Is Even A Good Vision, Good?
Near the end, we return to the beginning. I am still wondering, even if parecon is a great vision, worthy, viable, even attainable – are we better for having it, or would we be better off without it. Will it cripple us rather than aid us?
Critics with this inclination generally argue…
These critics of preconceived vision conclude that the right way to attain vision is through the experience of everyone experimenting, without detailed pre-envisioning and without sectarianism- inducing espousal of compelling, encompassing aims, and without efforts to get widespread shared agreement. We should say only very general things about what we want—such as that the future should be just, equitable, reduce hierarchy, and so on.
We agree that error and sectarianism are both possible faults. But how should we respond to these insights?
Consider two opposed approaches.
I believe the precautionary principle is far more appropriate than the red-light principle.
For one thing, before stopping the pursuit of compelling vision, we ought to understand the cost of doing so.
Suppose a movement obeys the red light principle and chooses to forego a widely shared compelling vision that reveals how new defining institutions would operate, why they would get their assigned tasks completed, and why they would yield vastly superior outcomes than current institutions.
So yes, inaccurate prediction and sectarian attachment to vision are indeed possible problems of pursuing shared vision. But we believe that stop-light advocates have chosen the wrong solution to averting these problems: namely, dismissing serious and compelling institutional vision entirely. This “solution” repeats a more common mistake that operates in many venues. Here are two related examples:
In these cases, as with vision, there is an unwarranted leap from justified precaution to red-light debilitation. A true critical characterization of some instances of technology, science, medicine, reforms, or (in our case) seeking vision, wrongly extrapolates into a rejection of these things outright.
Of course many technologies are oppressive, including destructive weapons, pollution-generating cars, and alienating and disempowering assembly lines, not to mention nuclear or biological weapons. But these are not the only technologies we have, and there are other technologies that are positive– shoelaces, cooking utensils, aspirin, eyeglasses, solar generators. The whole category— technology—isn’t, in fact, infected. Moreover, the reason that many technologies are oppressive isn’t that there is something intrinsically harmful in creating innovations of design that incorporate knowledge of laws of nature. Rather, the harm arises from social relations that create sectors of people able to produce and use technologies to harm some constituencies to the advantage of others. More, the choice to do without technologies is even worse than the problem of having many defective ones. If implemented, it would plunge us into a range of suffering that would be unfathomable. What ought to be ruled out is therefore not tech- nologies (or medicine or science) per se, but oppressive technologies (medicine and science), and what ought to be sought is ever more effective means of producing desirable technologies while guarding against their misuse as well as against the harmful elitist trajectories imposed on technology creation and use. Following the precautionary principle in this case, in other words, doesn’t lead us to suicidally reject all technologies but to carefully pursue desired technologies so as to maximize positive effects and avoid ill effects. Yes, of course we should have humility before the complexity of technology. But we should not have so much humility that we entirely cut off our capacities to innovate. Paralysis is not progress.
Consider now the example of reforms. Sure a reform’s accomplishments can be insufficient to warrant the effort expended to win it. And certainly a reform’s desirable consequences can be outweighed by the extent to which it dulls dissent or ratifies existing oppressive structures, or by intended or even unintended negative consequences. But to notice these potential problems and in response rule out reforms per se would mean ruling out all changes that fall short of entirely transforming social relations. It would mean not fighting against unjust wars, not seeking better wages, not trying to gain more power for grassroots constituencies and their organizations, and not attempting to diminish racist or sexist relations, and in these ways, it would lead to becoming a callous movement that ignores immediate suffering and therefore deserves little support.
So the problem is not reforms per se, but pursuing reforms as the best gains that we can possibly hope for and thus in ways that presuppose maintaining underlying injustices. The problem is not reforms, that is, but reformism. And the alternative to reformism is not to dump all reforms (following the red-light principle), but to fight for reforms in ways that not only seek worthy immediate gains, but increase movement membership, deepen movement commitment, enrich movement understanding, develop movement infra- structure, and in short, create preconditions for winning still more gains and ultimately fundamental change.
The above examples may seem a needless digression, but I suspect that those who reject technology, those who reject all reforms, and those who reject compelling institutional vision are all making essentially the same error. A real problem is rightly identified. In the case of vision the problem is that we can have incomplete, inadequate, or wrong vision and we can misuse desirable vision. But it is wrong to propose as a solution that we dump vision. We should abide the precautionary principle by trying to develop and employ vision well, not put up a red light.
So how can we make serious, compelling, shared institutional vision an asset rather than a debit?
We can work to ensure:
In this book we have sought to pose a particular vision clearly and accessibly, based as best we could not only on our own logic and experience, but on that which has accumulated during the history of leftist struggles in past decades. We have tried to respect the limitations of social prediction and the dangers of dogmatism by promoting a critical, evaluative, experimental, and open process. But as to the future trajectory of pareconish vision, there is a little ditty that applies nicely:
Put differently, the implications of a vision depend ultimately on movement responses. It is not books that will determine how vision is used, but those who read books and extend, alter, apply, and utilize their offerings.