Like a Church



Massimo Passamani

A known and hospitable place. I think that for the most part this is the image we have of the assembly. We read in a journal or on a poster that there is a meeting, a debate, and we find ourselves seated, almost always in a circle (perhaps in homage to the Enlightenment idea of “Encyclopedia”, that really means circular learning), waiting for someone to introduce and elucidate the topic for us. If the theme of the discussion is specific enough, we are convinced that expertise is required and so participation is quite limited. On the other hand, if it is a bit broader and more complex, everyone has her say without any deference. And yet in the end, one always remains a bit frustrated.

This is because, whatever is actually being discussed that, upon consideration, encourages to take part, the assembly in which it takes place is viewed as external, a well from which one draws, and, for the most part, draws little. In this way, the criticism is focused on the assembly and never on one’s own participation.

Of course, we meet with people with whom we get along and do projects and initiatives outside the debates, but participation in an assembly as such is not the outcome of an inquiry and a ripened interest. There is hardly any element of continuity between the various meetings, the reflections that precede them and those that follow them. Just as no one asks us first what the topic of discussion means for us, so also there is little to remind us of it afterwards. At any rate, if one were to organize a meeting on the some topic after some time had passed, the discussion would start over again, each one giving a monologue in company.

In my opinion, this is not merely due to the insufficient determination of those who participate passively in the assemblies (even the act of speaking can be an element of passivity), but to something a bit deeper. In order to discuss together-in a meeting atmosphere, because in more limited contexts the discussion changes-it is necessary to have a determined set of words in common. The further one goes beyond the sphere of the specialty, the less one has to say. The proper words are lacking. This can be verified in many ways. If we take sufficiently specific contexts-let’s say that of anarcho-syndicalism or the occupation of spaces-and, for fun, proclaim the ten words that so often form the language and mental universe of those who are involved in them, we realize that one couldn’t even write a flyer. Maybe someone will say I exaggerate. Perhaps. But I am certain that they are the very words that they do not manage to find when they encounter topics of a more general range.

Though it may seem strange, another limit is the necessity to perceive the immediately expedient twists and turns of the discussion at all costs. To achieve this aim that is somewhat forced, thought cannot always be freely developed. Ideas have need of empty space in which to move. And I believe that it is from this very emptiness that a real practice of liberation is born, a void that often brings rending where we thought the most solid unity existed.

As long as we meet to confront, let us say, more theoretical questions, delegation is reduced to a mere lack of deepening (which phenomena of charisma and subordination can determine) but when there are important decisions to be made that presuppose knowledge of the subjects upon which the possible choices bear, anyone who has a greater knowledge of the matter has the power to direct the discussion. Or rather, considering the disparity of knowledge and the precise will to impose one’s resolutions, there is no better environment than this in which to meet. In the long run, the technique of participation obtains better results than what one would get through unilateral propaganda or with the ex cathedra lecture.

Power is really seeking to take away our words and our critical capacity to reflect in order to then give us the possibility of expressing our opinion on everything.

Nothing more can come to us from assemblies than what each of us as individuals strives to put into them. At best, those intuitions that our personal exploration suggests to us could be developed.

When there is no openness to listening, that is to say, to paying attention to new realms of thought, of one’s own thought, we will always find ourselves saying the same things, whatever the topic of discussion may be.

Anchored to our faith like in a church (the name of which comes, perhaps not by chance, from the Greek ecclesia, that means, precisely, assembly), we repeat our rituals in order to go on back to our houses with little questioned as always. Until the next discussion.

Willful Disobedience Vol. 3, No. 2: