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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Alienation and Solidarity

Alienation and Solidarity

By Scott Thompson
Occupy Saint Paul
May 06, 2012

Alienation is the defining feature of our whole civilization, and
it operates on multiple levels- the mind is alienated from the
body, both are alienated from the spirit, people are alienated
from the natural world, races and classes and subcultures are
alienated from each other, neighbors are alienated from neighbors
and family members from other family members.

Everything and everyone is atomized, split into discrete pieces,
objectified and analyzed, exploited and manipulated.

A world like that is a dead world, a world where everything is
just an object, a piece of property or a resource or a useful tool.

A world like that has no humanity.

So it's no surprise that in a world like that, many people would
define freedom in strictly negative terms, the freedom to not be
interfered with while you are trying to acquire more property and
resources.

When you play “Monopoly,” just one person wins. When you play
“Risk,” just one person wins.

The problem with seeing the whole world as a competitive game
is that almost everyone is going to lose.

A tiny elite will end up with almost everything, a larger number will
have enough to be comfortable only if they devote their entire lives
to maintaining the status quo and defending a system that defines
them as losers just because they didn't succeed in clawing their way
to the top.

The vast majority of people in the world will be left with little or
nothing, struggling for mere survival and viciously blamed for their
own poverty.

This imbalance is what we fight against, but it's just a symptom.
The cause of the problem is alienation, the multifaceted alienation
that defines our culture.

Just try to imagine a society where people weren't alienated from
other people or from the planet they live on or from their own
bodies or from their spirits.

Wouldn't it look almost completely different than what we have
now?

The word “radical” comes from Latin, and it originally implied
getting to the roots of a matter.

If the root of what is wrong with our world is alienation, then the
most radical thing we can possibly do is to refuse to be alienated,
the most revolutionary thing we can do is to challenge the
alienation all around us, and the one thing we can do that most
deeply and directly challenges the status quo is to stand together
in solidarity.

The defining worldview of any culture is invisible to most of the
people in that culture; it's like water to a fish.

That's why Occupy confuses people.

They think of us as a protest movement when protest is actually
just one part of what we do and not really the defining part.

They ask us why we don't have a leadership structure because
they mistake us for an organization and think we're just a poorly-
organized activist group.

They ask us why we don't have a list of demands because they
don't realize that such a thing wouldn't really be possible-
there's no orthodoxy or uniformity of opinion among us that
would allow us to issue such a convenient list.

They miss the central point of what we're doing, which is right
there in the name: we're Occupying space together, in multiple
different ways.

Sometimes in an encampment, sometimes in an abandoned
building, sometimes in a house threatened by foreclosure,
sometimes in a library or a cafe, and sometimes on the street.

We're Occupying space together so that we can hear each other
talk, so we can share a meal or exchange ideas or stand together
to resist a wrong.

We're Occupying space together, and it's changing all of us.

Never in my entire life have I spent time with such a wide range
of different people as I have in Occupy. People of different classes
and races and ages and sexual identities.

Most of the people I work with in Occupy are people I would
never have had a reason to socialize with outside of it.

Their life experiences are different from mine. They don't read the
same books I read or listen to the same music I listen to. They don't
look like I do.

When I spend time with people who do listen to the music I listen to
or read the same books I read, it's a fun experience.

When I stand side by side in solidarity with people who don't have
these obvious and superficial things in common with me, it's a life-
changing experience.

When I link arms with a person I don't even know so that we can
help another person we don't know to stay in his or her home, it's
a revolutionary experience, because it's a shared refusal to be
alienated.

We're not always that good at solidarity; we still have a lot to
learn about how to hear each other and how to treat each other
respectfully.

But let's not forget what we're here for and what makes Occupy
so promising and so exhilarating.

We could make a list of our ten favorite reforms and win them all,
but if we failed to address the alienation at the core of our culture
then we would not have fixed anything.

In the end, we would just end up creating the same mess all over
again.

Let's dare to be radical in the original sense of the word, let's dare
to look deep enough to see the roots of the problem.

Let's refuse alienation.


Scott Thompson is Writer and Media Team Member with Occupy
Saint Paul.

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