This is kind of inspired by a short animation a friend showed me, where the author had commented on his ‘utopian’ youth, in which he thought he could change the world, and so became involved in activism for a while before becoming increasingly frustrated and eventually giving up, coming to the conclusion that he could not change the world.
This seemed somewhat at odds with my understanding of the world, as the ontology (the understanding of being) at work in this piece posited an inside/outside dualism. On the one hand the author posited himself as inside, and distinct and separate from the outside world which he sought to change. Rather than viewing himself as part of the world, as a dynamic process which is part of the world and constantly changing along with it, the author saw himself as a fixed self which was acting on an external and foreign world.
My understanding of the world and my place in it is radically different from such a construction. The universe, the earth, society and me are all made of the same physical stuff. I am very much a part of the world. And like the world I am constantly changing. I am a nonlinear, dynamic system which requires flows of energy and matter (primarily food and water) to sustain myself. The cells which compose my physical form are constantly rebuilding and replacing themselves, the matter which existed as my brain and body last year has been replaced by new material, although the pattern that connects them remains largely the same. Similarly the social and environmental ecosystems which we inhabit are dynamic systems, which are constantly being created by their constituent components, society is being created and changed each moment by the collective sum of our actions and interactions, and the ecosystems which we inhabit are likewise being constantly created and altered by the collective interactions of all the physical systems which compose them.
Such a monistic view, whereby I am not outside of society, where humans are not outside of the environment and whereby systems are not static, fixed and unchanging, but dynamic, fluid and constantly evolving is consistent with the precepts of ecology and poststructuralism (particularly the neo-materialism of Deleuze and Guattari) and is an understanding of the world which is far more empowering than the dualistic methods commonly found and exemplified for me by the notion of an individual trying to change a world that is external to them.
We are the world, we are made from the same stardust that formed planets and will continue to circulate and long long after we are all dead. Like us the world is constantly changing, however the forms that that change takes, especially on a societal level is dependent on the various actions and interactions of all the constituent parts of the social assemblage. Each node within the social network effects changes at a local level with the other nodes, both social and environmental.
Understanding and effecting change then, becomes a case of making interventions into the networks (or ecologies) in which we find ourselves. Expectations that any one node can single-handedly transform the network are unrealistic, but one of the advantages of such an ecological understanding of change is that we are never alone, as we are always socialised creatures, indeed the reason why the US army uses total sensory deprivation as a torture technique is that severing a human from its social and environmental systems results in a psychological collapse.
As citizens of consumer capitalism we understand economies of scale which underpins globalised industry. What we tend to grasp less successfully is the politics of scale which accompanies the inequalities of capital and power present under neoliberalism. To combat the power currently held by big business and a small global elite, a new democratising movement which respects local and cultural diversity, while allowing for international and local cooperation is required.
The diverse global movement seen over the last 10 ten years which have manifested themselves at the protests against corporate globalisation at Seattle, Genoa and elsewhere, at the World Social Forum and Climate camp begin to suggest ways in which we can form democratic alternatives to McExxonWorld. Equally at a local level there are a multitude of organisation which act to improve society, off the top of my head in Bristol I can think of; Bristol Stop the War Coalition, Bristol No Borders, The Stop Bristol Airport Expansion Campaign, Bristol Indymedia, Bristol Wireless, Transition Town Bristol, Artspace Lifespace, Bristol Greenpeace, The Cube Microplex, Bristol Rising Tide, the Kebele Social Centre, St Werburghs City Farm, all the local residents associations and many other diverse organisations where on a daily basis people are actively working to improve the society they live in.
All the people involved with these projects are changing the world and making it a better place. They may not be celebrating the victory of ‘the revolution’ (as if changing society was as simple as one singular revolutionary moment or struggle) but they are making a difference to people’s lives and encouraging positive change to society. Hopefully their influence will grow and attract increasing numbers of people who are interested in ensuring that the changes they make to the world are the kinds of changes they would like to see happening around them.
You are changing the world. The question is what kind of changes will we continue to make to the world we are co-constructing.