You say you want to change the world? Or even some small part of it? Everyone says to do that you must take power. State power is the appropriate tool for making change we’re told, on all sides, by parties and politicians of left, center and right.
But if the world is run by people chasing after power to remake the world in their own image by taking power, then how does pursuing power to change things and remake them in our image introduce any true change in the system? That’s the question John Holloway asks in his book Change the World Without Taking Power.
In the beginning, he advises, we must take an action every DDBlogger knows quite well: yell louder. In fact, scream.
In the beginning is the scream. We scream.
When we write or when we read, it is easy to forget that the beginning is not the word, but the scream. Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO.
The starting point of theoretical reflection is opposition, negativity, struggle. It is from rage that thought is born, not from the pose of reason, not from the reasoned-sitting-back-and-reflecting-on-the-mysteries-of-existence that is the conventional image of the thinker
We start from negation, from dissonance. The dissonance can take many shapes. An inarticulate mumble of discontent, tears of frustration, a scream of rage, a confident roar. An unease, a confusion, a longing, a critical vibration.
Our dissonance comes from our experience, but that experience varies. Sometimes it is the direct experience of exploitation in the factory, or of oppression in the home, of stress in the office, of hunger and poverty, or of state violence or discrimination. Sometimes it is the less direct experience through television, newspapers or books that moves us to rage.
In these very introductory phrases to his book bolded above he tells us to defy the conventional wisdom about change. Instead of the languid and learned tones of the salon, the committee room, the seminar, he tells us that thought, at least thought of change, begins with the scream, with dissonance, with the pain in the heart and mind that does not lend itself to the calm tones of complacency. Yell louder.
Again, the conventional wisdom is that negation and negativity are to be avoided, optimism and positivism are the face to put on things to get things done. But when we know something to be so negative itself that it brings pain on all who can still feel, what should be offer that negativity but its own negation?
Feeling that the world is wrong does not necessarily mean that we have a picture of a utopia to put in its place. Nor does is necessarily mean a romantic, some-day-my-prince-will-come idea that, although things are wrong now, one day we shall come to a true world, a promised land, a happy ending. We need no promise of a happy ending to justify our rejection of a world we feel to be wrong.
That is our starting point: rejection of a world that we feel to be wrong, negation of a world we feel to be negative. This is what we must cling to.
‘Cling to’, indeed, for there is so much to stifle our negativity, to smother our scream. Our anger is constantly fired by experience, but any attempt to express that anger is met by a wall of absorbent cotton wool. We are met with so many arguments that seem quite reasonable. There are so many ways of bouncing our scream back against us, of looking at us and asking why we scream. Is it because of our age, our social background, or just some psychological maladjustment that we are so negative? Are we hungry, did we sleep badly or is it just pre-menstrual tension? Do we not understand the complexity of the world, the practical difficulties of implementing radical change? Do we not know that it is unscientific to scream?
And so they urge us (and we feel the need) to study society, and to study social and political theory. And a strange thing happens. The more we study society, the more our negativity is dissipated or sidelined as being irrelevant. There is no room for the scream in academic discourse. More than that: academic study provides us with a language and a way of thinking that makes it very difficult for us to express our scream. The scream, if it appears at all, appears as something to be explained, not as something to be articulated.
And yet none of the things which made us so angry to start off with have disappeared. We have learnt, perhaps, how they fit together as parts of a system of social domination, but somehow our negativity has been erased from the picture. The horrors of the world continue. That is why it is necessary to do what is considered scientifically taboo: to scream like a child, to lift the scream from all its structural explanations, to say ‘We don’t care what the psychiatrist says, we don’t care if our subjectivity is a social construct: this is our scream, this is our pain, these are our tears. We will not let our rage be diluted into reality: it is reality rather that must yield to our scream. Call us childish or adolescent if you like, but this is our starting point: we scream.’