Thoughts on Argentina's Conjunctures :: Recuperating Work, Recovering Life (2005-2007)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

So then, why is it important to think?

Notes on thinking, pausing, reflecting

By Marcelo Vieta

Ways of thinking saturate ways of acting. Conversely, ways of acting – practices – need to saturate critique. To think and to reform are entangled. To seek reforms – transformations of our social, material, and psychical realities – requires a type of work rooted in a certain type of critique. Such critique is immanent, rooted in our situation. It is of the moment. The revolution lies not in the future, but in the present. The present seems just fine for overthrowing the instrumental constraints that encase our lives. The possibilities for “the revolution of everyday life” are all around us. We can live in revolutionary ways if we can imagine these ways. Immanent critique is one way toward a new way life; immanent critique reconstitutes life.

Critical work is rooted in thinking that opens up potentialities heretofore unforeseen but already-always present. “Thought does exist, both beyond and before systems and edifices of discourse,” writes Foucault. This critical work makes congealed ways of thinking, doing, and living uncomfortable. Through the discomforting of old ways we see new possibilities, new realities, new hope. To think therefore is dangerous. It leads to the catastrophe of enclosed ways of life. We cannot afford to avoid this danger:

But where danger is, grows
The saving power, also (Holderlin)

Thinking as a critical type of work draws attention to the immiseration of cognitive life within the social, cultural, and political enclosures that surround us. But our over-commodified life of accumulation-at-all-cost denies us clearings for contemplation. The conquest of our psychical life – of our very consciousness – is the most worrisome effect of our current truth games. To begin to practice ways of thinking that reveal openings out of the enclosures of congealed truth and constituted power first requires us to, perhaps paradoxically, begin with thoughtful tasks that draw attention to the serious lack of mental and social spaces that we have for just thinking. But to think through the “why” and the “how” of our enclosed modes of thought in order to get to the “what if” of the different worlds that lie beyond our status quos requires us first to slow down, to pause, to stop. Thus, pausing and thinking are acts of resistance in themselves. They are the first revolutionary practices that we can engage with. They begin to reveal the very enclosures that corral alternatives and they open us up to the potentialities that rest just on the other side of the given.

To do this type of thinking individuals and collectives need spaces and moments for pausing. We need moments of personal and communal solitude from the tyranny of constituted power and its forms of containment ideologically rooted in the will-to-speed, the will-to-progress, and the will-to-busyness. We need breathing room to contemplate the ways to refuse the wilfulness to dominate our world. We need breathing room to pause and reflect on constituted power. We need to find spaces away from the hullabaloo to think through how to act to reform. The practices of seeking out these breathing spaces can put us well on our way towards realizing social transformation.

The cousin cults of speed and work are the enemy of contemplation. They blind us from ever discovering the spaces and moments for pausing. They muffle revolutionary thought. Without moments for contemplation we remain paralyzed; alternatives to these cults close themselves off.

The speed of capitalist life distracts us from recognizing that we are victims to its incessant seductions. The wisest among us – and sages still do exist; we encounter them every day – realize this and find moments for careful, unencumbered, unregulated thought. Recall, for example, Foucault’s practice of finding moments for “pause and reformulation” every now and then . Now more than ever we need clearings for pausing and reformulating – physical clearings, clearings of the mind, clearings for gathering together as collectives of thinkers, clearings that allow for new openings, new experiences, new joys. Clearings that reveal the new dimensions of our becomings. Clearings to express new potentialities. We need new vantage points from which to cast new visions untethered by the cult of speed, the cult of work, and the commodification of life.

Throughout the world, more and more of us are pausing, reflecting, and seeking out clearings for contemplation in order to think through how to act on the revelations for civilazational change that come from these pauses. Think of the new worlds being created daily by the newest social movements – the Zapatistas, the Italian and French movements against precarity, the landless peasant movements of South America, guerrilla gardeners, the protagonists of the recovered enterprises movement of Argentina, India’s ecological movements. Today, in Canada, neighbourhood food coops abound, cooperative housing programs are taking flight. Today, local decision making initiatives are changing peoples’ lives for the better every second somewhere around the globe. Today, more and more of us are opting out of the rat race and living more frugally, ethically, holistically. Those of us that are taking time to act in these ways are ensconced in creative thought practices. We are inventors of spaces for breathing. We think within and we create alternative spaces for community gatherings and individual contemplation outside of the enclosures of private property, the marketplace, and the profit motive. And not surprisingly we are, in the process of this thoughtful inventiveness, discovering life-affirming ways of unleashing new possibilities – more humane possibilities – for engaging with the world...for creating new worlds.

These are some of the reasons why it is so important for us to think.