Question to and Answers from Juliet Berkman

Christian Barber: How did you discern cynicism from logical analysis of the challenges and opposition; and how did you align people to your cause that were initially and intentionally antithetical to it, without simultaneously alienating those that would have strongly supported the movement if certain mistakes in reasoning had been recognized but not excused by bogus examples of misguided anger? Many people were hurt and angry, not all chose hate and fascism as an antidote.

Perhaps the main difference between cynicism and logical analysis, as I saw it, was the mood and intent at work. Was someone recounting what they saw and thought, which just happened to be depressing and imply defeat, in hopes he or she was wrong and looking for flaws, and so welcoming criticism – or was the person offering the views as a kind of mantra, brooking no question, seemingly not only convinced but by all indications literally wanting to be right, vested in being right, albeit perhaps simultaneously depressed. The simpler case to see, by far more prevalent, was that a cynical person espoused views without serious assessment, almost reflexively, offering weak evidence as irrefutable, etc.

Maybe there are multiple kinds of cynicism. One kind simply rationalizes passivity, inaction, etc. whose roots are elsewhere. Another kind is a residue of seeming evidence, lots of seeming evidence, that becomes belief which then disallows contrary evidence, instead becoming a kind of identity. Someone depressed due to honest perceptions but who tries to get others who are seeking positive paths to stop doing so, perhaps cynical isn’t quite the right word, but it is no better.

For your follow up, first, there is a wrong assumption. Reaching out to people who initially disagree or are downright hostile in no way requires not recognizing their mistakes in reasoning or their flawed values, beliefs, or behaviors. Quite the opposite, since beyond talking to them, becoming allies requires changes in their values, beliefs, behaviors. Rather, reaching out requires first off being willing to talk and listen, and second off being able to interact honestly but without hostility that polarizes rather than communicates. But, as well, people who would strongly support efforts at change but then don’t because they are put off by movements actually trying to win support are themselves quite confused. Good organizers have to reach out to them too. Do they want to appear right and castigate others – or do they want to be right and win change?

One caveat. I am not talking about trying to organize elites, but people who can plausibly be reached and must be reached to win anything like, for example, the RPS agenda. Trying to reach, say, owners, is a waste of time except for very unusual instances. Trying to reach doctors, managers, etc., is fine so long as it isn’t at the expense of reaching nurses, assembly workers, etc. The point is the content and agenda aren’t to be compromised to address someone racist, or sexist, or classist, nor is one to adopt a style that would not speak to other needed and more receptive constituencies.

But, mainly, the tendency that existed to dismiss Trump’s voters as horrible, back when when RPS was first birthing, was a vastly bigger problem than what you are worrying about here.

Pat James: Juliet, your bio says you are known for your effective advocacy of non violent tactics and your ability to talk with understanding and sympathy to people holding seriously contrary views. In my time, 2017, there are neo fascists and white nationalists organizing to try to expand their power and influence, which is already very substantial in Trump’s government and in him. I wonder how you think one can relate to such people non violently and with understanding and sympathy?

I hear the question as, first, why should we even try? Second, if we do try, given who it means dealing with, how could we get ourselves to do it? And finally, third, how can we possibly think we will succeed.

I see two main reasons to try. First using non violent tactics and talking with understanding and sympathy will be better for us because it will be less likely to cause us to become caustic, violent, etc. than our entering the arena aiming to rumble and acclimating ourselves to a rumble mindset.

Second going at the folks you are talking about, or really anyone, with a totally dismissive attitude that says they are beyond any kind of communication other than violence, with no attempt to understand or have sympathy for their feelings, and with a demeanor and practice of violence, is highly unlikely to have any positive effect. It will, instead, be far more likely to polarize them further. So the reason to try, I think, is for us and for broader prospects.

As to how we could get ourselves to do it with people uttering racist and sexist assaults, threatening violence, even perpetrating violence is to realize we are not in fact dealing with the equivalent of wild wolves or pathological killers. If you think that is the opponent, call zoo keepers or the police. Stay clear.

But in fact, with the exception, admittedly, of some elements, we are dealing with people, humans, who have their own problems and stories and reasons. These are probably partly more sympathetic than we might anticipate, but also partly as confused, egocentric, fearful, hostile and dismissive of others as we fear. To talk with understanding and sympathy means trying to hear the problems and stories, sympathizing with part, hopefully, and trying to discuss and provide content bearing on the rest, without compromising our commitments at all. It may be hard, but it is certainly not impossible.

As to succeeding, we often won’t. And sometimes we may have to defend ourselves, as well. But what is succeeding? At a minimum it is reducing their effectively, their outreach, so these groups don’t enlarge. At a maximum it is causing some members, as many as possible, and in the long run, to win a new society, it has to be a large majority, to have second thoughts and reconsider.

I think the approach I am suggesting, which of course takes different forms in different settings, is better on both counts, than is going to war, so to speak. I want to be clear, however, that I am no more sympathetic to the views neo nazi and white nationalists advocate than you are, I am sure, howeer I can totally and unequivocally reject the views, but still hear the people, look for reasons why they feel what they do, try to address the reasons, and certainly try not to give them more reason for their anger and violence, and new things to point to to enlarge their numbers.

Placebo Keith: Juliet, I was wondering whether in your early days of activism you had heard of an organisation called IOPS? It was formed around 2011 or 12, and very similar in its nature to RPS. I was wondering whether it helped stir the ideas around RPS? If not, where do you think the locus of the ideas of RPS came from? IOPS failed rather miserably and many other groups and movements weren’t so much exhibiting the sorts of radical connections between the spheres in society, sort of joining the dots and admitting that nothing is unrelated…you know reproduction and co-reproduction, complimentary holism and such…and further many movements and groups, those who had heard of say, Parecon, which was the vision that came up with the idea of BJCs, were quite critical of it…I remember a project called the NSP, where one of the founders, Gar Alperovitz, felt Parecon to be not feasible.

Given the failure of IOPS, the growth of the NSP and its pluralist commonwealth position re the economy and its modus operandi of driving things practically from on-the-ground actions towards worker ownership and co-ops, along with community economics, where was the locus for the growth of the, in my opinion, deeper ideas tied to a more cogent, clear, complete and coherent visionary economic model, that gave rise to RPS as a movement or org? And if you had heard of the NSP, what were its shortfalls and its positives, in your opinion and did it help stir the birth of RPS in any way. And somewhere in 2017, I remember a book written specifically about RPS, by someone called Albert, I’ve forgotten his first name. It actually coined the name RPS. Had you read it and other books of his…he is, I think, the co-author of Parecon with someone else whose name I have forgotten. I’m not good with details.

Placebo, I would think, first, you would read the book for you larger  questions. You re asking me to repeat swaths of it, rather than questioning things I said. Where ideas came from for folks is discussed, in various instances, in their own words, by various interviewees. One thing we don’t do is talk about people or even organizations you have in your time at dates beyond your time. Yes, I knew well of IOPS and yes it is quite similar and no doubt influenced various folks, who then influenced others, but that was true of many prior projects,  movements, etc. The same goes for the writing and activism of diverse individuals. But we weren’t excavating personal stories other than our own, or even group ones, nor prescribing for anyone. We were,in the interviews, simply telling our story, as asked, for whatever it would be worth – hopefully inspiration and insight. Our future isn’t necessarily. your future, though hopefully your’s will  be as liberating or even more so. But we aren’t going to evaluate your groups or individuals, only our own experience. That said, clearly in our world the various insights and commitments that existed (in our and your world before we split) that were close to what emerged as RPS you can reasonably conclude contributed and became part of RPS.