January 30th, 2012 by Darin Robbins

The Occupy movement is an example of a case where demanding the impossible instigates real incremental change to be possible.

When the Occupy movement emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, many in the media refused to acknowledge that it had a coherent set of demands or solutions. Over time, the reporting of the movement diverged widely from the reality of the various occupations across the country. Each encampment, itself an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, conducted a General Assembly where direct consensus-based democracy occurred. It was through this process that demands were articulated and solutions proposed. But since direct democracy is a very rare phenomenon at this time in the United States, the media and various pundits refused to recognize it as a valid method for organization and expression, let alone as a way to put forth demands and solutions. Corporate power, and the limiting of real democracy through a representative form of government, has made direct democracy seem to appear as a foreign element in the American tradition. However, as historians such as Howard Zinn have shown when discussing the various social movements of this nation, direct democracy has been one of the main methods for self-organization. And as David Graeber has demonstrated, direct democracy even preceded ancient Greece in one form or another in various tribal societies. In other words, there is a long history of this type of political organization but it has been excluded from the narrative of the West for so long, or pacified by being converted into the republicanism of the state, that it does not have the chance to speak in the language that many are used to. Current forms of power have made that impossible. Therefore, the demands made by the Occupy movement would at first seem impossible, or so out of step with the status quo that it could be targeted as being idealistic, utopian, or naïve. Divorced from the master narrative of the republican form of government and capitalist economy, the ideas of ending corporate personhood and ending corporate funding of electoral campaigns on their own seem both practical and concise. It is when it is outside of the structure of meaning and its corresponding structure of power that it can be defined as impossible. But the sudden rise of this movement is an example of how new ideas can be injected into the existing system so that the system itself transforms and realigns what it considered possible and impossible. In order for the possible to even begin, there must be a demand for the impossible.

The best way to understand this possibility of the impossible is to make use of the political implications of object oriented ontology as put forth by Levi Bryant. Object oriented ontology claims that the only things that exist are objects. Objects can be made up of other objects as parts, and each object on each level can exist independently of the other objects that are in relationship to it. Each object will have qualities that are always external to the relationships and interactions they will have with other objects. This is in fact the foundation of their objective independence. This existential schematic takes an interesting turn when applied to things that are not usually seen as objects such as social systems, economies, or political structures. Human individuals can be seen as parts of social aggregates, each part existing in surplus of the relationships within that aggregate. The more integrated or closely knit the relationships, the more these relationships are an organization of unified social systems. A system in this sense is a uniform equivalence of an aggregate. On the other hand, aggregates are always unique differences of systems. Systems serve to make all of its parts uniform and to be subservient to that system. The only purpose of these parts is to perpetuate the system. Aggregates emphasize the diversity of parts and their subsequent independence. Parts can enter into different relationships and have the potential to form other kinds of aggregates. There is a constant struggle of a social grouping between being a system or being an aggregate. The state is an example of the structural formation of systems, while the political is an example of the structural rupture of aggregates. The political disrupts the state by placing all issues up for debate or deliberation by the individuals within the society. The political dislodges fixed terms and overturns all ubiquitous or assumed hierarchies. Therefore, when the political is taken to its logical conclusion, it is an equality of the subjective and the objective in reality. This is in keeping with the original findings of object oriented ontology, and includes a revolutionary political aspect. The political aspect is one where parts as human individuals have the freedom to be more than the relationships they enter into when they become part of a unified state. In other words, this independent nature allows for things to be structured differently.

Structures, especially political, cultural, and economic structures within a society, develops a certain degree of unity that is more than the sum of its parts. But there is a price to be paid when structures act as the organization of reality. Each of the parts can become subsumed under the structure in question and lose the traits that make them exist independently. Jacques Ranciere has proposed that each organization of reality is also a partition of the sensible, which means that each partition of the sensible is an inclusion of some parts while excluding other parts. Within the structure, the inclusion and exclusion of parts appears as a ubiquitous necessity, and looks to be completely natural. External to these structures is the fact that this supposed ubiquitous necessity is really incomplete and consistent, where things can be organized or included in a different way. These structures are themselves part of a larger reality, and when seen in this perspective one can realize that the incomplete and consistent nature of structures is itself a contradiction between the structures and an overall reality. When this contradiction between structures and reality is made apparent, there is then a disruption of these structures by reality. The disruption of structures by reality creates a space for truth, where parts that were previously excluded and thus made invisible are included and can take an active role in the formation of new structures. The newly formed space for truth is a change of ethics, where what was once considered a ubiquitous necessity is now an apparent contingency. Through ethics, individuals are able to actively discover what is the best set of practices with no predetermined values, and in this apparent contingency humans can engage in immanent change of transcendent structures.

The demand for change by the Occupy movement is a demand for the impossible in the sense that the movement wants to include individuals who have previously been excluded from political structures, and thereby would be considered nonexistent in those structures. These demands are not physically impossible, for example passing an amendment banning corporate personhood or making corporate donations to electoral campaigns illegal can be done fairly easily. The real struggle lies in making this possible within the status quo of transcendent political or economic structures that upholds a certain hierarchy. The movement tries first and foremost to make what was previously invisible visible by bringing up issues that have been deliberately excluded, while using new political practices with those issues that were considered impossible in the current form of the state and representative government. The General Assemblies intrude on what was considered possible in terms of form, and discussions about income inequality or corporate personhood intrude on what was considered possible in terms of content. When these new parts are included, and demand to be part of the structure, they act as a catalyst that disrupts the uniformity of the structure and rearranges its order in such a way as to better accommodate the people who participate. The resulting change of structures, or outright creation of new structures, is immanent to the people who engage in it. When the structure changes through direct democracy and an expanded deliberation on issues, it allows a space for the potential of humans to be expressed. And these participating humans have this potential because, as objects in reality, they have qualities that are never exhausted by the various relationships they enter into. Each human, and each object, has a surplus in their being that allows for the world to be different than how it seems to be. That is in many ways the inherent message of the Occupy movement. The world in its political and economic structures can be different. Humans are not trapped by this particular structure of the state and capitalism, and they do not necessarily have to obey this order that forces them to conform to the structure rather than the structure serving human needs. The independence that each object has is a type of freedom that is best defined as the autonomy of self-determination. This autonomy allows for inclusion in order to change monolithic structures so that they become an extension of human collective action. Object oriented ontology can help explain the Occupy movement by articulating a new methodology for the expression of freedom.

Making the impossible possible requires a new set of practices that makes the best use of the potential nature of humans, their inclusion in structures, and the resulting change of those structures. Prefiguration, also known as creating the new world in the shell of the old, is the best way to describe this new practice. At each occupation site, new social relationships were formed alongside food distribution systems, electrical power systems, and even libraries. Coupled with the General Assemblies, these were new models for how the old structures could be changed or replaced. Instead of waiting for sudden revolution or incremental reform, prefiguration builds the new models so that they are ready to replace the old structures. As these models are built and begin to function, they tend to either offer people new choices or come into play when the old structures begin to fail. In either case, the surplus qualities of humans allow them to transition to these new structures while at the same time breaking through into the old structures that have always excluded them, or at least included them in a limited and controlling way. Each human has the ability to form different structures, as can be seen at the occupation sites, but when new participants are included in the status quo the overarching uniformity is disrupted. This means a complementary action to the occupation sites, and this is where entities like the Green Party can contribute. The Green Party has two main branches of activity, the activism side and the elections side, engaging in both activities simultaneously. In order for a productive partnership with the Occupy movement, activism must be defined as prefiguration. This prefiguration results in an external democracy. Electoral campaigns involves being part of the political representation in government, and so this representation is an internal democracy. The resulting reciprocity of activism and elections allows for an internalization of the external democracy, and the internalization of the external democracy is the subsequent change of the internal democracy. The Green Party, working both inside and outside of the state, can act as midwife to the prefigurative actions of the Occupy movement, bringing these new structures into the established order. People would then have more options to choose from, and in fact would have the option to drop out of the old structures entirely. This facilitation of new political models completes the process of making the impossible possible. The Occupy movement creates new relationships, and the Green Party can help to include these relationships into the old structures. In both cases, what one can see is that if it is physically possible in reality then it is never impossible in the political or economic realm.