Changing the World, Changing Ourselves

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There are two immensely popular and presumably categorical ways we often talk about social change: one, as a matter of “changing the world” and two, as a matter of “changing ourselves.” Both ideas, temporarily demarcated here, are not mutually exclusive. In the former, the operative assumption is of a world that is agentially impoverished; a world that is mechanical and clunky and a mere reflection of the luminous intelligence of the human self. “Changing the world” riskily emphasizes an anthropocentric universe with miraculous human actors that are set against a ‘background world’ of things ultimately reducible to human sociality.

The other idea – that which focuses on “changing ourselves” – deifies consciousness as the very stuff that makes up the universe – and, in so doing, equates a sense of internal wellbeing and “alignment” with harmonious relations. This, of course, like its outward-facing counterpart, centralizes meaning, language, presence, and reflexion. It’s a matter of looking at the “man in the mirror”, getting our priorities straight before addressing the world outside of us.

Both ideas, depending on the same logic, are really the same thing: an apartheid of relations between the self and its context; an affective and desirous configuration of the citizen as a subject of entitlement; a reduction of experience to consciousness. That “we” can “change the world” either by acting upon it from a purity of ideas or by turning inwards is a move that ironically postpones ‘the world’, replacing ‘it’ with a totalizing artefact fitting to modern imaginaries.

What then? Should we not do something then? Should we put up our hands and feet and do nothing? The calculation that balances “failing to turn up” with “nothing happening” misappropriates agency as a human property, and – more critically – is unable to see that agency (or the capacity to respond to/enter relations with) enlists bodies in its ongoing flows and tides and ripples. Even the moral imperatives to address uneven circumstances and oppressive situations are matters of territory subject to and contingent upon ‘larger’ shifts and molecular events in and around us.

When I think about postactivism, I do not think about it as either a surer means to changing the world, changing ourselves, or doing nothing. I think of it as a disruption of the ways we imagine agency and becoming; as a release from sensorial domains and affective pathways that ritualize the familiar; and as a coming alive to other questions about what acting is indebted to. Postactivism is not a turning-inward or a turning-outward, since the architecture that guarantees the twain shall never meet is disarranged by a crack. Postactivism is the betweening of things, a glimpse of the glitch. Autistic perception. Postactivism is the call to congregate with disability as a site of generous undertakings and possibilities.

Postactivism is a turn of grace, a falling off the highway, a disruption of the pheromone trail. A cosmic risk that invites new problems and new questions: can we risk changing the world? Can we risk victory? What else is here?

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Connect with Bayo Akomolafe and Chief Oluwo Obafemi Fayemi for an online SAND event: They thought they buried me; They did not know I am a seed

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