Cars drive by as I sit at a picnic table in a neighborhood park. A house across the street from the park contains among its Halloween decorations a sign stating, “Eat More Veggies.” The letters appear painted in red beside a red hand, and beside the sign stand ghosts and tombstones. Appropriate seasonal attire, I think to myself, my mind drifting off to contemplate the coming holiday. There’s work to be done; the basement of our house remains an issue. I’m reminded of the old “base-superstructure” construct, hearing in it now, after all those years reading about it in grad school, a set of moral abstractions, a marriage of contraries equal in power to Freud’s reality and pleasure principles or Blake’s heaven and hell. As societies of both matter and mind, we can arrange ourselves in a variety of ways; we needn’t always be arboreal and hierarchical. Yet we do need to deal with capitalism and climate change, and their local, existential correlates.
Looking back at Worldchanging, an online environmentalist magazine that published a “User’s Guide for the 21st Century” back in 2008, I notice the website’s failure to include in its sevenfold structure a section on psychology and consciousness. That didn’t seem odd when I read the book ten years ago. Today it seems an omission of consequence. Change requires change of consciousness. Reinvestigation of language and the forms by which we think. Bruce Sterling imagined something of this sort in the book’s introduction, where consciousness is spoken to as both observer and participant. We as readers find ourselves part of a continuous process, “a kind of rolling, seed-spewing electronic tumbleweed.” To be part of this process is to be one who performs the future in a newly reconstituted Globe Theater, a true multi-species theater-in-the-round. The pieces by which we perform our play are scattered all about us, awaiting a new gestalt. Yet where are we now? To what platforms have the Worldchangers decamped? Some other time zone, no? Some other historical juncture. Put down the book and the tune changes. The world fills with multi-species partners and allies: bluebirds, squirrels, Monarch butterflies. We converge, exchange greetings, celebrate over drinks, departing afterwards to tend to our nests, our homes, our private story-trees, even as we remain all of one nature. Books carry us off into separate constructs only to return us to this shared one, this commons we call History.
For the first time in many years, I’ve made drum practice a regular part of my day, learning along the way a new bearing, a new coordination, a new integration of body and mind. I sense there’s a whole magical metaphysics to be learned, an articulation of parts into a world party, spontaneously assembling, dancing to a plurality of beats. Align the rhythms of the microcosm with the rhythms of the planet, limb coordination an allegory for coming together to address climate change. In all cases, it’s a matter of reprogramming, creating new branches, new head-spaces, new patterns of play. Each of us becoming solar-powered, enlightened, worshipful of sun and moon. Afterwards, I go back and re-read my entry from September 20th of last year, with its description of a consciousness expanded beyond Reason’s bounds. Then, as now, I had Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell on my mind, a text I teach each fall.
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).