Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Social Change: My View

My blog contains the title 'Social Alchemy' as a metaphor for transformation and social change. (See my post on Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists, 6/22/08, for more on this.) If you've started reading this blog recently, you can be forgiven for wondering what I mean by social change. This year, just in the posts labeled 'Social Change', I've written about listening to people, having empathy for conservatives, gardening, healing, personal growth, spirituality, prisoner's dilemma, values, weatherization barnraisings, and complexity theory--and some things that are just hard to categorize. So what does this all have to do with social change?

Long term readers, please forgive me. (Or maybe you'll appreciate the recap.) Here is a lot of what I think about social change with references to some posts that say more.

My view of social change is based on two things: change needs to happen from the bottom up, not the top down, and the three things you need to create social change are analysis, vision, and strategy.

Top down social change has been tried--again and again. It results in dictatorships and doesn't accomplish the type of change I am advocating, that is '...a world that works for everyone.' Systems theory and complexity theory support this. (See my posts on Systems, 12/14/09, Original Virtue, 9/14/08, Catalysts and Network Weavers, 8/31/08, Clustering and Coping, 8/13/08, and Complexity Theory, 7/16/08.)

I talk about analysis, vision, and strategy in my very early post on Creating Social Change. (7/2/08) Basically I think that there is a lot of good analysis around (the bulk of which supports the idea that things are a mess) and a lot of pretty good visions. (Among other things, you can check out my two posts on utopian fiction, 7/12/08 and 7/14/08.) The problem area is in strategy--how do we get from here to there?

In my post on Creating Social Change I mention the slogan, "Agitate, educate, organize." I pointed out that while the left has been pretty good at agitating (and lately the right--in groups such as the Tea Party--has been picking up on its tactics), we have not been very good at educating or organizing.

If top-down change doesn't work, tearing down the system and expecting that something better will spontaneously emerge works even less well. (Just as some socialists still think we can create positive change if the right people got in power, some anarchist still believe that if we just 'smashed the state', a better society would appear.) I sometimes think of Alexander Berkman who thought that shooting corporate heavy, Henry Clay Frick, would inspire the workers to revolt. What actually happened was the workers beat Berkman senseless. (See my post on Robber Barons and the Gilded Age--1/29/09--for that story.) I believe that if alternative structures aren't in place, whether we tear down the system or it collapses on its own (see my posts on Peak Oil, 7/18/08, and Peak Everything, 7/20/08, for more on this possibility), people will try to replicate what they know, what we are conditioned to believe, and we will end up with more of the same, if not worse. (I like this quote from Audre Lorde: "For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures.")

Therefore, I think the most important work in social change is to organize and create alternatives and to educate people about them.

When I learned about Joanna Macy's vision of The Great Turning (11/15/09), I was interested in her 'Three Dimensions' of social change: Actions to slow the damage to the Earth and its beings, Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives, and Shift in Consciousness. I immediately related these to agitating, organizing, and educating.

I do think that 'holding actions' (agitating, trying to slow the damage) are important and I want to support anyone doing them. But they are just not enough. We need to create and organize structural alternatives, and educate people, in order to create a shift in consciousness. We need to have structures in place (as well as a good deal of education done) before things really fall apart, if we want to have any hope of positive social change.

I've written in detail on my vision of the world I want to see and how I think we can get there. (See my posts from 9/22/08 to 12/19/08, also collected in my zine, Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists, Volume Two, 'What I Believe'. Volume One, 'Some Theory' contains the early posts that talk about what I've learned about social change, complexity theory, peak oil, etc.) In addition, I have written a long sequence of posts (5/4/09 to 9/19/09) on what I think our real needs are and how to meet them. (I hope someday to collect these in a zine as well, if I ever get the time.) I think that meeting our real needs is social change, it is creating a world that works for everyone.

I've mentioned wanting to write a whole series on education, on what might accomplish a shift in consciousness, but I may never get to it--especially as I am getting busier helping to create alternatives. It's not my strong point anyway--my hope is that someone else, someone who knows more about this stuff, will write it. Or maybe they already have. I will certainly link to it if and when I find it. In the meanwhile, this blog is my own attempt to do a little education.

So I write about gardening, feeding people, energy-efficient housing, personal growth and spirituality, complexity and systems theory, community, simple living and sustainability, and anything else I am inspired to write, in the hopes that some of this will be useful as we slowly build the framework of a different way of being.

Quote of the Day: "...structural alternatives cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. They must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. ...
"The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift are accelerating, and they take many forms. They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to old paradigm notions of rugged individualism, the essential separateness of the self. ... And they arise in the resurgence of wisdom traditions, reminding us again that our world is a sacred whole, worthy of adoration and service." - Joanna Macy

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