Aren’t we merely searching for a single banner that says “We have gone wrong — ethically, ecologically, economically. We can go right.”?
– steelweaver

I’ve come across a fine speech on a new blog, directed at the recent Uncivilization Festival. In an eloquent, impassioned post, steelweaver addresses the meta-problems of these latter days, pokes at the failures of the various approaches that have been tried to budge the Leviathan, and looks for a way to move forward.

He voices his frustration with the sense that “no action actually proportional to the problems [we already understand] has any likelihood of occurring.” He then goes into an extended riff on “reality as a failed state,” blaming this lack of action on the fact that we no longer inhabit the same reality. But has humanity ever inhabited a single reality? Isn’t the longing for one a totalitarian trap, an old hankering of the civilized? When everyone converts to Christianity… when everyone becomes educated and accepts rationalism… when everybody turns libertarian, anarchist, Green… when everyone accepts the techno-scientific point of view… then the world will be finally set right. Argh.

Steelweaver asks us “what the prospects are for bringing Daily Mail readers and Indymedia readers back onto the same page of reality.” I have an answer for that. The prospects are nil. But there is no need to despair! This has always been so. Humans are ornery critters insisting on living in their own slice of reality, and the modernity’s project to force them (us) into one mold has failed rather spectacularly. As of course it must have failed if humans have any spunk left… nobody wants to be a clone of someone else’s reality. Do you?

What happens if we assume that realities vary naturally among humans? The best we can hope for is sufficient overlap so that we can successfully coexist; not a shabby outcome at all. But what about unified political action? Since we do not fully share our reality, and do not agree on key ideas and beliefs, we must look for a unifying principle elsewhere.

“Can we even imagine what it would be like to organize ourselves around beliefs, ideas, a particular narrative of reality anymore?” steelweaver sadly inquires. Being a history buff, I can imagine it rather easily. History is rife with such efforts, and the results have been, shall we say, mixed. The National Socialists were spectacularly good at this. The communists a bit less so, but much more enduring. The capitalist beliefs, ideas and narratives are still tenaciously with us, despite obvious holes in the increasingly threadbare fabric. Oh hell. The results have generally sucked, the occasional helpful reform notwithstanding. Our more spirited ancestors were always trying to free themselves from one reality cage or another.

No, my friends, it is not agreement around beliefs and ideas that we need in order to move forward. Look at Wikipedia. It thrives on disparate realities and on disagreement. It could not function without it. Sometimes, the disagreements get so heated articles have to be locked up and it may take years for a sufficiently shared understanding to emerge. But that is ok! Agreement without disagreement leads into groupthink. These two are siamese twins and if you sever them, you kill any chance at wisdom.

Wikipedia provides a process that leads to good quality encyclopedic articles that have huge advantages over static encyclopedias: fast correction of errors and timeliness. Agreement emerges out of the process that is Wikipedia. Transient, it is ongoingly, fluidly superseded by yet another agreement. In any case, agreement was not the vision that spurred the developers. The vision was a fully participatory encyclopedia that delivers good, timely articles on any topic that matters to a human being who wants to get involved.

Trying to start with ideological agreements is a mistake. We need a way that enables us to get along and work together well in the face of disparate realities. Lacking a process that leads to fertile, agreeable coexistence and evolving wisdom amidst our natural variability, we get stuck. Once we’ve cracked this nut, we can begin the Great Good Work of healing the planet.