My latest book, Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto, will be released this month from Haymarket Books in Chicago (www.haymarketbooks.org), and I plan to post here a paragraph (or more) from the book at the start of each week for the next few months. Please read along and spread the word, and order a book (or two!) from Haymarket if at all possible.
Here is the first brief excerpt from Demand the Impossible!
“We need to make a distinction here between personal virtues—be honest, do your work, show up on time—and social or community ethics. Personal virtue is surely good, but we would be hard pressed to say that a slave owner who paid the bills on time and was loyal or kind to the children was an ethical person—the blithe indifference to the larger social context allows the rotten system itself to thrive. We need to think about how we act customarily and collectively, how our society functions, how the contexts of politics and culture and economics, for example, interact with what we hold to be good, and how an ethical society allows more of us more of the time to act ethically. Most of us, after all, mostly follow the prevailing conventions of our time and place—most Spartans acted like Spartans; most Athenians, like Athenians; and most North Americans, even those in quite different economic and social circumstances, and for better and for worse, act most often like North Americans. To be an ethical actor and a person of moral character in an unjust social order requires something more: to work in common to change that society, to rewrite its rules and its narrative, to come together with others in order to rise up and resist. It requires activists and agitators and artists and dissidents willing to take risks on behalf of something better. It’s obvious now (even if it was obscure to many people then) that the good people and the moral actors in the days of American slavery were the runaways who exercised their agency in courageous and surprising acts of self-liberation, and the abolitionists who joined the cause. When the system of slavery was legally abolished, a new moral norm was established, and everyone, acting normally, was freed to discover the better angels of themselves.
“What if we took another leap forward, and agreed that predation and exploitation were unacceptable? What if the vast majority of people mobilized to abolish the system of private profit and wage slavery altogether? What if the horizon of our moral universe stretched that far? What could we imagine then, and what might we build together?
“Human beings are driven by a long and continuous “I don’t know, and I’d like to find out.” It’s not the known that propels us out of bed and out the door, it’s not the status quo that prods us up the next hill or onto the next challenge, nor is it “received wisdom” that pushes and pulls us along. Rather, the deep motivation at the core of our humanity, the powerful force pushing toward enlightenment and liberation is the hope that we will once again create and invent, plant and build, challenge and overcome.
“This is a call to resist the insistent pull of tradition or dogma, the easy acquiescence to the orthodox opinion of the moment. It’s an argument against the cynical shrug that says, “That’s just the way things are,” and the world-weary sigh that implies that nothing can be done about it. This is a manifesto against passivity and defeat, and in favor of action as an antidote to despair. This is an invitation to gather together in an expanding public square, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, in order to fight for something radically different and dramatically better.
“History has surprised us before, and history can surely surprise us once again.”