July 27, 2018

As I had written many times before, but never lived: there are no individual solutions to collective problems.


Believing that things can change is a prerequisite for activism, a prerequisite for the endless work that makes positive change happen. I say this as someone who has never really believed that positive change can happen. And at the same time I have to.

But, then again, of course things can change. Things are changing all the time. It’s only those who most benefit from the status quo will go to any lengths to maintain the aspects they most benefit from. And with money, power and many dirty tricks, it’s relatively easy to make the changes that do occur flow towards their advantage. You can put them off balance for a while, make some gains, but the moment they regain their balance they fight like hell to put things back the way they were. To keep only the changes that most benefit them, or alter the changes that have occurred in some way that works more for them than for everyone else.

Nonetheless we need to fight for a better world, not because we will win, but simply because it is the right thing to do. But how? With what strategy? With how many strategies? Where are the openings?

When I returned home I knew I had to do something. I didn’t know what. But if the people on the thin strip of land could make something happen, under embargo and surrounded by war, under the worse possible conditions, then under my current conditions – so much calmer and relatively more stable – there must also be something I can do. Maybe not something that will change the world but nonetheless something. In the past, when I had tried to focus my thinking on such activist desires, sooner or later I had always come to the same conclusion, that I was too much of an artist for my own (or for the world’s) good, and therefore would always end up making art about all the world’s social ills rather than actively trying to intervene. I now wasn’t sure my ill-advised trip had changed me in any way, but I knew that it should have changed me, and the only way to find out if it had, and how much, was to attempt to act on my newfound convictions. But where to start. Which battle to choose. All the evils of the world were so deeply interconnected: environmental degradation, capitalism, fascism, racism, structural inequality, patriarchy, rape culture, colonialism and settler colonialism, imperialism, war, prisons and the extremely profitable exploitation of prison labor, police, torture, lack of healthcare and healthcare only for those with money, poverty, Hollywood, homophobia and transphobia, infiltrators and agent provocateurs, COINTELPRO and current versions of the same, a lack of empathy and a celebration of cruelty, not enough caring for others and not enough heartful solidarity. There was no real way to fight one problem without fighting all of them and yet one could not simultaneously fight a battle on so many fronts. And there was nothing I hated more than having to make a difficult decision. I wondered how long I should sit with the problem before making a move, knowing that if I let myself I would probably just sit with it forever and in the end do nothing (except perhaps write this book.) At different points in my life various friends and acquaintances had told me, had even insisted, that writing books was enough, that I didn’t actually have to do more, that writing books is what I was here for. At times I believed them but really I never believed them. I love books but books are not enough. (I loved writing that last sentence but don’t believe it quite as stridently as the sentence suggests.) And so my circles continued. But there was one thing I had already known for a very long time. Whatever I was going to do, I had to do it together with others. As I had written many times before, but never lived: there are no individual solutions to collective problems.

Maybe the obvious choice for what I should dedicate my activism towards is those on the thin strip of land. I should dedicate myself to their cause. But they were far away, and I mainly wondered if I would be more useful dedicating myself to something closer to home. If I should be inspired by their example but use it as inspiration to do something here. I ask myself: if I use their inspiration toward other causes, is there is any sort of betrayal in it. Should I live my fidelity specifically towards the thin strip of land or more generally towards some larger emancipatory ideal. What could I actually do for them. I could raise money and raise awareness. I could also try to send them weapons but I think that would mainly be a comical disaster. As you might have already gathered, I know nothing about weapons and have no natural feel for it. I start thinking about how my indecision is a privilege. How I don’t know what to fight for because I don’t feel any of the world’s evils directed specifically at me. But I know I shouldn’t go down that rabbit hole, I’m not going to find anything there. Instead I must make a positive decision and struggle alongside it long enough to see where it leads and learn what it teaches me. All the evils of the world do affect me directly, in more ways than I’m able to count.

- Jacob Wren, from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim


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