By Yotam Marom
Originally published on ZNet
Based on Pamphlet for The Organization for a Free Society
Table of Contents Introductions: Nice to Meet You · Hey, You! · Why This Was Written and What’s Inside · Some Quick Disclaimers
1. Foundations: Our Tool-Box · Holistic Politics · The Basics: Identity, Community, and Culture · Language: The Ole’ Blah Blah · Shared Practice: The Things We Do Together · Institutions: The Actual Stuff · Space: Where Should We Plant Our Flowers? · Intention: In Itself or For Itself?
2. Analysis: What’s Wrong · Warming Up · Negotiating Identity · Racism and White Supremacy in the US…Still? · Immigration (Mainly) in the US · The Nation: Oppression Of and By · Religious Communities: Oppression Of and By · Interlude: A Bit of Holism Can’t Hurt · Integration as a Solution? · Fine, Then Separation? · Multiculturalism and Other Liberal Pastimes · So… 3. Alternatives: Intercommunalism · Dream a Little · Dotted Lines · Identity: Your Choice, More or Less · Communal Self-Determination · Autonomy (Within Solidarity) · [Inter](Nationalism): The Particular and the Universal · Teeth: Institutions and Space · Flex That Flexibility · Intercommunalism: Thinking Big and Summing Up · In Case This Sounds Vague, Throw Some More Holism on It
4. Strategy: From Here to There · Vision Before Strategy · Waking Up · Organizing: Trust Me, It’s Worth It · Autonomy Within Solidarity (Yes, We Like to Prefigure) · Living the Dream · Taking Space · Content and Form
Conclusions: If Not Now, When? · Things Aren’t So Hot Right Now · But It Ain’t All Bad · Mission Statement: The Organization for a Free Society · And · Some Resources
Introductions ~ Nice to Meet You ~ Hey, You! Do you have an identity? Yes. The answer must be yes. Are you part of a community? Again, yes. Maybe you don’t feel it, or maybe yours is under attack, or maybe it could use some creativity and intention, but yes…we should talk about it… Do you have a culture?
This is easy, huh? Yes, you do, even if you don’t think about it much, or it doesn’t strike you as particularly special. Still, you’ve got one.
Anyway, those are three pretty easy ways to convey that this pamphlet is for anyone and everyone, particularly those concerned with questions about community – race, ethnicity, religion, nation, and other community affiliations – in terms of the oppressions people face, how life ought to be instead, and how we might get from here to there.
Why This Was Written and What’s Inside In this pamphlet, we are going to crash through a pretty dense, provocative, and important field of thought. We’re going to do it in a clear-cut and simple way, because neither you nor I have time or energy to read or write long, academic texts. Let’s just get down to it, ok?
Oppression of people based on their race, ethnicity, religion, nation, or community identity is not a thing of the past, not a thing to read about in history books about the Inquisition, not gone because apartheid in South Africa collapsed. Those oppressions are not just products of feelings nor the individual actions carried out by a handful of white-hooded idiots. They are part of a sophisticated system of domination and exploitation, and they are woven deeply into the fabric of this society and the world at large.
In the next pages, we will try to make all of that clear, by agreeing on terminology and some assumptions that are guiding us, by drawing from countless intelligent and experienced people who have thought and written this before us, and mixing all that with the very obvious practical experiences we have all had. After we clear that out of the way, we’re going to move on to envision an alternative and present a constructive idea of how the world could be instead. After that, we’ll get to the practical stuff: how to get from here to there. We have to know what we want to change in order to figure out what we want instead, and we have to know that in order to figure out how we want to get there. Then we can go and do it.
Some Quick Disclaimers First of all, I am an individual and I wrote this pamphlet. But I am also part of an organization, the Organization for a Free Society (OFS). I am writing this as myself, but on behalf of a larger group (and informed by thinkers and fighters of all sorts). So, some of the ideas are mine, some are mine shared with others, and some are borrowed. Even my ideas aren’t really mine, because I came to them through listening and seeing and reading a million other things. Sometimes I say I, and sometimes I say we, and even I/we am/are not exactly sure which is more appropriate.
Secondly, and connected to that, I want to be upfront about the fact that since I am a human being (was this obvious?), I have an identity as part of multiple communities, all shaped by the institutions and spaces I come from (we’ll get to all that…). In other words, I am biased – obviously. I suppose we just have to deal with that. Everyone will read this differently, different parts will be more or less relevant to different people, and there’s not much to do about it. As a friend of mine once remarked to me with his thick Brooklyn-Italian accent: “It is what it is what it is – simple as that” Certainly couldn’t have said it more poetically myself.
Next, this is only one pamphlet in a series. This one is about community affiliations like race, nation, religion and so on, but by no means are those the only elements of life that concern us. You won’t find nearly enough on class, gender, sex, power, ecology, imperialism, or those other social spheres in this pamphlet. We think all of those are of equal importance – and we will get to why we think that in a moment – but we did have to buckle down and focus on this particular thing or else this would have been a book and not a pamphlet, and my attention span isn’t solid enough to write a book right now. This is already pretty long (yeah…sorry about that…).
Finally, this pamphlet cannot possibly cover in detail all the things it needs to cover, even in terms of its stated aims. It would be crazy to claim that this is all you need to know about these issues, considering that some of the most intelligent thinkers in history have written volumes on this topic, and some of the most passionate and courageous fighters have spent their entire lives in struggle focused on these issues. The 30-or-so-page pamphlet is only a trigger. Maybe it will get you thinking, or reading more, or writing (even if what you’re writing is an angry email to me). Maybe you will pass it on. Maybe it will inspire you to add to this. Maybe it will convince you to join the fight.
Chapter 1: Foundations ~ Our Tool-Box ~ Holistic Politics Even though this pamphlet is specifically about community in its different forms, community is only one of what we consider to be essential spheres of social life. Those other spheres include: class/economy, gender/sexuality/child-rearing/kinship, and power/authority, all wrapped up in this earth and our environment and with an international dimension as well. We think all of these spheres are fundamental to human life, and all bound up with one another, such that you can’t really understand the world by analyzing only one, or by valuing one as more important than the others. We call this complementary holism, and you can find more on that in a book called Liberating Theory, as well as in articles on Z-Net by people like Michael Albert and Chris Spannos.
As far as we can tell, the world is organized in a way that a network of oppressions (capitalism, racism, patriarchy, authoritarianism, environmental degradation, imperialism, etc.) basically produce and re-produce one another, making it impossible (and silly) to think about one without having – at least in the back of our minds – the understanding that the others are contributing to the issue simultaneously. We understand that capitalism works in coordination with racism, that patriarchy plays an integral role in community relations, that the environment is influenced by authoritarianism in government, and so on. Although different oppressions might be more prominent than others in particular contexts, we are certain that we can’t fight only one of them at a time, thinking the rest will disappear on their own. They won’t. Again, this pamphlet is specifically about one of those spheres, community – encompassing race, ethnicity, religion, and nation – but you should know that we see that as something holistic. That’s where we’re coming from.
The Basics: Identity, Community, and Culture Let’s be real about this. Humans don’t exist on their own. We are social beings, so every human comes with an identity included, and exists within some sort of social context (let’s call it a community). Even if we each lived by ourselves in the woods, we were all, at the very least, born to someone, and brought up in one way or another. The books we read, the food we eat, the houses we live in, were all made by people in some sort of cooperation, and the things around us look and sound and taste the way they do because they emerge from some sort of community identity, a culture. The idea that we are capable of being pure individuals or breaking off from society is really just an illusion. We are part of something together, and that togetherness creates some sort of culture, whether we like it or not, so we had better be honest and figure all that all out rather than pretend it isn’t true.
It might be interesting to reflect on the very common American capitalist rhetoric that encourages a sort of rugged individualism where people supposedly lift themselves to wealth all on their own, “by their own boot-straps.” If we take seriously the fact that individuals are deeply embedded in their social contexts, then even those rare few people who started out dirt poor and ended up filthy rich stood on the shoulders of everyone who ever contributed to what made it possible for them to succeed – from their mothers and fathers who birthed them, to whomever fed them and clothed them and built the houses they slept in and taught them to read and write. All of those people, too, stood on the shoulders of so many others (the authors of the books, the people who invented the wheel or discovered electricity, etc.) in a chain that makes us all connected to people all over the world today and throughout human history. It’s pretty remarkable, when you think about it. But let’s not get too sidetracked.
We are all part of a community, a collection of people that share some set of cultural practices and institutions. Of course, some of us don’t feel a very great sense of community in our lives, and perhaps some of us aren’t active in our communities, or aren’t consciously aware of our heritage, or what have you. Some of us are told that our communities are “un-cultured” or that the way we look or dress or talk isn’t to be considered in the same field as “culture” in some sort of enlightened European way. Some of us, on the other hand, are told that we aren’t part of communities with cultures – that only darker skinned people or people who don’t speak English are “ethnic” or have a culture. The question of whether we are all aware that we have identities shaped by communities with a culture is an important one that we will deal with soon, but you can’t deny that you are definitely part of something one way or another.
The bottom line: You can’t be a human without an identity, you can’t have an identity without a community, and every community has a culture. Language: The Ole’ Blah Blah Part of what makes up a community’s culture, I think pretty indisputably, is a shared language.
A language can be a lot of things. A language can be a standard, recognized one, like Spanish, Urdu, English, Swahili, Thai, etc. It can be a Brooklyn accent, a Quebecois French dialect, or slang from the South Bronx – anything that can identify someone as from a certain place or culture. It can even be, I would argue, a set of conversational norms – like swearing, or talking about sports, or a practice of speaking only when spoken to. In other words, language is a mechanism that a community uses to convey and create its culture.
On one hand, language reflects the social norms of a group. For example, languages that have many different words for different kinds of rain reflect a certain social reality that comes from living in a rainforest; languages that don’t draw a distinction between “like” and “love” also reflect something formative in the group’s culture. Another example is languages in which certain words are gendered, or in which the standard reference to a person is “he.” This also, clearly, reveals something about the culture of the group speaking.
On the other hand, language also creates culture. It sounds pretty safe to assume that languages in which “people” are referred to as “man,” create and reinforce a certain consensus about who is and who isn’t the important, active agent in society. Languages that have words infused with religious connotations reinforce something too, and so on. On an a broader note, groups maintain their identity as separate by protecting their languages, understanding that speaking a language in and of itself is a tool to create and re-create community. Shared Practice: The Things We Do Together Another criterion of community is a shared practice, a set of shared customs or rituals that make up, reflect, and reinforce a certain way of life.
There are a great many different kinds of cultural practices. Maybe the most prominent examples that come to mind are religious ones – like going to church on Sundays, or celebrating Shabbat on Fridays, or saying the Muslim prayers five times a day, and an endless list of other examples. Certain groups have certain diets, some have a specific set of beliefs about the spirit or the body or the world, some do drugs ritually, some abstain from sex, while others indulge in sensual pleasures, and on and on.
I would go further and say that many rituals and customs go unrecognized because they aren’t part of an organized religious or ethnic grouping. Watching football on Sundays, for example, is a custom a lot of Americans practice that may serve as a serious pillar of their social lives. The kids who congregate around the basketball court after school every day, they guys who go for a beer together after work on Wednesdays every week, the bingo fanatics at the community center, all the people I know who won’t stop talking about the last season of “Lost” – they are all, in a way, partaking in a social custom that makes them part of a community with others.
These customs, rituals, and practices serve as markers – physical, spiritual, or temporal markers – that bring people in a certain group together. They create a communal environment, give us distinction and character as people, focus us inwards, and bring us together to share something with others. They also set us apart from the universal as something particular.
In many cases, these rituals themselves are the reason to be a community; in other cases, they are tools for the maintenance of a community identity. In most cases they are both. Institutions: The Rules and Boundaries Institutions shape the way we live in a very serious way, and at the same time, we create and reproduce them ourselves. Sometimes the institutions around us are ones we have come up with, and sometimes they are imposed on us. Sometimes we love them, cherish them, and participate in them actively, and sometimes we consent to them out of desperation (or without thinking), or try to fight them and replace them with others. Institutions come in a variety of different forms. Some institutions are relational, a sort of set of norms that serve as foundational to a group, or that set boundaries. Marriage is a good example of a community institution like that. These sorts of institutions are really just agreements between people, acting as a sort of silent consensus. Make no mistake, while these sorts of institutions aren’t made of brick or cement, they are heavy as hell, and they make up something essential in a community.
Then, of course, there are physical institutions, which are basically the stage on which we play out our theatrical piece (life). We are not only the actors, but also the set-builders, although it is often difficult to remember that, and some people have much more say over the way the stage is built than others do (we will get to that later). An example of this type of institution might be a temple, or a community center. These buildings aren’t meaningful in and of themselves, they are meaningful when used as a sort of home in which to carry out the relations we’ve agreed on. A temple is a temple because of the consensus about what takes place inside of it. But the fact that a temple is a building, and not an institution without a physical foundation, makes it important in a different way than a relational institution.
Bottom line, though, institutions of all sorts are vital to the life of a group. Communities – with their languages, their shared practice, their collective identities – cannot exist without institutions, which are basically material and social frameworks or arrangements that make it possible to carry out culture and life in general and also uphold certain norms.
Space: Where Should We Plant Our Flowers? Flowers – much like people with identities, submerged in communities with cultures – need space in which to grow. Communities are made up of people who speak to one another a certain way, who share certain norms, who possess institutions that give them the material basis to carry out lives that are shared in some way. It would seem intuitive to assume that this requires a space, a geographical territory, where people of a specific community can be together, where they can live alongside one another, where their institutions are set up.
The first examples of what we mean by spaces are the ones connected to what we wrote above, about institutions. So some examples of spaces are school buildings, temples, community centers, even Grandma’s house or a local bar. These are frameworks where it is possible to live out a culture, by inserting into it a group of people with a language, shared practice, and institutions.
But let’s think bigger. Nationalism was and is a movement in which people see themselves as a nation (community) and, generally, fight for independence in a space, or demand power over and autonomy within a particular geographical location. Most nation-states (some random examples – Germany, Venezuela, Singapore, etc.) are examples of communities that have autonomy in a particular geographic region – even though it should be clear that those groups are not entirely coherent and that there are many smaller groupings also within those. On that note, there are also examples of national groupings that exist as semi-autonomous groups within states (like the Quebecois French in Canada).
It gets a little more complicated when some groups consider themselves deserving of a space like this but don’t have it or aren’t given it (like the Kurdish people). It gets even more complicated when a group sees itself as a nation but isn’t recognized as such by others (the Jewish people throughout history might be a good example, or perhaps the Black Nationalist movement in the US in the 60s). It’s complicated in a different way when we note that some groups are, de facto, geographically communal and sharing a space, but not necessarily in an empowered way or by choice; Black people in urban ghettoes across the US, Sudanese refugees in Tel Aviv, Thai Migrant worker communities in Saudi Arabia – these are all examples.
Now, to be fair, many would argue that territorial solutions to national problems have negative consequences, and that nationalism (which has been the primary vessel carrying most of these kinds of ideas for some time) is divisive, destructive, and can easily get out of hand. German nationalism in the 30s and 40s is an easy target, but really history is littered with that sort of thing. That’s definitely true, and we will deal with that in the coming pages. Some would also argue that a physical space is unnecessary, and that plenty of groups manage to maintain some sort of collective identity even across other communal boundaries. The communities made up of avid video gamers, for example, congregate across the borders of their local or immediate communities just by playing together, or attending gaming conventions and things like that, without all living in communities made up of video-gamers. An overwhelming number of people, to push it even further, experience community over the internet without ever needing to leave their homes.
However, I would argue that examples of communities that don’t need shared spaces are few and far between, and that they also generally refer to communities that do not serve as primary identities (although I would admit that this is not a rule). It seems that most groups who don’t have some sort of physical space in which to grow together are either destroyed and wiped out, or end up growing in a bunch of different directions and, ultimately over time, becoming a number of different communities with a similar heritage, but not one coherent community. I think if you look around at which groups have a more stable collective identity, it is almost invariably those that have the space in which to autonomously build the institutions that facilitate their shared culture.
The idea here is that it’s very hard to carry out culture without a safe space in which to do that. People need a space to meet and congregate, somewhere to have community dinners or pray or play basketball, or a region where everyone speaks the same language or a section of the city where there is food from the region one came from. Our enemies know the importance of this too, which is why when people with power are attacking our communities, they don’t only call us names, or pass laws about us, or starve us, but they also burn down our temples, trash our offices, or raise our rent. Wars and military occupations are examples of this same process on a national scale.
Intention: In Itself or For Itself? I suppose we can borrow a bit from Marx on this – not because he is necessarily that wonderful, but because he did something pretty interesting that serves our purpose here. With regards to the economy, Marx drew a distinction between what he called a class in itself, and a class for itself. As he put it, the working class is inherently a class in itself just by existing the way it does, but it only is a class for itself when it has consciousness as a class, when it knows it exists and is aware of itself within a productive process and history, when it is self-reflective.
We can use this in our context and say that there are two kinds of communities when it comes to intention: communities in themselves, and communities for themselves. The first, communities in themselves, exist even though they don’t know they do (or at least, we think they do). For example, I would argue that the youth I teach in high school are a community, even though they often don’t realize it. They have a shared language – they all speak English, most of them speak the same-sounding English, they share much of the same slang, and so on. They have a shared praxis – from going to class together, to often hanging out on the same front stoops during their free periods (the cops call it “loitering” apparently), to hanging out in the park or at the basketball courts after school. They generally share institutions and a space – they all live in the same region, can travel to one another, and borrow from and rely on many of the same cultural frameworks (from those steps and basketball courts I mentioned, to the deli on the corner or the school itself). Still, much of the time, they don’t practice any intention in their communal relationship, and they often aren’t aware that they even have it. They are a community de facto, because of all these things they share, but they aren’t self-conscious or intentional about it. They are a community in itself (although, to be fair, the hours I have forced them to spend talking about issues like this have definitely put them on a process of becoming an intentional community).
Communities for themselves are different. My living collective is a good example. We also speak the same language (English and some other languages thrown in, similar accents and so on), share many customs and rituals (for example, we spend an evening every week learning together), have institutions together (like our collective bank account), and reside in a geographical space together (our communal apartment). The difference, though, is that we are acutely aware of this. In fact, we chose it, and had to make massive efforts to actively create a shared praxis and to take possession of institutions to help us do it. We did it because we wanted to be a community, which automatically made us a community for itself, not only in itself.
Now, part of me wants to say that one isn’t better than the other, that communities that exist merely because they do, even if they don’t consider it, are just as strong and capable of surviving as those who intentionally produce something together. But I’m not sure I believe that.
Let’s go back for a second and look again at the example of my students, or of the average students who hang around together as part of a community. It is very clear to me that once they graduate high school, many of the institutional realities that make their shared culture possible will disappear. The institutions that pull them together – from the school itself to the stoop they sit on to the basketball courts – will not be organically shared institutions, so the customs they carry out in them (joking around in the hallway, smoking cigarettes on the steps, playing ball, etc.) will not happen naturally anymore as a by-product of their organic institutional circumstances. Without intentionally going out of their way to create new ones, they might not have the material necessary to make the maintenance of culture possible or desirable. They can continue to be a community, but only with intention, only with an actual effort to transition from a community in itself to one for itself, which will demand a serious effort in the face of a lot of material realities (such as the cost of rent in a certain neighborhood, the job market, time, etc.).
To zoom out now to some more macro examples, all sorts of groups, are constantly under attack, such as the Palestinians in Gaza or the Roma in Hungary, and find themselves facing the destruction of the institutions they need in order to survive. Many groups, like the Massai in Kenya or the Jews in Iran or the Hmong in Vietnam, often find themselves forced to intentionally organize a space or set of institutions in which to carry out a shared culture, in order to combat the threat of dissolution in the face of a more powerful majority culture. They would be unable to do so without the consciousness that they are a group, a unit worth maintaining, developing, and protecting.
In other words, while communities in themselves are many, and they are some of the strongest out there, communities in themselves that are under crisis have a much harder time surviving than those that are self-conscious and intentional, communities for themselves. The communities that are intentional can confront head on the challenges that face their members, and really choose, as opposed to being carried away by the realities around them.
Interestingly, communities in themselves are often the dominant majorities, which aren’t particularly threatened, and so don’t find themselves needing to struggle to preserve themselves. Communities like that tend to be less intentional. Many white protestants in the US, for example, don’t even think they have a culture, yet of course they do, for all the reasons I outlined above. It might sound strange to name that as a group that needs special attention, considering how relatively less oppressed it is in comparison to some of these other groups we’ve rattled off, but it really is worth noting. Powerful groups like that might not be under the same sort of threat like some of those other communities, a fear of assimilation or destruction, but they experience a different kind of threat: meaninglessness. It is certainly arguable that the very same strength and comfort that allows many communities in themselves to exist, actually leads to them being complacent about their cultures, contributing to the incredible amounts of alienation we see in today’s society. Perhaps a little bit of intention would do good for communities like that, as well. Chapter 2: Analysis ~ What’s Wrong ~ Warming Up Now that we have done our best to set out a sort of framework for thinking about this stuff, it’s time to really dig in. In this section, we will touch on some of the ways in which the community sphere is not as it should be. We are not going to spend as much time on this as we could, because there is a lot out there about all of this. We are putting it out here because it’s impossible to think about where we want to go and how to get there without a reasonable assessment of where we are right now. Just to give you a hint, where we are right now in terms of race, nation, identity, community, religion, ethnicity, immigration, and everything else that fits in this sphere, is pretty messed up. Brace yourself. Negotiating Identity The way I presented identity in the beginning makes it sound as if it should be a pretty automatic thing. We are people, so we have identities. Turns out, it isn’t that simple. Day in and day out, many of us also face the dilemma of having to struggle to negotiate our identity with others, because of the complexities of our identities, and because we are trying to share space with others. We have to choose which parts of our identity to amplify (here I am more Jewish, there I am more radical, there I am more American, and so on). Sometimes we do it by choice, and sometimes we do it because we are threatened or coerced.
Aside from the usual existential drama of trying to figure out who we are, we also live in a society that is constantly trying to sell us a whole new us. We are offered easily digestible, simplified consumer identities, and we are told what to buy and how to speak in order to be part of a particular community and blend in with its culture. We are constantly putting on and taking off different kinds of masks, trying to negotiate identity. Some of that, it seems, is a natural part of human life in that we have a lot of different overlapping identities that we emphasize or play down depending on our social context, mood, the place in our lives, etc. Some of it, though, is a conflict that comes about in a capitalist, racist, xenophobic society, where firm (often violent) lines are drawn between people, and we are targets of an endless pursuit of profit carried out by the already wealthy elite among us. Let’s try to get a little more specific. Racism and White Supremacy in the US…Still? Racism has many shapes and sizes. I don’t need to point out that the KKK is racist. I don’t need to point out that a lot of the Americans who marched in the Tea Party protests, carrying signs of the president as a monkey, are racist. I don’t need to point out the centuries of brutal, unimaginable violence – the enslavement, genocide, torture, and rape of people of color all over the world – on which this country and many of the other powerful and wealthy countries are based. Those all seem pretty obvious. I might point out that it would be silly of us, really naïve actually, to think that a country that spent its formative few centuries as a slaveholding, openly racist, systemically racially oriented country has somehow shaken off its racism. It clearly hasn’t. Racism isn’t something that can be shaken off like dust – it is at the very roots of the systems that make this society run.
But where, then, do we see racism today? It might not be so obvious, especially depending on where you live and what color your skin is. I’ve definitely had white students of mine who don’t notice racism. I’ve had Latino students of mine who think there are racists out there (wherever “there” is), but not around here, in the Northeastern United States, not in their communities, and so on. I’ve met a lot of people who can agree that some people are racist, but that it’s an issue that people have to deal with, not institutions. Institutional racism, even some of my African-American students will say, died along with segregated schools.
The most obvious racism is the kind we see and hear slung around us. Your neighbor’s Grandma is racist, for example, and you can tell because of the awful words she uses when describing people who have a different skin color. But hey, she’s from another era, right? Well. Think again.
Grandma isn’t the only one crossing the street thinking that the Black guys she was about to walk by were more likely to commit a crime against her than the white kids she sees doing whatever they’re doing (even though it’s statistically untrue). Grandma isn’t the only person who is just as likely to give a job to a white high school graduate as she would be to a person of color with a college degree (also statistically proven). She certainly isn’t the one making up the zoning laws that keep black communities impoverished. No matter how often she says whatever disgusting words she says, she isn’t the only one around who makes it truly uncomfortable for a person of color to walk through an all-white neighborhood. And at the same time, it isn’t her fault that it might be equally uncomfortable for a white person to walk through an all black neighborhood. No, Grandma isn’t the only racist around here. Grandma might be sentimentally racist, but she doesn’t govern all the institutions that reinforce racism. Even her racism is created, perpetuated, reinforced, and reproduced by institutional racism. White males with high school diploma are as likely to get a job as Black males with college degree. Blacks, Latinos, and Indigenous people are paid, on average, 10-25% percent less than their white counterparts. If you take a map of the poor and working poor neighborhoods in New York City, and then you put a map of Black and Latino communities in New York City over it, you will see that it is almost exactly the same map. That was the thing that, when I showed it to my students who were telling me that racism is “down south” or “in the past,” convinced them of institutional racism; it blew their minds, and mine too. That can’t possibly be a coincidence, and I find it impossible to believe that it’s a consequence of genetics, so there is no way around that this is part of a system.
How does it happen? What institutional systems are in place to perpetuate those kinds of numbers? Education is a good place to start, right? An easy example: schools in many states are given resources based on the residential taxes of their districts. Suburbs are predominantly white and rich, so their school systems are well off. Urban ghettoes are predominantly made up of poor people of color, so their school systems are under-resourced. So one conclusion we can draw here is that people of color have fewer opportunities growing up, and that leads them to be more likely to commit crimes. Well. Pause there for a second.
At this point, we’ve got to reassess what it is we consider a crime. For example, it’s pretty obvious that rich white people have caused quite an enormous amount of pain and suffering to other people – from oil spills, to the production of unsafe consumer goods for profit, to tax fraud, to state-sanctioned war. But, somehow, the working class immigrant from India who robs a 7-11 gets jail time while the presidents responsible for hundreds of thousands of lost lives at the hands of American military aggression get seats on the boards of major businesses, and the businessmen who defraud us get seats in government. Funny how that works.
But hold on; you should set me straight. Even so, you ought to say, still Black and Hispanic people are 2/3 of the prison population in this country, right? We can say they didn’t get a fair shot because of a broken educational system, and we can even say that the way we define crime is all wrong, but we can’t say that these people aren’t carrying out a disproportionate amount of the crime carried out in this society, right? Well. Think again.
Some numbers to get you going: 60% of violent crime committed in this country is committed by white people, but whites are only 23% of people locked up for it. 74% of illegal drug users are white, but they make up only 10% of those in prison for drug abuse. A person of color is more likely to be stopped and frisked by police, but white people are four times more likely to be carrying narcotics on them.
If that is the case, you would have to wonder why the hell that would happen. The only way to explain it – and it sounds like a damn good explanation to me and anyone else who has ever walked through a Black working class neighborhood as opposed to a white working class one – is that racism is so deeply embedded in the state policy of this country that a disproportionate amount of resources are spent policing, patrolling, locking up, trying, convicting, and imprisoning people of color. It simply must be the case, or else the statistics have to be wrong. They aren’t (by the way, a lot of this comes from Tim Wise, one of the most serious experts on all of this, and his work is backed up by easily accessed public research).
So if all this is true, what is Grandma supposed to do? Grandma is told that 2/3 of the American prison population is made up of people of color, and it’s the truth. She isn’t told all the institutionally racist reasons for that, so of course she is going to have certain opinions. Grandma is told that violence is an issue in Black communities, which – in a way – is true. She isn’t told the rest of the story, which is that only crime committed by people of color is framed that way, while things like school shootings and wars (overwhelmingly carried out by white people more than anyone else) are never framed as a problem that is particularly white, if it is referred to at all as a problem.
Given all this, is it such a surprise that Grandma crosses the street when she sees a group of what are often referred to as “Mexican Gang-bangers”? Is it such a surprise that she forms opinions along racial lines, and that those opinions affect her behavior? Is it such a surprise that her behavior contributes to the institutional racism still bound up with the way the state and economy work? Is it a surprise that she is contributing to that cycle, which is then acting back on her, all in the context of hundreds of years of the most aggressive, overt, violent, brutal, murderous forms of racism ever perpetuated? Well, it shouldn’t be.
Immigration (Mainly) in the US People move around from place to place. Sometimes people move because of language, because of their heritage, or because of some ideological reason. Sometimes people move out of preferences about climate, or people they want to be near, or style of community life (I once considered moving to Thailand for the food, for example). I think it’s safe to say, though, that most people move because their either have to, or because they have a greater chance of material success (even survival) in another place. Those two things aren’t actually so different. Refugees fleeing (American-backed) government repression in Haiti, for example, aren’t so different from many of the more than eight million Mexicans displaced by NAFTA who ended up coming to the United States. It’s not altogether surprising that the wealth and power that make the US so dangerous to the rest of the world, and so responsible for many of the economic, social, and military processes that happen elsewhere, also make it one of the most desirable migration destination for those people it impoverishes.
But the oppression doesn’t stop when people get here, especially not when they are undocumented immigrants. These people are systematically denied rights, exploited in the workplace, and targeted by police. Statistically, undocumented immigrants pay more taxes than they will ever get back in services. Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070, is a good example of the oppression immigrants have to face in the US (sorry, this is getting long, so just look it up).
So, sure, there are people who want to get rid of immigrants because they are racist and some of the immigrants have brown skin. Maybe they think Mexicans are criminals, and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise considering that major news networks spend an outrageous amount of TV and radio airtime convincing us that they came over here smuggling drugs, or that Arabs (as in, anyone brown) are coming here with bombs. Maybe they think the growth in immigration is threatening the idea of what this country is supposed to be according to some people – some sort of white, Protestant paradise (perhaps they would do well to remember that unless they are indigenous Native Americans, they too are immigrants, and probably not that many generations ago).
Maybe people have been convinced that if the subclass of immigrant labor leaves the country, we will all magically get raises, that the surplus labor won’t be replaced, that class oppression will whither away (which is ridiculous, by the way). Maybe some of these people don’t actually want immigrants to leave – maybe what they want is for people to be illegal; after all, then they really can’t say shit if we pay them less, right? Either way, this is one of the brutal ways that communities today are under attack, whether being forced to relocate from their homes (from the towns in Honduras thrown into poverty to the neighborhoods in Flatbush being gentrified), or suffering attack while trying to protect those homes, or in the insecurity and different forms of slavery after leaving them. The Nation: Oppression Of and By Zoom out. Different nations have clashed all throughout human history, partially perpetuated by nationalism as an ideology, or by the quest for material wealth, or racial supremacy, or religious fanaticism. The list goes on. Beyond conflict, which is sort of ambiguous as to who is really in control, there is also a history of imperialism, colonialism, and other forms of violent national oppression that stretches pretty far back. The empires we learn about in school – Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, etc. – were forged out of military conquest.
The United States is today’s resident empire. Throughout the course of history, this government has – either directly through its military, or indirectly through backed proxy armies – overturned just about every government in Latin America at least once, had its hand in most of the Middle East, and spent quite a time massacring people all across Southeast Asia. It’s also not over. The United States has troops in about 80 countries around the world, and some of them are engaged in catastrophic wars as we speak. But the United States is certainly not alone. Just about every nation in Europe participated in colonialism and imperialism in the past, advancing the Global North at the obvious expense of the Global South. If you want to trace back part of the reason that the Global North is rich and the Global South is poor, you don’t have to look too far. Today, many of those trends are being perpetuated (some would say advanced) by political and economic institutions (the WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc.) controlled by the very same powerful countries.
Just as powerful nations attack weaker ones on a global scale (like the United States and Iraq, for example), this also takes place within national groupings, where more powerful nations control the mechanisms of the state or economy and use them to keep other groups down. The number of groups that have been pretty much wiped out by this is countless. The many groups currently fighting for the right to self-determination and the institutions and space necessary to make it real, may soon suffer the same fate, from First Nations (Native Americans) all over Canada, to Kurds in Turkey, to Chechens in Russia, and the list goes on.
Religious Communities: Oppression Of and By On one hand, we see the oppression of specific groups based on their religions beliefs, and this has been a theme throughout history. But today as well, religious minorities are constantly threatened: The Christians massacred in the Sudan, the Buddhist artifacts destroyed in Afghanistan, the Muslim-owned grocery stores with bricks thrown through their windows in Newark, the synagogues vandalized from Hungary to Venezuela. At the same time, we see oppression carried out by religious groups against people in their communities. Some religious groups use scripture to keep women subservient, or to repress homosexuality. Some use their temples and schools to raise children in fear of authority, or to inculcate hatred of people who look or sound or worship a different way. Throughout history, people have been castrated, raped, and murdered in the name of religion – obviously religion gone wrong – and this list, too, can be drawn out to be much longer and include customs taking place around us today.
While some groups or individuals use religion to carry out the worst crimes imaginable, so many around the world are prevented from freely expressing it and controlling the space and institutions that allow the development of their cultures. Like the nation, and like the other frameworks for communal life and culture, religion can be either a source of oppression or a source of liberation, and it has proven throughout human history to be one of the major centers of communal life for an enormous number of people. Interlude: A Bit of Holism Can’t Hurt I’ve tried to cover here some of the more prominent forms of oppression we see in the community sphere, dealing with race, immigration, nation, and religion. These are not, by any means, the only relevant threats to our ability to be free people in developing communities and identities and cultures and institutions. They are not, either, the only things standing in the way of us being free in a more general sense, from the many other oppressions working in coordination to exploit and dominate.
As we move on, we have to remember the interplay between different forms of oppression –the patriarchy we find in some religions, or the way that capitalism’s ever-growing demand on us to sell our labor for more and more degrading hours of the day is one of the things that leaves us unable (tired, drained, stressed, threatened, impoverished) to have active communal lives. We need to keep in mind the ways that environmental ruin destroys indigenous communities, and how imperialism fosters racism and xenophobia. We’ve got to keep in the back of our minds the fact that authoritarian governments can be traced in authoritarianism of the “traditional” family, yet another way the state and culture interact. We’ve got to note how the constantly growing manufacture of culture as a way to make profit has destroyed communities and erased cultures.
We will go on to start dealing with solutions. On the way to that, though, we’re going to try to address some ideas that have been framed as potential solutions. Turns out, they are more like problems. Integration as a Solution? Integration is the idea that we should all sort of meld together, stemming from the belief that a lot of the differences between us are socially constructed. That is, there is no such thing as Black in any meaningful way, because genetically there is much more difference between different black people than between black people as a group and white people as a group (which is the case for all racial groupings, by the way). So, if there is no such thing as Black people, and no such thing as White people, then there certainly won’t be such a thing as one of them oppressing the other, right? So difference is the problem, and then “tolerance” is the solution.
Well, there are a few problems with that. First of all, culture is partially shaped by surroundings (institutions and space, as we put it earlier), and people live all over the world, in different climates and geographies and so on. It would be impossible for us to integrate to the point that we would have one, coherent culture.
But let’s play along for a second. Sure, it’s true that race was socially constructed, and that “Black” was a made-up category, as integrationists might say. Yes, it was true. I’m not sure it’s true anymore. At this point, after a few centuries of everyone acting like there are races, and not only that but there are racial hierarchies, Black certainly exists, and I would be kidding myself if I said I wasn’t white in most of the contexts I will ever be in.
The fact that Black people are treated differently in this society, are relatively disempowered, are oppressed, and so on, is proof of that. Dismissing that reality as “socially constructed” is actually pretty oppressive. Mixing a powerful group with a disempowered one doesn’t make the lines go away, it just continues to oppress the oppressed group, and sometimes it’s even worse because it looks like everything is fine and all the lines have gone away. For example, what we call “American culture” often turns out to just be white, protestant, patriarchal, capitalist, consumer culture, which is peddled off as “American” as if it isn’t any one group’s particular identity but a mixture of all of ours.
Since it’s true that groups are actually different (and if race is a questionable category, then language, religion, shared history, and so on, are not), what’s to say it’s desirable to mix them all together? Integration sort of assumes that if we could all just be one thing, that would be best. On one hand, that sounds incredibly oppressive for the same reasons as stated above – of course not everyone will get represented in this amalgamation, and the dominant groups will get to set the norm, as they do already in this society. On the other hand, it’s oppressive also on another level, in that it strips all of us of the ability to express the beautiful, meaningful differences between us.
So what if our differences are socially constructed? That doesn’t make the differences less meaningful or important to cultivate. We are, after all, social beings. Isn’t that the point? I mean, music is socially constructed too isn’t? Music was a pretty good idea… Integration means granting the powerful groups the ability to set the narrative of what our shared culture should be. Beyond that, it’s boring. Fine, then Separation? The opposite of integration, separation, has also been proposed time and time again. It is a gut reaction to the idea that we should all be the same. It is a sort of recoil – hell no we shouldn’t all be the same! I am different, proud of being different, and you are threatening my ability to be that way! If we get together, you’ll get to keep yours, and I will lose mine – my language, my way of dressing, my morning rituals, my distinct institutions, and so on. So, in defense against oppression or assimilation (and sometimes out of national or communal chauvinism), people separate. They pull out of that “integration” scheme, and go to the other extreme, where different groups have full sovereignty over their community lives. This, they reason, is the only way to preserve their separate cultures in the face of this enormous threat to just be absorbed and wiped away. Well, again, a few problems.
First of all, as my high school history teacher used to always remind me, there are two sides to everything. A part of me thinks, sure, separatism makes perfect sense for people who have been beaten up and oppressed throughout human history, for the people who are under the threat of either conversion or conquest. But if we want to go with separatism as a blanket rule, those aren’t the only groups who get to have it. You might like community control of education in a black community where, for the first time in history, the federal government can’t say a word about what they teach, so they can finally teach black history. But do you like community control of education in the rural south in a racist community where that will be used to teach (again) that different races should be treated differently, or that dinosaurs never existed, or that the Holocaust is made up? I don’t.
Secondly, even if the idea of separatism has something going for it, which is that it allows people to really maintain their different identities, it doesn’t say anything about how they will share them. It says something only about the particular, and not the universal. Unfortunately, that’s not enough, since we are very march part of something bigger. Just as an individual isn’t anything without a community, so too a community isn’t anything without something bigger, and something bigger than that, and so on until it includes all of us in some way or another. Well? Do we really have to agree with either? Maybe there is something sort of in the middle. Multiculturalism and Other Liberal Pastimes Now, I don’t want to say anything too nasty about multiculturalism, because actually the theory behind it isn’t necessarily the problem. As far as I can tell, the idea behind multiculturalism is that people are different, they should be allowed to express that, and they should be validated as equal. And all jokes aside, multiculturalism is a pretty enormous advancement in human society. As silly as I think it is that the world cup is touted as proof that we are one big happy human family (even while all of the oppressions I’ve listed and more still exist), it’s certainly a huge step forward from the enslavement of an entire race of people.
So multiculturalism is better than nothing, but it is ultimately a very simplistic, problematic expression of liberalism. Some multicultural positions are a little in one direction – people should celebrate diversity and so on. Other multicultural positions veer the other way – that we should sort of rub off on each other and be together and so on. This is the supposedly titanic battle between the American “melting pot” and the Canadian “salad bowl.” Wow, an epic battle indeed.
Ultimately, they are saying different versions of the same thing, which is that people are different, but they also should mix with each other. Now, that doesn’t sound so bad at all. In fact, it is remarkably similar to what we will propose in a couple of pages (which we call Intercommunalism, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now). But something is missing: Teeth.
Yes. It’s all very nice that we should be diverse. It’s very nice that there is black history month. But Black History month doesn’t change a damn thing about Black Ghettoes. It’s all very nice that people are technically free to worship whatever religion they want to in the United States, but the fact that that’s written in the Bill of Rights doesn’t change the fact that the only President ever elected in this country who wasn’t a protestant was shot. It’s very nice that people are free to choose how they want to be and where they want to live theoretically (which dictates, in large part, their identities and communities), but that doesn’t mean much considering that most people can’t afford to live in places other than the ones they do, and many communities at risk are being pushed even out of those spaces.
The point I am trying to make here is that multiculturalism, and liberalism in general, has a lot of nice ideas about the interplay between individuals and groups, but those ideas are not represented materially. Multiculturalism, even if it sounds kind of nice, is hollow, because it doesn’t have anything to say with the social order around it, with the institutions that govern our society. It doesn’t say anything about racism both institutional and social, nor about capitalism which informs where we work, live, eat, play, etc., about patriarchy which tells us who to marry and how to raise our kids, about power which is now held in the hands of a few (generally rich, white men from the Global North). If we want to be serious about this, we are going to have to transcend the platitudes about melting pots and salad bowls. So… Let’s just level with one another here: There is a lot more to talk about. Look at the sources at the end of this pamphlet. Listen to Malcolm X’s demand for freedom for everyone or freedom for no one, read Black Elk’s description of the systematic murder of his entire people at the hands of American colonialism, or check out a poem by Mohammad Darwish describing life in a Palestinian refugee camp. Look back into the history of this country and so many others, the foundations of which lay on top of the suffering of an enormous amount of people at the hands of imperialism, ultra-nationalism, genocide, slavery, institutional racism, religious tyranny, and even our beloved multiculturalism. Consult your own experiences, or those of your friends, and maybe those who are totally different from you, those who live in neighborhoods where there is a mysterious correlation between poor people and black people, where many of the dads are away because they are in jail, where the taxes are so low because the income is low so the funding of the schools are low. We gave a good crack at describing the crux of all that, we think, but ultimately, you don’t need this pamphlet for that stuff. It’s all there.
But it’s not enough to know what’s messed up. If we are serious about changing things, we need an institutional vision of what things should look like instead.
Chapter 3: Alternatives ~ Intercommunalism ~ Dream a Little The logical response to someone who spends a few pages railing on this system of oppression that dominates, exploits, enslaves, and subjugates is: Well, fine, but what do you propose? That’s the fair question to ask. If you didn’t ask it, I would be worried. If we didn’t have a vision of what the world should be instead of the way it is now, I wouldn’t have the right to blah blah about what’s so wrong now. So that’s one side of it. But more to the heart of the issue, we really can’t accomplish much without a vision. Without a vision, we can’t inspire people, can’t ask people to take risks, can’t experiment with alternatives, can’t design a strategy for struggle, can’t expect people to want something badly enough to fight for it. Without a vision, we are just whiny. So, let’s stop whining and start dreaming. Just a little.
In this section, we are going to work through and describe what we call Intercommunalism. The place to start in all of this, then, is values. If we can agree on values, they will guide us in thinking up institutions to support them. Dotted Lines Identity and community means drawing lines. There. I said it. Yes, having something of your own means drawing lines, making borders, setting boundaries. It means saying “us” for a particular group of people and “them” for another, just like it means saying “me” or “I” as opposed to “you.” It means, if you want to get philosophical about it, othering. And that’s ok. Drawing lines, setting things apart, distinguishing between me and you, these people and those, apples and houses, is completely natural, and it’s unavoidable. You are not me, and I am not you – maybe unfortunately, depending on who you are. Farmers from Alberta are not the same as people from the highlands of Tibet. Frat-Boys from Arkansas are not the same as the Dalits in India. That’s wonderful! It’s something to embrace, not lament!
Really, though, it’s amazing, and something unique about our species. If we were all the same, life would be boring, not to mention oppressive as hell, because we would have to settle on just one thing while it’s so very clear that so many of us want to have and be so many different things. We would have nothing that was just ours, no choice about how we want to live, and also nothing of our own to share with others, no way to trade and scrape up against each other and learn and grow.
Lines between people are not inherently wrong; they are wrong when the lines are made of concrete and barbed wire, when they are used to keep people out or push them aside, when they encourage individuals or groups to hate or undermine one another, to fight or oppress one another. But they don’t have to be that way. Lines can just as easily allow freedom inside and freedom between. They can be solidaristic, cooperative lines, rather than antagonistic, violent lines. The lines between us don’t have to be sharp and jagged; they can be squiggly and dotted instead. Identity: Your Choice, More or Less People’s identities are overlapping, and they change all the time. I am a young person, a New Yorker, a secular Jew, and a whole bunch of other things, and my identity changes all the time. When I was younger, being Jewish wasn’t as important to me, but it is now. When I grow older, being part of youth culture will probably not be part of my identity anymore. When I am traveling, being an American is part of my identity, but when I am at home, being a New Yorker or the son of Israeli parents is much more a formative part of the way I see myself.
Take a sheet of paper. Draw a small circle in the middle of the page. Draw another circle around it, and another around that, and another around that and so on. Then fill the lines in with your community affiliations (for example: my family, my religions group, my country, etc.), with the most important ones closest to the center. That is one way to look at your community identity, in concentric circles. First you are part of this group, then another group, then another, and so on, in a sort of linear way.
Take another sheet of paper. Draw a circle in the middle of the page. Then draw another in the corner. Then a sort of funky blob in another corner, a square between those two, a squiggly formation overlapping a few of those, a jagged line through the middle, and so on. You get it. Overlap. You’re part of this group, but also this group at the same time, and sometimes that group, all within the context of this larger group, and so on and so forth. That’s another way to look at identity.
Maybe for you, identity is a linear process. It’s clear to you what identity is most important to you, what community you are most part of, and then what institutions and spaces are most essential in your life. Maybe it’s more of an overlapping process, relying on context, time, place, mood, and so on. Either way is legitimate, it seems. As far as we’re concerned, you should get to choose how you want to identify. More or less. That is, people should be able to call themselves whatever they want, and orchestrate their community lives around that to the greatest extent possible, so long as that doesn’t conflict with other peoples’ participation in that identity and community.
Some examples: It is important that if a Pakistani immigrant to this country wants to identify as an American and participate in the institutions that facilitate American culture, she should be able to. If French person wants to identify first and foremost as a Muslim, for another example, then he should be able to do that. If a Chinese person in Thailand wants a mechanism to express being Chinese, she should have it. We might say, on the other hand, that a white kid from the suburbs who wants to identify as a Black Nationalist might have some problems being accepted into that community, and justifiably. We must be able to draw the line between empowering people to identify the way they want to, and preserving space for people to protect their identities.
But the point should be clear. In terms of values, we understand that people have a lot of different ways to look at identity, that they may or may not have a number of overlapping identities, that those identities can change over time, and that to the greatest degree possible, peoples’ choices about their identity (and therefore, their community), should be honored, supported, enabled, facilitated, and protected. People should have the right to choose how they want to identify along cultural, communal, religious, ethnic, national, or other lines to the extent that that’s possible. People should be allowed to freely associate, and to emphasize the parts of their identities that they choose. Communal Self-Determination What I described above for individuals should also apply for groups, and in that case, we call it communal self-determination. All groups should have the right to assert their communal identities, and they should have the space and tools to do that. We will get to the space and tools part, but we need to be clear about this.
A group is a group if it wants to be one (with some stipulations to be discussed in a coming section), and groups should be allowed to express their cultures, just as individuals should be allowed to express their identities. That goes for just about any group I can think of – from Palestinians to Jews, from hipsters to skater-kids, from the Yoruba in Nigeria to the Nigerians all together. Autonomy (Within Solidarity) Autonomy is a tricky one. We don’t believe in a boundless autonomy, which implies a sort of disconnectedness from the things around you. Considering some of our foundational assumptions that we’ve already covered – namely the fact that people are connected one way or another, whether we like it or not – to disregard the interconnections and pretend we are isolated and therefore limitlessly free is a dangerous mistake. It can hurt people, both the individual and the group. We believe in autonomy within solidarity.
On the communal level, we think self-determination means that groups should be allowed to choose how they want to express themselves with minimal constraints. We think people should have freedom and sovereignty over their language, praxis, institutions, and space. But no freedom is without obligation and responsibility. These groups should be free to do what they please, but within the boundaries set by society at large – meaning that groups should be allowed to do what they want, as long as they don’t violate the fundamental and universal rights everyone in society ought to have – most obviously equity. In addition, the gates in and out of these communities should be open enough to allow people to freely join and leave if they so choose.
On the individual level, it’s pretty much the same. Groups either implicitly or explicitly have contracts that individuals are essentially making with one another. That is, being part of this community means behaving in such and such a way, eating such and such foods, speaking such and such languages, and so on. When we are members of communities, we are expected to act in solidarity with that community. That’s nothing new. What we need to emphasize here, though, is the autonomy people are able to express in choosing how to associate. For example, while most people can theoretically choose not to be in a certain community if they think it violates their personal rights or human rights at large (or simply doesn’t suit them), in reality many people don’t actually have the material means to tear themselves free. Again, we will get to institutions later, but this is where we want to assert that individuals should be free to choose to be or not to be part of communities, that they should be autonomous, but not without solidarity. All in all, then, we think people should be autonomous enough to choose what groups they want to be part of, and solidaristic in their actual participation in the group. We think groups should be autonomous enough to decide how they want organize themselves, but in solidarity with the universal laws, norms, and spirit of the society at large – one based on fundamental equity. [Inter](Nationalism): The Particular and the Universal A lot of people see the assertion of self-determination to be contrary to universalism – that nationalism contradicts internationalism, for example. But that doesn’t make any sense. As many a wise person has said before me, you can’t have internationalism without nations. Without the “nationalism” part, you don’t have anything to add the “inter” to the front of. You can’t have the particular without the universal, nor the universal without the particular.
The particular doesn’t make much sense divorced from the universal, because that means basically deleting from consciousness a huge fact, that we are all connected to one another, that we can learn from one another, that we have a lot to share, and that our actions affect people across the globe. But at the same time, the universal on its own is a totally meaningless term. The universal is made up of the particulars – the particulars couldn’t be wiped out even if we tried (and some of the more brutal people in human history have, in fact, tried), but if that did succeed, it would be just about the ugliest universalism imaginable. Teeth: Institutions and Space It should be clear that up until now, we have talked about vision in a theoretical way, dealing mainly with values. We have gone over the principles that should guide us in forming different community relations. In a way, we have done a lot of the work of imagining an alternative, but we still have to say a few words about the material world, as pesky as that world is.