My name is Kai, and I am using this guy to help me explain how I struggle with defining myself as solutionary
I don’t have very many favorite scientists, so Werner Heisenberg is probably my favorite. Heisenberg was a German physicist in the earlier half of the 1900’s. I really don’t know a whole lot about his life other than that he was an extremely smart man. Heisenberg was trying to observe the speed and position of subatomic particles. But in the process of doing so, he found out that his position completely modified the results that he found. That is, he could not isolate the position of the article without disturbing its momentum, and vice versa. In physics, this (rather complex) phenomenon is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which is related to this really interesting idea of the Observer Effect. While philosophers had been and continued to theorize about existence, positionality, and objectivity, Heisenberg took a different route to understanding humanity’s relationship with its surroundings, or as he puts it, nature.
What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
Ok ok ok. So I am, in this world, in my very essence modifying the world around me (nature, relationships, “politics”), with unintended consequences to degrees I don’t even know of. My method of viewing and questioning the world leads me to certain constructions and views of the world that have been imposed upon me without my will or knowledge. Whoa.
So many activists (myself included) frame involvement as passive (noninvolved) versus active (involved, activist). Or in another dichotomy that I hate hate hate, you are either activist activists (the “get shit done” people) or the relationship/feminist activists (the “value our friendships and community” people). Or maybe another dichotomy that could be built between solutionaries and reactionaries (a later post topic?). Like all dichotomies, this one is an imposed structure, not a lived reality – because as Heisenberg notes, observing is impossible. Rather, our discourse-building, framing/messaging, and value-emphasis are all manifestations of the world as exposed to our method of questioning.
As activists, our job then becomes not to “build stronger relationships” or “get shit done” (both might be important, I’m still not sure) but rather to develop a methodology of questioning and discourse-shaping that will in turn make the world operate differently, which involves both doing and being. Sounds cool….right? Is this what being a solutionary is ontologically, or might be constructed as (since we pretty much made the word up)?
As I stated at the beginning, I struggle with attaching the term solutionary to me because…I don’t have the solutions! I have no freaking clue what I am doing, and I’m rather bad at doing it, whatever it is! I too, am uncertain. For every week that I observe the world and pass judgement on something as “right” or “wrong”, it has already changed. Every month that I devote my time and effort to being an activist, I look back and think “What was I thinking?! I totally did something racist/sexist/homonormative/hegemonic/exploitative back there!” How can I, Kai Bosworth, white male, using advantaged technology that I don’t understand, using my middle-class position, using my privileged knowledge, my limited understanding of the world, and being used by larger power structures to produce and consume various materials and discourses….how can I be trusted to develop a solution?! Yikes!
In fact, I don’t think that we have the solutions either, or even that solutions exist. That is to say, my life, my being, my body are so influenced by the hegemonic structures of white privilege, capitalism/colonialism/imperialism, and patriarchy, that I (and no one) can even imagine the endless possibilities of a different world. Isn’t that exciting?! terrifying?! We have some work to do! BUT we can begin to think about developing a process for undoing, unlearning and resisting what we already think we do and know. The Summer of Solutions provides (read: not entails) the opportunity to discourse-shape in a bottom-up way that large, ephemeral and seemingly white-controlled/hegemonic conferences *cough cough* can not. And this is why the Summer of Solutions…is interesting, fun, exciting, hopeful (and dangerous, but I’ll leave that to a later post). Solutionaries don’t have to have the answers, we just have to ask the questions.
Heisenberg’s discovery of the uncertainty principle completely changed his life. Everything that the Enlightenment capital-s Science had taught him about what the world was…was mostly wrong! To make a long story short, he became involved in “politics” as an anti-nuclear weapons activist and was probably really rad until he died.
Note: I gathered this watered down story of Heisenberg from Rebecca Solnit’s Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West. I told the story poorly and probably incorrectly, and the book has some much longer and better quotes from Heisenberg. Everyone should read this book. Even if you can’t read the whole thing, read the chapter about Heisenberg because it’s really great.