Values for Progressives (Love & Work, Pt. 3)

Two Kilimanjaro guides play checkers on a 7x7 board (Photo by Author)

People struggle to live their days as they wish to live their lives. In lieu of being able to live as we wish to live, we make deals with reality. Our desire for a career becomes a desire for a job, our desire to see the world becomes a desire for a holiday, and our desire for love becomes a constant vacillation between idealism and weary rationalisation.

Politically, we move from wanting to make the world different to merely making it better. We dance with the devil and tell ourselves it couldn’t be any other way. Our ambitions slowly transform from picket lines to picket fences — from freedom to security.

Our values are closely tethered to our sense of what is possible. In order to have meaningful values, we must possess a grand imagination.

The implicit assumption here is that you, the reader, are restless and dissatisfied with where we are heading. For a few, it is enough to hitch their wagon to whatever ideas prevail in the moment. I write for the rest of us.

“We can despair of the meaning of life in general, but not of the particular forms that it takes; we can despair of existence, for we have no power over it, but not of history, where the individual can do everything. “ — Albert Camus

What I offer here today is a set of progressive values, drawn from the power of imagination and my experiences in Tanzania. These values are a way to confront life as it is, clear-sighted, and begin the work of progressive transformation. They should be read as a sequence or hierarchy, with each value dependent on the one that precedes it.

  1. Freedom.

The Matrix offers a popular metaphor for the process of becoming free. In the movie, Neo takes a pill which allows him to see reality as it is. Slavery is the world pulled over our eyes to blind us from truth and to be free is to simply pull that world away. It can be done all at once, as if seeing the world were only a matter of drawing the blinds.

A less popular but more accurate view of freedom comes from the cult film They Live, in which the protagonist puts on glasses in order to see how the world really works. The glasses suggest that to be free — which is to say, to see the world as it really is — we need to add something: A critical lens. This lens is cultivated through education and experience. It is the work of learning to see the world as a history of ideas. It is a highly destructive process and although it is liberating, it is a painful liberation.

The work of becoming free is therefore the work of becoming educated. Freedom, not as a desired state but as a value put in to daily practice, manifests as an anarchistic squint — an ongoing scepticism of heroes, power and idolatry.

2. Hope

Freedom involves surrendering many of the consolations we take for granted; Hope is the one thing you needn’t surrender. In the ruins of destroyed idols, hope is the work of planting new seeds. It is an action rather than a belief.

The connection between imagination and progressive values is strongest when it comes to hope. It is here that our imagination finds experimental practice. It is the future at its most nascent.

3. Frugality

Frugality not only of money, but also of time and attention. The work of personal and progressive transformation involves the filtering out of what isn’t important so we can focus on what is.

Frugality as a value is undergoing a resurgence. People are being encouraged to work less and disconnect from technology. The spare aesthetic of Japanese Buddhism is in vogue in architecture and design. The #1 self-help book at the moment is Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

A one sentence summary of the book would be this: We must be careful about what we choose to value.

4. Noticing

When walking through the bush, it is when we are quiet and still that we might notice an Echidna foraging or hear a bird’s song. Similarly, it is when living frugally in the present that we have the opportunity notice emerging futures.

When I met Bernard Kiwia (#2 in Love & Work Pt.2), it would’ve been easy to simply pass by his home. On close inspection, his home demonstrated technologies and ideas that not only offer a pathway out of poverty but suggest that some of the best ideas for cradle-to-grave production and consumption may emerge in the global South. Through noticing, our world can be turned upside down.

5. Openness

All values lead to openness. The opportunity for openness occurs in the moment of noticing. It is an opportunity to move beyond mere curiosity or academic interest in to the realm of personal and social change. This is the process by which we can transcend ourselves and foster a wild love for the world and one another.

At it’s most spiritual, this is a grand intermingling of us and the world we inhabit — a loss of the ego. At its most humble, it is the intermingling of two hands, such that you cannot tell where one person ends and the other begins.

Hey! This post is part of a series. It started with Love and Work, and then I wrote about Five Peak Experiences in Tanzania. Next week, I’m going to talk about the ways progressives get derailed in their efforts to produce change. It’ll be spicy.

I work at the intersection of arts, media & social impact || W: www.adendate.com