllabi, curriculum, plans or by-laws as new insights, lessons and perspectives are added.
  • Adding communal storytelling to community events where the narratives of activities, campaigns, or communal histories are collectively created and revisited on a regular basis
  • Evaluating progress in multi-dimensional ways so that not only are benchmarks established by the tools for assessment, goals, and underlying values of assessment are openly talked about and reviewed over the course of an endeavor.

Abundance:

  • To operate from abundance is to operate from the belief that you and your community are able to work together to get that which is necessary for you to thrive. It is the belief that you already have everything you need.
  • To operate in abundance means to remember that there are multiple ways to fulfil a need, even when the typical resources or avenues for satisfying that need are not readily available.
  • Knowledge that you, and everyone else, is already enough
  • Radical generosity that stems from a belief that the universe/ God/the movement/community/something greater than ourselves will provide
  • All resources can be shared including power and responsibility, which means someone getting more does not require that someone else must get less.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Actively removing self-limiting language from group conversations.
  • When resources seem limited moving from a task oriented process where specific resources are necessary to a goal oriented process that assesses multiple paths to getting what is needed
  • Building an affirming culture that centers the individual and communal history of past victories over triumphs that allow us to plan from a belief in our ability to succeed
  • Trying, whenever possible, to connect the communities we are spending resources in with the communities we are building up so that things like buying food for a meeting increases the resources of the community you are buying food for.

Generative:

  • Every endeavor seeks to create more possibilities
  • Value of open ended processes, situations and questions
  • Valuing transition points as points of magic and opportunity
  • Eye towards sustainability as the key to ensuring human endeavors reach their greatest potential

What this might look like in practice:

  • Instead of seeking to decide on one particular path, time is spent developing multiple potential paths and taking those most likely to bear fruit that leave other potential options open.
  • Building campaigns that can fail forward, where even if the ultimate goal is not reached the community is more powerful than before, more able to work together or has a sharper analysis.
  • Seeking, whenever possible, not to burn bridges or interpersonal connections because all people and relationships can become fruitful if tilled and nurtured.
  • Using a non-capitalist model for paying for service provision like Dana, in which you pay for the service to exist in your community in all of its forms, not just for the labor of the person providing the service to you.

 

Adaptive to life:

  • Systems change to accommodate human needs rather than humans conforming to systems
  • Value of a diversity of participation and inclusion
  • Interacts with people as whole persons, understanding economic, cultural, psychological and physical context, needs and desires

What this might look like in practice:

  • Having childcare, food and transportation support at all events to ensure not having those things is not a barrier to participation from the community
  • Hosting multi-generation spaces where children and elders are centered in a poly-centric way ensuring that caregivers do not have to choose between communal activities and family obligations
  • Adding bio-breaks and allowing people to leave and re-enter spaces as necessary to meet their needs
  • Hosting meetings in locations that are fully accessible rather than ones that are most conducive to the planner’s agenda.
  • Having times that services are provided match the schedules of constituents rather than paid staff
  • Investing in family leave policies, paternity leave and sick leave that includes chosen and non-traditional families

Communal

  • To be communal is to understand synergy as meaning not only are we capable of greater things when we work together but as individuals we are greater when we are pushed, supported, taught and able to teach others.
  • Communal spaces are multi-generational spaces where mutual encumbrance is seen as an asset & shared ownership & shared responsibility are defaulted to due to a sense of shared destiny
  • A value of Ubuntu [A bantu philosophical term meaning roughly “human kindness” or “I am who I am because of who we all are” ] which means a shift in understanding of human individuality as merely an individualization of a communal existence rather than completely isolated and separate entities coming together.
  • Reframing individual vs collective tensions to see how the dichotomy is a false one

What this might look like in practice:

  • Practices shared leadership where members rotate responsibilities including hosting, facilitation, note taking, childcare, providing food
  • A value of personal property [which is based on use] over private property [which is based on trade] where most goods are held in communal spaces through mechanisms like food pantries, clothing exchanges and “free stores”
  • Investing in times for community meals, community report backs of major events and shared communal festivals like annual summer block parties where a sense of the “commons” and communal identity is reclaimed.
  • Investing in a solidarity economy, a moral economy or a caring economy in which community resources are equitably shared among community members
  • Building a culture of loving accountability and restorative justice understanding that communities are built and maintained through love and shared intentions not merely organically grown when individuals are thrown together.

 

 

Poly Centric

  • This means unity in diversity or the ability to incorporate multiple experiences, both subjective and objective, into our understandings of the whole.
  • It means having multi-focal spaces that value a diversity of experiences within the space, allowing for folks to contribute different things to shared projects and receive different benefits from them
  • It means holding pluralistic views without being tolerant of intolerance

What this might look like in practice:

  • Using “differentiated instruction” where multiple types of learning [kinesthetic, auditory, visual etc] are engaged with in one meeting
  • Adopting a practice in accepting multiple truths when debriefing actions or talking about history and theory
  • Avoiding centralization or the belief that a single, central body has the sole authority to make certain decisions
  • Starting coalitional consciousness building groups were issues are discussed from the lived experience of the participants with an eye towards examining commonalities and the social location and power dynamics of our differences.

 

 

Poly Rhythmic

  • Complex coalescence; synchronistic arrangements of activity, multiple patterns of behavior that come together to make a more complex and resilient whole.
  • Allowing people to interact in space and activities at various, complementary wave lengths and energies
  • Encouraging self-organization and collaboration over coordination and centralization.

What this might look like in practice

  • Focusing on a diversity of tactics or methods where complementary tactics are used harmoniously in an action or campaign
  • During meetings, having breakout time when groups split up and work on different issues or the same issues in different ways rather than having everyone working on the same activity at the same time
  • Don’t assume one correct way to engage with a process, be open to spontaneous rehashing of instructions or paths as long as we all arrive to useful destinations as a result

 

 

Nurturing

  • Spaces that are trauma informed and therefore center the need for healing and restoration of our bodies, minds, spirits and communities
  • Supports growth both personally and communally in all aspects of life including intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.
  • Emotional labor is recognized, supported, exulted, compensated and shared across genders as an integral responsibility and opportunity of all human beings.
  • People are seen as being on a transformative path towards their individual and collective greatest good. Mistakes are temporary and repeated mistakes are seen an indicators of emotional or intellectual blocks that must be addressed rather than pathologized.

What this might look like in practice

  • Developing a practice of naming when you are asking for emotional labor to process and issues and compensating that labor by being open to giving emotional labor or providing other services like childcare, transportation, cooking food, cleaning etc
  • Having a communal habit of dealing with conflict through a restorative justice lens with mediation and healing
  • Invest in time, space and practice in healing in organization, campaign or movement spaces
  • Have support groups for different areas in which stress, trauma or otherwise lack of nurturance effects our lives or for groups of people that often don’t have key nurturance skills [men, folks with class privilege]

 

 

Creative Manifestation

  • A belief in our individual and collective ability to change the context in which we live
  • A view of thought as constructive of our experiences that places a value of action in service to a vision
  • A belief that we “will what we want,” is not to ignore our material realities but rather to be able to reframe our analysis of our material reality to see the various ways that we can achieve what we want and to be open to new opportunities that would give us access to what we want.

What this might look like in practice:

  • The use of visions board and other means of setting clear, actionable intentions for our life
  • Investing in emotional emancipation to help us shed the chains and self-limiting beliefs that might tell us that we do not deserve that which we desire.
  • Actively combating cynicism by building on histories in which victories seemed “impossible” and creative personal narratives of triumph.
  • Investing in a culture of affirmational agitation where we constantly push people to grow and support them in wanting and striving for things beyond their current capacity in order for them to grow.

 

 

Transformative Love

  • Transformation is a dual process of changing the world around us and how we engage it in order to achieve our greatest good. Central to our belief in transformation is the role of transformative love.
  • Transformative love is the belief that we must love each other and that love is a political act. When you love someone you are compelled to do what’s best for them. It compels you to not only transform yourself to be someone worthy of them loving you but it also compels you transform the context in which your relationship exist. For instance, anyone who wants Black liberation must hold and foster a transformative love of Black people.
  • Value systems, habits and processes that allow the expression of love in ways that are mutually affirming
  • The ability to understand, affirm and appreciate the social position, desires and needs of another human being and work collaboratively to change individual and communal contexts so that all parties are able to fulfil those needs and desires in their new contexts.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Building a culture of affirmation in which we take time proactively affirm the gifts, contributions and energies that people bring into spaces and our lives.
  • Looking for solutions outside of the current systems where the root causes of the problem are addressed and stake holders are given an opportunity for personal transformation.
  • Launching “non-reformist reforms” or “radical reforms” in which systems of oppression are dismantled or the state’s ability to dominate people is limited thereby changing the context in which problems arise and solutions can be generated
  • Investing in the leadership development of new activist instead of dismissing them for not having a fully established revolutionary analysis
  • Investing in transformative relationships and culture of naming the context in which our desire and needs arise in order to open that context up to the change necessary for everyone’s needs to be meet.

 

 

Grounded

  • A sense of perspective that understands our position within larger mechanisms or longer historical narratives that give our actions, desires and aspirations a holistic context allowing us the whether the ups and down of social movements without burn-out or investing in frustrated self-limiting behavior.
  • A belief in something positive and larger than one’s individual experience that situates our individual importance within an understanding of complexity, scale and scope of the natural, emotional, physical, metaphysical and intellectual world.
  • For many this grounding is deeply spiritual even religious, for others it is deeply communal and for yet others it may be a simple sense of wonder at the complex beauty of those things which exist beyond our intellectual understanding that shows us there is more to life than our intellectual understanding of it.

What this might look like in practice

  • A reclaiming and decolonization of spiritual practices, spaces and doctrines so that they can be spiritually and emotionally fulfilling while not being dogmatic, authoritarian or colonial.
  • Taking time for guided meditation or deep breathing in meeting spaces.
  • Reclaim religious traditions like prayer, meditation, fasting that is linked with anti-authoritarian political practices and intentional communal living as we see beginning in the “new monostaticism” movements or the adoption of Yoruba inspired spiritual practices in the M4BL.
  • Building a habit of placing activities and campaigns in larger historical context of resistance and revolution endeavors that stretch over centuries
  • Building a practice of starting the day listing the things we a grateful for and the people who make our life worth living

 

Loving Accountability

  • Just, proportional, restorative confrontation in which mistakes are addressed without shame and the inherent humanity of all parties are recognized including the capacity and need for all parties to grow and heal.
  • Reciprocal interactions in which the needs, interests, context and history of all parties are understood and accounted for are the default
  • Consent is mandatory and viewed as an iterative and generative process. This means that communication is constant, updates are regular and differences of opinion are resolved through deliberative process that seek to find third and fourth options that meet all needs rather than “fair” compromises.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Making sure each meeting ends with next steps with timelines and delegating who is responsible for the next step and how they would like to be held accountable in following through on their commitment.
  • Investing in calling-in instead of gossiping and only resolving to “call out” when call ins have been rebuffed or repeatedly not changed behavior.
  • Building a culture of critique in which loving, direct communication is used during debriefs to about necessary changes that need to be made
  • Building a culture of restorative justice where disagreements are worked out and arguments are viewed from all sides, including the investigating where feeling such as anger, fear and jealously might be coming from
  • Instituting workshops on navigating consent in romantic and platonic relationships
  • Tying ideas of informed consent to ideas of self-determination and democracy

 

Communal and Independent Critical Engagement

  • Critical Engagement means valuing independent investigation of the truth where all values and ways of understanding must be open to interrogation, dialog and change. We all have the responsibility to challenge the assumptions of supposed truths and articulate them in way that is meaningful for us and works in our context. It is an essential protection against the perils of dogma.
  • Critical engagement, in this sense, is when you are an active participant in a process while understanding your location in that process, your ability to change that process and how that process changes you.
  • Communal critical engagement means that decisions are discussed with all stake holders and made with consideration of the community’s position in society more broadly. It weaves together decisions about the communal good with the regional and global good by understanding the ecosystem and networks of systems that communities are a part of.
  • Critical Engagement also means what Maria Lugones called “faithful witnessing.” It means to “witnesses against the grain of power, on the side of resistance. To witness faithfully, one must be able to sense resistance, to interpret behavior as resistant even when it is dangerous, when that interpretation places one psychologically against common sense.” Or, as Yomaira C. Figueroa says, it “is an act of aligning oneself with oppressed peoples against the grain of power and recognizing their humanity, oppression, and resistance despite the lack of institutional endorsement.” By stepping out of the mainstream ideology of dominance and seeing how resistance and opposition work in our daily lives we can create “a rich source of tactical and strategic responses to power.” [Chela Sandoval].

What this might look like in practice:

  • Investing in study groups and coalitional consciousness building groups where accepted truths, theories, analysis and ideologies are challenged and evaluated based on how effectively they serve us and map unto our lived experience and understanding of history.
  • A practice of personal manifesto writing and circulation that ensures we do not accept something as truth just because someone with authority says it is true. We must be able to rearticulate it in our own words and defend it under compassionate critique.
  • Free schools where human curiosity, dialogue and self-directed intellectual exploration replaced curriculums, cannons and lectures
  • The use of popular education tools in our political education programs

 

 

My Personal Core Values:

 

I boil this culture down into  7 Core Values:

Loving Empathy: the ability to understand the position, desires and wants of others and to see elements of yourself in them

Transformation: an intentional communal or interpersonal process of changing our context and how we interact with it

Vision: The ability to step outside the confines of mainstream thought and guide ones transformation in order to make the impossible possible.

Justice: Manifesting transformation through loving empathy in alignment with a communal vision

Struggle: the continual process of practicing justice in our daily lives

Story-telling: Illustrating our struggle in such a way as to highlight our progress, lessons learned and aspirational destinations.

Study: learning lessons from our individual struggle and collective story-telling with the hope that our collective capacity for visioning will increase.

 

One thought on “Preliminary Elements of a Liberated Culture

  1. Pingback: Building Transformative Engines For Revolution : Differential Autonomous Transformation | The Well Examined Life

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