Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Ecology of Freedom

_The Ecology of Freedom_ by Murray Bookchin
Palo Alto, Ca:  Cheshire Books, 1982
ISBN 0-917352-09-2

(32)  Wholeness, in fact, is completeness.  The dynamic stability of the whole derives from a visible level of completeness in human communities as in climax ecosystems.  What unites these modes of wholeness and completeness, however different they are in their specificity and their qualitative distinctness, is the logic of development itself.  A climax forest is whole and complete as a result of the same unifying process - the same _dialectic_ - that a particular social form is whole and complete.

(44)  Dorothy Lee, _Freedom and Culture_ (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1959)

(48)  Indeed, far from dealing with nature as an “it” or a “thou” (to use Martin Buber’s terms), the ceremonial validates nature as _kin_, a blooded, all-important estate that words like _citizen_ can never attain.  Nature is _named_ even before it is deified;  it is personified as part of the community before it is raised above it as “super nature.”  To the pygmies of the Ituri forest, it is “Ndura” and to the settled Bantu villagers the same word strictly designates the forest that the pygmies regard as a veritable entity in itself, active and formative in all its functions.

(56)  Paul Radin, summing up decades of anthropological experience, research, and fieldwork, once observed:
If I were asked to state briefly and succinctly what are the outstanding features of aboriginal civilizations, I, for one, would have no hesitation in answering that there are three:  the respect for the individual, irrespective of age or sex;  the amazing degree of social and political integration achieved by them;  and the existence of a concept of personal security which transcends all governmental forms and all tribal and group interests and conflicts.

These features can be summarized as:  complete parity or equality between individuals, age-groups and sexes;  usufruct and later reciprocity;  the avoidance of coercion in dealing with internal affairs;  and finally, what Radin calls the “irreducible minimum” - the “inalienable right” (in Radin’s words) of every individual in the community “to food, shelter and clothing”  irrespective of the amount of work contributed by the individual to the acquisition of the means of life.  “To deny anyone this irreducible minimum was equivalent to saying that a man no longer existed, that he was dead” - in short, to cut across the grain of the world conceived as a universe of life.

(131)  The practice of direct democracy was an affirmation of citizenship as a process of direct action.  Athens was institutionally organized to convert its potentially monadic citizenry from free-floating atoms into a cohesive body politic.  Its regular citizen assemblies (Ecclesia), its rotating Council of Five Hundred (Boule), and its court juries that replicated in the hundreds the polis in miniature, were the _conscious_ creations of a public realm that had largely been fostered intuitively in tribal societies and were rarely to rise to the level of rational practice in the centuries to follow.  The entire Athenian system was oranized to obstruct political professionalism, to prevent the emergence of bureaucracy, and to perpetuate an active citizenry _as a matter of design_.

(142)  Not until the Middle Ages did this Teutonic word (as we know it) [freedom] begin to include such metaphysical niceties as freedom from the realm of necessity or freedom from the fortunes of fate, the Ananke and Moira that the Greeks added to its elucidation.

(154)  Archilochus - 680 – c. 645 BC - was a Greek lyric poet from the island of Paros in the Archaic period. He is celebrated for his versatile and innovative use of poetic meters and as the earliest known Greek author to compose almost entirely on the theme of his own emotions and experiences.

(168)  The word “freedom” initially appears in a Sumerian cuneiform tablet that gives an account of a successful popular revolt against a highly oppressive regal tyranny, thousands of years ago.  In _The Sumerians_, Samuel Noah Kramer tells us that “in this document… we find the word ‘freedom’ used for the first time in man’s recorded history;  the word is _amargi_ which… means literally ‘return to the mother.’”  Alas, Kramer wonders, “we still do not know why this figure of speech came to be used for ‘freedom.’”  Thereafter, “freedom” retains its features as a longing to “return to the mother,” whether to organic society’s matricentric ambience or to nature perceived as a bountiful mother.

(204)  Gerrard Winstanley is best known as the leader and theorist of the Diggers, a minuscule group of agrarian communists who in 1649 tried to cultivate the “free” or waste land on St. George’s Hill near London….

As Rexroth accurately emphasizes, “All the tendencies of the radical Reformation” - and, we may add, the most important millenarian movements of earlier times - “seem to flow together in Winstanley, to be blended and secularized, and become an ideology rather a theology.”  Winstanley was not a military communist like the Taborites;  he was a committed pacifist, and so far as we know, he remained one throughout his life.

(244-245)  The real powers of the Asian village to resist technical invasions or to assimilate them to their social forms lay not in a fixed “systemic division of labor,” as Marx believed.  Its powers of resistance lay in the intensity of Indian family life, in the high degree of care, mutualism, courtesy, and human amenities that villagers shared as cultural norms, in the rituals that surrounded personal and social life, in the profound sense of rootedness in a communal group, and in the deep sense of meaning these cultural elaborations imparted to the community.

(250-251)  But a new technics had supplanted the old:  the technics of supervision, with its heartless intensification of the labor-process, its conscienceless introduction of fear and insecurity, and its debasing forms of supervisory behavior.  Where the “factors” had bought products, not people, the factory bought people, not products.   This reduction of labor from embodiment in products into a capacity of people was decisive;  it turned fairly autonomous individuals into totally administered products and gave products an autonomy that made them seem like people.  The animate quality that things acquired - qualities which Marx aptly called the “fetishism of commodities” - was purchased at the expense of the animate qualities of people.

(260)  For the present, however, I must emphasize again that terms like “small,” “soft,” “intermediate,” “convivial,” and “appropriate” remain utterly vacuous adjectives unless  they are radically integrated with emancipatory social structures and communitarian goals.  Technology and freedom do not “coexist” with each other as two separate “realms” of life.  Either technics is used to reinforce the larger social tendencies that render human consociation technocratic and authoritarian, or else a libertarian society must be created that can absorb technics into a constellation of emancipatory human and ecological relationships.

(261)  Post-scarcity, as I have emphasized in earlier works, does not mean mindless affluence;  rather, it means a sufficiency of technical development that leaves individuals free to select their needs autonomously and to obtain the means to satisfy them.

… Richard J Barnett, _The Lean Years_:  But his data reveal that we are faced not with an absolute shortage of materials but with an irrational society.

(263)  The Hellenic ideal of freedom - an ideal confined to the citizen - was different.  Freedom existed _for_ activity, not _from_ activity.  It was not a realm but a practice - the practice of being free by participating in free institutions, by daily recreating, elaborating, and _fostering_ the activity of being free.  One was not merely “free” in the passive sense of freedom from constraint, but in the active sense of “free_ing_,” both of oneself and one’s fellow citizens.  An authentic community is not merely a structural constellation of human beings but rather the practice of _communizing_.  Hence, freedom in the _polis_ was a constellation of relationships that was continual in the process of reproduction.

(265)  No less important than the ensemble is the technical imagination that assembles it.  To think ecologically for design purposes is to think of technics as an _ecosystem_, not merely as cost effective devices based on “renewable resources.”  Indeed, to think ecologically is to include “nature’s_ “amor” in the technical process, not only humanity’s.

(292)  Production, in effect, implied not only reproduction as Eliade has observed for metallurgy, but also animation - not as “raw material” bathed in the “fire of labor,” but as nature actively imbuing its own substance with a “vital spark.”  The spirited nature of technics is reflected in a highly suggestive body of possibilities that only recently have entered into our accounts of the history of technology.

(318)  I have chronicled the commitment of traditional societies to usufruct, complementarity, and the irreducible minimum against class society’s claims to property, the sanctity of contract, and its adherence to the rule of equivalence.  In short, I have tried to rescue the legacy of freedom that the legacy of domination has sought to extirpate from the memory of humanity.

(333)  The present does not disappear, it persists and acquires externality at the expense of the future.  Futurism, in effect, does not enlarge the future but annihilates it by absorbing it into the present.  What makes this trend so insidious is that it also annihilates the imagination itself by constraining it to the present, thereby reducing our vision - even our prophetic abilities - to mere extrapolation.

(339)  To exercise one’s powers of sovereignty - by sit-ins, strikes, nuclear-plant occupations - is not merely a “tactic” in bypassing authoritarian institutions.  It is a sensibility, a vision of citizenship and selfhood that assumes the free individual has the capacity to manage social affairs in a direct, ethical, and rational manner.  This dimension of the self in self-management is a persistent call to personal sovereignty, to roundedness of ego and intellectual perception, which such conjoined terms like “management” and “activity” often overshadow.  The continual exercise of this self - its very formation by one’s direct intervention in social issues - asserting its moral claim and right to empowerment stands on a higher level conceptually than Marx’s image of self-identity through labor.  For direct action is literally a form of ethical character-building in the most important social role that the individual can undertake:  active citizenship.

(346)  For social “paradigms” one can turn to such memorable events as the May-June upheaval in France during 1968, or to Portugal a decade later, and possibly to Spain a generation earlier.  What should always count in analyzing such events is not why they failed - for they were never expected to occur at all - but how they managed to erupt and persist against massive odds.

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