An interview with feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

on Liberal Cannibalism

Murray Bookchin on science

'Yes, I'm a product of Western culture; I believe in the importance of rationality, and yes, I believe that science is a way of arriving at the truth about objective reality. That hardly means that I think the world should be turned into a huge factory or a scientific laboratory, or even that science is the exclusive way to learn about reality. It's true that scientists can be bought and sold as easily as stockbrokers and lawyers, but science is also a very solid way of learning about reality, and it can't be regarded as totally conditioned by social factors, including bourgeois interests.' Murray Bookchin, 1999



2015 general election in England: some results and turnout

More than one third of the people able to vote did not turn out to vote. Greens scored the best results for their party, in votes, in the north and certainly the south of England. The Far Right UKIP, scored the best results for itself, in votes, in the east of England.
The elections became mostly a playground for the Right, parliamentary elections easily do in the UK where there is not only a significant lack of representation and real democracy. Mainstream media, with tabloids etc., in England are probably the worst in the whole west of Europe.
You can find an interesting analysis of the Labour party by Amit Singh, called 'The most embarrassing part of the election? Seeing people mistake Labour for a left-wing party' here.

Find out more about it all, but only if you really want to, here.


What to think of Slavoj Žižek?

There recently has been a quite heated Slavoj Žižek versus Noam Chomsky debate.
I regularly tend to not really understand what Žižek is trying to explain so I quite gave up on trying to. I have seen him talk in Antwerp many years ago and I tried to read a whole book of him, but what he writes just isn't interesting enough I think. My advice to those wanting to read contemporary radical philosophy: read writings like those of Murray Bookchin. I also learned much more from Noam Chomsky than from Slavoj Žižek.
Here is Slavoj Žižek's critique of direct democracy...
What Zizek does not understand: direct democracy does not go well together with State control at all, not now and not in the year 7013 either. He does not want to get involved politically all of the time in a community? So what? We don't need him to implement communal democracy in communities. Direct democracy is about voluntary participation, even often about majority decisions. Nobody has to participate when he or she does not want to participate.

The Occupy movement in North America and Europe

This first was published a year ago on the website of the Institute for Social Ecology:
Many people in Europe were surprised to see the Occupy Together movement become so big in North America, even those of the Left who had seen more and more interesting popular protests in the Middle East and the south of Europe in 2011, and had hopes that a similar kind of thing would happen in the USA and the north of Europe.
There was also the surprise of it all in Europe because mainstream media kept the protests quiet for a long time. But if you have a movement in North America that spreads to about 800 locations in just a few weeks time, you are not able to keep that quiet. And I had openly predicted that the mainstream media could not remain silent about it for a long time.
I first heard about Occupy Wall Street from Institute for Social Ecology member Brooke Lehman. And I thought: if she is so enthusiastic about it, I guess it must be quite OK. Before that, it was heartbreaking to see how much revolved in the States around the discourses of Obama versus the Republicans and the Tea Party. Obama was doing quite well in the polls, but still so many people in the US seemed to remain paralyzed by their fears for a new Bush , or a new president that would be even worse than Bush senior and junior.
And I thought: where did the Left and the liberals go to in the US, why don’t we hear more about them? The answer was coming soon after that. Just like in North America, the Occupy movement in Europe stepped into the spotlight after the alter-globalisation movement had stepped out of it.
Radicals and progressives in the north of Europe wanted to support the protesting masses in Spain and Greece, but also protests in the USA. And so, the Occupy together movement came at the right time. At the beginning of the autumn of 2011, Occupy groups were  soon established in many cities of The Netherlands and Belgium. And the same kind of thing seemed to happen in other European countries too: certainly in Germany and the United Kingdom. In France and the south of Belgium, many in the Left looked in the direction of Spain and Greece and started to call themselves “the indignants”, ready to defend “real democracy.”
I had never seen a Left in Europe so interested in democracy, especially direct democracy and popular assemblies. And much of the counterculture joined in too, a large amount of those who had been called hippies or punks for a long time suddenly seemed more interested in politics than in lifestyles. We were obliged to listen to the commands of the European Commission, the banks and the world leaders, but we were disgusted by it. We were tired of the fact that we had nothing to say about what was happening to us, or to the people we knew well in other parts of the world. Globalization had had several effects; one of them was the fact that we people of the Left in the west of Europe had friends in other parts of the world that were really suffering from the economic crisis, and the effects of the economic crisis started to affect us too.
Did Social Ecology play much of a role in the Occupy movement of Europe? No, but striving for direct democracy did, and the ideas and practices of Social Ecology helped much with that. The old ideologies (Anarchism, Socialism, Marxism, Ecology) suddenly seemed to matter less. We were all looking for a new way of being radical and found much of it in the ideas of popular assemblies and direct democracy becoming important in our struggles.
On the 15th of October 2011, 8000 indignants and occupiers walked in the streets of Brussels, demonstrating for more democracy in Europe. These protests soon spread to other cities in Belgium, like Antwerp and Ghent. The same winds of change blew in The Netherlands, where Occupy groups sprang up out of nothing in so many cities. Alternative media brought us news of popular revolts all over the World; soon after, even Africa seemed ready for an Occupy movement.
There has been much repression against the Occupy movement in Europe, not much less than in North America. And there is no “Occupy hype” anymore that the mainstream media are still interested in. Movements that resemble Occupy do get more media attention now, like a mass of people recently picnicking in the streets of Brussels as an act of civil disobedience to get the excess of cars out of the inner cities, or the student movement in Quebec. But Occupy Together certainly has added an impetus to the acts of revolting masses in Europe and North America, and it isn’t over yet.


What's new?

Daily news from me (in English only) on this site.


Social Ecologist Profile: Rafa Grinfeld of Antwerp, Belgium

[Editor’s note: We are very grateful to Rafa for his contribution to the Social Ecologist Profile series, especially considering English is not his first language.]
This interview appeared before at the Social Ecology Blog.

Please introduce yourself (What kind of work you do, Where you live, etc.)

I live in Belgium, that’s where I have lived almost all of my life. I have been mostly active here in the northern city of Antwerp, but certainly also a bit in large cities like Ghent and Brussels. And I like to be politically active when I’m travelling too.

I originally come out of the Anarchist movement and became really interested in things like eco-anarchism and social ecology more than 15 years ago.

I had much time to study and be active in radical groups, because I never did much paid work and State support for unemployed people could be worse here in Belgium.

How did you become introduced to the ideas of social ecology? How do you define social ecology when asked about it?

I first read about Social Ecology in the mid-nineties, in Anarchist Journals from the Low Countries. There was a Belgian philosopher called Roger Jacobs who wrote much about the work of Murray Bookchin, Roger J. also regularly wrote for these left-libertarian periodicals.

I got to meet Jacobs and started to know him a bit better, although he lived far away, in a Belgian region I never visited.

There were some action camps at that time in Belgium with much eco-anarchist inspiration. Just after visiting such a camp for the first time, I bought my first book of a Social Ecologist, it was called Toward an ecological society and written by Murray Bookchin.

At that time I did not know of any other Social Ecologists, much seemed to revolve around the work of Murray.

For defining social ecology, I think that the most known attempt to define it hasn’t been bad (considering that it is actually a whole new field of thinking and thus not that easy to define):

Social Ecology n 1: a coherent radical critique of current social, political, and anti-ecological trends. 2: a reconstructive, ecological, communitarian, and ethical approach to society.

This has been an influential definition so why not refer to it? But maybe I would rather say:

1: a coherent radical critique of current social, statecraft and anti-ecological trends. 2: a political, ecological and ethical approach to society. 3: a striving for communal and direct democracy.

I think that this second way of defining it is closer to defining what I would call social ecology in a strict sense. I often start with saying that it is much about making it clear that social and ecological problems are much connected with each other.

When I discovered a bit what social ecology was about, almost 17 years ago, I was much interested in anarcho-pacifism, and also in libertarian Marxism or other radical Left stuff. I quite enjoyed a concept at that time called Anarchist federalism (decentralizing the decision-making in a society and forming anti-authoritarian communes working together in a federation).

Five years before all of that happened I already had some young radical friends, I was 18 years old myself then and studied political and social sciences in Brussels.

Anyway, the radical thinking of Bakunin, Marx and others was not something completely new for me when I was in my late teens.

But it was Social Ecology and some for a long time in Latin America active writers like pedagogues Paolo Freire and Ivan Illich (he also was a radical ecologist), or the humanist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm that later really got me interested in the ideas of the radical Left.

I became more and more politically conscious and I managed to feel less bad about my academic failures while studying. Oh yes, I had really started to hate all of that schooling going on in Belgium and all that academic stuff really wasn’t my cup of tea, but it was difficult to do without those schools if I wanted to study and get subsidized by the State for it.

How does social ecology and/or your experience with the Institute for Social Ecology influence your current work?

The Belgian State still isn’t keen on the acts of civil disobedience I sometimes have fantasies about, but during the last six years it did show an interest in making me study Social work and subsidizing it.

I’m probably on my way now to being a social cultural worker with a good diploma, but I’m already 40 years old so unfortunately having it would not help me that much to find a paid job I like doing.

Recently I have been much occupied with writing a thesis, it’s mostly about climate change and ecological social work, I usually like writing texts or comments about politics and statecraft.

For that I often use the internet, but I more often appreciate having a face to face communication with people for it, so I regularly do that together with close friends and others.

In all of the things I do Social Ecology plays an important role. In lectures, writing, discussing with people in study groups (unfortunately, these are group activities less about politics and dialectical thinking than I want them to be), informing people around me, everyday life,…

What do you see as the greatest opportunities and greatest challenges for achieving a sustainable relationship between humanity and the wider world?

The greatest opportunities? Well, I think that the current movement against climate change and the role Social Ecologists play in it offers some interesting prospects for example, or the activities of people from the libertarian left who want to be active with media in a good way, interesting philosophers or social theorists, creative artists much into solidarity with the oppressed,…

A big challenge is finding solutions for the social and ecological problems we face, the ecological crisis and every other modern crisis. If the oppressed in the world find solutions for all of that we will have the sustainable relationship you refer to here.
Any great stories about being around the ISE?

I haven’t been much around the ISE but I learned much from the discussion forum it used to have a long time ago (it was called the ise-l, does anybody know if there are parts of these online discussions still available somewhere?).

The greatest experience is to be around many people knowing much about social ecology, that can really be special and quite trigger some new kind of thinking.


New contributions

You can find more information about the things I and other social ecologists do at the New Compass site, the Institute for Social Ecology site and on the facebook networksite.