In the Midst of a Beautiful Chaos...
I am slowly making my way through Peter Gelderloos’ The Solutions are Already Here. The book is a great exploration at the solution to collapse that have already show success, and from there an extrapolation of the common points of those solutions to discover some broader generalizations about the types of strategies that work and those that don’t. Gelderloos is an anarchist and writes the book from that perspective, but his viewpoint is inclusive in many cases, noting that solutions that come from the ground up will almost always been different in shape, size, colour, and tone.
It’s a dense book that I’m reading and re-reading slowly, giving time for thought and pause between paragraphs. It makes me think hard and long and I appreciate it for that. When I started the book, I remember finding his standpoint refreshing: that there isn’t one solution for everyone; that different solutions will work in different times and different spaces.
I think, in general, there is a strong feeling that comes from being human that wants there to be one solution; one path. And if we follow that path, we’ll find success. It feels like it’s probably a colonial mindset, I’m not sure, but it is a feeling that I’ve come across many times over the course of my adult life and being able to name it helps me identify when I’m searching for ways of opting out of having to make hard decisions. I remember those times of personal struggle making me feel exhausted and often desperate, wanting for someone to just tell me what to do to ensure that I wouldn’t make the wrong decision.
Questions like: Has anyone written a book about this? If I talk to a therapist, will they be able to sort it all out for me? Is there someone who has been in this exact conflict that can tell me the best way forward?
Looking back on those difficult situations, I can see now that there are no such easy ways out and that my situation was unique with it’s own set of variables that would make it impossible for anyone to predict the Best-Possible-Outcome(TM) to guarantee future success. Of course there is guidance and advice and support that could help me make the decisions, but what I was really seeking was a set of guidelines that would make the decision for me, absolving me of misstep.
Jumping back to Gelderloos’ book, I read a passage this morning that stopped me in my tracks. He quotes it from the essay by Distri Josep Gardenyes titled 23 Theses Concerning Revolt:
“All military strategy is to impose an ideal plan on the map that represents reality. … If we do not intend to make a military campaign, we must refuse to see the revolution as something organized according to a unified plan, as if it were a game of Risk. We are not looking down from above, giving orders. We are here, in the midst of a beautiful chaos that our enemies always try to organize. We will be stronger than ever if we learn to triumph in this chaos, to move in the network of our own relationships, to communicate horizontally or circularly, to use only what really is ours and to influence others, to understand that not everyone is going to act as we act; that is the beauty of rebellion, and our effectiveness in it does not lie in making the whole world equal, but in devising the best way to relate in a complementary way to those who are different and follow different paths.”
First off, I had never considered all top down approaches as a military strategy but, holy heck, does that ever make sense?! Top down adheres to all the ideals of military conquest: unified vision to ensure cohesion where outliers are shunned or worse, eradicated. Think of all the top down structures in our culture and they all have this aim of colonialism. And if we are exploring alternatives to military strategy, the anarchist principles of grassroots work coming from the ground up based on regional knowledge and action, well, it just makes sense.
It occurred to me that this deep desire to have this solution laid out before me was the same as the quest for this military strategic approach: one plan to rule them all, being dictated by so-called experts, without consideration of the many variables that are unique to each time and place. And of course, it is this same sense of dread and desperation that I think is pushing many of us to seek out top down approaches, absolving us of misstep and wrong doing.
But as Gardenyes’ quote explains, the misstep and wrong doing is part of the mess of rebellion. We can only find solutions by taking action, fucking up, realizing our mistake, acknowledging it, and working together to try again. Solutions are never clean cut, especially when we’re trying to bust out of an ever-pervasive culture that assures us that it does, in fact, have all the perfect cookie cutter answers.
The imagery of “in the midst of a beautiful chaos” feels like a breath of fresh air and fills me with hope. Years of cancel culture driving fear into our hearts coupled with corporate and government powers dictating our actions, doubled with the critique of individual action has made me feel trapped. The idea that this box that is trapping me is in fact the enemy; that action - imperfect, imbalanced, exhausting action swirling with a multitude of political views and personal opinions mixed together into this beautiful chaos - that THIS might actually be the path - this is so encouraging that I feel almost optimistic.
This vision isn’t just barely tangible, it’s real: it’s inclusive, it’s fallible, it’s adjustable, it’s regional, it’s attainable. It gives clear direction: “don’t be afraid, don’t wait for others to tell you what to do. Go out and do stuff. All the good stuff. If you mess up, it’s okay. Acknowledge the mistake and keep going.” And when all of us come together, with all of our imperfect action, that’s when grassroots solutions will spontaneously combust right in front of our faces.