Against Solidarity

When you are part of a group, like a community or forum, one of the things that makes the community grow is a shared sense that everyone there is somehow connected, linked, to one another. It is a wonderful feeling, for many, to belong. Communities grow. They are fostered by the users for the users. Usually a community comes about over a shared interest, something that the people there care passionately about. This link unites them. When the community grows, however, we come to see its own sub-groups and cliques. One step back and we realize: we are part of a sub-group as well!

A curious thing happens when affinity groups become more entrenched. They start sharing more and more the feeling of connectedness. And now it is not only one thing that unites them, but two or ten. Relationships blossom, develop, and in the midst of the group one easily comes to think similarly to the other. The shared sense of belonging mines the emotional, rational, and instinctual affinities between the members of the group.

While working in an innovation laboratory, one of the big corporations that pretend to export the Silicon Valley model to third world countries, it is easy to see how these group dynamics get enforced for the benefit of an objective. When we are in a community with a shared passion or link, we tend to think of the process, and we value the being together of a community space, online or otherwise.

When we work for corporations nowadays, especially those infected by design culture, the simulation of such spontaneous group dynamics becomes even more abrasive. The objective is prioritized over the process, even when claims to the contrary begin to emerge. This is where the ideological core of solidarity blooms as a social glue, taken from a shared and distinctive cosmopolitan perspective.

“Solidarity” is a term bandied about by people in order for other people to care about the plight of one group. It is often used in leftist and progressive circles to signify a kind of union. Think the tribal party line of a sorority, or the transnational shows of solidarity that happen when a tragedy occurs. There is nothing inherently material to solidarity. One does not pack it and send it wherever it is needed. But it is a sign, a sign that someone is here for someone else.

There is nothing especially wrong about the concept. In itself, it is just showing that you care. It is a signal. And for better or worse, signals do matter when there is a common cause between disparate groups.

However, the usage of the term as it is commonly used nowadays is a replacement for any kind of action at best, and an enforcement for coercion at worst. Clicktivism is the most common example of the former; while the ideological coercion from modern corporations is another, something that is shared amongst leftists circles.

We could argue that this is a case of co-optation. The big corporations saw a new way to ideologically trick employers into working more hours, doing things that their jobs do not specify, and going the extra mile for work, who must be now seen as a family. You would not leave your family without help, would you?

But it is not co-optation per se. The ideological coercion, the holding of the party line and the terminology of “comrades”, was already present amongst the Left’s ranks. And it was seen as a way to force, or enforce, a shared feeling, a common sense indoctrinated where there previously was none. In following this path of solidarity, the Left saw a new social management structure, that works well for organising, but ironically leaves dissenters with a sour taste in their mouths. Hence the endless infighting amongst the Left, and the continuous proliferation of sub-groups in lieu of an understanding that you cannot force solidarity in a social movement. One has to foster the common threads amongst the individuals and let them roam freely, break apart if needs be, but never foster the resentment that comes with infighting.

Design corporations that adopt the solidarity model, amongst gamification and other trends in social management, are not co-opting the Left’s sense of solidarity. They are upgrading it with pay, benefits, and stability. If you do not feel the solidarity, you will be made to, why? Because you are being paid for it.

Under the hands or design firms, the concept of solidarity has not lost its validity, but been utilised in the most productive manner. Does it smell of another coercion apparatus by which a business gets its employers to not only work, but to believe in the familial and communitarian aspect of being in the office together? Yes. The same can be said about its usage by the Left. The difference between both cases and our spontaneous community, linked together by shared passions, is that by standing by individual freedom and autonomy, we can choose to separate and break apart. Under the former cases, there is no exit. But an ominous sense that the pieces are not fitting together. No amount of glue can change that.

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