December 28th, 2009 by Darin Robbins

A process toward democracy is also a process toward sustainability, and the two approaches support each other through an emphasis on immanent structures.

Democracy and sustainability have been two important elements within various leftist movements for at least the past twenty years. They have been addressed separately involving very vital issues of the environment and empowerment of the people, but there is also a deep connection between the two that may not be obvious at first. Some have argued that true sustainability is possible only through a unilateral top-down type of public management, but the goals that can be achieved through sustainability are most compatible with a democratic society. It is important to describe the characteristics of democracy and sustainability in order to see how they can converge and complement each other in such a way as to realize justice and the survival of ecosystems in tandem.

The nature of a true and authentic democracy must be distinguished from democracy used as a way to manage or regulate the will of the people. When democracy is seen only through a representative government, it diminishes its potential as a tool for free agency. Representation is a form of political alienation that assumes that one representative can encompass the multiple wills of many constituents. Their opinion is removed from their direct choice, homogenized into one mandate from the people, and presented back to them as it ignores or marginalizes the minority opinion. It is impossible for the diversity of constituents to be properly personified by one representative alone. A reliance on representation constructs an artificial majority opinion that serves to reproduce the overall government structure much more than express what people actually want in their government. In contrast, direct democracy is the equal distribution of power. Direct democracy does not rely on representation to be able to mediate between each individual and the collective identity, and the immanent structure that is direct democracy is a balance between freedom and equality. Democracy in this sense is a particular expression of the political sphere that is set within the general background of the social field.

Sustainability can follow the same pattern of immanence. Growth, as the antithesis of sustainability, is the reproduction of hierarchy that in turn appropriates the surplus that is produced. The development of a model of growth expands the systems that people become dependent upon. When growth reaches a limit, the widespread structural collapse can have great effects on the environment and the people within it. However, sustainability promotes the idea that the natural world is the life support system for all life, organized as a finite whole made up of consistent parts. Each ecosystem is such a finite whole that tries to achieve dynamic equilibrium. Dynamic equilibrium is when recurring inequalities or imbalances in a system are able to stabilize, and this stabilization is not eternal but must also be recurring in order to make corrections in the system. This dynamic equilibrium can also be described as a mixture of partial difference and partial equivalence within the system. Sustainability is a particular expression of extropy, also known as reverse entropy, within the general background of entropy. Sustainability is the self-organization of an ecosystem. Just as democracy is a specific and immanent political organization, sustainability is a specific and immanent ecological organization.

Both democracy and sustainability deal with immanent structures and their relationship with the commons. An immanent structure can be the most effective method in real direct democracy. This real direct democracy can also be referred to as the democracy of the event. Constituent power is the creation of a democracy of the event and this type of power is the creation of structures to fulfill political goals. In contrast, constituted power is the power exerted within political structures such as a government or nation-state. Constituent power creates the structures that have an internal constituted power, and this constituted power tends to obscure the original constituent power that established it by taking on the appearance of being from a transcendent source such as nature or God. In other words, constituent power creates a government and constituted power is the power of leaders within a government. When constituent power creates a democracy of the event, this democracy uses an immanent form. This immanent form is an apparent aggregate of people who are self-aware at all times of the democracy’s functions and its structure. Participants are able to exercise distributed power equally with the constant understanding that the political structure is their creation to express their free agency.

The commons is the availability of the world to humans outside of limited property relationships, and is the initial way individual humans engage reality before they enter into society. The commons of ideas, where the communication of an idea multiplies its use, is an artificial commons that deals with immaterial elements. When one transfers an idea they do not lose the ability to use it as the other person uses it, and so it exists beyond the concept of property involving scarce resources. From the one of the commons of ideas emerges the many of social relationships. The commons of the environment, that is limited physically, is a natural commons that deals with material elements. Unlike the commons of ideas, there are scarce resources that must be shared by humans, animals, and plants. From the one of the commons of the environment emerges the many of material relationships within ecosystems. But the artificial commons and the natural commons both serve as backgrounds for human activity to be possible, and this requires an immanent and self-aware approach in order to make the most of these two commons. The proper structures that are expressed from this background of the commons are immanent structures, and this creation of immanent structures for the purpose of democracy or sustainability can remain immanent if they are created at the local level.

The interaction of immanent structures with the commons, in order to practice both democracy and sustainability, is based on how the social field arises from reality and becomes apparent. Reality acts as the ubiquitous background to this apparent expression of the social field. The emergence of society from reality is the emergence of structures that are an external discontinuity from reality. Society makes itself different from the reality that contains it. The social structures themselves maintain an internal continuity as it distinguishes itself from the overall outside reality. These structures are made up of parts of reality, but the relationships binding these parts together are intrinsic to the form of these social structures. In other words, there are the open external parts of reality and the closed internal relationships of the social field. Reality, when it is the background to society, has the sole necessity of being the contingency for various possible formations. This contingency is the only thing that is necessary in reality. Within the social, there is the contingency for necessity when social structures are formed. The social field allows the possibility for a standard or sensibility of what is necessary. Necessity is constructed within the social field.

The emergence of society is a formation of distinct structures from reality, but this is also the formation of a self-awareness of how the structures exist and operate. This transition from the ubiquitous to the apparent allows individuals to experience the structural relationships that bind parts together alongside the parts of reality. The structures can be classified as material structures of objects as well as immaterial structures of ideas. There can also be either objective structures or subjective structures. Objective structures can be created independently of human experience, but subjective structures are shaped by the human mind. Humans can use objective structures, but they create subjective structures specifically for human purposes. The knowledge that can be acquired and the change that can be enacted is an apparent subset of the ubiquitous surrounding reality. The emergence of self-awareness when the social field is formed results in the creation of immaterial and subjective structures from material and objective structures. Democracy and sustainability must both use immanent structures and the commons to be most effective. These immanent structures are developed within the social field in an apparent way in order to make sure that conscious and deliberate action can be taken to promote empowerment as well as preserve the ecological life support system.