The Good Societies project launched on the 15th April 2018 with an introductory workshop followed by festivities. The aim was to introduce the concept and aims of the project and to brainstorm with the group where we want it to go. The basic structure of Good Societies consists of a monthly workshop (every second Sunday of the month) and a monthly reading group (every last Sunday of the month). All events are designed to get us thinking about what kinds of societies we want to live in and develop ideas for new social structures.
The format of the workshops isn’t fixed, but the basic idea is that someone will share knowledge on a particular topic, which we’ll then go on to discuss either in small groups or all together. In the reading group we’ll discuss specific texts, alternating between fiction and non-fiction. We hope that mixing things up like this will on the one hand help us open up our imaginations and on the other hand allow us to learn about concrete proposals for alternative social arrangements.
The opening workshop was split into two parts. The first part was designed to get us talking about what a good society meant to each of us. The second part focused on what participants wanted from the project – what kinds of topics to tackle and events to organise. It was a great thing to witness the energy and inspiration that came out of the discussions.
What is a good society?
We broke this question into three sub-questions – one about gender, one about work, and one about the control and distribution of resources.
Would gender exist in a good society?
In the gender discussion there was quite a lot of agreement that gender in some form would probably exist in a good society and that it would exist in relation to other kinds of social identity, but that it would be more fluid and open, that people would have more choice in their identities, and that social norms and pressures with regard to gender would be minimised. One participant put it this way: yes to gender, no to gender roles. Bodies, desire and consensual sex were to be celebrated.
Would we have to work in a good society?
Again, there seemed to be a consensus that some work would have to be done in a good society – nobody for example seemed to think it would be possible or desirable to automate everything. Inevitably, this led to discussions about what was meant by the term ‘work’ – is it paid labour or is it all kinds of productive activity? Is it something that we have no choice but to do or is it connected to our passions and vocations? Many thought that everybody should have some responsibility to make sure basic needs are met, but that work should be less coercive – the link between work and survival would be severed. The majority seemed to think that paid work would continue to exist but that work would be organised and valued differently. Care work, for instance, would be much more highly valued, and jobs would be more mixed. Everybody would be involved in making management decisions, and everybody would have to take on some menial tasks – doctors would sometimes have to clean their hospital’s toilets, and cleaners would also be managers. Slavery would not exist, as it does in our current societies.
How would resources be controlled and distributed in a good society?
The assumptions behind this question were challenged right off the bat: ‘resources’ implied that everything belongs to humans and is there to satisfy our needs and desires. Instead, we should move away from such a human-centric point of view, and see land, water and air as belonging to the earth and to be shared among species. As well, private ownership and profit-making were questioned, especially when it came to the meeting of basic needs, and many thought that decision-making should be kept as local as possible. In cases where large areas and groups of people were concerned, decision-making could be nested, with representatives of each community contributing to decision-making at higher levels. Lastly, it was pointed out that the scarcity with which we live is no longer necessary, and we should start thinking instead in terms of abundance.
What do we want from the project?
We asked participants what kinds of topics they’d like to have workshops on and what other kinds of activities they’d like Good Societies to do.
Popular ideas for workshops included:
- The economy, work and money
- The commons
- Kinship, family and communal structures
- Migration, mobility and borders
- Race and racism
- Local organising
- human/non-human relations, animal rights
- The idea of fairness
- Surviving in our current societies
The aim is to develop workshops collaboratively – so the group decides on topics for workshops and in many cases members of the group also lead the workshops. On other occasions, when we need people with particular knowledge, we can invite people to lead workshops. We’ll be contacting people who volunteered to give workshops over the coming weeks and months.
People were enthusiastic about social activities – parties, potlucks and picnics! This was a good reminder for me that these kinds of activities aren’t just frivolous or marginal, they’re really important opportunities to get to know people and share ideas. Plus they’re fun.
Other suggestions were meeting and trying to influence politicians and those in powerful positions, screenings, and working with artists, designers and other makers. Playful activities like games designed to explore particular social questions were another great suggestion. Finally, getting out and trying to engage different publics in creative ways was seen as important.
Different readings for our reading group – from Octavia Butler to Karl Marx to Ayn Rand(!) were also suggested, and we’ll be adding those to our reading list, which you can find here.
Finally, we want to thank everyone who took part, and made the workshop so uplifting. With such a fabulous start, we have high hopes for Good Societies!