This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
incomplete re1lections on the problems of individual disempowerment and sustained engagement with complex social problems.
At the end of November I set out to write a brief manuscript concerning a set of interrelated topics that I had been musing over throughout 2011. But what I initially thought would be a relatively manageable collation of brief essays, concerning problems of individual disempowerment and sustained engagement with complex social problems, grew swiftly into three cumbersome essays. However, even though I’d completed these three essays, I felt as though I had only established a part of the framework that formed the basis for my ruminations concerning local community practices. Consequently, with my end of year deadline approaching swiftly, and afFlicted by a spate of writers block, I became exasperated with the unFinished state of the work and, ultimately, gave up on articulating what clearly couldn’t be completed in such a brief period of time. This situation had left me with a collation of notes and essays that were thoroughly incomplete but which still, I thought, presented at least, in part, some of the dimensions and aspects of the problems and projects we are facing and pursuing. Consequently, I took some time away from the essays to think and reFlect and, in an effort to at least get the base ideas written, I set out to condense my thoughts into one short essay, titled “The sustainable protest”. For many reasons I can’t help but be disappointed with this Final work. Nonetheless, I feel that to declare these incomplete writings worthless and to not share them, would also be a mistake. And so, I’ve done my best to draw this work together into some rough form of coherency and to present it to you for your reFlection and critique.
Of the essays which follow, the First essay “The sustainable protest,” is, effectively, a hasty summary of what the originally planned set of essays were meant to explore in greater depth and with more consideration. It is, therefore, essentially a summary of the most central and pressings issues which I feel require discussion and action in the coming year. It is concerned with the question of sustainable protest and explores, in brief, problems we currently face and reFlects upon, in broad and imprecise terms, ways in which we may seek to counteract and mitigate these problems. Here the prose is rather terse and there are signiFicant gaps and oversights, but, this aside, it still performs the desired role of outlining familiar problems which voluntary organisations face in pursuit of protest and engagement with complex social problems. This is the primary essay of the manuscript and, despite its brevity, is probably the essay which will beneFit most from critical reFlection. The three essays which follow on from this explore, in varying degrees, the ideas of “‘The’ individual,” “Indeterminate ‘now’,” and “Individual engagement”. Although these three essays were originally written so as to clearly Flow on from
one to the next, I have since tidied them up so that they now read as, comparatively, stand-‐alone expressions. Each topic deals with, in one way or another, ourselves as individuals and the problems of individual agency and engagement with complex social problems that are manifest in the forms which our current social existence takes. My intention with these essays is to highlight particular features that I feel are relevant to our social situation and so they are more akin to explorations of curiosity and clariFication as opposed to deeply worked out arguments. The last section of the manuscript is simply a compilation of Five notes that I simply couldn’t locate anywhere else in the text but which I felt would not be out of place considering the already disheveled nature of manuscript. Whatever your reaction to this work maybe, I pass it onto you in anonymity and in solidarity.
With love, laughter and truth.
31st of December 2011.
I want to talk brieFly about the pursuit of these tasks. aspire to pursue protest against the social and economic injustices of our social existence for as long as I can. necessitate precision in our activity and the careful application of resources of which we are in short-‐supply. rife with complexity and. and the analytical methods we have adopted from it. or what the priority should be. is anything but simple and all too often we are far too hasty in translating our all-‐too-‐human certainties into tasks. Our penchant for hasty action aside. then. but in the sense of how we are to pursue them. At this point in time we operate within a framework of thought which is neither cohesive. is how? It is an important question to ask because the economic organisation of our social existence militates against labour structures and projects which do not conform to the capitalist style wage-‐labour.I The sustainable protest.’ throughout our lives and not merely as a ‘hobby’. We are committed to a simple idea that. The realisation of this vague idea. some immediate factors which complicate and problematise our intentions to engage with complex social problems. The key question. *** Analytical framework. projects and activity. coherent or systematically articulated. we must be able to work well. proprietary and knowledge resources. But this question does become complex if we desire to pursue ‘protest. in brief. we treat social problems as complex pathologies which are tied to how society is organised as a whole and not merely to particular parts of society in isolation. I will lay out. each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. Consequently the challenges 4 . there are many avenues of engagement with complex social problems which range from wage-‐labour employment through to participation in voluntary organisations. that being. for one. in order to live well. not in the sense of deFining what they are. I doubt any among us understands the work before us as merely an obligatory period of ‘youthful radicality‘ and I. however. if not ‘the’ root. Nonetheless. then. of contemporary social pathologies. this does not void the fact that there are indeed a plethora of tasks awaiting our labour. Here the question ‘how do we protest?’ does not seem to be overly complex. The practical tasks before us. Financial. Due to this perspective. time. therefore. are expansive in scope. Nonetheless. we have expressed agreement on numerous points concerning the economic organisation of our social existence under capitalist market economics as being a root.
Put simply. everyone must work in some form or other. no individual can obtain autarchy without hereditary. Money.we face are problems which require sustained co-‐ordinated collective work on a large scale. food and clothing are to be obtained. The social economic system we live in. This leads to a simple albeit serious problem for the individual. gift or luck. even then. gain relative access to markets. The individual. relatively speaking. greater time and energy to dedicate to the pursuit of protest and engagement with complex social problems. For example. alternatively. Simply put. however. is empowered only to the extent that they are able to sell their labour capacity and. a student may graduate. in exchange. face a dilemma between time and energy available for voluntary work and wage-‐labour work. for sustained engagement with these complex problems and to make appreciable differences we require as much money. by which shelter. and. For most youth we have. space and knowledge resources as we can obtain without compromising our objectives or integrity. such factors lead to a general transience and high turn-‐ 5 . whatever forms this may take. This is a problem familiar to all of us. that is. Simply put. in the pursuit of protest. For the vast majority of people. Or. in order to survive in this social-‐economic system. can be highly geographically transient over a 5 year period. students and young workers. individuals. must be acquired in some form or other. and simply have less time available to commit to such activities. post-‐high school. many youths move interstate or overseas in order to pursue studies where they may become involved in voluntary organisations only to depart a few years later at the conclusion of their studies. The transience of youth. there is no choice in this regard. Within voluntary organisations oriented towards engagement with complex social problems that rely upon this demographic to maintain cohesion and momentum. This has meant that a regular base of energy for contemporary voluntary organisations that engage with complex social problems stems from youth/student demographics. Even if an individual lives frugally and strives to minimize Financial expenses at every turn. We have learnt by experience and research that. However. this is no guarantee of anything. there are clear limits to the time and energy that any given individual will have to commit to voluntary activities given that signiFicant proportions of their time must be dedicated to maintaining their economic survival. for numerous and important reasons. take up full time work. there is an inexhaustible list of circumstances which can arise and affect our capacity to engage with complex social problems. people.
although disruptive. With limited time. co-‐ordinate activity and divide the necessary labour tasks between individuals in order to achieve the projects and aims we aspire to. The fragility of voluntary organisations oriented to engagement with complex social problems is notorious. By comparison. often by maintaining a core of dedicated individuals with a more transient outer-‐group of individuals who have a less central role by choice or chance. the consequences of hasty and hostile interactions between individuals can be devastating for the group as a whole. the voluntary basis of the organisation presents its own unique challenges as the organisation functions on the basis of social relationships rather than wage-‐labour organisation. Some organisations are able to sustain themselves better than others. a problem we are all familiar with. private donors or parents organisations. if our intention is to truly pursue engagement with complex social 6 . The inherent fragility of voluntary organisations. especially ones organised by youths without institutional or Financial support from afFiliates. When disagreements arise or competing interests collide. contractual agreements bind the group together and disagreements between individual employees. A group of people that come together to pursue protest and engage with complex social issues on a voluntary basis can be highly fragile. There are various examples of local groups that amply demonstrate such internal organisational variability. Consequently. In voluntary organisations there is no binding medium beyond the social solidarity individuals have for each other and the personal commitment of individuals to the organisation itself.over of people involved in the group at any one time Again. maintaining a coherent core of knowledge. Consequently. activity and organisation is a difFicult task even over a period of 3-‐6 years. Therefore. proprietary and knowledge resources the burden falls upon the commitment of the people involved in the group to dedicate the time and any personal resources in order for collective projects to be realised. Fiscal. *** All of the above factors brieFly outlined above are serious threats to the pursuit of protest and our sustained engagement with complex social problems. We need to be able to work together. It can be something as simple as some of the key organisers leaving for work or travel and the original group simply losing motivational momentum. let alone decades. Further to this. voluntary organisations can fracture and dissolve for many reasons. can be resolved in numerous ways without damaging the overall operation of the organisation in the long run. and especially for freshly formed groups. or it could be serious as a factional rift. within a wage-‐labour organisation.
without it. we must ask ourselves: how are we going to avoid these common and socially-‐constructed pressures and pitfalls? How are we. as a burgeoning group of people engaged in these types of activities. through community practice. the creation of new. through interaction with current. much more than this. even our most humble ambitions can feel as nothing but fanciful wishes. physically. The courage to defy these feelings of helplessness is not something that can be borne in isolation. even marginally. how do we make social-‐protest sustainable in a social environment that militates against such pursuits? The vague and immediately unhelpful. This. I think. emotionally and spiritually. point to recognise is the necessity of long-‐term strategies and long-‐term planning. In order to engage with complex social problems over the long term we need to be generating the time and space for individuals to pursue these projects. This is to say that we need to conceive of projects and modes of social organisation which will can mitigate. I believe this means that we need to focus on projects which generate greater social solidarity between involved individuals and ones that enable us to obtain greater Fiscal. going to create spaces and modes of local-‐organisation that overcome and ameliorate these problems? In short. as a genuine being-‐for-‐other-‐beings (if it can be suggested with such vague philosophical terms). the beating heart that sustains our will and. local community structures we will be reviving an accessible and visible space for disillusioned individuals to seek support and engagement. the pressures of capitalist social existence as well as generate supple but lasting community structures. proprietary and knowledge resources. The essential dimensions here are time and space. and regeneration of old. This does not merely mean being able to pay someone an annual wage to research a problem and provide answers -‐ it means much. For example. At one point or another every empathetic individual has felt the sting of futility and the despair of powerlessness that confronts our desire to ameliorate the social injustices we learn of and experience. means that we need to co-‐ordinate our efforts towards projects that are less concerned with public protest and which are more concerned with the generation of community support structures to facilitate. can we create avenues of social-‐learning and decrease our dependence upon technical service industries? And so on and so forth. My own social learning experiences have drastically changed my perspectives on what is possible and how important local community 7 . The courage to pursue such tasks is sustainable only through solidarity with brothers and sisters ready and willing to catch us when we fall. is the intangible lifeblood of our resolve. albeit vital. no individual can survive long as a Sisyphean pantomime. how can we decrease our reliance upon capital infrastructure? How. The other side of this is that. shelter and assist people in their daily lives. Solidarity. In order to overcome the various aspects of the deFicits mentioned above.problems and social protest.
there are many people we have met and will meet who feel disaffected. For myself. At one time or another. of a good friend who has been working to appropriate empty spaces. powerless and held-‐back by the piles of objects that stand over and against them both in labour and in living. an important event yes. then. Have no doubt. There are.support is for nurturing the necessary intellectual fortitude to pursue these projects. Long term strategy. can be found in the inconspicuous modes of living and consumption we have adopted through habit. I feel that to truly ‘protest’ this system we must seek all avenues of subversion — and such avenues. but projects which have a greater focus on the regeneration of local community spaces and structures will have a signiFicant impact on our daily lives. we need to also create modes of community engagement that counteract the invasion of capital in our daily lives through the regeneration of local community structures that can mobilise and support local 8 . limits to what is possible in these regards. space and support to become engaged in such projects. time and knowledge. but a temporary expression nonetheless. we need to Find ways of creating time and space for people to engage with complex social problems through the procurement of resources. for example. we are able to challenge the inconspicuous avenues of invasion where capital has been most successful in engendering our dependency upon it. I think of. of course. even if it is merely a handful of people supporting each other. that is an event. Financial. I am thinking (in vague and insufFiciently developed ways) of the idea of ‘the daily protest’. hence. On the one hand. ‘protest’ in a full sense. Here. Such questions and problems of our day-‐to-‐day living are inconspicuous. We now have the opportunity to continue to grow the spaces we have created and to establish avenues of engagement for people who otherwise would not have had the chance to do so. I think. On the other. reclaim ‘waste foods’ and so and so forth. we were all introduced into comparable spaces and groups and each of you has taken these experiences and lessons to heart. The careful gestation of accessible and visible local spaces which are both constructive and supportive is vital to enabling people the opportunity. proprietary. precisely because we are inured against thinking about them through habit (in this case we can Find my use of a computer to write this manuscript to be a Fine demonstration of irony and hypocrisy). How much electricity do we use? How much food do we throw away without recycling? Can we walk or cycle to where we need to be instead of driving? Can we grow parts of our dietary requirements rather than purchase them? Can we Find ways to facilitate social learning rather than private-‐industrialised learning? If we can Find ways of constructively reacting against these infringements upon our day-‐to-‐day existence by creating spaces which challenge capital predominance. is not a march down the street. means a fusion of two ideas. Many of us are already well aware of these things.
9 .people and local projects (and this does not necessarily mean in principled opposition to authority structures). we have succeeded in rejuvenating a modicum of social and community consciousness beyond the traditional bastions of local religious communities and other. on multiple levels. then we need to think deeply about how we are to go about making our work and our passions a sustainable way of life. then the pursuit of long term strategy. If we truly wish to change our social existence in the long-‐term. is nothing less than what is demanded of us. towards the sustainability of our resistance? Who owns the space we sleep in? Who provides the food we eat? Who runs the council that co-‐ordinates local planning projects? What methods of transportation do we use? Who services the transportation methods we use? How do we engage with the local environment around us? How much energy do we take from nature? How little do we give back? I feel deeply that if we are to take seriously the call to protest. So far. This means asking questions such as how can we turn the resources of the capitalist system to our advantage. there is a signiFicant difference between the projects we have set ourselves so far and long-‐term projects which will need to pursue if we are to create the time and space necessary for us to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of protest. voluntary organisations. That there are such groups is a great step towards the fulFillment of the aspirations we would see realised. However. more established.
The individual of capital is the locus of potentiality. they are successful in selling their labour capacity. This does not necessarily mean that the individual is a ‘selFish’ actor. Alongside this. The common framework of the individual is that of the 10 . but it does mean that their aspirations and beliefs (altruistic or otherwise) are understood as being no different to any other preference. In the popular lexicon there are no limits to what ‘one’ can achieve: “the sky’s the limit.2 Failure to adapt to the legal and customary norms of the market will have negative consequences for the individual. prerogative and power. then. desires and aspirations. for example. they will be able to satisfy their immediate needs.II ‘The’ individual. The individual is the sovereign of their appetites. This conception of the individual. legal or otherwise. are the institutions that act within and reproduce the market system in which the individual must partake in order to obtain food. Within this dominant idea of the individual. to ‘rational choice theory’. discourse and social imagery. the ‘oneself’. it is the choice itself which matters.” 1 “the only one holding you back is your-‐self”. clothing. is not an imprecise representation and it is largely congruent with the popular notion of the ‘rational actor’ and is common. The individual is ‘empowered. here. an individual’s agency is tied intimately to the structures of economic production and it entails a particular set of assumptions about human behaviour. motives and beliefs.” “the world is your oyster. that is. although a comparatively shallow representation. If an individual adapts sufFiciently to the market. also. The individual.’ therefore. Both are preferences and both are assumed as being rational decisions. shelter and clothing. within this framework by being a rational actor who is the sovereign of their decisions and who is also responsible for their decisions. primarily in the form of an inability to obtain work that will sufFiciently provide for their needs (food. is an agent who serves the market in order to access the relative and conditioned ‘freedoms’ of the market. It can hardly be denied that our capitalist society promotes a highly particular idea and image of the individual which is made explicit in our language. shelter. So. not necessarily the reasons for the choice. The freedom of the individual is the freedom for the individual to sell their capacity for work and to satisfy their preferences (appetites and aspirations) within the marketplace. family). That one is based on an ethical consideration and the other on a aesthetic reason is largely inconsequential. my behavioural preference to not eat meat based upon ethical reasons has no greater signiFicance than my preference to not eat meat based solely on my distaste for its Flavour.
etc. in many ways. experience this and.’ There are expansive opportunities and rewards for those who are able and willing to adapt to the marketplace and further its expansion. Of course. It could not hold the imaginative and practical traction that it has if it were not. provided I can develop a business framework that allows me to sustain the project whilst maintaining the integrity of the aspiration. 11 . of course. does not manifest systematic social pathologies. no simple task and the contestation of ideas and perspectives rages across all conceivable media available for public and private expression. I have the freedom to pursue many of my antagonistic and counter-‐culture aspirations within the marketplace. socially and culturally. Explicitly in word.4 Perfect instances of this can be seen in many places.rational actor who engages and contributes to society through pre-‐established institutions and overlapping relationships: employer/employee. that is. buyer/seller. Of course this does not mean that this market-‐based system of social organisation and the conception of the individual it enshrines intellectually. Conformity pays and pays well. Truthout. its trump-‐card and ultimatum. To suggest this system is not. in important ways. this broad notion of ‘the individual’ permeates our relationships and institutions. these are highly complex and Fluid relationships which we constantly move between on a daily basis and over the course of our life. service-‐provider/ customer. is its beating heart. economically. work within and appropriate the market system and technologies towards their ends of stimulating radical thought and reactionary protests. The magnitude of these problems are due to their systemic and collective origins. struggle to understand its scope and implications in our daily lives. diagnosing them and attempting to engage with them is. capable of ‘delivering the goods. empowering for the individual is to underestimate both the logistical and ideological power of the market system and its framework of understanding the individual. that is. they arise from how we structure our society and they are perpetuated because we as individuals of the society (in varying degrees) reproduce these structures. The capacity of capitalism to satisfy (to an extent) essential inconspicuous consumption and marginal conspicuous consumption.’ For example.3 Even those of us who would seek to resist can be. To differing extents we embody this. Verso Books and AdBusters are three radically-‐orientated organisations. ‘accommodated. Understanding the sources of these problems. or implicitly in everyday experience. the oneself that is empowered to satisfy one’s needs within the marketplace that supplies a particular set of choices and possibilities. The individual is the autonomous unit of this system. For instance. to various extents. the market system reproduces the conditions of alienated labour and routinely causes environmental catastrophes to the extent that a state of ecological crisis has become a permanent feature of our social existence.
the situation that an individual may seek to help ameliorate can appear irresolvable. or which involve powerful vested interests (e. seem as monolithic beacons. if there is an absence of avenues towards which an individual can channel these concerns. inexorable and incomprehensible force acting against us and holding us back. from this general discussion of ‘the individual. then. the scope of the problems give the impression that even a lifetime spent pursuing their resolution would have only a marginal impact on the situation.g. Nonetheless. may respond to this confrontation is not something which can be ‘predicted.g. enlightening for their brilliance. but distant in the same moment. The social situation the individual confronts is one in which they are empowered to contribute to society through the marketplace but it is also one in which the individual. Whilst. we feel a distinct urgency and dismay when we are confronted by the images. alienated labour and environmental devastation). then. such complex social problems inevitably leave us. The combined weight of this settles heavily upon our conscience and it is unsurprising that we often feel like there is an intangible. Furthermore.’ to reFlect upon some of the experiences I have had. “How can I help?” and “What can I do?” Consequently. On the one hand. appear to be so vast and complex that it is hard to even see where you would begin to engage with them. I want to move now.’ so to speak. Consequently. we are moved by the suffering of others. the limitations of our individual agency are also felt.’ in being intellectually confronted by systemic social problems. yet. The main problem I experienced (and continue to witness amongst students particularly and amongst most people I meet). Yet another complicating factor is that the people throughout history who have worked and grappled with these issues. Given. as solely 12 . how ‘the individual’ (or ‘one-‐self’). the veritable catalogue of complex social problems which impress themselves upon our consciousness day after day. as individuals. intellectual lighthouses in the night. Issues which have a pathological character (e. And. Of course. as such an ‘individual. to who individuals turn to for understanding. to do nothing. in the face of a world plagued by maladies. are the feelings of powerlessness and futility that overcome us when we are confronted with complex social issues. facing a dilemma. is to resign ‘oneself‘ to the perpetuation of the problem. then. is repeated to the point of nausea. The questions arise. This. the urgency of the situation is understood and the desire to contribute to its amelioration is felt with a gripping immediacy. most certainly. wars of aggression and the exploitation of private information by corporations). we genuinely want to help. And it is not as though we dispassionately ‘understand’ these problems. the helplessness of the individual. we are emotionally engaged with them. reports and stories that are communicated to us of all the suffering in our world. on the other hand. was my experience of being confronted by the complex social problems present in Australia and the world we belong to and with which we are all enmeshed.
can also take root. which do not fall under the pre-‐established purviews of the market. also to look after our neighbour. This mentality was perhaps surmised best by the former Prime Minister of Great Britain Margaret Thatcher when she said [a]nd. whilst we cannot predict how any particular individual may react to such dilemmas. which demand our collective action. the magnitude of the problems we face as a society are so expansive so as to necessitate genuinely collective action in order to be overcome. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then. the normative ideal of the economically ‘empowered individual. then. is rendered helpless in face of problems which demand co-‐ordinated and sustained engagement. And no government can do anything except through people. On the one hand. a myopia towards avenues of social engagement. disenfranchisement and apathy (the defensive refrains “What can I do? I am just one person!”) are to be expected. and there are families. The social tasks that await our work. I do not think that cynicism. leads to a discernible cultural and intellectual frame of self-‐reference which has an ‘othering’ effect upon how the individual (as an independent. are read as being the solely within the purview and responsibility of the system’s institutions and power relations. and. then. 5 It can hardly be maintained that the lexicon and habits of understanding ourselves as oneself. As the language and practice of the ‘empowered individual’ roots itself deeply into our social consciousness and social behaviour. There are individual men and women. disempowerment. a collection of ‘oneselves’. Even if the point is conceded that formal institutions and 13 . to read ‘community’ as merely a cluster of autonomous individuals. as one who acts. there are only limited avenues of engagement which the individual can dedicate themselves to. If there are only limited public or private institutions oriented towards understanding and ameliorating such problems. then.’ as the paradigmatic social actor.an individual. although misanthropy may be accounted for as something of a natural accompaniment to youthful rebellion. there is no such thing as society. I feel that it contained an element of myopia. and people must look to themselves First. This is to say that. these symptoms suggest to me the two-‐fold situation intimated above. On the other hand. It does not seem to be a stretch. you know. as the deCinitive individual. to suggest that. misanthropy and apathy are the expressions of a youth raised too smart too soon — at least as some might claim. ReFlecting upon my own experiences this disillusionment manifested for me as a virulent and petty misanthropy. my own experiences of misanthropy were derived more-‐so from my incapacity to think beyond the framework of the ‘empowered individual’ than it was from being overwhelmed with the magnitude of the social problems I desired to see ameliorated. Rather. reactions of disillusionment. autonomous ‘one’) conceives of their capacity to act in relation to society and the ways they will act in relation to other people. There is a tendency. has not contributed to facilitating a shift in our intellectual and psychological frameworks of thought.
2 This is something of an ideal which the market system is supposed to realise. 5 Margaret Thatcher. The question arises. the oyster is a relative delicacy no less. activity could be said to be ‘beyond the market’. but. 1987. must be noted. 1 This expression is particularly revealing in its analogy between the individual and the world as that between a diner and their meal. existentially and practically meet these challenges? The fragments of answers. I am only concerned with pointing out here that capitalism has been highly successful in marginalising those it can ‘afford’ to marginalise and satisfying those who it needs to satisfy in order to retain its ideological and practical positions of power and authority. if any. All of this is to suggest that we have in subtle.‘ the promise of ‘nourishment.private interests may be incapable or unwilling to engage these tasks seriously. The enormous human expense and impoverishment that this entails is the crux of our social concerns and critique. social and international caveats and considerations. Further. 14 . and one which I have been experiencing more and more over the past three to four years. We have a tendency to fear the fables of Phaëton and Icarus and dress our apathy in the garb of fashionable humility whilst speaking of the hubris of those who. albeit important ways. is to be found in the fractured notion of ‘community’. The immediate doubt we feel is the subtle fear of failure and the futility of attempting what seems impossible. then the default position of the individual is to read social problems as being a task that they alone must address. then. I suggest. here at least. capitalism’s success in fending off would be challengers. All of these associations speak of a deeply rooted perspective: “the world is your oyster” can be alternatively expressed as “the world is mine for the eating”. 4 The question as to whether any activity today can be considered to be beyond or ‘without’ the market (as opposed to being ‘within’ the market) is an interesting exercise as it is not immediately obvious to me what. is how are we to intellectually. 3 This statement of course comes with many economic. The individual ‘eating.‘ Flavour. care enough to commit themselves to their aspirations. pleasure and enjoyment in the consumption. Woman’s Own. become incapable of relating ourselves to the problems we desire to be ameliorated because we struggle to see how one person can make a difference. irrespective of their politics.
an exercise in clarifying my own confusions. epistemologically. Therefore. if you will. but vital. therefore. these ideas would require far more investigation. elucidation and argument than which there is currently space or time for. on our capacity for individual agency by discussing the idea of ‘now’. This takes the form of remembering the plans I have made.’ echoes throughout our social institutions. in its current form of expression. and. I am stuck. My access to ‘the’ future is conFined to the projection of myself into ‘the’ future. my choice of perspective on this matter is poorly chosen due to the vast discussion on the subject and its innate complexity. My access to the past is conFined to memory and reFlection. This takes the form of plans. the entirety of my experience is found within. If this were the case. I will not venture to suggest what ‘the now‘ or ‘a now’ ‘is’ per se -‐ but I will be Fidgeting around the edges of this idea as I proceed. Although the notion of the modern ‘empowered individual. dreams that have died and work I have Finished. Consequently. I would like to take a step back from the dominant social and institutional understanding of ‘the individual’ as well as setting aside also the glaring questions of what the individual ‘is’ or ‘should be’. hopes. it is not my project to formally engage with these heavy. that. in a Fluid moment.III Indeterminate ‘now’. hopes I have realised. all the propositions which follow. For all the ‘intuitiveness’ of ‘now’ which we experience. dreams and work to be done. Hence. then. Lastly. and with great insensitivity. it is a highly particularised idea. Admittedly. I claim. perspectives. The idea of ‘now’ is without doubt one of the most complex and elusive ideas that both philosophy and science alike wrestle with. Caveats First. I want to reFlect. as it were. Proceeding from my general sense experience I can say with certainty that I have not discovered an innate capacity for time travel. over its expansive legacy. are not to be understood as ‘philosophical propositions‘ in the strong sense. Instead I want to reFlect on our general experience and our capacity for social engagement in terms of the limits and potential of individual agency.’ which differentiates past from future and future from past. Call it. the ideas which follow proceed from reFlection upon my general sense experience. then. its description remains heatedly contested. what follows stands as little more than a perspective. 15 . At the same time. this is not an attempt to formulate an ontology.6 I have neither the time nor the familiarity with these discourses to do much more than tread roughshod. ‘a now. cultural norms and daily experiences. This explains why I refer to this discussion of ‘now’ as being ‘indeterminate’.
so to speak. physical sensations. and. plants. both physical. love. So let us jump. the physical environment which encompasses. The First kind of history is the history of my sense experience which is inextricably bound to my-‐self. I experience emotions. hence. that is. It is clear that ‘now’ is.’ ‘will do’ and so on and so forth. but. this indeterminate. ‘had. intentional and personal. Whether this ‘now‘ in which I write (sitting in a bar late at night). albeit two inextricably tied and mutually affecting kinds. my existence as a living creature within a society of other living creatures.’ ‘will have’. the idea of ‘acting’ in ‘now’ encompasses all possible actions. To say that all of this is mysterious and too brief an account would be to state the obvious -‐ there are so very many questions that could be asked here. sadness. which is to say that ‘now’ is interminably linked to history. when we reFlect upon all acts and expressions possible within ‘now. I cannot say. buildings. could be said to be ‘identical’ in some philosophical sense to the ‘future now‘ of my waking tomorrow. and ‘did. albeit instinctive and intuitive.7 It would appear also. feel. that this indeterminate notion of ‘now’ is all I have (or which has me). plans) and psychological experiences (love. share. the ‘intuitiveness’ of ‘now’ is not tantamount to its simple description or its being ‘known’ in a scientiFic or philosophical manner. Firstly. etc) or found in the natural environment (animals. myself as a living creature who has intentions (desires. from ‘now’ to ‘history’ and touch upon the relation between these two ideas. from my general sense experience. our ‘experience’ of time and. and I have imperfect and fragmented 16 . by which I experience.’ they are clearly limited. but I must leave these for now. people etc. encounter objects. And these temporal distinctions are explicit in our language. ‘now’. that is.’ ‘have. in relying upon general language to offer a description. We see already two glaring points. and. act. All my past experiences were experienced through/in/from this ‘now’ and all my future experiences will be experienced through/in/from this now. secondly. Although this is a crude distinction it serves the purpose of clarifying and unifying two dimensions of existence: 1) My intentional/psychological reality.8 From general sense experience I can speak of two kinds of ‘History’.constrained to and made possible by. In an important sense. in an intuitive but indeterminate sense. the emergence of various tenses demonstrate within language the centrality of ‘now’ as the mode of experiencing. 2) Our physical reality. for the moment then. live and work. This distinction of two ‘kinds’ of history follows the general lines of ‘history of physical reality’ and ‘history of my intentional/psychological reality’. The ‘physical environment’ is literally the concrete things and objects made by human labour (roads. contentment). I sense. etc).’ ‘does. fuel. in the passing of time.
our experience of ‘now’ (intentional. no matter how inFinitesimal the action or expression. historical. psychological and physical) is intrinsically tied to this physical. my personal history and the world History I contribute to. water. is both fundamentally tied to ‘now‘ and created through ‘now’. 17 . revolves. It is unnecessary at this point to ask why this ‘I.’ is bound to the memories of my self which are. to the all too soft and imprecise notions of ‘identity’ and ‘memory’. This ‘material history. actors within. repositories for and reactionaries against. my computer and myself came to be here — all of this is a part of (albeit an inFinitesimal part) ‘material history’ writ large. by deFinition. then.9 The history of human society’s mediation of the natural environment through labour (mining minerals. which in turn affects human society (soil erosion. And. is physically constituted by the progressive transformation and manipulation of the natural environment by human society. geography etc) and human society affects the natural environment (farming. then. C02 emissions. Of course. my identity as ‘myself. Extending this further. ‘Now. If History is the ongoing accumulation of human activity and natural events. landscaping etc). therefore. resources. my cider. is the accumulation and culmination of human actions and expressions. as living creatures. Nature in the sense of the history of the natural environment and humanity in the sense of the history of the changing iterations of human society. this sensing. is a reFlexive process. ‘human society’ and ‘the natural environment’ are themselves made up of human Subjects (people) and natural Objects (trees. weather. if we accept the idea that all actions and thoughts are experienced and expressed within/through ‘now. harvesting trees.11 ‘Now’ is the point around which myself.‘ then History.’ in a very strong sense. climate change. culminating and accumulating moment in which our actions affect the world/history and the world/history in turn affects us. mining. building dams). are not separated from material history. We.memories of these experiences. at ‘this’ time? These are genuinely distracting questions. my actions and reactions to the world are themselves constitutive and contributive parts of this world History. contributors to. material history in that it is an ongoing. oil spills. is the ‘site’ of experience by which History is created. etc). deforestation etc). I am made of atoms and molecules just as much as the table which my pint of cider now rests upon. Furthermore.’ at ‘this’ place. What is pertinent to reiterate is that myself as a human being and the society and environment I exist within is experienced through ‘now’ alone. The history of how this table. History.’ then. The history of my sense experience is bound. It is reFlexive in the sense that the natural environment affects human society (soil. minerals. The second kind of ‘History’ is the material history of humanity and nature.10 This kind of history is the concrete physical history of our current social environment which we are apart of.
-‐ you yourself even -‐ all of this is from. Which is to say that.’ that is. my individual agency involves my capacity to express myself through time. it would appear unlikely that anyone else will have some exclusive innate access to the ‘past‘ or ‘future’. depravity and incomprehensibility. ‘Now’ is our sole mode of existing. but both planning and reFlecting take place within ‘now’.15 4) Therefore.S’s wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. in all its glory. all we experience in our environment (physical. I can try to affect the change I desire by acting and communicating. where does this leave us? Well. we act and communicate. is the outcome (both intended and accidental) of human theory and practice conducted within and in reaction to the world we experience and affect. I will have to dedicate myself to seeing this desire realised by committing myself through ‘now’ by thinking about what it is precisely I desire (reFlection) and considering ways I can bring this desire into reality (planning/projection). psychological and intentional). my agency is constrained to ‘now‘ in my actions. and acting as such. this now. This is to say that it appears a highly implausible suggestion to propose that someone else in past or future has had. the consequences of which accumulate through time. then. From this. So.’ then. the greatest of events and creations of human existence are only the culminating moments and achievements of individual agency. through and towards and is possible because of this indeterminate ‘now’. I print them out and mail them with a stamp to my friends and family so that they too will experience my thoughts in their own time by 18 . we can summarise and make the following proposals: 1) As an individual. What I am suggesting. through this here. So. As an individual. and will be. is that all that is possible for us as humans to achieve can only be achievable through actions and expressions possible within ‘now. to labour the point with an example.13 3) If we agree that all human experience is constrained to a notion of ‘now’ which delineates ‘past’ and ‘future. expressions and experiences. is a product of human activity and natural laws. I desire the cessation of Australia’s involvement in the U. So. this continual ‘is’: I type out my thoughts on a keyboard. everything that is possible is only made possible by individuals acting within/through ‘now’. or will have. innate biological access to the past or future beyond projection and reFlection in ‘now’. but the realisation of this desire is possible only through actions acted in ‘now’. then.16 The ‘now’ in which you read these words and every-‐thing around you.12 2) If this is so. from this.14 This is to say that our contemporary social existence. I can plan ahead for the future and I can reFlect on the past.
alone. Keeping in mind that the computer. the image depicted in this section emphasises our limited capacity to act and engage with the world around us. at the same time. but these are the actions possible within the limits of my individual agency. we must read them in view of the limits of individual agency. Nonetheless. that is. All this is to demonstrate is that within ‘now‘ we string together. distant. hopefully.reading the printed thoughts and. this ‘all we can do’ is the concrete source of everything that is possible! To return from this discussion of ‘now’ and ‘history’ to the opening concern of this section. as it were. even ceding this limitation to individual agency it is only through our limited capacity that anything is possible to begin with. individual agency is empowered when oriented towards projects for which there are pre-‐established institutions and is simultaneously disempowered when oriented to projects for which there are no pre-‐established institutions. and. wage-‐labour)? How accessible are they (local. whilst the refrain of “What can I do about it? I am just one person!” is testament to the magnitude of the problems we face. the central. is highly limited in their capacity to engage with complex social problems and that. our Finite thoughts and our Finite actions and this is concretely all we can do. the co-‐operation with other individuals to pursue complex projects is necessary. then. therefore. are the forms of social organisation and the projects towards which social institutions are oriented. Clearly. 19 . When attempting to understand and meaningfully engage complex social problems. individual agency. For example. the topic of which is explored in the following essay. But what this also brings into perspective are questions pertaining to the forms and accessibility of physical spaces of co-‐ operation between individuals. Within capitalist society. centralised)? How do they facilitate. and admittedly anodyne. these are small actions and small expressions. maximise and empower individual agency (Financial resources. such as. our Finite capacity to act is all we have. Consequently. at the same time. The dismay we experience when we realise the Finitude of our capacity to engage with complex social problems is genuine. paper. they may change their thoughts and behaviours with regards to Australia’s participation in the U. decentralised. therefore.S’s war of aggression. At the heart of questions concerning individual empowerment and disempowerment. envelopes. team-‐support)? and so on and so forth. point of this discussion is that the individual. money. But. it is also testament to the disempowerment of the ‘empowered individual’ championed by capitalist society. what types of spaces are they (voluntary. to what extent are there avenues and spaces of engagement with complex social problems for individuals to commit to? And this raises a series of other related questions. The key lies in the realisation that. services postage stamps and other materials I employ to pursue this individual protest are things I have acquired only because of the actions and agency of other people.
9 Here I am explicitly following in the footsteps of Marx’s concept of Materialism which necessarily entails a signiFicant concept of Nature. 10 This is only a very brief and paltry demonstration of a rather complex idea. For more information regarding Historical Materialism. to fall into a positivistic metaphysics.6 From the outset. especially when popularized. 20 . I raise these points only to indicate in a general sense their relation to ‘now’. Max Horkheimer’s essay from 1933 “Materialism and Metaphysics” (which itself is greatly indebted to Marx’s earlier works Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology). the implications of a robust Subject/Object dialectic are sufFicient to avoid some of the more egregious aspects of a narrow naturalistic account of reality and existence. 7 Admittedly. in materialism’s conception of existence. à la Jacques Derrida and Jean Luc Nancy. Nonetheless. albeit in a rather muddled and uncertain manner. the problems posed by ‘now’ are substantive and move from the questions of ‘A and B series’ posed by analytical philosophy through to the work of Heidegger and Nancy. such as that found in Brian Greene’s Fabric of the Cosmos. à la Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger and also the claims of some post-‐modernist thinkers who aim towards a post-‐phenomenological understanding of existence. in the sense that there is a something of a Kantian Transcendentalism inherent in it. 8 From the outset. 1963. alternatively. follows in the vein of a historical materialism. 12 What this question mens to us in a full philosophical sense is an integral part to our thought and understanding. Both post-‐ modernist and analytical scholars have made extensive observations and offered detailed analyses of ‘tense’ and intentional states etc. 11 This is not to propose the idea that ‘I’ as a thinking being ‘touch’ upon ‘the world’ ‘out there’ -‐ as if I and the world were like two balloons touching each other. In the least. Materialism and Nature. I must repeat. I respect greatly its explanatory capacity and it is a vital dimension to the thought of Karl Marx. is what the ‘now’ is. Physics can only give us a rudimentary expression of what ‘now’ ‘is’ and even when it strives to be conscious of itself and approaches such problems as ‘now. this deployment of a dialectical Subject/Object relationship is a signiCicant weakness of my expressions here as it is deployed from a position of ignorance with respect to the advance of twentieth century philosophical thought. Although this notion of what ‘the now’ is follows from my deployment of a Subject/Object dialectic. present and future ‘tenses. in the form of past. but I will stress my objection to this interpretation nonetheless. John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology.’ betrays both how casually we treat this idea as well as its centrality to our existence. this is an extremely unsatisfactory deployment of tense in language. my understanding of reality and history (which is likely to change). see Schmidt or. its steadfast endorsement of Subject/Object dialectics is not something which can be held onto lightly in light of the sincere and extensive engagement with ontology and dialectics in twentieth century by both French and German philosophical thought.is illustrative of how I am proceeding in this section of the work. Nonetheless. I can state that the Subject/Object relation I am deploying here is genuinely dialectical and not a dichotomy. A fuller exploration of this perspective would be to re-‐understand these nascent ideas in terms of both phenomenology. the linguistic constraints which come to bear on the very act of describing such a complicated notion. Needless to say. see Alfred Schmidt The Concept of Nature in Marx.’ between I and the world. To propose this would be to suggest that this ‘touching.’ it has a tendency. Whilst this is still problematic. I have deep uncertainties and problems with this idea of ‘the now’ as a ‘touching’. For further information. in itself. I cannot go into why here. for further information of Marx’s Materialism and his concept of Nature.
There are many things I do not mean it to suggest. treat it as a general assertion which is virtually empty of signiFicant meaning precisely because it is so very full of potential meanings. 15 This statement is full of problems and simpliFications. See Greene or Paul Davies’ The Mind of God.’ it is deployed in the vein of Marx’s Materialism and thus contains a of element of Kantian transcendentalism. it demonstrates the philosophical work yet to done. once more.’ human activity and re-‐activity is far less structured.’ ‘Finished-‐object. Further exploration is vital and. ordered and intentioned as we would like to think. given the fact that we cannot say for certain that it would be impossible in future to experience the implications for the meaning of time that his theory entails given the advance of technological means to experience these ideas. the work of Nancy is pivotal in terms of my ignorance. and important perspectives which are missing. Similarly.’ or ‘completed sequence of intended causal relations. that the concept of causality is a troubling factor in this statement must be duly noted. then. Awareness. 1998. 14 ‘Product. is not to be understood as an ‘end-‐object.13 We can think of a myriad of ways in which someone may have ‘assisted’ access to both ‘past’ and ‘future’ if we consider Albert Einstein’s theories of Relativity. 21 . with the notion of ‘natural law. 16 Again. Nancy reFlects at length on the ontological implications and ideas of being-‐within and inside existence in his work The Sense of the World. hence.’ here.
the forms of organisation within which this co-‐ordination takes place. The manager’s individual agency is ‘magniFied. I will brieFly 22 . But this response is questionable when we consider whether or not an individual can afford to not partake in the wage-‐labour system. At this point it is necessary to make a distinction between individual agency and individual autonomy. and. it is to highlight two of the obvious areas in which opportunities for engagement appear present. the options present for the individual to take and/or create in engaging with complex social problems. also constrains individual autonomy. their decisions (that are results of their reFlection. This is because we have in our society a common situation in which an individual’s agency may be empowered by employment within an organisation but this relationship (and the market system which enshrines and expands this relationship). and some strengths and weaknesses of these avenues. a project manager will have a team of people. Even though the overlap between autonomy and agency is signiFicant. then. therefore. their autonomy to exercise their individual agency in they way they see Fit. in selling their labour capacity.17 Some would challenge this by suggesting that it is the individual’s choice to sell their labour and to surrender a portion of their individual autonomy by entering into the employer/employee relation. a resounding no. Individual agency can be empowered by Financial. but rather. with Financial resources to pursue these tasks and realise the project.’ in a sense.” 18 It is not my task here to give an inexhaustible account of ways in which an individual may engage with complex social problems. For example. the individual requires support and co-‐operation (as well as being co-‐operative and supporting). projection and action) are orders and instructions which the team is employed to carry out. As Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno stated pithily in 1947. Here. organisational and human resources. in order to engage with complex social problems. the freedom of the market is “the freedom for the stupid to starve. they cannot be equated with one another. the institution and relationships of wage-‐labour are also a surrendering of individual autonomy.IV Individual engagement: agency and autonomy in wage-‐labour and voluntary organisations. in fractions. If. An individual. At the same time. at heart we are concerned with the co-‐ordination of individual agency (division of labour). because. then. working in an organisational framework which distributes labour tasks. also sells. within the framework of employment. the answer which is of course.
For example. I’ll begin by considering wage-‐labour organisations. So projects as diverse as Human Rights Watch. wage-‐labour and voluntary organisations. then an individual who works for such an organisation will only have vague and circumstantial engagement with such social issues. an individual does not need to be writing reports on world poverty or working for Doctor’s Without Borders in order for them to be considered to be working in a ‘humanitarian organisation’. skills and corporate provided resources are limited to their role and the tasks deFined by the particular corporation they work for. institutional and human). domestic or abroad. Similarly. We cannot arbitrarily delimit the notion of ‘engagement’ solely to activist projects and exclude all the opportunities of wage-‐labour as being ‘insufFicient. if suitably qualiFied and lucky. So.consider in turn two forms of overlapping social space for engagement with complex social issues. engagement with complex social issues can be pursued within almost any discipline or technical skill. an engineer could be involved in the construction of buildings in metropolitan Australia or they could be involved with the construction of vital water infrastructure for communities which have limited access. public service avenues and academic pathways by which an individual. that is. and alleviation of. I would limit the idea of a ‘humanitarian organisation’ to organisations which explicitly concern themselves with the assistance. This is to say that that the lawyer’s individual agency will be empowered and channelled towards the realisation of particular projects determined by their employer and client. domestic violence centers and nursing can be considered under this broad category. Here. What is vital. are the projects towards which the individual applies their skills and the empowerment of a skilled individual’s agency within a wage-‐labour organisation. Hence. From my own perspective. understanding and alleviation of human suffering.’ as this would be disingenuous. we are speaking of any organisation established by government. the application of their agency. private entrepreneurship. It cannot be ignored that there are many humanitarian organisations. may be able to engage with complex social problems. To suggest that the market closes down all humanitarian aspirations and projects oriented towards the amelioration of complex social problems is simply wrong. By ‘humanitarian organisation’ I am referring broadly to projects which focus upon the assistance with. unless the corporation is speciFically involved with the alleviation or amelioration complex social issues. a lawyer working in legal aid will have greater exposure to clients and situations that are direct consequences or symptoms of complex social 23 . for-‐proFit or non-‐proFit in which an individual sells their labour power in an employer/ employee relation.19 By comparison. whilst a corporate lawyer is empowered with resources (Financial. a trained lawyer could be involved with corporate legal matters or in legal aid. human suffering (an expansive category to be sure). Nevertheless.
This is an important factor in limiting the accessibility of engagement with complex social issues. pre-‐established organisations possess both resources and internal structures which empower and support individual agency in the pursuit of projects. an individual tasked with and empowered to pursue projects concerning domestic violence cannot extensively appropriate the resources of the domestic violence centre they are working for and direct them towards a local environmental issue. At the same time. often for many applicants. of the demographic who would seek engagement with complex social issues through pre-‐established humanitarian organisations. So. targeted to speciFic problems and often require speciFic skills sets from people working within the sector. when it comes to considering humanitarian organisations as avenues for engagement with complex social problems. and mostly focused upon individual cases. generally speaking. the lawyer would have direct engagement with complex social problems. engagement is usually only available through internship style programs with limited openings. albeit with constrained Financial and human resources. these are not ‘accessible’ institutions in the sense that they. not necessarily an unreasonable one. for example. the employee’s individual agency is empowered by the organisation to pursue projects aimed at the prevention of 24 . although. It is merely to point out. Financial and human resources selectively applied to engagement with these problems.20 Whether it is a public. Nonetheless.problems. non-‐proFit or non-‐ government organisation. To summarise the obvious. like any business operation. For all the good works they pursue and achievements they have had. This means that. This also means that employment within such organisations also limits the scope of engagement with complex social problems and where Financial and human resources are directed. This is also to note that humanitarian organisations are. in discussing wage-‐labour avenues of engagement with complex social problems. require people with speciFic skills to fulFill pre-‐established projects and tasks. for people who are eager to work for such institutions (paid or voluntary) but who do not have (or who are yet to) acquire the skill sets required. So. only a fraction of them will be able to actually become involved on some level or other without speciFic skill-‐sets. None of this is to be frowned on per se. that there are only a limited set of opportunities available and competition for such positions is high. entry into the wage-‐labour relation also constrains individual autonomy by channelling the exercise of individual agency towards pre-‐established projects. similar problems arise: individual agency is empowered but channelled towards a limited scope of problems with institutional. I’ve spoken quite generally and presumed that the individuals in the examples given have already gained the requisite skills necessary for these speciFic modes of engagement. So far. to take again the example of the domestic violence centre employee. private. In this latter example.
there are alternative avenues in the form of voluntary organisations. even though the employee is also passionate about a local environmental issue. the pre-‐ established wage-‐labour organisation is an hierarchical web constituted by the ‘injunctions of others’. student groups. limited capacity and limited means to engage with the local environmental problems. additionally. with no wage-‐labour relationships between the volunteers and the club. that is. determine their tasks and the time those tasks should take. Here. Individual autonomy is also constrained in pre-‐established wage-‐labour organisations on the basis that. as a non-‐proFit volunteer organisation. few volunteer organisations will have 25 . This is because. when the majority of their time is consumed by work with the domestic violence centre. unless an individual is solely in charge of an institution (and. For example. if their individual agency is not supplemented outside of their work with the domestic violence centre by. in many ways. Financial. backing from public and/or private organisations. So far I have discussed only wage-‐labour organisations as an avenue of engagement with complex social problems but. even then). there is less time and energy available for the individual to dedicate to local environmental problems. proprietary and human. religious communities. there is always the subordination of an individual’s autonomy to the instructions and demands of the individual/s who are employed to manage them. then the individual faces the problem once more of having limited time. but the club may be operate with local sponsorship. Furthermore. Volunteer organisation do not necessarily mean there are no Financial relationships involved. fundraising projects. Unless sufFicient Financial resources are available. individual autonomy is subordinated to the compromised individual autonomy of another. there is only so much time that an individual can dedicate to engagement with complex social issues and. a local environmental community group. The individual’s autonomy to engage with that problem is not denied. from local sports club to hobby groups. their individual agency within the domestic violence centre organisation is not empowered to engage with that particular problem. All of this is to demonstrate that pre-‐established wage-‐ labour organisations can and do provide opportunities and spaces for engagement with complex social problems. However. donations and fundraising projects. or. Financially these groups require donations from members. but these opportunities are themselves also limited in their own ways. for example. but it is constrained by their employment obligations to the domestic violence centre. Admittedly the First problem facing volunteer organisations in engaging complex social problems is their limited resources. political groups and so on and so forth.domestic violence and advocacy for victims of it. a local sports club may be run on a volunteer basis. Voluntary organisations and groups can take on forms as diverse as wage-‐labour organisations. of course.
etc) and the private residencies (rented. diet. is dependent upon the time and efforts made possible by individual members involved in the voluntary organisation. Here there is greater room for individual’s to exercise their autonomy in relation to each other. task.proprietary resources beyond that which is already available in the form of public meeting spaces (cafes. owned etc) of members. voluntary organisations can have greater Fluidity. The exigency of wage-‐labour is not irrational. meditation)21 as well as the maintenance of necessary social obligations (management of bills. however. exercise. to be lamented for this very fact. but whatever weight they may carry relies upon the judgement and endorsement of the decision making 26 . etc. everyone is compelled to work or be in training for work and these enforced social norms take up signiFicant portions of our available time. Within the market-‐system. in the sense of being (generally) open to new members with little or no barriers to participation. the key contributory pressure faced by voluntary organisations is the division of time in our individual lives. clothing and sheltering its members. obligation. to obtain food clothing and shelter. is their accessibility (with due regard of course given to geographic limitations). however. in the sense of rotating roles. In wage-‐labour organisations there are often internal mechanisms (meetings. voluntary organisations are not usually capable of feeding. because these factors are intrinsically tied to our means of subsistence. school hall. etc). When faced with a dilemma of either maintaining our Financial and labour obligations or dedicating time towards voluntary organisation projects. Local voluntary organisations are (relatively) open and tend to employ more democratic modes of organisation in terms of determining what projects are to be pursued and co-‐ordinating the division of labour that realises such projects. and externally. Furthermore. This allows us to make the anodyne connection. both internally. town centre. A strength of voluntary organisations. Factoring in as well the time necessary for the maintenance of personal health (sleep. between individual agency and the long-‐term viability of such groups and projects. by which individual perspectives may at least be aired. bars. All of this. it is. parks. As noted earlier. responsibility and accountability. although work with a voluntary organisation is often satisfying and generates a sense of belonging through solidarity. they are persistent factors which constantly militate against sustained voluntary participation in local groups and local community projects. or even no deFined roles. maintenance of ofFicial documentation. which is to say. that volunteer organisations are reliant upon individual autonomy and the co-‐ordination of individual agency. For. Rather than there being clear delineations of authority. All this is to demonstrate that the time available for an individual to dedicate towards voluntary organisations is limited in important but small ways.). role. however. the maintenance of our Financial and labour situation takes precedent. manifestly evident already in our experiences with various groups.
however. This gives rise to the situation in which that the co-‐ordination of labour is always in a constant state of negotiation. 27 . this is manifest in the processes of discussion and deliberation between individuals and between the organisation as a whole. the absence of rigid and contractually formalised authority structures allows greater room for individuals to exercise their autonomy as opposed to merely their agency. is. proprietary and time resources. Primarily. concerning strategies of engagement. and a strength due to the respect of individual autonomy it requires and the consequent relationships it builds between people. perspectives on problems etc. For voluntary organisations the necessary negotiation of individual agency and sharing of the division of labour is both a weakness.hierarchy. Indeed. there can be a greater sense of autonomy and belonging in these voluntary organisations. therefore. due to comparative lack of resources. voluntary organisations fare less well because the lack of Financial. the reception. Consequently. when there is room for a greater emphasis upon the recognition of individual perspectives and opinions.). The formal and informal presentation and discussions concerning the projects of the organisation (“What should we do?” “What will we do?” “How will we do it?” “Who will perform this task?” “Who will perform that task?” etc. the process of organisational co-‐ ordination and division of labour relies upon discourse structures. however. With regards to the empowerment of individual agency. development and implementation of it requires the permission of the individual who holds the appropriate position of authority to authorise it. is accumulated by individuals already involved in a community and which may then be passed onto individuals new to the community. This aspect of ‘social-‐ learning‘ is vital to the longevity of a voluntary organisation and it is also a highly rewarding aspect of such groups as well. this is something of an art-‐form and one in which a body of learning. In voluntary organisations. has the potential to provide a better space for the empowerment of individual autonomy than wage-‐labour organisations. With signiFicantly weaker or entirely absent hierarchical structures to subordinate individual autonomy and co-‐ordinate individual agency towards pre-‐determined tasks. constantly seeking out the highest possible impact from their work with limited resources. an empowering exercise as an individual’s perspective has a greater impact upon the organisation and the project on the whole. Thus. So. for an individual. This ‘relative openness’22 of voluntary organisations. Different members of the group have different time commitments and different Financial resources so that establishing a project and realising it means negotiating between these varied and limited individual circumstances. in itself. whilst an individual may have a good idea or strategy. there is a great sense of involvement with the projects pursued and the people who the projects are pursued with. In view of this individuals involved in such organisations must be highly creative and precise when it comes to expending time and energy on projects.
information sessions. renting. Voluntary organisations also face a problem of scope when it comes to engaging with complex social issues. Naturally. A further weakness is continuity. the raising of awareness and creation of opportunity go hand in hand. It must be recognised that. This can attract the attention of individuals and other local organisations who Find a common point of engagement or who may possess 28 . even as a potential site of organisation and activity which empowers individual agency. letter writing. pamphleting. Conversely. This is a severe and persistent threat to pre-‐established voluntary organisations. protests. For wage-‐labour organisations this is (usually) much less of a problem due to the binding Financial and contractual relationships between employers/employees. it is a common and problematic feature of voluntary activist and political groups. is free to leave at any time. unless the voluntary organisation has a signiFicant membership base. when the strength of an organisation is reliant upon the solidarity and coherence of the community that constitutes it. is the capacity of the people who constitute it to effectively manage and resolve internal disputes. websites. engagement with complex social problems is still going to be relatively limited in scope. Of course this is not always possible and. Continuity is particularly problematic as younger people tend to have more Fluid personal situations (studying. for what ever reasons. journals etc) and internal activities (regular meetings. this organisational openness and personnel Fluidity combined with limited resources leaves pre-‐established voluntary organisations exposed to internal politicking and division. within the limitations of a voluntary organisations. socialisation and organisation etc). internal division and fragmentation can cripple and dissolve entire groups from within or. both the voluntary organisation and the problems it is trying to engage with will become more visible within the local community. if a dispute is severe enough. community welfare projects. Nonetheless. then. indeed. especially amongst voluntary organisations established by younger people. or indeed an internal faction. traveling). which means that unless ways of ensuring continuity for a group are established or maintained. Importantly. A lack of internal solidarity or the presence of internal dispute can be managed and mitigated whilst the overall operation of the organisation can remain (largely) unaffected. then voluntary organisations can quickly lose momentum and expire once those who are the most pro-‐active amongst the group move on. If the strategies of engagement are pursued with suitable openness and tact. voluntary organisations have no such guarantees. picketing. then. Whilst this may feel like an unsatisfactory level of engagement with complex social problems. Paramount to the success and sustainability of voluntary organisations. these types of activities (if they can be sustained) can raise awareness and create further opportunities in the long-‐term for greater engagement. A voluntary organisation’s activities are roughly divisible between public (open events. reading groups. co-‐ordination. lead to splintering and the calciFication of perspectives. presentations. then an individual.
Voluntary organisations can provide an accessible space for engagement with complex social problems. or is even motivated to pursue these particular avenues. even though a wage-‐labour commitment will impinge upon voluntary commitments. a wage-‐labour or voluntary organisation that works with disadvantaged children). But. they must be able to access the spaces (geographically and. Wage-‐labour organisations are. shelter and clothing whilst engaging with social problems. For an individual. what they are actually oriented towards achieving is the pivotal factor for individual engagement with complex social issues. like wage-‐labour organisations. the spaces for an individual to engage with complex social problems are limited. they must be aware of the speciFic spaces available (for example. is another issue entirely. this space is both dependent upon and limited by the coherence and commitment of the individuals who constitute it. This narrows down the spaces and means of engagement for an individual to a very small set of pre-‐established spaces which may or may not be geographically accessible and. the individual may not possess the skills to partake in that space. have their strengths and weaknesses. the emphasis upon individual autonomy and the empowerment of individual agency enables the creative capacity for individuals to engage with and respond to their social existence. most limit themselves to a speciFic problem or a speciFic political stance. Similarly. be technically capable) and they must be able to obtain food. And. niche and vary in degrees of accessibility.resources to contribute. Institutionally as well we see Financial and political overlaps in terms of donations. for any wage-‐labour or voluntary organisation. both avenues present different possibilities for engagement with complex social problems. even then. in terms of engagement with complex social issues. Certainly. the result being the expansion of scope for engagement. if required. for the most part. most voluntary organisations are oriented towards particular projects or hobbies and where there are voluntary organisations oriented towards engagement with complex social problems. Furthermore. Voluntary organisations. as an open and accessible space. oriented towards private proFit with only relatively small clusters of wage-‐labour organisations structured as non-‐proFit businesses oriented towards engagement with complex social problems. 29 . from this perspective. but whether or not an individual is aware of these opportunities and spaces. but this is not to diminish the importance of one type of engagement or the other. if speciFic skills sets are required. advertising and organisational association as well. As a Final note. then. For an individual to engage with complex issues in these two forms of social space. they are not mutually exclusive with many people maintaining and balancing these commitments throughout their lives.
Firstly. the role of the lawyers to represent clients as mediatory agents. 21 The importance of personal health cannot be overlooked here.17 The idea of ‘individual autonomy’ and just what precisely this means is fraught with difFiculties and the sheer volume of literature on the subject cannot possibly be broached here. Some will have formal positions which are democratically elected by the member body. both fraught with their own extensive problems. 133. Both in terms of how we labour and in terms of the available time for the tending to proper personal health. A pertinent factor I’ve not the time to investigate at this moment is the compromising of personal health within capitalist society. 22 The openness of voluntary organisations is relative in two senses. It is a deep and complex issue to be sure and one which we’ve all experienced. Nonetheless. no formal Financial obligations between individual members or enforced working hours. the legal palliative narcotics of alcohol and nicotine (not to mention the illegal palliatives). Finding time for the appropriate tending to of personal health is a problem for us living a wage-‐labour society. Secondly. Dialectic of Enlightenment. it is relative in the sense that different pre-‐established voluntary organisations will have different modes of functioning. I am speaking in a highly general sense about individual autonomy and it should not be thought of as being synonymous with ‘rational autonomy’ which is an idea that can be taken in two distinct directions. the role of judiciary to arbitrate between the parties and so on and so forth. the trading of sleep for more working time. the systematically and individually ruinous state of diet and food consumption. The very relations involved in the claim. Even though an individual may work in a legal Firm of sorts. Take. it’s relatively open in comparison with wage-‐labour organisations (there’s no employment relationship and. 1947. embedded within the simple example is layer upon layer of social organisation and normative values concerning agency and economics. the particular legal entities ‘companies. 19 This is not the best example as there are several layers of complexity involved in legal representation. a client company who has claim to reparations against another company for breach of contract. for example. 18 Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.‘ although most cases where an individual extensively appropriates wage-‐labour resources are for individual Financial gain. 20 The use of the phrase ‘extensive appropriation’ is actually a curious and indicative phrase as it is recognises the little ways in which wage-‐labour resources may be appropriated. the list could go on. some may have rotational roles whilst others may eschew all forms of ‘formal position‘ and instead rely upon democratic delegation and volunteering in order to divide the tasks of labour to realise a project. Here. 30 .‘ the contract or agreement. Discrete appropriation of wage-‐labour resources is certainly not-‐uncommon and neither is ‘extensive appropriation. p. generally. this does not prevent them from discretely using that time to respond to non-‐work related emails or to co-‐ordinate information and use privileged information to assist other projects.
’ this moment of travel. ‘their now’. 3 The opening decade of the twenty-‐First century has conFirmed itself as a decade of dissonance. misinformation — intentional and accidental — giving rise to a weariness. 1 Right now it is 4:35pm. The pervasive subtexts of fear. of course. the feeling of overwhelming pressure was best described by an unknown student in a tutorial I attended this year who said “It’s like you are constantly off-‐balance. The time I do have. to pack with as much ‘productive’ moments as possible. this very moment.” The ease of access to information is matched by the perceived need to access all information. an exhaustion of the mind. For all the grandiosity of Marx. that I have given myself to. to marginalise critique by accommodating it. there is less time for us to digest. to dissipate internal challenges by allowing for degrees of internal mutability and so on and so forth. Nonetheless. as individuals within a fragmented community we are capable of engaging with society to only certain 31 . to aesthetically neuter youthful rebellion through commodiFication. to diffuse protest by conceding inessential ground. The stress of knowledge dissonance is not negligible. I am failing in this effort. I am trying to grasp every second I can — and. economic uncertainty. 2 Any critique that fails to appreciate the capacity of our form of social organisation to maintain its power. this ‘now. Its Finds its importance in this very time. and with the increased pressures of work and. what once was. The eruption of information leaves us constantly on the back-‐foot. And the voluminous growth of information has exposed an inexhaustible web of conjecture. and underestimate both the people and institutions who champion it. local and global. uncertainty and the Goldstein “terrorist” other stands united with the explosion of communication mediums and the march of relentless information. it is this moment. For those of us too young to know much else. for us to actually draw intellectual nutrients from such information. opinion. will damage the strategies and projects that would seek to promote and sustain long-‐term resistance. It must be recognised that the strength of our mode of social organisation lies in its capacity for co-‐option and concession. working since 6:30am and I am currently writing from a train which has brieFly halted its commute. I am striving to cram full.Sketches. constantly running to catch up. Nietzsche and philosophers past each of them has given themselves to this Fleeting moment. after a long 10 hour shift that this expression Finds its importance. I have been up since 4:30am.
It is not merely that through social organisation and community projects that we are enabled to pursue aspirations which would otherwise be unobtainable alone. through our lives. the state of fragmentation. and thereby buries all individuality. as individuals we face insurmountable challenges in the pursuit of radical critique and action even as technology and economic privilege empowers us with misaligned tools and caveated resources. give the impression of grand-‐actions. More often than not. or being-‐for-‐other-‐beings. Although society elevates and parades the sanctimony and privilege of the individual above all other considerations. we loose sight of what is possible for us right ‘now. as if the labour at hand were to be divided between sovereign states and agreed upon with almost a contractual formality. through the communication of individual social experiences. Our habit of focusing upon the birth-‐pangs of history. Understandably.extents. that I have yet to properly engage with and articulate. this is the best way I can describe my own experiences. is precisely its opposite. as it were. I am speaking in highly vague and abstract terms. it appears as a form of multilateral negotiation. in this way. The only life-‐changing 32 . what may seem insigniFicant and futile. and even when community activity does occur. reveals itself through recognition. between a sense of social-‐community engagement which is experienced as a meeting of individuals for a division of labour and a persistent being-‐with and being-‐for-‐other-‐beings. as a slow and seemingly insigniFicant gestures. At least. in individuals and community. or living-‐with. the pivotal moments of a laboured birth. therefore. which is experienced beyond the conFines of a meeting or a set of tasks to be completed. For ‘the deFinitive moment’ is an illusion of historical narrative. 4 Our social relationships and decisions feel somewhat fragmented into a series of unilateral decisions or bilateral agreements or multilateral concords rather than a being-‐with. of brief remarkable epochs in time composed by world-‐spanning decisions with deFining moments of action. In looking back upon History. But I feel there are important differences.’ and. but that. my general experience has been that social relationships rarely rise above unilateral exchanges and bilateral engagement. 5 Something which I feel can be lost in the great narratives of History is that revolution and social-‐change are only the unfurling Flowers of the smallest gestures and expressions which accumulate over time and are only known to us. The dissemination and engagement with differing perspectives is paramount for the growth of social solidarity. I have only a sporadic sense of ‘togetherness’ where I live and with the people I know. It is only recently over the past three years that I have begun to experience the rudimentary forms of a being-‐with and being-‐for-‐others-‐beings.
moment is ‘now.’ the only space of pivotal action is ‘now. 33 .’ the greatest of expressions is laughter and the grandest of gestures is an embrace of solidarity and love.
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