Complexity & Imagination

Sheri Herndon sent me the remarkable quotes below, coming to me as I explore the Tao of evolutionary revolution (or is it revolutionary evolution?). I have such strong responses, both rejoicing and protesting what these writers say. Here’s a few comments arising from all that…
Evolutionary revolution wouldn’t actually be a matter of taking power or changing power relationships or preventing authority from arising or resisting and undermining all visions of the future. It would be a matter of CHANGING power, itself, what power is seen to BE.  It is a matter of spreading and energizing the field in which diverse and numerous leadership / authorities (from “author”) can emerge, of tapping into the power of evolutionary dynamics and riding that power into an ever-evolving future. The principles of doing that are evolutionary principles — the dynamics that evolution has used for 13.7 billion years, evolving them as it goes (“survival of the fittest” is only one small part of the picture), and we will evolve them further, so there is something to learn and apply, but it doesn’t have to end up as ideology — or anti-ideology. 

 And yes, we want impurity, but not for its own sake, but because dissonance is a vital part of evolution. Dissonance for its own sake impedes creativity getting a foothold, just like a lubricated surface (ice, oil) makes it almost impossible to walk. Dissonance that arises from our diversity and our authentic encounters with the world around us is a source of information about the wisdom of our journey, something to guide us. It is not a substitute for the Journey, itself. And, of course, we want “mixing and circulating and stirring things up” — not from a iconoclastic love of disruption, but to delight in the generativity that blossoms forth in the absence of top-down control, creating new possibilities for exploration and evolutionary selection. And there is something to know, too, about how to create and hold spaces where such generativity can blossom for most or all of the participants, for some forms of chaos-by-the-few interfere with the creative freedom-of-the-many.
So I say yes! to “The question, then, is not so much how to create the world as how to keep alive that moment of creation, how to realize that Coyote world in which creation never ends and people participate in the power of being creators, a world whose hopefulness lies in its unfinishedness, its openness to improvisation and participation.” AND it is with great sadness that I stumble on the limited vision of the next sentence: “The revolutionary days I have been outlining are days in which hope is no longer fixed on the future: it becomes an electrifying force in the present.” When one lives in possibility, the division between the future and the present is clearly seen as artificial. The future lives in the present, and we can enter into its energy and let it move us — something we simply cannot do without imagination, for that is where the seeds of the future germinate and take root in the present.
Unfortunately, the celebrated fact that “belief can be more effective than violence” cuts both ways. This is the realm of scientific PR and co-optation — the manipulation of mass belief by powerholders and which some applications of Spiral Dynamics can empower under the guise of providing modalities which engage all developmental levels, while not questioning the dominant powers that construct those modalities in ways that maintain status quo control systems. Note that when the WTO was halted, the predatory dimensions of global capitalism weren’t, and that those predatory dynamics continue to find ways to profit from crises, as chronicled by Naomi Klein.
And I love this:  “The horizons toward which we soar are within us, anxious to break free, to emerge from our imaginings, then to beckon us forward into fresh realities. We have a mission to create, for we are evolution incarnate. We are her self-awareness, her frontal lobes and fingertips. We are second-generation star stuff come alive. We are parts of something 3.5 billion years old, but pubertal in cosmic time. We are the neurons of this planet’s interspecies mind.”” 


Below is Sheri’s selection of quotes:
here’s an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s fabulous book that speaks to this:
Rebecca Solnit,
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
Naomi Klein remarked about global justice activists a few years ago, “When critics say the protesters lack vision, what they are really saying is that they lack an overarching revolutionary philosophy – like Marxism, democratic socialism, deep ecology or social anarchy – on which they all agree. That is absolutely true, and for this we should be extraordinarily thankful. At the moment, the anti-corporate street activists are ringed by would-be leaders, anxious to enlist them as foot soldiers for their particular cause. It is to this young movement’s credit that it has as yet fended off all of these agendas and has rejected everyone’s generously donated manifesto.” Elsewhere she described Marcos and the Zapatistas in terms that exactly fit the loose networks of anarchist antiglobalization activists: “non- hierarchical decision-making, decentralized organizing, and deep community democracy.” This is an ideology of sorts, but an ideology of absolute democracy that’s about preventing authority from arising, with the concomitant limits on imagination, participation, adaptation, which is to say that it is an ideology against ideologies. If there were purist or Puritan tendencies in earlier waves of activism, this is generously, joyously impure, with the impurity that comes from mixing and circulating and stirring things up.
 From deep inside that community, my friend John Jordan, a wonderful writer and activist – part of Reclaim the Streets then, of the global justice movement now – writes me, “Our movements are trying to create a politics that challenges all the certainties of traditional leftist politics, not by replacing them with new ones, but by dissolving any notion that we have answers, plans or strategies that are watertight or universal. In fact our strategies must be more like water itself, undermining everything that is fixed, hard and rigid with fluidity, constant movement and evolution. We are trying to build a politics of process, where the only certainty is doing what feels right at the right time and in the right place – a politics that doesn’t wait (interesting how wait and hope are the same words in Spanish) but acts in the moment, not to create something in the future but to build in the present, it’s the politics of the here and now. When we are asked how are we going to build a new world, our answer is,’We don’t know, but let’s build it together.’ In effect, we are saying the end is not as important as the means, we are turning hundreds of years of political form and content on its head by putting the means before the ends, by putting context in front of ideology, by rejecting purity and perfection, in fact, we are turning our backs on the future.
“It’s an enormous challenge, because in a chaotic world people need something to hold onto and something to hold them, if all is uncertain, if uncertainty is the only certainty, then the uprooted, the fragile, those that crave something to give them meaning in their lives, simply get washed away by the flood and flux of an unsure universe. For them, hope is often found in certainty. Not necessarily certainty rooted in a predictable future, but certainty that they are doing the right thing with their lives . . . Taking power has been the goal at the end of the very straight and narrow road of most political movements of the past. Taking control of the future lies at the root of nearly every historical social change strategy, and yet we are building movements which believe that to ‘let go’ is the mo
powerful thing we can do – to let go, walk away from power and find freedom. Giving people back their creative agency, reactivating their potential for a direct intervention into the world is at the heart of the process. With agency and meaning reclaimed, perhaps it is possible to imagine tomorrow today and to be wary of desires that can only be fulfilled by the future. In that moment of creation, the need for certainty is subsumed by the joy of doing, and the doing is filled with meaning.”
Jordan’s vision is widely shared. The philosopher Alphonso Lingis says,”We really have to free the notion of liberation and revolution from the idea of permanently setting up some other kind of society.” Subcommandante Marcos understands well that what older revolutionary movements would have considered victory would be defeat for the Zapatistas and he calls Zapatismo “not an ideology but an intuition.” Zapatista scholar John Holloway has a new manifesto of a book called Change the World without Taking Power, a similar argument that the revolution is an end in itself that fails its spirit and its ideals when it becomes the next institutional power. Or as my brother David, a global justice organizer, writes,”The notion of capturing positions of power, either through elections or insurrection, misses the point that the aim of revolution is to fundamentally change the relations of power. There is a vast area of do-it-yourself activity directed toward changing the world that does not have the state as its focus and that does not aim at gaining positions of power. It is an arena in which the old distinctions between reform and revolution no longer seem relevant, simply because the question of who controls the state is not the focus of attention.” This is what the Temporary Autonomous Zones, the politics of prefiguration, the adage about process, not product, have all been inching toward – a revolution in the nature of revolution, with the promise that whatever mistakes we make, they will not be the same old ones.
Sandinista poet Giaconda Belli writes that July 18 and 19, 1979, when the Sandinista rebels overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, were “two days that felt as if a magical, age-old spell had been cast over us, taking us back to Genesis, to the very site of the creation of the world.” These other versions of what revolution means suggest that the goal is not so much to go on and create the world as to live in that time of creation, and with this the emphasis shifts from institutional power to the power of consciousness and the enactments of daily life. Revolutionary moments have an extraordinary intensity, the intensity of living in history, of feeling the power to make one’s life and make the world, the communion between people liberated from the bonds that limit and separate them. “Revolutionary moments are carnivals in which the individual life celebrates its unification with a regenerated society,” writes Situationist Raoul Vaneigem.

The question, then, is not so much how to create the world as how to keep alive that moment of creation, how to realize that Coyote world in which creation never ends and people participate in the power of being creators, a world whose hopefulness lies in its unfinishedness, its openness to improvisation and participation. The revolutionary days I have been outlining are days in which hope is no longer fixed on the future: it becomes an electrifying force in the present.
* * * *
A month or two before the Bush administration began bombing Baghdad, several months before this victory in Cancun, Jonathan Schell published The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. The book eloquently argues for a new idea of change and of power. One of its key recognitions is that the change that counts in revolution takes place first in the imagination. This means, of course, that the most foundational change of all, the one from which all else issues, is hardest to track. It means that politics arise out of culture, out of the spread of ideas and the shaping of imaginations. It means that symbolic acts and cultural acts have real political power. Schell describes how the United States lost the war in Vietnam because, despite extraordinary military superiority, it could not win over the people of that country and finally lost the confidence and support of its own citizen: “In the new world of politically committed and active people, it was not force per se, but the collective wills of those people that were decisive.” In other words, belief can be more effective than violence.
Schell continues, “Individual hearts and minds change; those who have been changed become aware of one another; still others are emboldened, in a contagion of boldness; the ‘impossible’ becomes possible; immediately it is done, surprising the actors almost as much as their opponents; and suddenly, almost with the swiftness of thought – whose transformation has in fact set the whole process in motion – the old regime, a moment ago so impressive, vanishes like a mirage.” Cancun 2003, where the power of small-scale farmers and other activists proved supreme and the apparently inexorable advance of the WTO was halted and turned back, was one of those carnival moments of hope realized, one of the days of creation.
and then this piece from Howard Bloom which talks about the role of imagination through time…great story:
The mass mind, like its members, has its dreams. These aspirations can be turned to hard, cold fact if they’re pursued not for merely hours or years, but for millennia and centuries. Humans have dreamed of flying since at least the days when the myth of Daedalus was first told in ancient Greece three thousand years ago. But it would take the workings of a global brain 150 generations to turn this airy fantasy from fiction to reality. Italy’s Leonardo da Vinci did some interspecies borrowing—studying the motions of birds in flight—then took notes on a pad of a material created in China—paper—and drew potential aeronautical machines. The Chinese innovation which had helped da Vinci popped up once again when two sons of a French papermaker discovered that by filling a flimsy bag… with hot air, they could cause the bag to fly. In 1783, the papermaker’s sons—the Montgolfiers—sent two friends drifting over Paris in the first manned long-distance flight. America’s Benjamin Franklin suggested adding a propulsion engine, a visionary impracticality at the time. In 1799 England’s Sir George Cayley conceived of a fixed-wing vehicle with a tail assembly for horizontal and vertical stability and stuck with his vision long enough to build a successful glider fifty years later in 1849. Germany’s Otto Lillienthal—jumping from an enormous mound outside of Berlin—made two thousand glider flights from 1867 to 1891… Ohio’s Wright Brothers used Lillienthal’s results to design a heavier- than-air machine which could be made to turn rather than to simply fly an uncontrolled straight line. Finally, thanks to the development of new materials of all kinds, a human-powered aircraft flew the flight path the mythmakers of Daedalus had conceived—from Crete to the Greek Island of Santorini—in 1988, three thousand years after the telling of Icarus’s wax wings,” writes NYU scholar Howard Bloom. “Such is the way the global brain does its thinking and creating, its testing and imagining… The horizons toward which we soar are within us, anxious to break free, to emerge from our imaginings, then to beckon us forward into fresh realities. We have a mission to create, for we are evolution incarnate. We are her self-awareness, her frontal lobes and fingertips. We are second-generation star stuff come alive. We are parts of something 3.5 billion years old, but pubertal in cosmic time. We are the neurons of this planet’s interspecies mind.”
  –Howard Bloom, Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Bang to the 2

1st Century, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 2000, 221-223
And then Robin D.G. Kelly (step brother to Peace Kelly our local spoken word poet here in Seattle) in Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (a book I highly recommend even if only you read the first few chapters):
There are very few contemporary political spaces where the energies of love and imagination are understood and respects as powerful social forces…The surrealists not only taught me that any serious motion toward freedom must begin in the mind, but they have also given me some of the most imaginative, expansive, and playful dreams of a new world I have ever known. Contrary to popular belief, surrealism is not an aesthetic doctrine but an international revolutionary movement concerned with the emancipation of thought (shifting consciousness). Members of the Surrealist Group in Madrid for example see their work as an intervention in life rather than literature, a protracted battle against all forms of oppression that aims to replace suspicion, fear and anger with curiosity, adventure and desire, and a model space for collective living – a space from which separation and isolation are banished forever.’ …One of the basic premises of this book is that the most powerful, visionary dreams of a new society don’t come from little think tanks of smart people…Revolutionary dreams erupt out of political engagement; collective social movements are incubators of new knowledge. . . .
We must tap the well of our own collective imaginations, that we do what earlier generations have done: dream.
Trying to envision somewhere in advance of nowhere as poet Jayne Cortez puts it, is an extremely difficult task, yet it is a matter of great urgency. Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.

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