What gives you hope?
The efforts of people coming together to transform their social, economic, and political institutions give me hope. Here are, for me, a few exemplary signposts of hope in history: The Enlightenment, on the heels of the Scientific Revolution, challenged both traditional and natural forms of authority, introducing the modern idea that reason is self-determining. The Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s showed how mass protests, marches, direct action, strikes, inspiring political figures, and consciousness raising could achieve greater racial equality at institutional, legal, and political levels. The Chipko movement and the Standing Rock’s Dakota Access Pipeline protests demonstrated how activists, when well-organized, can challenge the logic of environmentally damaging and unsustainable extractivist economic practices. The Black Panther’s mutual aid programs, from its food pantries to health clinics, practiced alternative forms of collaborative and self-determining resource distribution. Then there are texts and artworks that have transformed our self-understandings, brought our implicit values into focus, and given emotional depth to our knowledge: Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Picasso, Baldwin, Beckett…
How does change happen?
Social change occurs at various levels: political structures, social and ethical relations, technological forms, social property relations, international geo-political relations, public opinion, economic policy, and so on. Transformations in a form of life can be precipitated by scientific discoveries, political tensions, ecological exigencies, economic requirements, and social struggles. Some changes occur within the structural conditions of a form of life, and can be accommodated within its terms, while others involve a change of the very form of life itself. Significant shifts are often messy, subject to the blindness of contingencies, and not without complex social conflict and struggle. How one accounts for change – and especially the rationality of change – will depend on which level of transformation one seeks to explain. Despite this complexity, perhaps at least the following principle can be educed: change is provoked by crises and contradictions that arise in a form of life’s ability to reproduce itself, where social reproduction involves the interplay between objective structural conditions (e.g., political, economic, and international relations) and the subjective values, norms, and commitments that hold together a form of life. This framework is especially promising for accounting for the rationality of social change insofar as it seeks to reconstruct new social practices and institutions as responses to failures in the forms of life from which they emerged.
Why have you joined THE NEW INSTITUTE?
In order to respond to the challenges that face us, I believe we need to participate in the creation of institutions that:
organize knowledge production with the explicit aim of instituting progressive social change.
break down the barriers inside academic thinking, such as the division of labor between the disciplines.
establish a reciprocal direction of influence between academic research and political, economic and social institutions.