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World Conscience as a Superpower

A revolution in thinking against mechanical models of action and knowledge has occurred in the past 30 years.. The new thinking about knowledge and society understands the creative unforeseeable role of human action and non-linear, non-instrumental and non-rational dimensions.
WORLD CONSCIENCE AS A SUPERPOWER

New Sounds and New Forms. A Process of Improvisation that no one can control or orchestrate starts from Porto Alegre

By Hilary Wainwright

[This article published in: Freitag 04, 1/26/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.freitag.de/2005/04/05042401.php. Hilary Wainwright is editor of the British magazine Red pepper and works at the Amsterdam Transnational Institute. Her latest book is: Reclaim the State: Experiments in Popular Democracy, Verso, London 2003.]


The World Social Forum may be compared with a swinging jazz-piece or a picture that looks different from every perspective. Its meaning and significance depends on our interpretation. I participated in the first three forums in Porto Alegre as someone from the "new" movements of the late sixties, the student movement, the peace movement and especially the women's movement. I am 55 years old and quick to identify now with the new movements for global justice. Their informal manners are as familiar to me as their goals.

Even spokespersons of the global elites understand that a new subject for social change has arisen. Two years ago when opposition in the UN grew stronger against the plans of the US for a preventive war against Iraq, Kofi Annan's press secretary remarked that we now have two superpowers: the US and world opinion. By February 2003 and most dramatically on February 15, the day of worldwide anti-war demonstrations, public opinion had clearly become an independent and organized force.

However the great number of demonstrators did not stop the fatal decision at the end. An overwhelming majority of the world public rejected war. Nevertheless war was waged. This experience must be reflected. What does this say about a democracy that we inherited from the Cold War? How can democracy be expanded so elites can no longer reverse the majority will into its opposite? These questions are important for the World Social Forum and the world public so they understand themselves and their role.

When millions of people rebelled on February 15, 2003 and took to the streets sometimes for the first time, many believed they had to call politicians' attention to the intensity of their opposition to their policy. That would be enough to move the government to change its opinion. After February 15 and the confirmation of protesters' arguments in Iraq everyday, the activities for peace and social justice will never return any more to conventional national policy.

Whoever questions traditional forms of political power thinks automatically of the 1999 protests in Seattle that sought to stop a process of secret discussions between ostensibly democratically elected governments. This had its pre-history in the student- and working class movement that exploded on the streets in 1968 and in the feminist movement that intruded in the bedrooms, workplaces and societies of the whole world. However the conduct of the US empire following February 15, 2003 led to a broader radicalization that we experienced for many years.

What role can the World Social Forum play if it has no leadership structure or special place for exercising power? Seeing the role of the WSF as a source for different organizations struggling for another world helps us understand what characterizes the movements and networks that met in Porto Alegre and in Mumbia in 2004. I will emphasize the characteristics that build on the sixties and seventies and show how these movements reflected even if only instinctively on the mistakes of past leftist political projects - whether the Leninist or the parliamentary project.

A revolution in thinking against mechanical models of action and knowledge has occurred in the past 30 years. In these models, society appeared as an enormous machine guided from the center - the state. The knowledge underlying politics was the knowledge of linear laws of cause and effect. The new thinking about knowledge and society understands the creative unforeseeable role of human action and non-linear, non-instrumental and even non-rational dimensions. Politics in general and conventional leftist thinking in particular has only slowly discovered this changed methodology.

While capitalist management theoreticians know how to assess the creativity of chaos and use networks for transferring practical know-how and speak about the "gold" in the heads of workers, traditional leftist parties have long acted as though knowledge could be centralized and the membership "guided" with instructions or directions. The base was not seen as creative but as "support", as voting fodder or - in another military analogy - as "rank and file". Therefore leftist governments have not used a massive source of creative power. Alone they are too weak to tackle extra-political power and the insider knowledge of oligarchy and the propertied middle class.

The trademark of both the new movements and the older movements from below is a basic trust in the importance of practical, innate, personal knowledge. The horizontal networks in which these movements are organized is actually the best way of sharing this knowledge. This egalitarian, de-centralized cooperation leads to a greater common understanding than every summary of scattered knowledge down from above. People who refuse to obey a system whose continuance relies on their complicity give the new movements a trust in the power of organized individual rebellion. This means that people have a power to change in themselves. Certainly they often need supportive larger networks to realize this potential. However whoever has learned that one cannot influence the course of the world entirely from below will no longer cry for politicians who act for people or pave the way to revolution according to an avant-garde party.

How can the knowledge planted in millions of individuals be shared and reunited? How can potential power be changed into real power? Emails and websites, alternative presses, concentrated network campaigns, regular international meetings from Zapatista encounters in Mexico to the World Social Forum in Brazil - these are all part of the answer. Behind that is the principle of a deeper participative democracy. This deeper democracy involves transparency, trust and time for detailed debates. Decisions need not always be made. When they are indispensable, the search for a consensus is the best way.

Another outstanding characteristic is the diversity of new social movements. At least in the countries of the North, the traditional working class movement is inclined to narrow-mindedness or tunnel vision. Again and again the imperative of unity has to be transferred from the sphere of labor disputes to other dimensions of the struggle. Everything that threatened this unity was often if not always scorned. Even if this arrogance is not as widespread today as in past decades since the negotiating power of traditional organizations is much weaker, separating from paternalism is obviously hard for some.

In contrast, the new movements see diversity as a source of power. They react to oppression and resistance in every sphere of life - from daily survival to exploitation in the factories. However creating a framework in which different interests can coexist is not easy. Two principles are vital for coexistence. Firstly, there is the principle of autonomy. Voluntary mobilizing agreements are only possible when the variety of standpoints/networks and forums is assured. Then the heated debate can become an arena of cooperation. The second central principle is shared responsibility for a framework encouraging diversity and pluralism without controlling the result.

With this political culture, uncertainties and experiments can be endured. Two years ago, the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre was an impressive illustration of the power of self-organization. Thousands instinctively assumed responsibility for the success of the forum with over 100,000 participants. This success occurred because they cultivated the virtues of egalitarian communication in their own organizations.

The WSF is essential for a global political culture that sees public debate as a democratic value and the only way of finding truths and formulating convincing alternatives. Like the jazz of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, the forum experiments with new sounds and forms and does not follow any formal harmony. A wave of improvisation starts from Porto Alegre whose character cannot be orchestrated by anyone.

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add a comment on this article

thanks M 07.Feb.2005 13:31

A

another interesting article (I'll have to read later). hopefully you can come to the situ reading group sometime.

democracy as dark ages ruling control form 09.Feb.2005 08:54

wild stallion

There are lessons that can be found in challenging democracy, and in this case, socialist-oriented democracy.

The following is a reply to Hilary Wainright and her "World consciousness as superpower" article.

i'll call such "consciousness" as the author sets this whole thing up as, as more mere conventional war, "super" only in its ability to terrorize in unparalleled stupidity, and stuck in oh so deadly misery and miserable imagination!

Several responses. Tell me what you thinc if you feel like it. Or anyone else! (the strange characters come with the original text, btw)

>
While capitalist management theoreticians know how to assess the creativity of chaos and use networks for transferring practical know-how and speak about the “gold” in the heads of workers, traditional leftist parties have long acted as though knowledge could be centralized and the membership “guided” with instructions or directions. The base was not seen as creative but as “support”, as voting fodder or " in another military analogy " as “rank and file”.
===

even more, as valuable heart-restarters and holderson-rejuvenators, keeping the machine running quite smoothly.

We whom have been herded into the allegedly protective corrall of "artist" identity and jargon.

>
Therefore leftist governments have not used a massive source of creative power. Alone they are too weak to tackle extra-political power and the insider knowledge of oligarchy and the propertied middle class.
===

hmmmm, who exactly is weak? The creatives or these Leftist governments you speak of?

If you speak of the creatives, let's not forget that Leftism is a consequence of some's imagination. And more to the point, your saying that Leftist governments have not used "creative power" as a resource for their machine as much as they could've, well that cuts in a number of ways, you know. Perhaps enough of us weilding our own 'creative powers' have distanced ourselves from you because you are yet so dark age intellectualization!

Oh, pardon me for tempting the firing of your howitzers and B230 Bombers,,,(oops, i think i slipped a bit into the Great Sea of Schizophrenia just now. Okay. There now, i've dried off from that and will proceed as originally intended)

>
This egalitarian, de-centralized cooperation leads to a greater common understanding than every summary of scattered knowledge down from above. People who refuse to obey a system whose continuance relies on their complicity give the new movements a trust in the power of organized individual rebellion.
=======
What is this idea you have about 'organized rebellion'? We do not need anything organized! All we need is, well, inspiration! But of course, many appear to be well-leashed (in their freedom) to the TV soap operas and such things.

>
This means that people have a power to change in themselves. Certainly they often need supportive larger networks to realize this potential.
====
Networks which need not be formal, which need not be even cellular in the traditional underground sense. Why even carry 1 percent of that hell if we can avoid it? And we can! Spontaneous interaction of the authentic, without bloodshed, without maimkillwars or even scarewar.

>
However whoever has learned that one cannot influence the course of the world entirely from below
===
What is this "below" you are speaking of? Are you not trying to talk to me as tho you are in some higher place? Can you come down from your soapbox or pedestal or ivory tower? Do you even dare? And speak to us as you would like us to speak to you.

>
How can the knowledge planted in millions of individuals be shared and reunited?
===

By evolving our perceptional reality to seeing that reuniting also means more than reducing ourselves down under one common flag or one common side of truth.

We can be sharing and uniting in our common celebrations, our common desire to be radically beautiful with each other to the extreme (spreading word like a few enjoyable, world-wide raindrops if inspiring enough).

>
How can potential power be changed into real power? Emails and websites, alternative presses, concentrated network campaigns, regular international meetings from Zapatista encounters in Mexico to the World Social Forum in Brazil " these are all part of the answer.
======
Yet they are such a limiting/confined portion. Leaving an entire side of the world from hearing our inspiration. Who in that list will be speaking from the heart to others' hearts? Who will be limiting their words to what is "mutually agreed" to certainly be "very short attention spans"?

All of this we do is art. We are doing art right now by typing and/or reading via our computers or even paper with text on it.

The point is, all of our lives can be our art.

>
Behind that is the principle of a deeper participative democracy. This deeper democracy involves transparency, trust and time for detailed debates. Decisions need not always be made. When they are indispensable, the search for a consensus is the best way.
=====

i agree to a point. Yet the dogmatic religion remains intact. In this case, democracy, this word you use to try to bridge with us. What if a good few of us decided to call it remorselessocracy? And we were able to keep speaking and challenging you and your democracy, no matter how so-called "radical"? What would you do then?

i'm just saying that these dark age intellectualizations are missing the point of what has held us all up too long: our choosing to subordinate to our elders so much so that even tho times have changed (psssssst--euro imagination is not the only one anymore!) (wow, the way many native americans seem to so quickly subordinate to their elders as well, moves me to wonder if that's not the energy that was placed into them which keeps us all so stagnant and non-evolving where we'd much rather go more in the direction of--and i'm not talking about going and watching the superbowl!)

>
Another outstanding characteristic is the diversity of new social movements. At least in the countries of the North, the traditional working class movement is inclined to narrow-mindedness or tunnel vision.
===
Mere reflections of the dogmatic fundamentalism that remains echoing from the elders we have so fully subordinated to. (This IS NOT to say that we should thus go to the OTHER EXTREME by not listening to the wisdom of our elders at all!)

>
Everything that threatened this unity was often if not always scorned.
===
And while this will continue, times have evolved us even if our mind-sets have not (that is to say, the mind-sets of those who partake in the wargames of propaganda and hype against whole groups of people reduced down to 'the bad guys' and such things.

>
However creating a framework in which different interests can coexist is not easy.
=====
this idea of "interests" irks me. Basically, what you are talking about is the coexistence of persons made into armies and kept under control by democracy. people like you who head this democracy, and tell us that coexistence is not easy, when, before we were roped, corralled, and branded by your type of mind-set, we got along a lot better (we certainly never dreamed up and built bombs and nuclear devices and toxic waste!)

Ah, but i'm talking about *mind-sets* after all. Your mind-set can switch personalities at will, just as you take off your business clothes and dress in your weekend or play clothes. Think that one through, please.

>
Two principles are vital for coexistence. Firstly, there is the principle of autonomy. Voluntary mobilizing agreements are only possible when the variety of standpoints/networks and forums is assured.
====
i can see where you are coming from as long as the grip of propaganda has people controlled. In this context, where you and your mind-set jealously makes sure that your meta games won't be exposed (by some damn dog named Toto for instance), i can see your wisdom.

>
Then the heated debate can become an arena of cooperation.
===
The heated debates of vanguardists from every "interest" group, uh-huh.

The rest of us must sit back and let the "reasonable", "rational" and "capable" persons handle these tense moments (i.e. the cuban missile crisis type of thing).

>
The second central principle is shared responsibility for a framework encouraging diversity and pluralism without controlling the result.
=====
Hmmmmmmmm, i got hung up on diversity. i KNOW that does not, in any way, shape, or form, openly accept every group that might dare speak forthrightly and articulately about diversity and their inclusion therein! After all, the meta game of democracy has always kept certain persons OUTSIDE for resourcing or scapegoat needs; all quite scientific, er, "rational" and "reasonable".

>
With this political culture, uncertainties and experiments can be endured.
===
Yes, and as soon as they no longer need be, democracy will step in to push these "experiments" and "uncertainties" (sacrificial individuals or groups of people/beings, no doubt) back in their useful places!

>
The WSF is essential for a global political culture that sees public debate as a democratic value and the only way of finding truths and formulating convincing alternatives. Like the jazz of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, the forum experiments with new sounds and forms and does not follow any formal harmony. A wave of improvisation starts from Porto Alegre whose character cannot be orchestrated by anyone.
=====

While it is true the jazzists do not follow any formal harmony in their sound and possible intent, they did remain aloof from their spectators and "audience". They were rewarded with capitalist values (money and connections), and they were not viewed as equals, largely (either superior or inferior, i suspect).
what if you dared to dress like you felt, whenever you felt like it?
what if you dared to dress like you felt, whenever you felt like it?