(I first wrote about the coming community in January 2012.)
During the last couple of months I have had an interesting social experiment. In the beginning of June I established a Facebook page called Ihmekahvila – Café of Beat, a type of inclusive community group with the point of organizing events with a group of people. While the concept is yet to catch fire – currently posting event proposals feels awkward because there is no strong sense of community – I have had social experiences which I believe will build towards a practical understanding of the coming community:
[F]or Agamben, the coming community is a community that ‘do[es] not possess any identity to vindicate or any bond of belonging for which to seek recognition’.
I understand Agamben’s “whatever” like this: the members of the community can be whatever they are, and it doesn’t affect their belonging to the community. Allowing “whateverness” doesn’t mean indifference towards diversity, but gentle curiosity towards it.
Here are some practical characteristics of the coming community:
- inclusive vs. exclusive –> no specific identity, fluctuates in different situations (e.g. the organizer, the spectator, the mediator)
- leadership –> emergence of ideas and practices; importance of charisma and rhetoric
- self-confidence of individuals: “my thoughts and ideas are important and I want to share them with others; I’m not deeply hurt by criticism”
- partly technology-mediated: Facebook enables social possibilities without social imperatives (e.g. event invitations can be easily sent to people who don’t often take part in them)
- rapid adaptation through feedback and dialogue: Facebook makes it easy to have feedback discussions with group members, for example about the behavior of some other members. In addition to the higher-level “coordinative publicity”, there are many “feedback publicities” in the community. Some able individuals work as mediators between them, transmitting the feedback messages to the community coordination. This allows quick adjustment of collective behavior.
As any informed observer can see, the justice system works less and less well in a global world. From tax havens to insulting Thai royal family, the current law system with their jurisdictions just breaks down when it comes to foreign land.
This should be seen as an opportunity to rethink global law. It shouldn’t be built on the same bureaucratic basis of several courts that now clogs the society up with constant legal battles. So here is a few points that I see necessary in the new system:
- Clearly written constitution that states the general principles that should not be violated: defining roles between individuals, states, businesses and NGOs
- Restructure publicity so that there are proper grievance channels for different type of matters; the old courts become virtual in a sense and don’t necessarily require large buildings to be upkept
- Harness democracy in running the system; all information is open and easily accessible for anyone, and balanced channels exist for rational discourse
These changes, again, have already been going on for a long time. Especially in the Internet era the publicity point of view has been more and more emphasized; the public already actively participates in the court cases claiming this or that punishment. This should be made an official process, with the “guilty” given possibility to tell their own story in the publicity. At the same time widening the scope of “punishments” could make them more effective. The old “punish to destroy life” paradigm should be transformed into “intervene to teach”.
The current Western societies are deeply in love with holy texts. This can be seen in the way making legislation in centralized locations such as parliaments is seen as the main political function, and in how the society then constructs itself around interpretation of those texts in courts, bureaus, businesses and everyday life.
This reverence is also reflected in the way the actions of the state are respected (they cannot be criticized) and that even the state does what it can to circumvent law when it sees it requires self-protection.
Take Guantanamo Bay prison. How come locating it “outside US jurisdiction” suddently makes its existance “ok”? This can only be explained by a firm belief to the law as the word of God, and the inability to see the law as practical codified rules of the society that are ever changing along with the society. Then outside jurisdiction means “out of scope”, and therefore acceptable.
On the other hand, this act of sanctification of law makes government easier, since bureaucracies and public servants can claim their divine authorization. This gets one thinking: What has changed in a few thousand years?
How is it possible for the unique to unite so that their uniqueness both conjoins and remains? This is a question Giorgio Agamben asks in his Coming Community.
The only cure for the spectacular community – that is, one that is based on illusionary common identity created by leaders and mediated through images – is a community without fixed identity. Such community is divine in the way that the members’ answer to the question: “Who am I? What shall I be?” is self-referential as in
I am who I am, and I shall be what I shall be.
Identity becomes constantly flowing: sometimes I am this, sometimes that and I am constantly evolving. “What I am” is an enduring mystery, and there is no principle that unites these identities except the fact that it is ‘I’ who is being and becoming.
Where epistemological anarchism states that there “are no useful and exception-free methodological rules governing the progress of science or the growth of knowledge”, philosophical anarchism declares that no such rules can be found for an individual or a society. As we can see from the multitude of both, the only such rule is indeed: “Anything goes.”
This is not a statement of right and wrong or that when it comes to societies, everything is morally acceptable. The point is that no permanent rules can be established, and thus the process of morality should be recognized as the always present meta-level of negotiation in human actions.
This has practical implications: if permanent rules cannot be established, why even try to make all governments, cities, communities and individuals look alike? Why not allow evolution to decide what is best for each one of them? Perhaps that community votes on matters like A, but we don’t have to; they act as they wish and so do we. Perhaps that school uses methods that others don’t use, but what is the problem? Does “equality” really have to come down to each and every practical solution? The fact is that not all teachers are alike, so there you have inequality right there! Not all parents are alike, not all families are alike, not all cities are alike. Why not embrace creativity instead of trying suppress it until the last minute in the name of common values, the American way or equality?
Andrew Rawnsley has a piece in Guardian’s Comment is free with the headline:
Let this be the year democracy shines its beacon as it should
Politicians may often prove feeble, but the forthcoming elections across the world are still something to celebrate
The article ends with the worn Churchill quote about how democracy is the best of the worst systems of government.
The discussion about the best system of government always goes into abstract spheres where the essence of democracy gets lost. It is better to start from the everyday level. I define democracy as follows:
Democracy is a relationship between two or more people that has the following characteristics:
- Equality between people: “what is said” is judged based on its merits alone, not on the speaker’s sex, age, occupation or background; however, the effect of these can be openly discussed in an equal manner
- Public and open discourse: everything is open for review by anyone and there are no secrets when it comes to public affairs
- Everything can be talked about: there are always things that some participants consider painful and inappropriate to discuss, but the limits must constantly be pushed to make sure no elephants get in the room and distort the discourse
- Feedback loop: proposals for improvement are easily given and mistakes are collectively discussed and learned from
As we can see, potential for democracy exists already in interpersonal affairs and it only scales up to the society level.
The teachers have their schools, the priests have their churches and the managers have their corporations. They all are the backbone of their organization. In a similar way the experts have their own structure: the reality. This link is harder to see because it’s so ubiquitous, and because the expert is actually the general character behind the more sophisticated figures of priest and teacher. Nonetheless, the link exists.
Reality is a difficult subject to study, because it’s really easy to immerse yourself in “how things are”. This gives a false sense of safety and comfort, because reality is actually complex and it is always flowing. Whenever you think of anything actually being anything (“in reality”), you have already built an iron cage for yourself in which the outcome is forced. And when times and circumstances change, adaptation becomes immensely difficult.
Here’s a couple of questions to clarify the thought:
Is reality same to a banker and a homeless person? To a politician and a scientist? To the common man and the expert?
Is reality same now than it was ten, five, even one year ago? Will the future be like what we have now?
It isn’t so that the expert has better knowledge of reality. The expert is a product of his social context, and at the same time a prisoner of his assumptions of “what is unquestionably true”. These assumptions may or may not change with the surrounding world.
This is not to devalue the effort of becoming an expert. An expert probably has some valid points about things and the insight is (by definition) deeper to the subject. But it is not better knowledge than the one held by anyone else.
The cure for the expert’s disease is a contemplative attitude. Perhaps everything is always perhaps? What difference would it make if it wasn’t like this how we believe it is but something else? Would we be better prepared? Would we act more morally?
Maybe the question we should be asking is not: “What is the truth?” but: “What is reasonable to believe?”.
And on the practical level: Even if it weren’t possible, what if it was? Would we have the courage to do things that we wouldn’t do otherwise? Would we do the right thing?
It’s time to start writing a blog. This is, umm, my third blog-like thing; the first one was Eksistentiaalinen hyvinvointi (years 2005-2006), then came Kapinallisen politiikka (years 2006-2008). After my practical training period in Ghana in rainy season 2011 (that equals summer in the northern hemisphere), I started Reality as Discourse as a sort of philosophical project. This blog is the first one I will write in English. If you want to understand the historical blogs, Google Translate will help you with that.
I should briefly go through my personal history:
- Name: Arttu Vanninen
- Born: December 23rd, 1988
- Current place of residence: Lahti, Finland
My history as a writer started in 2003, when I wrote my first columns in the local newspaper Kouvolan Sanomat. I started writing them after my “getting to know work life” period in the newspaper in fall 2003. After those two years of semi-regular writing to the newspaper, I wrote some opinion writings to various newspapers (Kouvolan Sanomat, Helsingin Sanomat, Etelä-Suomen Sanomat) about various subjects.
Since 2008 I have been studying Environmental Engineering in Lahti University of Applied Sciences. At the same time I have maintained my interest in sociology, since I see environmental and societal things tightly tied together.
In this blog I continue with the same approach I had in Kapinallisen politiikka: I shall write about my thoughts openly, since I see also the act of writing as tool to get to know “what I think”. None of the writings should be considered as the last truth, but instead they should be the starting point for discussion. Compared to Kapinallisen politiikka, I shall, however, be less guiding in the sense that I will trust the reader can use Google to find out what I am referring to. This includes book references, inter alia.
I also encourage readers to ask if there is something they don’t quite understand. I would like to think this blog as not my personal development gadget, but as a valuable tool for everyone. It will become one when the readers also openly participate in the process by commenting and sharing points of view.
I think this is about it for a Hello World post. Let’s get down to business!