How might we of the Undercommons avail ourselves in light of Climate Strike? Do we have concepts we could offer, lessons we could share? What is this Magnificence all around us? How do we help it grow? Who do we want to become? Hardt and Negri have told us, in a “script that is by now familiar” (xiii), that for most powerful social movements today, “leadership” is a dirty word. One of us rightly asks, “Is the youthful movement against fossil fuels leaderless? What about Greta Thunberg?” She’s a sort of leader, certainly — but perhaps the leadership she provides is tactical rather than strategic, a distinction favored by Hardt and Negri. By this they mean leadership of an entrepreneurial sort, “limited to short-term action and tied to specific occasions” (Assembly, p. 19). Hardt and Negri craft openings for which we’re grateful. I appreciate their call, too, at the end of Assembly, for a Hephaestus, a three-faced Dionysus, and a Hermes of the common. Why those three, however, as the constituents of their pantheon of the common? And how do we get from there to putting the machines back in the hands of living labor? How do we mute the command of capital? What would it mean, for instance, to make “digital algorithms” common, a form of non-property open to use by the multitude? Perhaps it’s as simple as forging “an instrument endowed with magical powers,” like the shield Hephaestus forged for Achilles. This instrument would “depict in concentric circles the composition of the entire community,” thus giving expression to “a new civilization, new modes of life, a new figure of humanity, and new relations of care among living species and the earth, up to the cosmos” (Assembly, p. 274).
For those like Hardt and Negri, awaiting a New Prince, I advise trust as a component of subjectivity. The multitude need only share duties and practice trust. Honor life in the fullness of its mystery, its unpredictability. Or as Hardt and Negri say, its Majesty. Can you feel it? The race, the relief, the mix of happiness and exhaustion, a new friend held closely in one’s arms.
Time to go somewhere and sit beside a tree. Tomorrow if possible — perhaps in a calm, relatively secluded part of campus. Imagine oneself, however, in one of the campuses of yore, where students lounged among trees strumming guitars and tapping bongos. “Peace, brothers and sisters. Anyone wanna join me in some fugitive study on spontaneous theater?” That used to be a thing: people gathering, barbecuing, chilling, passing a frisbee back and forth. Back before the privatization of cultural memory. Perhaps I should settle in and read Hardt and Negri’s Assembly. Despite its flaws, their earlier book Empire contributed mightily to my formation and development. The question they attempt to answer is similar to the question posed for us by Hippie Modernism: how do we assemble in ways that endure while rejecting traditional, centralized forms of political organization?