QA 59. To be a comrade

brecht

What did it mean, to join the Party? Brecht says it best. I was not an exploiter, so I could grasp it.

To dedicate oneself to a more human society. For justice and peace, bread and roses. Against exploitation and oppression. Against all odds. To understand the indivisibility of freedom. To adopt José Martí’s willingness to share one’s fate con los pobres de la tierra. To know the world again, differently, in many dimensions, ranged along new coordinates. Eyes open, edgy. To become serious, disciplined, responsible. To get over oneself, forsaking singular, private prides and fears. A kind of loving, of deference.

And in that humbleness, to find oneself bound to the world, taking part. Tapping into the wild energy of resistance, rising up with others in the groundswell of the times. Rounds and rounds of meetings and actions. Rousing chants of ¡Venceremos! Amandla ngawethu! Solidarity forever! The worldly righteousness that Alice Walker has called the secret of joy.

Today, after all that has come to pass, there is still nothing wrong with the force of resistance. The problem of “good” and “evil” in emancipatory political activity is not this power but how we relate with it. The revolution will not be owned. It is not particularly for us, or against our enemy, for all time. To believe that it is marks the onset of delusion and corruption. The revolution does not eat its children. We do. The trick is to not get carried away, to keep hold of the reins, to hold one’s seat. To bear in mind how much is at stake. A sobering thought, that.

The energy of human resistance to injustice, which is generated by suffering, is older and more powerful than any law or rule. Therefore, it can sweep laws and rules away. Where laws and rules are swept away, some new order will come along. How will it be established? By what authority? In whose name? By negotiation? By force? With confidence or suspicion? In sickness or in health, till death do us part?

This is the crucible at the wellspring of emancipatory politics. When laws and rules are swept away, one needs to be able to think for oneself, to account for oneself, to stay true. To stay sober amidst the drunkenness. To remain disciplined, vigilant and patient. To think deeply about our problems, as Amilcar Cabral said, in order to act strongly. Getting this right opens the way for a better future. Getting it wrong makes monsters, brings on the terror and despair. We should be careful and we should be skilful. And because we are all in this together, we should be true with and for each other. Hasn’t this always been the deep meaning and the covenant of being a comrade? So it seems to me. “The simplest thing, so hard to achieve.”

“It’s sensible, anyone can understand it. It’s easy. You’re not an exploiter, so you can grasp it. It’s a good thing for you, find out more about it. The stupid call it stupid and the squalid call it squalid. It is against squalor and against stupidity. The exploiters call it a crime but we know: it is the end of crime. It is not madness, but the end of madness. It is not the riddle but the solution. It is the simplest thing, so hard to achieve.”  ~ Bertolt Brecht, In Praise of Communism (1932)

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QA 58. “But it doesn’t work like that!”

Annals of philosophical counselling/practice with others

“But it doesn’t work like that!” I say this in response to some proposed scheme or strategy of yours. I mean that, in terms of what you want to achieve, what you are doing seems either futile or malicious because you have a mistaken view about what’s going on. (I could be wrong, of course. We can talk about that.)

My basic theory is that, although there’s no saying how something will turn out, the world generally makes sense and we are basically equipped to take part in that. And  we always are taking part in that. Sometimes we get the wrong end of the stick. We can do better. Philosophical practice is how we learn to do that by our own lights. That is why I call it “emancipatory”.

push the pull

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QA 57. “Need I remind anyone, again?”

armedstrugglefistBetween 1987 and 1990, my husband Rob and I ran a safe house for the liberation movement in apartheid South Africa. We were part of what we would later learn was named Operation Vula, short for Vul’indlela (“Open the road” in Zulu). Its aim was to infiltrate exiled leaders of the African National Congress/Umkhonto we Sizwe back into the country to help co-ordinate the different streams of popular resistance within the country – trade unions, civics, students, armed units and others – and to open a secure channel of communication between the leadership inside the country, in prison and in exile.

This was the time of State President PW Botha, he of the wagging finger and brutal states of emergency. With the townships locked down by the military, Vula operatives would need access to hideaways in the white suburbs, but any white South African who was trustworthy enough would already be known to the regime. The operation thus required white internationals who could come into the country, set themselves up as immigrants, rent a house and blend into the neighbourhood to provide camouflage for underground activists. With a couple of twists of fate, a couple of fairly low-key anti-apartheid activists in Vancouver got the call. We said yes. Continue reading

New article: TO CHANGE OUR THINKING: PHILOSOPHICAL PRACTICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES

South African Journal of Philosophy, 35 (2), 2016, pp 123–131.

You can find it here or there.

The self-confidence of the human being, freedom, has first of all to be aroused again in the hearts of these people. Karl Marx

ABSTRACT: sajp-coverIf a time of crisis calls for a new mode of thinking, philosophical practice offers the means to answer that call. Contemporary philosophical practice revitalises the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy as a way of life that cultivates personal transformation and new ways of seeing the world. This article describes the development of the author’s philosophical counselling practice as a practice of emancipation, in concert with the writings of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Rancière. It considers the significance of personal engagement and companionship for the cultivation of practical wisdom, and suggests that the intransigence of our global social and economic crises ultimately indicates an incorrect view of human nature and an ossified or unbalanced relationship between practical and theoretical ways of knowing and wisdom.

QA 56. Four touchstones for thinking about peace

mandelaFor Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and because I’m reading Thula Simpson’s Umkhonto We Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle, thinking about and respecting the lives of everyone who stood against apartheid, those whose names are known or unknown, remembered or forgotten. Thinking that the aim of the struggle was peace, and how we’re not there yet. Thinking that peace without justice isn’t good enough, but neither would be justice without peace. Continue reading

hiatus

I’m still here philosophising, counselling, writing… just tending other fields so long…

Taishun tending the fields

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) 24 Paragons of Filial Piety: Taishun Tending the Fields Assisted by Elephants, 1840. Oban yoko-e.

 

QA 55. Tenebrae

tenebrae
Tenebrae (L. darkness) is the only Christian service I ever trusted. It’s made up of psalms of grief and lamentations of the lost and forsaken. The evening of Holy Saturday. The messiah is crucified, god has abandoned his people to their enemies. Why God? There are no signs for us to see; there is no prophet left; there is not one among us who knows how long. Continue reading