how prefigurative are we?

Over the last three days I have attended (I pretty much abstained from participating) a three-day open source content management system (OSCMS) conference at UBC Robson Square (again giving the feds a heads up!). Some of the discussions here – not the content, rather the communicative methods – have stimulated many thoughts on my part completely outside of the focus of the conference. There are many parallels with my thoughts after reading many posts on a forum I frequent. The cross-over and very similar experiences have prompted me to share my thoughts…

These thoughts relate to body language, tone and/or general response (communicative) to comments and questions by less experienced people (in the sense of open source CMS design and implementation) or people newer to such things (i.e. veganism). I see both communities – aside from contradictions that I see and will elaborate on – and their end goals as embodying prefigurative politics and many actions (unintentional I am certain) I have seen go against the nature of this.

With regard to the OSCMS conference, the kind of responses I see as inherently problematic were embodied in the way a significant number (the vocal majority – pretty much the exclusive vocal/visible response) of people reacted to the questions of one person in a number of different sessions. The views expressed – as in made visible though the type of questions and/or comments shared – by this person were similar to many I and many others have based on current shortcomings with the specific open source project we are attempting to be a part of (drupal), yet a select group of those present (the vocal majority) responded in ways that embodied disdain and a too cool for school attitude. Specifically a I know this, so should you and/or if you don’t know this you must be stupid response: neither are prefigurative nor helpful.

There are a number of significant issues with this, one of the most problematic given the nature of open source projects is the lack of willingness to accept critical comment and suggestion for improvement as embodied in these responses. The other, and what I see as far more problematic and not specific to open source projects was that the person raising these issues was a woman and from a minority background. To provide context – with a focus on what I see as inherently problematic for open source projects when they start to achieve the popularity/success that drupal has (and deserves), is that not all involved embody the prefigurative ideals of such projects. The conference was overwhelmingly male, and this vocal majority were essentially middle-class and white. As a generalisation, they all want to ‘make it’ and many of their personal attitudes (and thus politics) emanate from this – which includes their apparent complete ignorance of the issues raised.

To switch to recent experiences with the forum I frequent and participate – and many of these issues are less visible and or/explicit – I have noticed a number of events I found problematic: not in the sense that they are intentional undertaken to be so, rather that they have specific contradictions with the nature and aims of the forum. Having more experience with the nature and basis of this forum, and the attempting to be vegan in a non-vegan world, I have an awareness of some of the non-spoken and generally unconscious factors shaping the responses I am referring to. This specifically emanates from (and there is a cross over here with what transpired at the OSCMS conference) what amounts to being asked the same (to long term vegans, for example) banal question for the hundredth time.

 Further, it is a question (which differs to the OSCMS conference) that goes against what veganism is, and thus often draws reactionary responses (i.e. but you eat chicken, right?). For me, and from the general discussion and nature of this forum – aside from having a refuge from such banal and (to us) naïve and stupid questions – veganism is prefigurative at its core. Thus we need to address our reactions to such questions so as not to turn people away through merely our communicative responses. Doing so is inherently NOT VEGAN as those at the receiving end may be turned off (if so, hopefully only for a short time) veganism as a lifestyle and thus perpetuate animal suffering and exploitation.

As veganism becomes popular, and those new to it see themselves as to cool for school, these are challenges we are going to face. Our responses to these people, as with those responses I am referring to in the forums broadly, need to be based on an awareness that they are less experienced, have not had the time to gain the insight and fortitude that longer-term vegans have (and there are some that have none). The challenge with trying to be truly prefigurative is, whilst wanting to escape the naïve, mundane and inherently stupid questions vegans repeatedly get asked, we need to respond in a way that is open and not reactionary. To do otherwise is a disservice to what we are trying to achieve.

Yes refuge is nice, but lets not let the need for it fully distort our compassion. We also need not to help the perception that our principled stance is a too cool for school dismissive, and not come across as arrogant (as – as I see it – those whom have experienced their lives mostly in the USA – and some Canadians – generally do). If we are to be the change, inner growth based on awareness, open-ness and a willingness to accept constructive critical comments is essential. Critical self-reflection is also at the core of this.

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