I have a vision for the existence I would like to live within, a utopia of sorts. I won’t bother with the details as that is a conversation for another time, but suffice to say, it looks very little like the social structure which surrounds us and dictates our behaviors and relationships today. To be honest, I don’t even know if the vision I have for this imagined social structure is even sustainable, but because I can envision it, I think it’s worth pursuing despite the obstacles, whether those are systematic difficulties between human relationships or the efforts of the current social order to prevent this new vision from taking it’s place. This vision draws upon proven relationships and social mechanisms of traditional societies which have comprised human existence for the majority of our known history along with adaptations from modern living. It is a reimagined existence founded, above all else, upon the dictates of our inherent, instinctual human behaviors of which are directed by the most basic needs for survival. This vague outline sounds a little fantastic, I know, but you’ll just have to trust me that there is considerable more thought and rational thinking behind it.
Imagining a new social structure(s) and creating one, however, is an even more fantastic endeavor. We can hypothesize about new ways of living that will be better than our current predicament, but that doesn’t mean their implementation can instantly be established. Ridding the world of old institutions and social behaviors can be quite upsetting, wreaking havoc on our precariously established safety and order, and fighting against systems that seek to preserve themselves. Some would argue chaos and destruction are imperatives for creating new relationships based on egalitarianism and sustainability…and I won’t say I’m not among them, but I also think that consideration is irrelevant to the discussion of the potential for a massive societal shift. If the current social order is going to rapidly disintegrate for one reason or another, it will come unseen by most and will be mostly unavoidable, whether it is an economic collapse or environmental backlash.
Let’s imagine, for the time being anyways, that a massive social change can take place without a complete collapse and unavoidable die-off by a significant number of human animals, non-human animals and flora. Absurd, I know…right? Still, a significant shift away from the current social order and towards a new way of existing among each other is going to involve a number of “transitions”, towards a more fundamental transition. What new ways of relating to each other will create are transitional societies, which are smaller measures of new social relationships that gently undermine the foundational structures of the current social order. This is an important distinction to understand.
Our society undergoes many social transitions over time, some temporary and some long-lasting. These are relations that become codified by law (read: threat of punishment) and compel us to act in specific ways, with little adherence to an agreed upon morality. The liberation of african americans from slavery is an act of social transition. Marriage rights granted to homosexuals is a more modern transition. The legalization of marijuana is another current social transition. But these social transitions aren’t inherently “liberal” or “progressive” (whatever those mean) as evidenced by the illegalization of marijuana in the past and the current push towards denying immigrant privileges. What is more important to recognize is that these social transitions are isolated, precarious, and do very little to undermine foundational structures of the current social order.
Foundational structures are the social dictates that inform all others, such as our economic paradigm (Capitalism), decision making paradigm (Representative Democracy), and behavioral modification paradigm (Hierarchical Authoritarianism). These are the ways in which all other social relations are confined, manipulated, and adhered to. It is these foundational structures (among select others) that dictate the ways we establish the previously mentioned social transitions. All “rights”, “freedoms”, and dictates will only be acknowledged and supported if they follow and fall within the parameters of these foundations. Slavery was abolished because it was shown that it could maintain and strengthen the capitalist structure. The current battle over immigration rights is following the same consideration. Actually MOST EVERY transitional issue is defined primarily by economic dictates. Issues that erode capitalist expansion (the environment over oil drilling or pipeline building) are vigorously fought and it’s usually only through establishing profits through environmental protection (tax breaks for carbon emission reduction, etc.) that certain battles for the natural world are won. And of course, the only legitimate and recognized manner of appealing to the capitalist paradigm is first recognizing that everyone lower on the pyramid must appeal to those higher on the pyramid (authoritarianism) and must do so in safe (for them), ordered (for them), and sustainable (for them) ways via Representational Democracy. Adhering to these structures is non-negotiable. You either do so or you are dismissed, imprisoned, or worse…depending upon how low you are on the pyramid (nationally and globally).
There are, however, other ways to relate to each other that don’t fall within the paradigms of Capitalism, Authoritarianism (read: not communism, fascism, natural capitalism, etc. either) and Representative Democracy. These manners of existing have been proven among traditional societies for the majority of our human existence and the possibilities for new forms of relations dictated by our current exploded population, habitation proximity, overlapping neo-tribes, etc. are essentially limitless. To carve a path to these new ways of existing is going to take an equally limitless number of transitions though, and these transitions will not be confined by the foundational structures of our current social order, lest they become assimilated, rendered mute, confined, or outright destroyed. Social rights are important for creating personal breathing space in a system of suffocation, but if they remain just social rights within a social system, the potential for suffocation will always remain.
What we need are transitions that can’t be co-opted. We need transitions that break us from the dominant social order, that work outside the decision making paradigm of Representational Democracy, outside the economic dictates of Capitalism, and outside the behavior compulsions of Authoritarianism. Marriage rights for homosexuals is important breathing space for the individuals, but it is also a path carved only through Representative Democracy, appealing to Authoritarianism, and straight into the economic river of Capitalist expansion via “the gay marriage market”. The same goes for veganism, creating important breathing space for the animals confined by the dictates of speceisim, but digging the claws of capitalism into our lives via the new market for faux meats, alternative everything, and all things capital V. Every social issue we address today carries the same critique and we should never exempt one from this larger consideration.
The question then is…are there ways to engage in these social issues or create other transitions that bring us toward those new ways of relating to each other (the countless numbers there are), that work outside these paradigms, that are not co-opted, that are true alternatives to the dominant social order? I think so.
But I know what you’re probably thinking…WHAT IN THE HELL DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH RUNNING?
First off…this is my blog…deal with it. Kidding! To be honest though, I am a self-identified runner, but I’m also a lot more than that too..so I’d like to believe…and all these thoughts are a part of me, my identity and legitimately overlap and inform my running too. So…
I’ve established a daily routine, that has broken from the tightrope I used to walk where I struggled to fit in run training, full-time employment, and social relations, and now consists of running easily, working via self-employment as a designer, coach, and writer, and navigating an incredibly flexible schedule. To address the obvious, I’m quite privileged and, in part, enabled to live this life through the sacrifices of others. I NEVER forget this or take it for granted, but no matter how this has come about, it is my existence and I’m so fortunate to have carved this out for myself at this point. And it’s the enjoyment of this relatively low-stress schedule that brought me to the considerations (again) for this post.
I was running through the city during this morning’s 8 miler and I had the casual pace and headspace to take in the views, relax, and both appreciate and enjoy the moments. I was, however, doing this by myself while the majority of society scrambled through traffic, clocked in, and sat down for a long day’s work, not because this was their utmost desire, but because they have little other options to make ends meet. I know this, because for quite some time this was my life, and down the line may become it again. For now, however, I’m running casually and relaxing into my work day…and this is what I desire for the rest of society as well, in one way or another. Not EXACTLY my existence, but just the idea of a relaxed life, free to pursue our desires, to become self-sufficient within our communities, and to create life on our terms instead of the dictates of those previously mentioned foundational structures of dominant culture. I want to pull all the bricks from the top of the pyramid and lay them out next to each other, not on top of each other.
During that run I began thinking about the “What If’s”. WHAT IF instead of everyone getting up and rushing to work in the morning, we all decided that the first 2 hours of the day would be spent on physical activity? WHAT IF we made that mandatory and placed importance upon that over everything else. WHAT IF we said, “economic progression isn’t that important”? WHAT IF we decided that we got the weekends to ourselves and carved out another day in the week for ourselves as well, whether Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, ANY DAY!? WHAT IF we stopped believing that lining the pockets of corporations and bosses and all businesses just wasn’t that important, just wasn’t all that conducive to finding happiness for ourselves? WHAT IF we decided that we could find other ways to live that provided for our basic needs of food, shelter, and warmth…and let those dictate our behaviors, our relationships and our daily schedules…instead of succumbing to the idea that there is NO WAY OUT or NO BETTER WAY TO LIVE than what we’ve got right now?
Personally, I consider the “what if’s” often, but also try to incorporate them into my life at every opportunity, and I can tell you my life is significantly better for the attempts. Running, in a way, is one of these What If incorporations, as I’ve made it something of a default to my daily routine. But there is more to this, beyond just enjoying this part of my day, because looked at through this perspective of “transitioning to utopia”, running can be seen as anti-capitalist. I admit, this is somewhat romanticized, but I’ve chosen to view running in this way because I’ve accepted that it takes me out of the 40 hour work week routine. It has, in effect, “stolen” time away from capitalism. I have currently found a way to carve time out of my day away from the capitalist demand of 40+ hours of work a week to…basically do whatever I want. It’s not necessarily the running itself that is anti-capitalist, but rather the free time I’ve demanded of my schedule. Again, I know this is romanticized, as I can make up the 2 hours in the morning with 2 hours in the evening, and although I’ve carved time away from the standard work week, I’m still making the amount of money necessary to make ends meet. I’m still paying the bills, paying the mortgage, paying the corporations for their services, etc. etc. I’m not an island…I know this.
But proving the possibility, living the examples in small ways, and creating the life you want to live in the blindspots of capitalism is immeasurably important, if not because it is an example of that life, but because it is a small moment of EXPERIENCING what that feels like. It lets you know just how much more rewarding it is to be self-directed, to pursue your desires without the stresses of Capitalist dictates, and to then drive you towards creating more and more open spaces of self-liberation, of relating to your friends and family in new ways, of building lives together that transition us away from the current social order.
It is this time outside of capitalism, created without necessitating Representative Democracy, and without reproducing Authority or succumbing to Authority that makes it so powerful. It is, again, not the running so much as the time enabled to run. It just so happens that running is what compelled me to seek this time, this carving away from capitalism, to experience the rewards and seek ways to extend this time and self-reliant experience to other areas of my life…sometimes on my own, but more preferentially, with others. This can take so many forms.
It is extending this liberated space to and with others that becomes the greatest effort towards establishing truly transitional societies, that aren’t momentary, that aren’t reproducing the dominant social order’s established foundations, and that aren’t just creating temporary spaces to breathe easier, but rather allow us to take the deepest breaths without fear of suffocation.
I will continue to admit my romanticization, but I can’t help but shake how amazing it would be to at least know that we, as a mass of individuals, can take time away from capitalism for our own self-interests. I can’t help but shake the WHAT IF, of a whole society of individuals collectively saying, “Ok, this is really absurd. Today, I just want to sit and read for a couple hours before I go into work. Or maybe I’ll workout. Or maybe I’ll create some art. And maybe everything will just be fine and I can still find ways to make ends meet.” It’s, in my mind, a legitimate step towards transitioning to a life where we can make this realistic, where stepping away from capitalism isn’t a risk, isn’t worrisome, but is actually liberating and exciting and fulfills our needs even MORE than capitalism pretends too.
Here’s the obvious problem though…it would take a collective agreement to make this happen. Sure, with such a mass of individuals in society, some of us can carve out opportunities at the privilege of others to create a liberated existence, in the shadows of capitalism’s panopticon, hidden in the loopholes, feeding off the excess of a system inherently structured to grow out of control…but completely transitional societies, or even JUST creating transitional ways of relating to each other and the dominant social order will not be carried out by romantics, dreamers, idealists, radicals, and anarchists…no, it’s still going to take some level of collective agreement, for a significant number of us to say, “I’m done with this shit. I’m tired. I’m stressed. And I see another way out. I see another way to exist that is significantly more rewarding.” And we all have to act on that, whether at first slowly and building momentum, or quickly, as in taking advantage of a social rupture. I don’t know, but those of us who are reaping the rewards of privilege, of riding on the excess of a First World economy, can’t create this on our own. We may be enjoying the experience, but it’s currently selfish and always tenuous. Without the support and defense and collective agreement with everyone else, we’re always at risk of losing this privilege and having the dream of new societies suffocated to death.
Is running an act of anti-capitalist resistance? I’d love to think so…but it’s really not. It’s an EXPRESSION of anti-capitalist resistance. It’s a REWARD of anti-capitalist resistance, of anti-authoritarianism, but for me, that’s what is important, that we all find ways to experience the rewards of self-reliance, of carving time away from our dominant social order that leaves us stressed, stepping on each other to climb higher on a pyramid of ever-decreasing opportunities, to live a small piece of the utopias we all have the abilities to create and share with each other.
Short of a completely chaotic, frightening social collapse, it may seem naive or childish to seek out completely transitional societies, but I disagree, and in the meantime, we can find ways to experience small transitions, whether through running, reading, baking, gardening, resource sharing (etc. etc. etc.), then share those rewarding experiences with each other, continuously work to keep those experiences from being integrated into the dominant social order, and see how far we can get to agree, collectively, that stopping this runaway train of absurdity (global warfare, environmental destruction, emotional tragedy, etc.) is in our individual and collective best interests.
For as long as I find the loopholes and the privileges to exploit the excess of the dominant social order, I will do so in order to run as free as I can, but always with the hope that I can extend these privileges and create the alternatives so that we may all do so, that we may all run free, that we may all live free. My friends and I can’t do this alone, and all it takes is an agreement that we’ll relate with each other, not against each other. I’m down if you are.
I’ve got 10 miles tomorrow…feel free to join me.