You can read a review of the Compassionate Activism book at: (http://www.jsedimensions.org/wordpress/content/review-of-compassionate-activism-an-exploration-of-integral-social-care-by-mark-garavan_2013_05/
Croke Park 2 is not primarily a fiscal adjustment event but an ideological adjustment event. This is revealed by examining the standards of what is regarded as possible and impossible and by examining the choices and assumptions that lie behind this event.
First, let us briefly note one such assumption and one of its many consequences. This is the framing in virtually moral terms of a constructed division between ‘public’ sector and ‘private’ sector. The ‘public’ sector is constructed as the site of waste, of excess, of laziness. The ‘private’ sector is, in contrast, the site of innovation, productivity and virtuous hard work. The ‘private’ sector is considered as within the ‘real’ economy while the ‘public’ sector is sustained within an artificial realm. The ‘private’ sector is virtuous by being subject to the rigours and discipline of the market (the ultimate arbiter of the ‘good’). In contrast, the ‘public’ sector is closeted and protected from market discipline and thereby is regarded in principle as flaccid and complacent.
As a result, this construction creates the conditions for a division of workers between these sectors. ‘Private’ sector workers are encouraged to imagine the excessive enjoyment (the Lacanian jouissance) of their ‘public’ sector colleagues and to thereby resent their assumed advantages and benefits. The extraordinary anger of employer representatives and many media commentators when speaking of the ‘public’ sector can be explained as symptoms of this deep envy. The mobilisation of libidinal forces such as resentment is a critical ideological device which structures popular political perceptions. As Slavoj Zizek points out in his The Sublime Object of Ideology the presumption that the other has access to some specific enjoyment denied to us really bothers us and lies at the root of social dysfunctions such as racism (2008: 212).
Ideology is that which masquerades as ‘common sense’, as the obvious, the technically necessary thing to do. Thus is Croke Park 2 presented. Yet a simple examination of the realm of choices within which Croke Park 2 is set exposes the underlying ideology.
The objective we are told is to close the gap in our current budget between income and expenditure. How is this to be done? One obvious route is through taxation. Do we think that all those with incomes above €65,000 should be reduced by 5.5%? If so, then let us impose taxes to that effect. Or all those above €185,000 should be reduced by 10%? But no, it is simply ‘impossible’ to tax high earners in the ‘private’ sector. Why? Because it would be a ‘disincentive’ to work and, more seriously, discourage foreign corporations from ‘investing’ in Ireland. At the time of the 2013 budget, Finance Minister Noonan rejected a Universal Social Charge increase on incomes above €100,000 for these precise reasons. These factors don’t apply to the ‘public’ sector however.
Or what about increasing corporation tax, presently at a nominal 12% but de facto at an effective 6% on average? But no, this too is ‘impossible’ because it also would discourage corporate ‘investment’ in Ireland. So too with royalty or windfall profit taxes on oil and gas corporations. So too with carbon taxes or pollution taxes or other social charges on private corporations.
Revealed here is the dominance of the logic of Capital. This is the hidden ideological kernel at the core of the choices being made. In a way therefore, the choices made are perfectly ‘rational’. They are required to maintain the functioning of Capital. Of course. So let us be honest about this and come to see that what is happening to us is not ‘objectively determined’ or ‘fair and equitable’ but the consequences of an economic and social structure serving the interests not of one group of workers over another but of Capital – the implacable logic and demands of which we are required to serve. Let us at least recognise where we stand and what is our true Master.
Check out a film teaser / preview of a documentary in the making about why we don’t resist in Ireland:
Following the budget we now at least know, if there was ever any doubt, where we stand. We know what the horizon of possibility / impossibility now is as understood by the government. Three matters of importance indicate this clearly.
First, the wealthy cannot be taxed any further. This was asserted by the Finance Minister in unambiguous terms. Further tax increases for the wealthy would cause them to leave the country and/or would ‘dis-incentivise’ them from job creation and/or would discourage foreign corporations from coming to Ireland. In any event, for whichever of these reasons, further tax increases for the wealthy (+€100,000) are now defined as impossible.
Second, corporation tax as we have long known cannot be increased. Nor will there be a financial transactions tax. Nor will the oil and gas corporations be subjected to any additional taxes, levies or royalties. These are impossible also.
Finally, in response to the proposal that the wealthy have a 3% increase in USC, Fine Gael proposed a corresponding 3% reduction in social welfare payments. They sought to establish a political and moral equivalence between these two proposals. Thus, it was not for economic or social reasons, but entirely for political ones that they suggested that if the rich must pay more then so too must the poor.
Meanwhile, huge transfers of wealth from poor to rich continue with bank bailouts, bond repayments, welfare and social care reductions and increased regressive charges on middle and low income people. This is considered possible and necessary. Taxing the wealthy and corporations is however impossible.
This is the systemic situation we are now in. This is the logic involved in maintaining our crumbling and dysfunctional system. It could not be clearer. Defining what is possible and impossible is an act of ideology not of rationality. Seeing through this allows us to see clearly the nature of the dominant system itself and whose interests in really serves.
Seeing what lies open to view
Our understanding of the world is shaped by our socialization which is in turn deeply penetrated by ideological forces. For so long we have not seen our contemporary Western form of life as a constructed ‘system’. Rather, we have experienced it as a perfectly natural mode of social and economic organization, apparently in tune with human nature and ideally suited to deliver material well-being. Problems that have arisen have been perceived as merely minor defects of systemic functioning requiring only technical adjustment. The ideological hegemony of this idea culminated in the 1980s so much so that the ‘left’ effectively from then reduced their demands to humanizing the dominant system.
However, we are now in a different moment. The system is in view qua system and it is called capitalism. We can finally see it. Why? The scale of disorder is now so great its symptoms are everywhere. People in the Western centre are now themselves directly experiencing suffering and deprivation. We can now perceive the huge accumulation of wealth and capital by so few on one side and the vast human need and scarcity of so many on the other. Ecological disaster mounts. Poverty, oppression and human marginalization is evident everywhere. Business as usual is now not an option simply because ‘business as usual’ not only cannot solve our problems it has created them in the first place.
What is the problem?
Why is capitalism the appropriate name of the problem? The answer is that it produces, according to its own inherent logic, exploitation and alienation. Marx’s analysis of capitalism remains valid and demonstrable – exploitation is built in to the very nature of labour and alienation is its offshoot. Alienation characterizes our social world. This is visible in rising emptiness, despair and feelings of powerlessness. The growing level of mental distress and other social dysfunctions signals this at an emotional, ‘non-rational’ level.
Why capitalism cannot be the answer is that it cannot structurally overcome its own inevitable production of exploitation and alienation. In addition, it cannot solve the general problems of ecological disaster or social inequality. The liberal state has mitigated the worst consequences of capitalism over the last century but the state is now in sharp decline because of fiscal deficits, ideological undermining from neo-liberalism and from its colonization by powerful corporate interests. Capitalism cannot fix the critical contemporary problems of:
permanent global economic growth (simply not possible in a finite world);
growing exploitation and alienation.
A new system is needed. But what? And how do we get it?
What must we do?
First, we must think. New perspectives and ideas are needed, new in terms of the hegemonic system but not new in the history of human culture. This includes a recovery of the insights of Marx and others. The modern left has badly failed to articulate and represent genuine social alternatives. Its obsession with the Gesture and the Dogmatic Word has closed off its ability to mobilize and inspire at the level of both dream and reason.
Second, we need to think together. The Freirean method of dialogue and cultural discussion is now essential. We need to recover the Kantian use of public reason – reason deployed without being tied to purpose, without project.
Then, finally, we need to act. We need new forms of life. But we also crucially need to propose a clear programme to take us to where we want to go. But, what do we really want? I think we need to recover from the horrors of the 20th century our dream of forging a genuine human history, yes with all its messes and failures, but nonetheless human. This rests on radical egalitarianism and ecological intelligence. We are thus faced with the question of values and desire and the ideas and planning to achieve them.
We need to be radical – reform has not worked and cannot
Reform has not worked. We are now in fact regressing. The advent of the Chinese model (authoritarian capitalism) and the permanent ‘war on terror’ show us the extent of our deterioration. The system cannot be adjusted because its inherent logic centres on exploitation and alienation – it cannot do otherwise. The new dynamic face of capitalism is China and its dark reality is seen in the Congo, in Tibet, in the teeming favelas of the world. In addition, capitalism has had half a century to address the ecological crisis – it cannot do so because it cannot function without economic growth. This is simply systemic. It is not a question of greed or corruption or regulatory failure – maintaining growth at all costs is inherent to the logic of the system itself.
Furthermore, cultural change – often suggested as the way forward – has not and cannot work on its own. This has centred on the proposal for ‘inner reform’ – a type of spiritual awakening or enlightenment that will cause cultural reformation. Hence, the ideological role of Buddhism, TM, Yoga, mindfulness and so on. Yet, these lifestyles are now effectively co-opted as yet new commodities and coping mechanisms which in fact permit the system to function all the better. They also delude us into thinking that we are doing something, indeed doing the very deepest thing of all. But we are not.
It is clear that the system qua system cannot change. Individuals within its logic may be well-meaning but there is nothing decisive that they can do. Charity and Corporate Social Responsibility are mere delusionary palliatives. Thus, the system will either be overthrown or it will crash. But if it crashes it will do untold human and ecological damage.
But, if the system cannot reform itself or be reformed then what are the implications?
Seizing Power – Commonism
In the face of this reality we must be direct and unequivocal. No more euphemisms or obscurantism. Are we serious or not? If so, then we must seize power. It is that simple.
Here, two dimensions need to be addressed – the immediate / local dimension and the national / global dimension. In the first we must take power at every level and opportunity that we can. This means liberated zones of the life-world in a systematic de-linking from capitalism. This means what? Our food supplies, our fuel resources, our economic exchanges and our social networks becoming de-linked. What is needed is a new non-monetary, gift and exchange economy operational at local levels which mobilizes the creative talents of all so that all may manifest their humanity for their own self-expression and for their social identity and value.
In the second dimension we need to stop holding our noses and pretending to be pure. We need a new political party committed to total revolution, one that is ready to take the reins of power and re-direct the State towards a new system. Of course such a party will have to compromise in the short-term. But it does so knowing where it is ultimately going.
We therefore require:
- Organization and solidarity by which we link with like-minded individuals and groups in order to de-link (a new class consciousness that we are in this together, the system is failing and we need new ways to sustain our shared social existence)
- Dialogue as our mode of engagement as opposed to force which is counter-productive, does not work and benefits those who seek to uphold the present system
- A political programme which mobilizes, is clear and understandable and is achievable and effective.
Thus we need the movement from below and the movement from above, the one to democratize the other, the other to manifest the movement in the public, political realm. It is democracy for an ecological age.
There is no alternative to this approach. Everything else is naïve and misses the point about contemporary power. Other approaches may make us feel better but they won’t work. They have not worked up to now. We have many ideas – we need an operational plan to implement them. Power must be taken in real terms.
We can call this new movement Commonism – a new communism for today. Why associate it with communism with all the baggage of that term? Because this word is not co-opted and still carries a thrill of fear and radicalism.
Why commonism? Because it focuses on the key issue – our shared commons, social and ecological. Capitalism focuses on capital because that is what is important to it. In commonism we address how to live within our commons, how to organize ourselves within this shared and fragile reality and how to plan and bring about integral human well-being.
There is no simple blueprint. It must be developed dialogically. But the ultimate goal is radical egalitarianism and maximum human liberty within our ecological limits. We need a simple but transformative initial revolutionary agenda:
Guaranteed basic income for all
Power-down – systematic repudiation of fossil fuels (cap and share)
Resource planning to operate within planetary limits and to ensure equitable distribution of resources
We must be open to total pessimism – the real possibility of complete failure. However, if we are to save civilization then it must be communistic. Individual self-interest, ruthlessly pursued, cannot deliver social well-being. That illusory game is now up. The system is finished but, like a dinosaur, may live on destructively though its brain is dead. Facile hope that something will happy or that it will all work out is not any more helpful. We are facing disaster. Our new hope must be ruthlessly realistic:
H – ‘home-centric’ regarding the critical resources of food and fuel
O – organization and openness to others
P – power, i.e. seizing it, taking it back to ourselves at every level from the personal to the political
E – new modes of free exchange, i.e. of goals, services, goods and ideas.
We must start from here. But from here, in the aftermath of capitalism as Marx suggests, genuinely human history may begin. Not perfection but human.
 Freire, Paulo: Pedagogy of the Oppressed
 See, for example Douthwaite, Richard (1996) Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economics for Security in an Unstable World.
 See, for example, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein (sacred-economics.com).
 See, for example in an Irish setting, Garavan, Mark (2004) A Democracy For an Ecological Age, in Growth: The Celtic Cancer, Feasta Review No. 2; and more globally Jopling, John and Roy Madron (2003) Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisation and People Power.
 For a helpful analysis of limits see http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/publications/artiklar/3-13-2010-planetary-boundaries-exploring-the-safe-operating-space-for-humanity.html
A Children Rights referendum is long overdue and badly needed. The proposed amendment recognises and affirms the ‘natural and imprescriptable’ rights of all children. But we need to ask a fundamental and critical question. What rights are we actually talking about here and who is, in fact, the greatest offender of them?
The truth is we should not be misled by a conceptual and ideological mistake. We may assume that a breach of rights primarily involves individuals not acting as they should. But rights are also breached by structural and systemic processes which centre not simply on failures by identifiable individual actors but by the State itself. In short, failures may be due to the economic and political system rather than by an errant parent.
The situation may be clearer if we examine some specific rights. The rights referred to in the amendment are not mentioned. They presumably belong to the unenumerated rights implied by Article 40.3.1 of the Constitution. But let us consider some of them. Might they include the right to food, to shelter, to education, to health? What about the right to be free from exposure to environmental hazards such as toxic dumps, incineration, high pressure gas pipelines, fracking? These are economic and political rights, the vindication of which may challenge current economic and political orthodoxy. Will the State act to vindicate these rights?
Recent reports have shown that 40% of Irish children go to school or to bed hungry. Research commissioned by the Department of Social Protection has found 10% of Irish people now live in food poverty. That’s 450,000 people, a significant proportion of whom are children. So, the question: who is responsible for this child neglect? Who must vindicate the right to food of the child? Is not the answer to both questions the State itself?
Thus, the State is both abuser and protector. We have just had the most recent report on the inhuman conditions operating in St Patrick’s prison in which children’s human rights are being contravened. Another instance of this is the State’s role in the direct provision accommodation system for asylum seekers. In all the fallout and response to the multiple reports of child abuse in Ireland, from the Ryan Report to the Report into Child Deaths, there was a consistent failure to recognise one of the most visible occurrences of current institutional child neglect and abuse in Ireland – our direct provision accommodation system. This system has many echoes of the regime described in the Ryan Report. 1,789 children are confined with their families and other families and adults in over-crowded, inappropriate long-term accommodation with inadequate supports. The mental and physical health consequences are well documented. This is happening in plain sight and yet it barely merits a reference in public debate. The recent Irish Refugee Council Report could not be clearer in its title: State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion. In its Executive Summary the Council Report states: ‘Direct Provision is an example of a government policy which has not only bred discrimination, social exclusion, enforced poverty and neglect, but has placed children at a real risk.’ The Report asks: ‘does the sustained and prolonged restriction of human rights and civil liberties inherent in the Direct Provision system amount to child abuse?’
That is a serious question. If the answer is yes then the State itself, as architect and maintainer of this system, is the cause of an abuse of children. But under the amendment the State pledges to affirm the rights of children. This commitment is hypocritical if the State does not immediately act to end the direct provision system.
The point here is clear. In this amendment the State is itself bound by the requirement to uphold children’s rights. It should tell us how it proposes to do so. Or does it think that only parents are in question?
We are living in the midst of an ecological and social crisis. This we know. Something therefore has to change. The choice that we seem to have come down to is that we will either change ‘business as usual’ or the climate. Sadly, it appears clear, especially following the recent Rio + 20 summit, that ‘we’ (ie the global elites) are choosing the climate.
This is the context of Tina Evan’s new book Occupy Education. Her interest lies in how we can bring about change in favour of our shared ecological and social world and what that new world might look like. Specifically, she is interested in the role that might be played by education in bringing about that change. In the Introduction to her book she asks:
What is an educator to do in these times in an effort to help students and communities avert disaster – or to help prepare ourselves and others to engage in sustainability-oriented action in the wake of disturbing, if not devastating, changes in our world?
Central to her answer to this question lies in a (re)discovery of place. A grounding in place permits a tangible re-engagement with our social and environmental ecology, a re-inhabiting of the world actually around us. Such a re-connection centres on reciprocating relationships between human beings and between human beings and other life-forms. A broader conception of ‘family’ is cultivated so that the ethic of care extends to all. We must become native to our place once more.
Evans offers two routes by which this relocalised world might be realized. First is in the production of food. Producing and consuming local food is a key builder of sustainability.
In this chapter, I conceptualize sustainable food activism as resistance to enforced dependency. Although the neoclassical economic system sees food as just another commodity, food can be a platform for radical socio-ecological change, in part, because it defines in crucial ways the relationship between people and nature. Food is essential for life, and control over food translates to social power. Changing our food systems, therefore, implies extensive changes in relative social power.
Second, and central to the theme of her book, is the role of a pedagogy of sustainability. Such a pedagogy she designates as critical sustainability theory and is derived from critical theory and strands within deep ecology, ecopyschology, various indigenous worldviews and systems theory. Central themes within such a pedagogy are the study of enforced dependency, de-colonisation and (re)inhabitation.
I propose that college educators should practice a critical pedagogy of sustainability that includes involving students in service learning projects. College courses and programs should combine teaching and learning of a structuralized and critical view of the world-system (see Wallerstein 1974, 1976, 2008) with participation in transformative and transdisciplinary community action. Using this pedagogy, higher education could help move society toward sustainability.
To establish the efficacy of such an approach she cites extensively from her own college courses giving over one chapter to an analysis of her own students’ feedback on courses in peak oil and sustainability. However, she is under no illusion that education alone holds the key to effecting significant social change.
Although courses and programs can help students learn to engage in critically informed praxis, the critical pedagogy of sustainability is really a lifelong orientation and process of learning that can begin inside the walls of the academy but, ultimately, must live outside of classrooms and educational institutions in the lives of individuals and communities. (5)
Tina Evan’s book is an important contribution to the task of transforming our world. She offers interesting ideas on community and pedagogy. She clearly analyses the dysfunctions in our current economic model and investigates the role that cultural hegemony plays in shaping the ideas we have about that model so that, even though it is producing such harm, it remains solidly in place. She reminds us again that change involves not just thinking new ideas but also doing new things, in an informed praxis of sustainability. In this context nothing is as specific and ‘earthy’ as the production and eating of food and nowhere are our ideas so shaped as in our education system. Striking at both these institutional sites, and demonstrating the enforced dependencies current in each, offers us clear and practical avenues towards a new praxis.
All of this is worthy and important and undoubtedly correct in its identification of where we need to go. However, in the Afterword to the book, Richard Kahn strikes a cautionary and salutary note:
No beloved community has yet arisen to stop the occult horrors of militarism, industrial capitalism, and racist colonialism (as well as the various conjoining and non-derivative forms of oppression—such as patriarchy, ableism, and specieism) that clearly constitute through and through the nightmare that presently weighs upon the brains of the living. No vast and inclusive proletarian base has hitherto come to know and trust in itself that it is capable of abolishing the dominator culture of a white supremacist affluent class. A dream of a totally liberated and just “planetary community” is a vanguard phrase spoken by only a relative few intellectuals. The educational Left is more collegial than perhaps ever before, but professional altercations over the parceling of academic real estate (Agger, 1990) remain more common than performances of the kind of resilient grassroots service leadership that this book argues is axiomatic to a thriving community-in-place. When it comes to learning and living sustainability, those of us in higher education are not yet a true collegium. All too often we are simply the estranged labor of colleges, which are themselves competitively operating as biopolitical institutions for a neoliberal academic enterprise that serves at the behest of greater masters still.
We are back to the old conundrum – how do we get from here to there when we have so little time and the urgency to effect radical change is so acute that we do not have the luxury to await the slow processes of natural social evolution? Specifically, how do we do so within a democratic framework where decisions are shaped within the flawed, tardy and contaminated processes of contemporary representative democracy but yet where majority support is properly required for legitimate political transformation on the scale required?
Evans, like many others, argues in response for a bottom-up approach, centred on like-minded communities forging new, sustainable realities. Yet this communitarian model too carries risks. Specifically, how do you ensure the willing participation of all in the community; how do you treat dissenters and defaulters; how do you deal with deviance and minority groups within communities operating under the imperative to be close-knit and mutually supportive and dependent? These are troubling questions and ones not directly addressed by Evans. It is noteworthy that none of her students seem to have fundamentally disagreed with her analysis and to have insisted on the merits of a neo-liberal free market world. Assuming that the students were self-selecting and orientated towards her position anyway it would be interesting to consider how a sustainability educator would address those who do not agree with them. Would such students be regarded as under the influence of a ‘false consciousness’?
Tina Evans works on the assumption that place and community are non-problematic structures of identity. But, as we know, the meaning of place and community are deeply contested concepts. Enforced communitarianism is also oppressive. In our modern world the connection between people and place has long been broken and ‘nativist’ claims to superior rights of possession can strike a somewhat uneasy ring.
The challenge then is undoubtedly to re-inhabit our world but to do so in a pluralistic and tolerant manner. This includes extending tolerance and rights to all other living forms. In constructing such a world we need to start with answers rather than questions and we need students equipped with the ability to reason and imagine in a holistic way. In a sense, these are the very core constituents of our Western enlightenment educational tradition or indeed of our theory of education going back to Plato’s Academy. An education put to the service of any programme – economic or political – ceases to be education in any meaningful way and becomes instead a form of indoctrination rendering its objects fit for a pre-defined world. The great achievement of Evan’s book is to centralize a liberating education as the primary tool by which we might re-imagine new futures and new ways of being human.
On the day that the wording of the children’s rights referendum is revealed we have right before our eyes ongoing institutional child abuse.
A very sobering opinion piece in today’s Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0809/1224321789988.html
We have an ongoing crisis in our systems of care and need serious remedial action. This would centre on establishing a deep ethical base for care work and a comprehensive dialogical practice as the core method for all care practitioners. Until we understand and model the work of ‘care’ as a project of mutual humanization we will continue to have deep dysfunctions.