As you come to know the seriousness of our situation – the war, the racism, the poverty in the world—you come to realize it is not going to be changed just by words or demonstrations. It’s a question of living your life in drastically different ways. – Dorothy Day
[if conflict there must be] let these conflicts take place not on the ground of vague aspirations…but upon broad ideas which inspire men by the grandness of the horizon which they bring into view….the conflict will [then] depend less upon guns than upon the force of the creative genius which will be brought into action in the reconstruction of society…The conflict being thus engaged on larger issues will purify the social atmosphere itself… – Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist
I make no secret of the fact that I believe peace is a local matter as much as a national and international or global one. Just as feminism taught us the personal is political, so the local is the very first social stage upon which we create, or fail to create, peace, or love for that matter. The center must return to localities such that real life is local life. Now, the “most real” seems to be at the “top,” at the centers of power which appear, through the reality enhancement made possible by electronic mass media, glamorous, their talking heads magnified and god-like. Screen realities have become a demeaned substitute for the higher, more inclusive, spiritual reality to which the mass of educated, liberal people like ourselves have lost connection.
Inasmuch as we fail here, in our local places, to hold it together, to maintain the commitment to unity, to being-as-one, we will continue to fail at the national and international levels. In this time of multiple threats to the environment, when contraction of the industrial economy and way of life is called for, the anarchist call to “decentralize” is ever more appropriate. The center must be shifted from the power centers at the top, that saturate us in their meanings through their control of government, major institutions, and mass media, to the most local and unmediated relationships, such that social organization is bottom-up, not top down. If centralization is a major cause of our disassociation from nature and from each other, of our disempowerment, our political lethargy, our divisiveness, etc., then we must figure out what it means to decentralize. More important, we must face the severe fact that, given our way of life and the sum total of beliefs, attitudes and assumptions we share, and most critically, the extent to which we remain unconsciously obedient to top-down authority, restoring centrality in the most local (decentralized) relationships, including the relationship to place, is for us nearly impossible.
If we wish to do any more than just saying “give peace a chance,” we must come to realize we know practically nothing about it. The dream of peace epitomized in Woodstock is by now a vapid T-shirt banality, as removed from our actual lives as the proverbial “pipe dream.” For certain, we do not share the meaning experienced by the great majority of people on the planet for whom “peace” means what they do not have: the safety, stability and means of sustenance necessary for people in their communities to live productively, meaningfully and interdependently from birth to death in their home places, and to be able to expect the same for their children. For most people with whom I’m acquainted, this vision of peace in in-place stability is a picture of failure! To return to living in such a way that no improvement is made from generation to generation would be like peasant life in the middle ages! We do not, as a whole, share this aim of peace because this sort of peaceable living, locally contained and limited, is not what we want. Our needs, conditioned to the material expectations of bourgeois liberalism, are far more complex.
Who, anymore, can desire the degraded reality that community life in place, regarded as it is in industrial and neoliberal society as a kind of failure, has become? In particular, who can desire the terrible stability of face-to-face living, over time? Like everyone else raised in western society, we are unprepared for this kind of utter mutual dependency, the kind against which our educated forefathers and mothers, influenced by the liberating effect of enlightenment thinking, struggled over centuries to escape! Largely forgotten is the fact that most of the centralized social systems and economic structures we take for granted have their base in the destruction of the very ways of life – i.e., interdependent, mutualistic, communalistic, etc. – that would be needed to de-centralize. The truth is by this time we are ill-prepared to be comrades. How easily, in our social dyads and triads we scapegoat, project our mistrust, tear the ones we hate to pieces, and sometimes the ones we love. Because to us “growth junkies, the constricted face-to-face reality, in a world with no unifying positive dream, ” has become unbearable. Over and over we fail in little, daily ways to live as if this were our only world, in which we must persist in and insist on being human.
The return to local living in our existing demeaned and degraded communities, reduced to being colonial outposts for Dunkin Donuts and Walmart, returns us to a kind of social “enchainment” we no longer consider good or necessary. It’s revolutionary potential is easily missed. We cannot see the “broader, unifying ideas,” which as Kropotkin said, can “purify the social atmosphere.” But this is so only because of our neoliberal conditioning; the brute face of authority is hidden from those of us who conform to it. Revolutions in the past have depended upon situations of abusive power in which the victims find their commonality in recognizing the oppressor. In contrast, the revolution of the local demands of us that we cultivate a conscious relationship to legitimate authority. Beginning with a sound sense of inner authority we can, like past revolutionaries, distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate authority, to claim support from the former and commit disobedience against the latter. Whether or not one adheres to traditional religion, such as did Dorothy Day, or Martin Luther King, Jr., legitimate authority that will stand against illegitimate authority will only be found within, in the imaginal, creative function of the soul.
After several generations of rationalist conditioning, and of top-down mediated reality replacing genuine in-place relationships, we are incapacitated for coming to grips with revolutionary consciousness. Not only the loss of a transcendent frame of meaning, but the complete modernist disdain for metaphysical reality has left us neurotically, even psychotically, dominated by internal struggles with invisible “authorities,” or demons, that have no opposition. Our relationships begin and end in projections we can neither see nor challenge nor escape or rebel against, for to be aware of projections one must enter the inner wilderness of oneself. We dwell in separate, obsessive “micro-worlds” managing diets and fitness routines, keeping our crystals clear of impurities – futile, imaginary struggles that make actual revolution, in contrast, the thing that’s unreal!
The powerful projections involved in relationships, especially and intensely the intimate ones, unless everyone involved can manage to fulfill each other’s positive projections and avoid the negative (good luck!), turn the honest desire for mutual trust, cooperation and friendship, into destructive, divisive power struggles. Hence the news headlines: murderously enraged spurned boyfriends, battered wives and girlfriends, a category of differences deemed “irreconcilable” by the legal establishment, estrangements and divorce. Hence our over-dependence upon legal authority to resolve our conflicts and to implement “outing” movements like #MeToo, which serve mainly to deepen divisions and to thwart the aim of peace.
Having no longer an in-common spiritual authority that can call for peace-making, the very real power struggles between people in face-to-face communities can have no resolution in reconciliation. Discouraged under neoliberalism from individuality, unable to authorize our subjectivities (lost in to be or not to be?) we fail to make the evolutionary “next move in consciousness,” the humanly empowering move to “self-creation.” With no way to resolve individual internal struggles, most of us succumb to the inner wilderness, losing ourselves in neurosis, managing to cope, but never to act. What choice do we have but to give up the impossible anarchist project and submit to the current arrangements in the neoliberal totality that always has room for one more?
Having so thoroughly banished, under neoliberalism, non-rational kinds of knowing, having been conditioned to consider literature and art and the imaginative realm as nonessential, we’re left prey to media-magnified, top-down (illegitimate) authority. Passively we’ve gone along with the smug establishment assurance that science has gained us superiority over superstitious “primitive” peoples whose religions were nature and imagination-based. We’re left with no way to receive the wisdom from below (the other within) that could free us from the unwinnable internal neurotic struggles and thus provide us a (non-material) basis for local, communal, de-centralized living.
As long as we remain obedient to the authority that grants us a place within the (neoliberal) world, we are limited to expressing our dissatisfaction in either adolescent-stage rebellion against, or passive submission to, illegitimate authority; either way, peace remains a T-shirt slogan. The peasant culture in which Kropotkin placed his anarchist hope retained remnants of its indigenous strength because the peasants had been systematically shut out from the enticements and rewards of power and affluence. In neoliberal bourgeois society, we have largely succumbed to these same enticements, that provide the “payoff” for our disempowering acceptance of the normalization of vast inequality and endless war, and of disabling neurosis.
How then, can we give peace a chance? How can we restore to the world its human meaning such as it has for the majority of the world’s people who do not have peace, who suffer under want, war, treatable diseases, political oppression, etc., due mainly to the illegitimate actions of nations dominated by greedy self-serving capitalists and neoliberal abstractions? How can we return the human experiment to its proper locus in the struggle for peace in the close-up and unmediated, the de-centralized and the local?
Despite my confidence in the authority of the soul, it would be dishonest of me to claim I have the “solution” to this major obstacle to the revolution of peace love and understanding in our time. De-centralizing our lives does not bring us onto safe utopian islands of like-minded “, i.e, “sane” people. Far from it! For me, whose geographical center of Utica is a “sacrifice zone” in the global marketplace (as most of our places ultimately are) I’m brought into the reality of my outsiderhood in dehumanized neoliberal reality. However, it’s possible this “stranger-hood” has an advantage for the project of de-centralization, over an easier affiliation with “the like-minded.” De-centralization depends upon its constituent individuals having allegiance to inward authority (that is, to their being individuals!) Thus, standing in one’s inner authority, which is to stand in one’s confounding otherness, one’s difference, means that relationships no longer can depend on the illusion of sameness. They instead become conscious acts of ongoing reconciliation, of peace-making, as they should be. Such a local center thus becomes in anarchist fashion a “federation” among affiliated autonomous individuals. One can only hypothesize – for all of this is in – and will forever be in – the experimental stage: by each one being our difference, realized in the primary revolutionary act of creative expression, the peace-making revolution can be brought home in our families and our most local communities.