Thursday, 21 June 2012

Self and determination: an inward look at collective liberation

Talk by Joshua Stephens at the London Action Research Centre, online here (41 mins).
[Later: a follow-on interview by Indyreader about the themes in his talk is online here.]

Discusses the overlaps of personal practices, political organising and ideas of social justice and change. A participant writes "The talk wove together autobiography, (post)anarchist theory, Buddhist practice and grassroots organising. It was accompanied by blackbird song and the call to prayer from the East London Mosque."

 From the blurb:

A Thai Buddhist teacher by the name of Ajahn Chah once wrote, "We human beings are constantly in combat, at war to escape the fact of being so limited. But instead of escaping, we continue to create more suffering, waging war with good, waging war with evil, waging war with what is small, waging war with what is big, waging war with what is short or long or right or wrong, courageously carrying on the battle." At some level, we know this, intuitively. It's reflected back to us by political and economic institutions on a daily basis -- whether it's the language (and execution) of xenophobia, racism, and coercive force, or the promise of buying our way out of discomfort, insecurity, and pain. Those of us committed to forms of social transformation anchored to direct democracy have cause to take this quite seriously, as we effectively aspire to an unmediated politics; a world directly reflective of who we are. "The State is a condition, a set of social relationships," noted German anarchist Gustav Landauer, "it is a mode of behavior." Perhaps more ominously, French philosopher Michel Foucault famously declared, "Politics is war, continued by other means."

While utterly necessary, the overthrow of intolerable institutions does not magically equip us to build better ones. While complementary, the two are distinct tasks. In this unprecedented moment of rapidly unfolding, global social upheaval -- a moment that turns entirely on what we bring to it, and how we meet each other -- can we afford modes of behavior reproductive of war? Is there, perhaps, something deeply political about forging a relationship with oneself that, itself, is an act of refusal; a refusal of the impulse to control, dominate; a refusal to be conducted by our anxieties and fears; an anti-authoritarian mode of being?

*Joshua Stephens* is a board member with the Institute for Anarchist Studies and has been active in anti-authoritarian movements for the last two decades, drawing from mentors as diverse and dispersed as the Ruckus Society and Murray Bookchin's Institute for Social Ecology in the US, to Zapatistas in southern Mexico and the Popular Resistance Committees in Palestine. His work has spanned coordinating and training participants for direct action struggles around issues both local and international, co-teaching a course on classical and contemporary anarchist traditions at Georgetown University, and co-founding three workers cooperatives. He lives in Brooklyn, NY where he's active with the Occupy movement, and has spent the last two months traveling and interviewing anarchists in the eastern Mediterranean.