A summer day’s thoughts on social change

cultivateLate one July afternoon, I sat next to a statue of Pan, playing his flute as an algae-filled fountain bubbled its tune to the tadpoles flitting about, their franticness matched only by the birds darting to and from their nests. At a weekend workshop which had concluded for the day, I felt buoyed by the waves of meaningful connections made. While at the same time, a pleasant weightiness attached itself to my limbs, that mental exhaustion which saps a body of its physical energy. Intense work had been done. We were excavating pasts to inform the present, traversing topographies of daylights and dreamscapes. I stand and sheepishly look around for a totem to serve as reminder and embodiment of the day. My eyes settle on a smooth, plain white rock. Reaching down, I pick it up and silently ask if I may bring the rock with me. I feel an unmistakable assent. Rolling the rock in my hand reveals its hidden underbelly, mica reflecting the warm, setting sun’s rays. Inhaling dusk air comprised of drought and ocean, I make some tea and head to my room. None of this makes sense and that is absolutely beautiful.

There I pick up a recently published book on social change and read how society is composed of basic functions and spheres where people matter due to the roles they fill and the mechanistic decisions they make. How to change society, we simply must realize it no longer fits our cost-benefit analysis and we will construct a new one based on a better rate of exchange.

The day fresh in my mind, this does not sit well with me. Once it might have. But far from being inspired or comforted by the simplicity, I only have questions. Where is the wild and soulful? The irrational and unpredictable? The spontaneous and the dream? The holding of space for that which we cannot yet even conceive but yearn for as we feel its latency coursing through us? The potential to make new myths? To not ask better questions but invent new languages or relearn the one that Earth’s soul speaks? Where the start and finish lines intermingle, overlap, never touch, and are eventually erased? Where there is no map because we keep discovering territory – or it keeps discovering us?

The conclusion I reach about that book’s analysis is it clashes brusquely with the world I inhabit and illuminates for me the false, mechanistic paradigm many recipes and ideologies for social change reside in. I don’t want that kind of social change. We are not equations on balance sheets in closed systems partaking in rational functions with predictable outcomes. There are times and needs for the practical, of course. But that’s what this world tries to confine us to. Why embrace a model for social change that does the same, and in the very doing must inevitably fail as a result of its own blind spots? There are many things I want out of social change, but what that day made clear was that I want a living, dynamic, anima-filled social change where there is playtime, dreamtime, the unquantifiable, intangible, dialogical, surreal, ephemeral, relational, and ineffable. Where there is space for those moments when the only thing that makes sense is that none of this makes sense and that is absolutely beautiful.

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