Writing for Revolution: A Crash Course in Contemplating the World
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Are you wondering why, since we are told we are in an “economic recovery,” you do not feel as if you are in an economic recovery? Did you know that the United States has bombed the Philippines using a drone? Have you heard that France recently went to war in the West African country of Mali? Remember when we bombed Libya in 2011? And how we invaded and occupied Afghanistan for over a decade… and counting? Remember how Iraq was destroyed? Corporations, banks, drug cartels, the arms industry and oil, energy, mining conglomerates are all making record profits; how are you doing?
Have you heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), potentially the largest “free trade” agreement ever, being negotiated with 11 countries and over 600 corporations “in secret” for several years? Did you know that Obama runs an “international assassination” campaign with military drones, bombing countries all over the world, targeting those selected for an official “kill list”? Did you know that the FBI considered ‘Occupy Wall Street’ activists to be “potential terrorists”? Did you know that there is a war against whistleblowers and civil liberties, reaching far beyond what George Bush ever attempted?
Have you heard about large protests in Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and across Europe? Have you ever wondered what’s going on there? Are you curious how the situation in Greece affects you here, wherever you are? Remember when there was talk of an “Arab Spring”, as people in far-away places like Tunisia and Egypt rose up against dictators whose names and state repression we never knew before? What happened with those ‘revolutions’? What’s going on in Syria? Did you hear that China is the next “rising” power in the world?
What does that mean to us, to our future?
We, who sit relatively comfortably within North America, or the West more generally, hear and see images of famine, war, death, disease and destruction all over the world. Is this really the way the ‘rest’ of the world is, or are we involved in making it that way?
Are you curious about the world, about contemplating and understanding the world? Well, I am! That’s why I have spent the past year and a half working on a book project, doing seemingly endless research and writing, to try to piece together what information I can, in a way that I am able to contemplate it, and pass it along to others in an approachable, well-documented, and understandable way. I am not saying I have “the answers”, but through time, energy, and research, I have collected enough information to begin to put pieces together, provide a general framework, for looking at the world and coming to your own conclusions.
I want to understand the world as best as I can, the way it really works, the way society, the economy, politics, war, corporations, banks, governments and international organizations really function. I want to understand the people who are in power, what they believe, what they think, say, and do. I want to know the ways in which populations all over the world react to or resist those in power. And I want to be able to convey the information I come across, the research I do, by writing it in such a way that it is understandable to as many people as possible.
I am not writing an ‘academic’ book, nor do I have any use for ‘academic language’, apart from noting its inability to communicate with others. I am certainly not writing a book for ‘policy-makers’, to “advise” governments on proper initiatives and programs to “better the world”. I have spent several years of my life, off and on, in the university system, attempting to (slowly) get a degree in Political Science and History. Degrees, I was told, provide legitimacy. And so while I began researching and writing for most of my time, some six years ago, I would also be periodically in school, getting an “education”.
I was, of course, fortunate enough to have found a few great professors along the way, from whom I learned a great deal and was exposed to different ideas and perspectives. But these were sadly the exceptions of a “good” education; the most enlightening and inspiring were the most rare, and frequently, were punished by the school – and faculties – for being such. What does that say about our “education” system?
Among the real benefits of a modern education is the access to information it provides, through classes and professors, certainly, but primarily through access to libraries and journals. The amount of information which exists in the world is immense, and constantly growing by large leaps and bounds. With information being digitized and shared through the Internet, more people have more access to more information than ever before in human history. If one truly wants an “education” the likes of which only the modern world can provide, look to that access, not the guardians of information from past eras, who so very often are called “professors” and “academics”.
For that reason, I took the skills and access of an “academic” education to truly begin my own personal education. I took a two-to-three year “hiatus” from school to focus on my own work, having landed a job as a paid researcher and writer. I left that job to pursue my book and, in doing so, subjected myself to the “market forces” of attempting to live as an independent researcher and writer, not connected to any institution, and dependent upon the donations and support of others, around the world.
It amazes me to this day – and every day – how I have been able to get where I am, doing what I am doing, all because of the support of people around the world, most of whom I have never met or known personally.
This was the start of The People’s Book Project, a year and a half ago.
In that time, I have undertaken extensive research and writing: one book became a long book, then many books, and seemingly had no end in sight. The process, while very rewarding, has been quite often terrifying, worrying and stressful. I even returned to school, in part to bring some structure into my life, and in part to pursue the degree I had not finished, worried about my own future on my present path. I returned to take one class, still focusing on the book as my priority, and then the students at my school went on strike. I paid little attention at first, as I barely considered myself a student. I was only physically at the school two days a week for an hour each time. And after a few years of pursuing research on my own, I found it exceedingly difficult to adapt to the more structured process of a “classroom,” with an itinerary of what I am “supposed” to read, and by which date it must be read.
Suddenly, I began to acknowledge what was going on around me, with students taking to the streets to fight a tuition increase, being beaten by riot police and arrested. I clearly wasn’t the only person who had a problem with the educational system. So I began to look closely at the situation here in Quebec, and I began to write about it, participate in the protests, and lend whatever support I could to the movement in the best way I know how: through doing the research and writing the results.
I had never before had such a surprising reception to what I was writing: my articles were going viral through social media and being referenced in newspapers and media across the country, and I was doing multiple radio and television interviews. I was afraid my ego or arrogance would get ahead of me, but I truly felt inspired by a social movement flourishing all around me. Everywhere you went and the people you interacted with – the student movement was becoming a wider social movement. And regardless of what people were saying or how the media portrayed it, everyone was talking about it. You could see it everywhere you went. Months prior, I would occasionally meet up with friends in a bar, but now I was meeting up with friends in protests and marches: these were the new forums for social interaction and engagement with others in my own generation. It was inspiring and drove me to write and work with a new dedication and purpose.
What came out of the experience was the necessity of not simply focusing (in the book and in life) on the problems of the world, on those in power, on power structures, on oppression and war and empire but – more importantly – on that which opposes (and those who resist) power and the problems of the world.
This radically changed the evolving nature of the book: resistance was a requirement.
And this pushed me to study Europe, the debt crisis, and the reactions of populations in Greece, Spain and beyond. In turn, I began to look more closely at the ‘Arab Spring’ and the unfinished and emerging revolutions across much of the world.
As the research for this book has moved forward, and the writing has progressed in kind, it has been a constant struggle in determining how best to present the information, understand and explain the results – deciding what to include, what to leave out, what chapter to go where, what chapters there should be, how I will break up the subjects, chronological or regional? If I break up the ‘war and empire’ section from the ‘corporate and economic’ section, does this re-enforce a superficial divide between these sectors? The questions and concerns go on and on.
When one is attempting to study a deeply interdependent world in which all matters interact and engage with each other, how can one legitimately and constructively break up these sections and still provide a realistic analysis? These questions have been constantly in mind and have led to frequent re-organization of the structure of the book, while the actual research and writing continues unabated by the whims of my own inability to create or adapt to a more rigid ‘structure’
But guidance and goals have also served a profound purpose: they have focused the work more, expanded the understanding, but limited the objective. I have been able to narrow into specific subjects as the focus of this, the first volume, in what I intend to be a series of books. I am still working a great deal on the first volume, adding only to that which I had already planned to research.
A great deal of the research and writing done over the past year and a half will not be included in the first volume. I have written varying amounts of what could amount to multiple books but each, on its own, would require significant work in order to complete. For that reason, I have intended to focus the first book in the series on that which I have written on the most: what is going on in the world today and in recent years? The research I have done in past years contributes to my understanding of the present world, and so it will inform the first volume; thus the efforts done so far in the book project will not be for nothing.
Perhaps not coincidentally, when the student movement in Quebec faded – as a new government came to power, promising to resolve the issues through ‘formal’ political channels – I chose not to return to school. Instead, I chose to focus exclusively on the book. After all, there seemed an odd feeling of hypocrisy in writing about subjects such as the failure of the modern educational system to provide a better understanding of the world, and yet simultaneously seeking to acquire a piece of paper which declared my own understanding to be “legitimate”. I do not seek to join that world of academics, where the more “educated” I am, the more incapable of communicating knowledge to others I become.
When once asked what the “science” aspect of Political Science was, my only reply was that it was “the science of B.S.” – how to speak as if you know what you’re talking about, to talk about what you know nothing about, to ‘talk’ while saying nothing and think without feeling anything. There is a reason why Political Science produces politicians and policy-makers. A well-trained ‘political scientist’ can B.S. their way through most situations and justify any circumstance.
I spent several years getting this type of “education”, speaking this type of language and understanding these types of concepts. I do not seek to join that world of politicians and policy-makers. As I often tell friends and family: if I ever run for office, don’t vote for me.
It is a challenging thing to attempt to try to understand the world by detaching from some of its more prominent institutions. I do not seek to separate from the world, but to find a connection to the world which holds substance and meaning for me. I see this in people, in protests, in resistance, creativity and revolution; I see it in the potential for people. It’s something to which I feel is worth dedicating my life and work. Unfortunately, it is not something made easy to acquire, and less so to sustain. I have attempted to undertake a project with a large purview and limited resources, independent of institutional support and direction.
I won’t lie – it’s been a constant struggle, but worth every moment and all the effort.
There have been ups and downs, successes and failures, and lessons learned. There have been times where I felt lost, frustrated and incapable of proceeding. There have been times where I felt focused, dedicated and incapable of stopping. This is one of those times.
In the past few months, I have been getting work writing commissioned articles for other sites, even recently beginning a research project with Occupy.com. It has been a relief to develop other sources of income, and rewarding to make new connections and reach new audiences. But still, I must find the time and energy to focus on my book. Commissioned work is good, but it alone does not pay the bills, nor does it provide enough time to work on the book. Thus, I must come to find and establish a better balance in my work, also as I begin to work with new organizations, and even begin the planning process with a friend and associate to start our own.
Thanks to the recent donations to The People’s Book Project, I have been able to throw myself back into the book this last week. My focus, dedication and determination are as strong as ever, and my intention to finish the first volume in the book in the near future appears closer than before.
In the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal, the students are back on the streets, protesting and getting arrested, struggling against the state which stabbed them in the back (as governments tend to do), and my focus is back on the book, progressing and nearing completion. I do not have any illusions that it will take a significant amount of time and effort on my part to do so, but if the ability to do so exists, the inevitability of doing so will persist… and persevere.
I have a goal. I am narrowing my focus and strengthening my efforts. But as always, I need your help to get there.
Are you curious about trying to understand the world? Well, so am I.
The information and resources exist to build up a good capacity of understanding, though it must be in a constant state of adaptation and self-reflection as you come across new information, subjects, ideas and perspectives. I look at the views I have, the ones I’ve changed and how I got to where I am, and it seems clear that my own understanding is constantly changing. Therefore, whatever “understanding” I offer to others – at whatever time I offer it – is never going to be complete; there is always more information, there are always other perspectives, and there is always much more to learn than can ever be known.
So I do not propose that I “know” more than others, or that I have some sort of monopoly on defining “reality”. Instead, I only propose that as I have spent the past six years doing research and writing, and the past year and a half working on this book, I have developed and refined skills at utilizing the access and information that has been made available to me. This is simply a result of practice. The more you do it, the more you learn how to do it better. The more you research, the more you learn. The more you write, the more you communicate. I do not expect everyone to undertake the same research as myself, for all must live their own lives and follow their own passions, but I do think this information is necessary for all people, for as many people who want access to it.
Think of The People’s Book Project as a way to “outsource” your own research to me. I’ll put in the effort, and attempt to summarize the results in easily readable, understandable language, but not dumbed-down or made superficial.
I want to write a book with academic standards of research, but approachable to anyone. I think that the first major requirement for any progress to solving the multiplicity of problems in the world is to first start by engaging in open, direct and honest communication about the world we live in. This, I believe, can be reflected in one’s own individual life – though not without its problems – of learning to engage and interact with others on the basis of this same open, direct and honest communication. It’s easier said than done, both in personal life and the wider world. But I think it’s necessary, at all levels and capacities.
In the past year and a half, as I have made this book the central focus of my energy and efforts, often at the expense of other areas of my life, it has become as much a result of my own ideas and actions as my own beliefs and actions have resulted from it. In short, I am a product of this book as much as it is a product of me. For that reason, I intended to provide some information here about my own process, interest and evolution through the People’s Book Project, so that you may better understand the Project, itself.
I have attempted to be open, direct and honest with you here in assessing my progress, explaining my process and in asking for help with this purpose. Everything that has been done thus far is only because of the support I have received from others. Everything I continue to do will be equally derived from similar support. Nothing that has been – or will be – done with this Project would be possible without the support of many people, in many places, all over the world. And that is exactly the point: it is, after all, the People’s Book Project, made possible by – and for the benefit of – the people, not simply myself.
So, I thank all of you who have – at one or many times over – supported The People’s Book Project in any and every capacity. Thank you for the opportunity, the means and the possibility to do this. And now I ask you to continue helping, to continue your support and to continue spreading the word, for the more people who know and talk about The People’s Book project, the more potential sources of support would exist, and perhaps the less annoying I will have to be in asking for support.
Outsource to me your research, and I’ll provide to you results: a crash course in contemplating the world.
Andrew Gavin Marshall