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Where the Green Ants Dream: Aspects of Community in Six Parts

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Where the Green Ants Dream: Aspects of Community in Six Parts

©2002 Carol Becker, all rights reserved


Carol Becker is Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she is also Professor of Liberal Arts. She is the author and editor of several books, including The Subversive Imagination: Artists, Society, and Social Responsibility; Zones of Contention: Essays on Art, Institutions, Gender and Anxiety; and the recently published collection of essays, Surpassing the Spectacle: Global Transformations and the Changing Politics of Art. This paper was first presented at the Alliance of Artists' Communities Symposium on the Future of Creativity held in Chicago in November 2001.

 
Prelude

However we in the U.S. may have constructed our thoughts about the human species and its organization prior to September 11, such constructs have now come into contention. Had we been told what was about to occur, we would not have believed it possible; our imagination for actual, rather than virtual, disaster could not have stretched that far. Insulated as we have been, we could not have envisioned the cruelty of the act or the hatred behind it. The U.S. had become alarmingly self-satisfied and caught in a spectacle of its own creation. Before that day, our collective consciousness was unable to see the complexity and precariousness of our position in the world, despite the many warnings we did have. Tragically, that national sense of safety imploded with the twin towers. We are now able to acknowledge the ontological uncertainty we live with, consciously, constantly, every day, and we now understand that these dangers have been present for some time. A seriousness has come over the country, a gravitas, that was lacking prior to September 11. Consequently, there is an urgent desire to understand what led up to these events and to rethink discourse, language, and thought, coupled with a need to amass information and analyses-the tools of comprehension.

There is now a rent in the veil, and this powerful country, normally able to isolate itself from battles it often wages elsewhere, is forced to confront its global image, as well as its interdependencies, fragilities, and uncertainties. Issues such as personal and collective security, the short-and long-term health of the economy, the importance of government, and even the concept of the future have become central, as have words that previously only existed on the periphery of most Americans' consciousness-globalization, terrorism, Islam, suicide bombers, anthrax. But another word has taken on new and deeper associations-the word community. In the face of great catastrophe and loss, even New York City became a community. The nation also operated as a community, glued as it was to the same images for an excruciating moment that extended to a week, a month, six weeks.

September 11 highlighted that differences in location, culture, and states of consciousness have made others Other to us and us to them, and that it is as Other to each other that we too often remain. Existing as it does in both all space and no space, our species' nature is u-topian-of no place yet omnipresent, an idea, a state of being so basic to our self-understanding that it is often ignored. Yet, as we struggle to make sense of the differences among humans-those within our self-defined communities and those outside, those who are sympathetic to our version of modernity and those who are not-we also need to remember the samenesses, that among the billions and billions of categories of organisms that exist on this planet, from the cicadas in the garden to the cat at my feet when I began writing this essay, it is still with other humans that we share the greatest similarities. It is also as a human being that I identify my first and primary community and agonize-agonisesthai (Greek: bring into contention)-our failure to acknowledge the most basic needs and suffering of humans. At the same time, I am always searching for signs of success-manifestations of compassion for our shared humanity beyond national and cultural boundaries.

To approach the subject of community is to be thrust into complexity: the degree to which we are unrelated to so much of what defines individual societies-landscape, relations between men and women, indigenous produce--and yet are irrevocably interconnected. While we are unable to avoid the complexity of the world we have constructed, we are equally unable to avoid the complexity of ourselves-the mix of our contemporary desires with the longings that hearken back to other times. When we speak about community, are we not really asking, What types of relationships with others in our species we are capable of sustaining? And are we not also asking, What do humans need? What do we want, and what keeps us from actualizing these ideals?


Part I: Traditional Communities: Dreamin

While conceptualizing this essay I was staying in Eressos, a small Greek village, on the northern coast of the island of Mytiline, also known as Lesbos. Entranced by village life and intrigued by the meaning of my own atavistic desire to connect with the premodern, I spend quite a bit of time in such comforting, remote, but unlikely locations.

This village exists in two parts: one is the town of Eressos, a place made famous by the Greek poet Sappho, who lived here for a time when in exile. The other is the beach town, Skala Eressos, where natives and tourists go to swim. Some tourists come up from the beach to the plateia of Eressos for lunch or dinner-mostly lesbians from Germany, Italy, or Greece who are making pilgrimages to the site where Sappho lived. The villagers don't seem to mind the appearance of such otherness. They are not it; it is not them; the differences remain intact and create respectful curiosity. At a physical level, there is comfort in the size of Eressos, its placement on the top of a hill providing a vantage point for observation, the human scale of the buildings, the simplicity of structure--all white stucco or gray brick, modest trim in blue, green, red-an unself-conscious homogeneity of color and design positioned around a central plaza, or plateia, with four small kafenions and tavernas. It is not simply the arrangement of buildings that is satisfying, it is the way of life such order reflects and facilitates: the bakery, the fruit store, the grocery store all exist in modest proportions to serve the needs of the community. There is little waste. Each day only so much bread is baked, fish brought to sell, tomatoes or watermelons picked for consumption. When the shopkeepers run out of a product, it is over, finished, they say, until tomorrow. Only what is in season, only what can be carried from the fields, only what is desired; everything is dependent on locality and physicality, routine, ritual, and sameness.

In the village, it is much as it always has been. Old people are still integrated into daily life. They remain in their ancestral homes into old age, with the entirety of village life surrounding them. There is public space where they can sit and talk--women outside their homes, men in the cafes. The villagers have the companionship of others from their generation and friends who bear witness to the trajectory of their lives. They grow food in their gardens. No one has dramatically more than anyone else. If they did, they might choose to live elsewhere. They share the name days of the saints and celebrate their namings together-Evangelia, Marina, Maria, all holy days. Even the village has a patron saint whose name day is celebrated with a festival or panagyri. Here no one uses the word community. They don't need to. "Spoken of community (more exactly: a community speaking of itself) is a contradiction in terms." writes Zygmunt Bauman, "Organic communities just are."1

The village lives in a premodern condition, modernity and postmodernity move through it, but with one of the few Communist Party headquarters left in Greece, it is almost as it was 50, or even 100, years ago. Only the hardware store has a computer to keep track of what is in stock. What is comforting for the contemporary human organism in all of this? Probably the three things Zygmunt Bauman tells us humans have needed and continue to need from society: "certainty, security, and safety."2 It is interesting to observe how these desires coexist in us, how the memory of such a life lives on in the individual and collective imagination. The village represents a peasant life many residing in major urban centers of the U.S. would find ultimately boring and isolating, but most people would also respond to elements of its simplicity with a certain amount of relief. Many North Americans are descended from peasant stock. Although those who reach the middle class or above try hard to dissociate from these origins, there is nonetheless familiarity and comfort, for example, in not driving a car, hearing only the sounds of birds and goats, seeing a sky colonized by stars, swimming in clear water, and feeling safe to walk the labyrinthine streets any hour of the night.

As old men play backgammon and drink thick coffee-the latter a legacy of Turkish occupation--I listen to women speak of old age and their inability to walk as they once did, and I recognize yet again that this simplicity of day-to-day activities is occurring simultaneously with the hectic pace of life in Tokyo, Bangkok, New York, and Paris, even though the psychic space between these localities is immense. It is easy to romanticize the samenesses and the postmodern interventions that exist in all these spaces, but it is much harder to articulate the actual differences. So when intellectuals speak about the peripheries and the center, few imagine the distance that must be traveled between these spatial and nonspatial points of origin and destination if one wants to theorize accurately about the totality of the contemporary experience.

When we finally do bring our urban, modern, postmodern selves into direct connection with our own premodern desires for physical and psychic comfort, then we cannot fail to observe, as did Freud in Civilization and its Discontents, that civilization, as it progresses and becomes increasingly complex, does not necessarily make us happy. Since humans have created this world in which most of us live in the West, why do we not make it more habitable, for everyone? Is it because we are caught--our bodies seeking safety in scale, silence, and simplicity, while our minds race uncontrollably toward constant diversion? Or are our minds comforted by such calmness while our bodies seek stimulation? Why, the Frankfurt School of critical theorists might ask, are we evolving a world that does not satisfy our most basic desires? Or are we just trying to leave the body--an unrepentent vestigial organ-and are stuck midstream, still daunted by its urgencies? Where is our basic species nature located? Can it be transformed? What will happen if and when we are able to supersede our own animality? What shape might our desires take then?


Part II: Artificial Intelligence: Dreaming the Future


A recent film explored the nature of the "posthuman." In the Spielberg/Kubrick film AI , the creatures that evolve when humans have already become extinct, two million years after the beginning of the film (a time already in the future), are corporeal but ethereal. They emerge after the polar icecap has melted and much of the world is underwater, including all of New York. This new hyperintelligent species has never known humans, and so its members are very grateful to retrieve a cyborg boy from the bottom of the sea where, miraculously, he has been preserved in a sunken car for centuries. Although he is not human himself, he knew humans and, most significantly, was created by them in their image. This new species is anxious for the cyborg child to tell them all he knows about human life. Posthuman, post-cyborg, they are gentle and kind. They recognize that even this child, not of flesh, has residual desires programmed into him by his human creators. If they learn something about these desires, perhaps they will come closer to understanding the human species. With their extremely developed telepathic faculties, they can read his needs by merely touching his head with one of their elongated, diaphanous fingers. Living as they do in the world of simultaneous time and space, they are able to offer him the actualization of unfulfilled dreams from the past. This cyborg boy most desires his human mother, who has been dead for centuries. Although he is told that their technology is such that they can only return her to him for a day and then she will be gone forever, he accepts the terms. However brief, the experience of unconditional love is what he desperately wants to feel; it is something he never knew while she was alive, when she always favored her human son.

Once the cyborg boy and his human mother are reunited, they have a perfectly intimate, almost Oedipal, day together, and she does tell him how much she loves him. But when she goes to sleep that night she is gone forever and can never be awakened again. It is the most romantic and, of course, human version of love-ephemeral, touched with the inevitability of loss. Merging two disparate genres-science fiction and fairy tales, one looking forward, the other back--the story is a fairy tale of the future, a projection of what will be, founded on the unfulfilled idealization of what never was. Here, in this Spielberg-optimistic and Kubrick-dark amalgam of a sci-fi film, even the cyborg body-it alone beyond death and destruction-is programmed with the strengths and weaknesses of human emotions and, as such, can neither be fulfilled nor ignored for very long.

Spielberg is hearkening back to the love of the organic when the human world he is projecting has long moved beyond it, or used its ability to create cyborgs to establish new hierarchies--classes of beings divided between those of the flesh and those not of flesh. It is the organic that separates the classes in this future time when dominance, prejudice, and brutality still reign. But, ironically, it is the fabricated boy who survives and, more than all the humans in the film, is capable of valuing love deeply. He has suffered the humiliations of human capriciousness and cruelty, but his programmed desire for happiness through love, designed by humans in their projected image of themselves, has survived as an ideal for centuries.

What can we make of this allegory? Perhaps that humans live at a crossroads, desiring the evolution of their own ability to transform the organic and rid themselves of the inadequacies of the body forever, while longing for an intimacy of experience that we still associate with the body and its vulnerability. When we imagine the evolution of the species, it is often expected that the inevitabilities of the flesh-its degeneration, decay, and ultimate death, its ability to torment us with pain and desire--will be transcended because we humans, in the projected future, will be able to control whatever it will mean when we say the body. And we imagine that, freed from the biological body, we will also be free of the schisms caused by difference of race, class, ethnicity, and so we romanticize this technologically derived, liberated future. But Spielberg sees something else: what characterizes the species at all stages of its evolution is an inescapable longing for connection, intimacy, and community, all of which are often thwarted, while at the same time we are haunted by a profound insensitivity to the suffering of others who share the same desires and pains, whether they are organically or technologically programmed to feel them.

Spielberg is speculating on the future, and it is through a fiction about the future that we come to see the present-the degree to which we obstruct the possibility of community by replicating difference and maintaining the hierarchies of value that are used to justify brutality. As a filmmaker he is giving us a glimmer of how cyborgs might unbalance the social structures that exist. And in so doing he is warning us about how oblivious we are to the consequences of our inventions and what this could mean for the future of society. Science fiction has always presented the future to talk about the present. And fairy tales have always looked to a mythical past to talk about how the unconscious clings to this lost world and thus controls the present. What does it mean when such ideas are put into the public sphere-the place where individuals become citizens and as such ask difficult questions about society's direction? How do these ideas reflect the complex relationship of the individual to the society? And can we use this public space (in this case created by film) to help chart the evolution of the species and the progression of ideas about our own existence on this planet as they progress through art, popular culture, and other forms of social organization?

 
Part III: The Public Sphere: A Permeable Membrane

At this difficult moment in history, when the notion of space has taken on a new cyber dimension and time seems to have accelerated beyond what is healthy for the human organism, can we imagine a public sphere within which we in the U. S. could live and openly discuss the complex evolution of our species-life together? Could we construct a space in which individual desire could intersect with societal concerns, and we could debate those issues around which there is disagreement? Complicating this imagining is that it is unclear what constitutes the public sphere in America or exactly where the lines between private and public are drawn. Zygmunt Bauman writes:

It is no longer true that the "public" is set on colonizing the "private". The opposite is the case: it is the private that colonizes the public space, squeezing out and chasing away everything which cannot be fully, without residue, translated into the vocabulary of private interests and pursuits… For the individual, the public space is not much more than a giant screen on which private worries are projected without, in the course of magnification, ceasing to be private: the public space is where public confession of private secrets and intimacies is made.3

If Bauman's thesis is correct, then democracy itself, which is dependent on the debate of public issues in the public sphere, is seriously challenged.

I'm not sure when I first noticed that the U.S. had become a society of confession and that public space had been "colonized" with the "intimacies of private life,"4 that politics was no longer about issues, that newspapers seemed filled with gossip posing as news, that celebrities appeared on the Leno show to tell the public why they were getting a divorce, that Bill Clinton, when still president, was asked on television what type of underwear he wore. At a certain point it seemed there was no longer a public sphere, just a private sphere relocated to the public arena. Maybe it started in 1984 when Gary Hart, then running in the presidential primary, confessed adultery, wife at his side, on national television. I remember being shocked at the time by what is now familiar-- ritualized public acts of absolution. I thought, "To whom is he confessing? What community does he think cares?" If everything is now public, what are the truly private issues? And how does one understand the degree to which one's private problems are often rooted in social inadequacies whose solutions often rest in the public sphere? How does one make the link back from the personal to the societal? And if one does not, and if we do not, then what does the concept of society mean?

Most citizens are now compelled to seek "biographic solutions to systemic contradictions" and inevitably to "reduce the complexity of their predicament."5 And such behavior can only support the delusions of a capitalist system that blames the individual for his or her lack of success and citizens who do the same. Has the emphasis on the private collapsed the public, or has the death of the public-the residue of spectacle society-- overemphasized the private and therefore overshadowed any sense of public? Whatever the origin of this situation, it certainly has successfully reinforced individualism at the expense of citizenship and destroyed the belief in, and facility and desire for, dreaming new organizations of society into existence.

The act of dreaming a future for society has slipped out of fashion. Postmodernism as a philosophical/theoretical movement in thought and art-making has liberated us from certain hierarchies of value which needed to be displaced, but it has also made the notion of imagining any type of cohesive future appear sentimental and nostalgic. To believe in hope, to want to conceptualize the public good, to value one's role as a citizen, to believe in public discourse have all been labeled provincial or naive in this contemporary global debate. Yet without such imaginings, where are we--the human community--headed? We continue to want to talk about community within our new deterritorialized condition and yet we know that the distinctions of inside and outside, private and public, so fundamental to our notion of community, are in flux. From Bauman again:

Once information could travel independently of its carriers, and with a speed far beyond the capacity of even the most advanced means of transportation (as in the kind of society we all nowadays inhabit), the boundary between "inside" and "outside" could no longer be drawn, let alone sustained.6

Eric Hobsbaum observed, "Never was the word 'community' used more indiscriminately and emptily than in the decades when communities in the sociological sense became hard to find in real life."7 Or, as Jock Young writes, "Just as community collapses, identity is invented."8 Bauman continues, "Identity owes the attention it attracts and the passions it begets to being a surrogate of community: of that allegedly 'natural home' which is no longer available in the rapidly privatized and individualized, fast globalizing world…"9 Surely it is this "natural" home that we all still seek, like the lonely cyborg child, or perhaps only those of us raised in modernism, those who believe that there should be some place where we might transcend alienation and feel, if only for a time, safe and loved.

This new version of community that is called identity could be understood as that which emerges out of political conflict and/or repression. It could be understood as what comes after alienation when we separate one from the other and make our difference our defining quality. Or it could be understood as what stands in the way of real political interaction or meaningful change in the social order. It could represent the privatization of the political and social realms, or it could be a transitional stage to reach the political in a new, fuller way, one in which all difference is included in the debate. Such disparate interpretations of identity are fought out among those who claim strong identities as a place of community, but the origins of these feelings and what they tell us about the evolution of the nature of our understanding of community often remain unarticulated in public space. It feels at times as if "community" as a concept has come to mean smaller and smaller units of distinguishing characteristics and histories, more exclusive than inclusive, and rarely moving the species out from these groupings to embrace a greater whole.

In truth most of us live simultaneously in multiple states of consciousness and often identify with multiple communities. We are happy to acknowledge these complex identities and to find others whose identities also resist simplification. But in our need to cope with the ubiquitous nature of the global and our sense of impotence to affect it, many of us gravitate to more local, imaginable, and manageable communities. And so inevitably we land some place where we can negotiate inside and outside, private and public, self and other, individual and collective, and where we can function as individuals working with other individuals to bring something larger than our circumscribed identities into existence. Having found our own point of location, we inevitably bring to it our expectations of what humans can accomplish together-and are usually alternately satisfied and frustrated by what we learn from the exercise.

 
Part IV: Locating Locality

As the complexity of globalization, and one's opportunity for action within it, frustrate even the most sophisticated nomadic voyagers, finding a base that can serve as a platform for actualizing one's values becomes even more essential. It allows us to work for the present but also to dream for the future and perhaps to create an intentional community founded on certain agreed-upon principles. Of course, such self-conscious community-building mirrors the dynamics found in the larger society and therefore allows us to be more cognizant of what it takes to create coherent societies. Also, theorizing without a base can be dangerous. It makes us intolerant of all those who have constituencies to answer to and must, moment by moment, negotiate conflicting versions of reality. Praxis keeps us rooted-safe from hypothesizing in the ether.

The School of the Art Institute has been my location of practice for two decades. I did not set out to have the School be such a focus. Originally I came to teach literature and philosophy, but over time the combination of my own skills and the needs of the institution pulled me closer to the core. With others, I entered into the project we call the School. During this period I have been able to observe daily what it means to negotiate an historically based community of creative people and to help dream them and it into the future.

In art schools where past and future interweave, idealism about the work that is being produced, the values embedded in it, as well as the way in which such institutions are governed are omnipresent. On one hand, such art-making environments are the repositories of tradition-the places where skills and knowledge about art are passed from one generation to the next. On the other hand, they are places of great experimentation and innovation where leaps are made conceptually and practically, new forms developed, ideas generated, and cultural transformations absorbed--constantly. They are locations that help create the new but also are unsettled by it. They gain their identity in the local but are organically global-reflecting the art world. And they create a community for many people whose unique skills are often undervalued by the society at large.

As such institutions educate the next generation of artists and designers from places like Chicago and the rest of the world, they also help educate those who will be the ongoing audience for art and design. Art schools also extend the notion of a creative community to those outside the institution who are interested in the artists, designers, and thinkers who are brought as visitors; the shows mounted in the galleries; the films and videos presented in the film centers; and the public intellectuals sought out for their ideas. Colleges and universities organically extend the radius of their own communities, creating larger units of those motivated by similar passions. In this sense, such environments reach out to many.

When there is controversy and work shown in art schools and arts institutions comes under attack, then such institutions are thrust into another relationship with the public, and too often the drawbridges are pulled up and the institution becomes "us" and the society outside becomes "them." The world is then divided between those who speak the language of art-making and those who do not. Yet the negotiations that then ensue are often not unlike those of citizens seeking equilibrium between themselves and the collective.

Such environments are fragile because they constantly try to create a certain set of conditions that will allow for the development of creative work, such as a certainty of physical and psychic space. In this the efforts of these communities mirror the stability that humans require from society in general. The academics and staff who govern and run the institution day to day must provide a place for the students and faculty that encourages their creativity and allows for experimentation but are also capable of reigning them in when they extend so far as to endanger themselves or those around them. Students are in school to develop their own creativity, but not in isolation. Their interrogations may begin with issues of form, content, or successful execution, but should extend to create a contextualization for the work that is inclusive of the history of art-making, their immediate environment, as well as of the conditions of the world.

At the same time that faculty members are leading students through this process of self-reflexivity and helping them to develop a facility for making such evaluations, they are themselves also engaged in the same process-making work, evaluating it, contemplating difficult decisions, and putting ideas out into the public arena. They are also balancing the weight of the past with the discourse of the present and the risks necessary to influence the future. Art schools therefore resemble universities as well as factories, design offices, production houses, laboratories, and galleries. Yet there is uniqueness in art school training marked by this emphasis on process and visibility of work at various stages of development.

There is also the actual structure of the school--its governance, organization, curriculum, administration, and orientation to all these activities. It would seem that even the most creative people, able to envision a myriad of new forms and approaches to their own art-making, are often unable to create equally innovative, institutional structures to support their ongoing creative and pedagogical activities. Too often there is comfort in perpetuating traditionally perceived hierarchies between faculty and administration, as well as between faculty and staff. Unnecessary restrictions that attempt to privilege one form of art-making over another, to restrict the movement of students within the curriculum, and contain the physical environment in ways that are often counterproductive to students' creative development are often programmed into the structure. Such developments reflect a fear of the creative potential at the heart of the mission of these institutions. The contradictions of such unnecessary polarizations often go unexamined.

And, unfortunately, perpetuated at times within even the most curricularly experimental environments is an infantalized sense of helplessness, a perceived inability to change structures to make them suit the constantly evolving potential of a creative community. Although supportive of the idea of removing boundaries, faculty members and arts administrators may become frightened when the walls finally do come down. The anxiety of change and transformation exists in even the most creative people. In general, only a rare few are willing to leap into untested universes of production, and fewer still are willing to assume roles of leadership and then to understand such work as not only necessary, but creative.

As a result, these institutions, which bring such play and innovation into the world through educating the next generation of artists, can miss the opportunity to bring the same energy to their own organizational structures which, if liberated from the weight of tradition, could add so much to the public discourse about leadership and pedagogy. What can be learned from these environments, where governance, process, and creativity are central, is just how difficult it is to build and sustain truly creative communities and to communicate to a larger society what such environments actually achieve.

How can we develop creative leadership that encourages new concepts of community? What about those less tangible communities based on ideas and brought together outside institutions? Unrestrained by the specificity of place and tradition, what type of new terrain can they offer the imagination?


Part V: Ethical Communities


To the search for useful ways to talk about deterritorialized communities based on ideas, communities that take into account the contraries of the personal and the public, the local and the global, the human and the cyborg, the imaginary and the real, I add the notion of ethical communities. Such entities are brought into existence by people of shared values and are established around collective concerns such as globalization, world poverty, the living wage, racism, restorative justice, the environment, creative leadership, freedom of expression, and the continued manifestation of the creative spirit through socially concerned art and design production. Perhaps one is never so much at home as when in connection with others whose point of origin might be completely different from one's own, but whose deductions about the nature of society and its preferred values are the same as, or very close to, one's own. Such communities, founded around ethical evaluations of the necessary directions for society, might exist in what Buddhists call the "tenth world," the world of right now, the most present present, neither of the past nor the future, neither bound by place, institution, nor identity, dreamed into existence to address immediate concerns and committed to activism as a way of moving through the world effectively.

Together such groups could create what Pierre Bourdieu calls "realist utopias"-visions of new futures, as far as one can see, that are able to incorporate the concept of the "human," which is being reconfigured daily, to move beyond those polarizing issues of identity that become new borders or roadblocks inhibiting the development of "species being." In this concept Marx tried to encompass the full range of potential within which the species could best use its own capacities of reason and imagination. It is an important concept to bring back into discussion, because it allows us to imagine again the notion of the potentiality of the species to evolve. What are we capable of imagining and bringing into existence, not simply because we can but because we truly believe such innovations of thought will improve the lives of everyone? Peace movements, for example, have brought together widely dispersed groups of people who may not agree on much else but share the goal of peace. Ecology movements have done the same. And now, in spite of geographical distance, new types of unimagined communities have already been brought into existence. Such groups mobilize their actions over the Internet.

A recent example of such an ethical community is the "anti-globalization" movement. It was the absence of geographic boundaries that first characterized this community. But I am not sure what form anti-globalization activities will take now that such new horrific meaning has become attached to this discourse by acts of terrorism launched against the symbols of global capital. It is clear that on one hand, the rapid move to globalization from business, industry, and governments will not be turned back. The forces propelling it forward are too intense, the profit margin for many too great. Yet there is an increasing concern about who is being excluded from the new "global village." A movement of young people, trying to bring conscience to this run-away train, became an international mobilization of resistance that used the vehicles of technology to convene, so to speak, its group meetings. And these protesters certainly kept the heads of state on alert in Seattle, Prague, and in Genoa. However theatrical the actions of these groups are, and however futile their tactics may at times seem, they are deeply concerned with issues that, for the most part, do not affect them directly and are outside their local, personal spheres of interest. They are willing to travel great distances and put themselves at risk in order to communicate the injustices of global capitalism, and they are willing to assume that role until national leaders recognize such concerns and address them. The anti-globalization activists want to make apparent something many average citizens have already come to understand: "Our dependencies are now truly global, our actions, however, are, as before, local."10 And for some it is precisely the local that is being affected by globalization, economically and culturally, leaving people impoverished on both fronts.

These activists are articulating universal fears about a world both exploding in complexity and speed of ideological change and shrinking in its intricate interconnectedness. These fears were manifested through the catastrophes in New York and Washington. Not only were those metropolitan centers deeply wounded by the events of September ll, the economies of places as far-flung as Hawaii, Switzerland, and Japan were affected as well. The acts of destruction were targeted at high finance and government, but they affected thousands of small businesses, factory workers, city workers, and artists, tumbling everyone into an already looming economic recession. No events could have been more local and yet, in cause and effect, more global.

As a way of understanding and articulating our present economic and social systems, we can look to ethical communities to understand how we think about our present and how we might think about our future.


Part VI: Where the Green Ants Dream


How can we reconcile contributing claims of community-the premodern and the contemporary, the public and private spheres, the creative and reactionary, the local and the global? I turn here to the work of an artist whose vision of the intersection of incongruous meetings of cultural difference have often allowed such contraries to coexist.

Werner Herzog's l985 film, Where the Green Ants Dream, is in part about such extreme polarizations of life styles and values. Central to the plot is a confrontation between a group of aboriginal Australians and mining representatives who plan a series of explosions that they hope will yield valuable minerals. A young engineer chooses the site of demolition based on the richness of the ore to be found there. He is about to detonate the explosives when a group of aboriginal elders arrives to protect this site from violation.

We can easily imagine what happens next: the Australian aborigines, centered around a connection to the land, indigenous communities, ancient wisdom, and dreaming, stand in direct opposition to the mining company, which is run according to capitalist principles that affirm profit and the illusion of "progress" as the motivators of action. For the aborigines this is sacred land. They believe that at this precise location the green ants are dreaming the universe into existence. If the ants are awakened, or the coherence of their dream disturbed, chaos might be unleashed and the planet obliterated.

What is apparent throughout the film is that speed is the most destructive force. The strength of the aborigines rests in their patience. They stop the project by slowing it down-sitting on the earth, chanting, and praying, while refusing to move. They inform the young geologist that they represent 40,000 years on earth, and during that time they have not destroyed the land as the white man-a relative newcomer-has already done. Understanding the earth as they do, they have time on their side. They move slowly, refusing to be rushed. And the explosives are finally halted. The young geologist, deeply affected by the clarity of their vision and their power to actualize it, drops out of the center of modern life to join them on its peripheries. The aborigines not only win the battle but win over his consciousness as well.

Placing a high value on dreams and dreaming has been central to many aboriginal societies. We know this from studying indigenous American cultures like the Ogala Sioux, for whom dreams dreamt by holy men were taken so seriously that at times they were enacted by the entire tribe. We know that in indigenous cultures what is seen in dreams often becomes conscious subject matter for art and music. But in U .S. society, one of the most utilitarian of all societies, little value is placed on dreams and dreaming. We seem unwilling to affirm the integration of myth and the unconscious with consciousness.

Dreaming for the future, Pierre Bourdieu tells us, is not likely to occur in "people who lack a hold on their present." And certainly this characterizes contemporary U.S. society in general.11 But there are people, even now, who are constantly reimagining not just their future but also their present, and the present and future of the collective. They are the creative minds that one must turn to at times like this, when the world is sent into turmoil and the failure of a coherent vision for our own society's future is all too apparent. They are the green ants dreaming. They make the "art," as Bauman writes, "that transforms the improbable into the inevitable."12 And they create innovative structures that help humanity. Were such values central to the prevailing contemporary U.S. society, those who make their life's work the dreaming of the future of the society, not for their own economic aggrandizement but for humanity, would become its most valued citizens. Such creative people dream their dreams for the future on many fronts and can be found working in health care, education, numerous NGOs, environmental agencies, and in their studios as artists, designers, and intellectuals. The work of dreaming the future is at the core of the lives of such people and of such communities. Creative activist organizations are not only against but also for. No longer solely convened by place but also by ideas. Such communities, Zizek suggests, can help us move from a society that says, as many citizens have in response to September 11: "A thing like this should not happen HERE!" to, "A thing like this should not happen ANYWHERE!"13 Such a simple shift could change America's approach to its own citizens, its foreign policy, and to the world.

It may be that globalization is truly the "revenge of the nomads,"14 and movement has won out over staying put to redefine for many the notion of community as no longer only local and particular but global and inclusive. And it may be that the positive radicalness of this is that the hierarchies previously created to maintain oppressive forms of order will be transformed. But without a vision for how to use this potentially positive "disorder," new boundaries will be created along new lines. We have been watching such polarizing discourses enter the language every day since 9/11. Without a sense of history, without a re-cognition of what has come before, new divisive patterns and hierarchies will simply replace the old. If we have learned anything from watching the destruction of the World Trade Center, it is that the notion of progress is contested territory. One community's definition of progress is another's nightmare and target for destruction. Progress, as we have understood it in the West, can be obliterated. Its dominance is not inevitable.

Although it is fashionable to assume that in this century communities will become predominantly exterritorial, nongeographic, nonphysical, and that place itself will be irrevocably "devalued,"15 there is still no doubt that what many crave is something as traditional, local, and essential to democracy as the Athenian agora, the public/market space, where ideas as well as goods are exchanged. The impetus for such space, whether actual or cyber, is to create a location where humans can meet as citizens to do the business of society, enjoy the company of others, and imagine engaging the process of the future together. Such places are also where humans can come together to mourn collective tragedy-another form of community-that has turned a city as urban and urbane as New York into a village, where the local newspaper, the New York Times has committed itself, for a year, to telling the stories and showing the faces of all who died on September 11. We might hope that similar gestures of respect and mourning will extend beyond our national borders, so that it will be clear to all Americans that, just as innocent people were killed in New York, innocent people have also died in Kabul and in Pakistan, and that we are now deeply connected to these tragedies and will continue to be for decades. We know that there is no getting over what happened on September ll. And just as many people are struggling now to learn all they can about Afghanistan and Islam, many have already expanded their boundaries of the local to include for example, the contested lives of women in that country. Such issues now have become part of the West's collective concern.

Without recognizing how deep and potentially powerful are these desires for an ethical/humane response to the needs of others-through activist projects, and acts of compassion, in physical space as well as in ideas--all visions of future communities will not satisfy, because they will deny the originary community, the one we all share and, like all organic communities, rarely discuss-our humanity. The collective project of our species is to engage in its own conscious evolution beyond individual identity, difference, and nationhood. Its success can best be measured by how well we care for, protect, and value each other's lives. Such basic aspects of community take place in the tenth world of the most present present and should exist at the core of our species nature. But, of late, these most basic commitments to the protection, continuity, and improvement of human life have been seriously endangered.


 

1. Zygmunt Bauman, Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World (Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2000), p. 12.

2. Ibid., p.72.

3. Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society (Malden, Mass.: Polity Press, 2001) p. 107.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., p. 106.

6. Community, pp. 13-14.

7. The Individualized Society, p. 151.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. The Individualized Society, p. 149.

11. Ibid., p. 29.

12. Ibid., p. 32.

13. Slavoj Zizek, "Welcome to the Desert of the Real," circulated on the Internet, November 2001.

14. Individualized Society, p.35.

15. Ibid., p. 38.