Resistance, Activism . Books, Reviews, Misc

Naomi Klein: We Must Make Uncomfortable Alliances

Here is a strong call to seek a better world, and to risk “uncomfortable coalitions.” “It’s about what we make together.”

Naomi Klein: We Must Make Uncomfortable Alliances. Unselfing. from DoppelgangerDoppelganger, by Naomi Klein (2023) is a difficult book. But as always with this Naomi, she has done her homework, both in terms of research and in terms of careful, honest, profound thoughtfulness. I suppose that’s why it’s difficult.

Plus, of course, it is dealing with the great difficulties of our national (and international) psychic disturbances, pathologies, floods of public disinformation, profound moral disorders and values inversions, fascist resurgences, fear and fear-mongering, etc. It could be expected to be difficult.

See a Prior Post about a Naomi Klein book:
Naomi Klein on Dealing with Trump and Trumpism


Here she faces directly the problem of self-destructive discord on “the left”, and our ego-roots of that problem, and offers some points of hope. Don’t freak out. “Unselfing” is not about losing oneself. It’s quite the opposite – the need to find freedom from complete self-obsession in order to find and fulfill our own real selves in order to see beauty and hope, in order to cooperate, in order to have a prospect of surviving and even of bringing into being a better world for the coming generations. We need to “unself” to a real extent.

A bigger part of being human, though, and certainly of living a good life, is not about how we make ourselves in those shifting sands of self. It’s about what we make together.
Like a medical diagnosis this can be both upsetting (bad news, unpleasant descriptions), and hopeful (there are things we can be aware of, things we can do – and they might even work!).

She starts with the despair and sense of isolation that hit her following the beginning of Covid lock-downs and the end of the enthusiasm of Bernie Sanders’ and other campaigns.

The greatest cause of my mounting despair, though … was when the mass movements that had grown so rapidly in recent years – staging climate strikes, supporting Sanders and other insurgent candidates, filling the streets with calls for racial justice – started dividing and devouring themselves from the inside, often with people who were clearly building their personal brands at the forefront of the divisions.
With online clout too often determining movement leadership, and few ways to hold those leaders accountable, conflict and mistrust easily spread … egged on by fake accounts and Russian bots that heaped salt on all our open wounds. The predatory corporate logics … were clearly deep inside us now … It felt like nothing could be trusted, least of all one another. [321]


1. Ways Of Avoidance, Of Not Seeing (322)

It comes down to who and what we cannot bear to see – in our past, in our present, and in the future racing toward us … It is all so unbearable. No wonder we work so hard to look away. [322-3]

Fear, ultimately of death, of our own temporariness, but also of not knowing how to face dangers and confusion, pushes us to avoid reality in many areas, using many strategies. Conspiracy theories are one powerful strategy of distraction. What she calls “proprietary pain and proprietary selfhood” is another.

“Proprietary Pain And Proprietary Selfhood”

We love our personal histories of difficulty, our personal traumas, our group sufferings – we “love” them in the sense of embracing, featuring, focusing on. These things get a lot of attention in our world. We want, we even need, to be aware of our histories and our self definitions.

But this is an important idea and criticism. Exalting our proprietary pain takes focus and investment AWAY FROM community and collaboration – the community necessary to move forward with any hope for success and beauty for our world and our human race. After all, not EVERYbody’s proprietary pain can be featured all the time. And everybody has some.

-There is an intimate relationship between our overinflated selves and our under-cared-for planet. [324] -What would it take to stop running? To know – really know – what we already know? [323]

2. Cooperation And Collaboration, Which Depend On The UNSELFING That Enables Mutuality

We live in a culture that tells us to fix massive crises on our own, through self improvement … Change requires collaboration and coalition, even (especially) uncomfortable coalition … [from Miriame Kaba] ‘Everything worthwhile is done with other people.’ [328]

“Unselfing” is the name of the chapter, and a dominant theme. We are quite dangerous creatures to the extent we remain self-absorbed, and thus remain unaware, uncaring, and dishonest. Much of the damage already being experienced by us, our fellow humans, and even by the other living and non-living parts of the planet generally, is a product of self-blinded self-absorption and greed, by the fascination with and lust for one’s own safety, comfort, and influence. Unhealthy self. We probably really should “unself” ourselves of that stuff.

Unselfing happens when we remove ourselves from the center our awareness and become truly and appreciatively aware of others – humans, animals, plants, other aspects of earth and universal existence.

… Iris Murdoch’s description of observing something beautiful – whether a bird or a painting – as “an occasion for ‘unselfing’”. [324]
There is an urgency to this, as [Charlie] Veron points out. Because “the people who are the exploiters of this planet are people who put themselves first” – unable to unself even for a moment. [324]
Surrender, not to sameness, but to interconnection. [326]
… expanding the possible “we” … their pain is not the result of a failure of character or insufficient hard work. Rather, it is the consequence of economic and social systems precisely designed to produce cruel outcomes, systems that can be changed only if people drop the shame and unite toward a shared goal. [332]

See More Here on Activism, Resistance:
Resistance, Nonviolence Posts Here Prior to 2023
Bringing People Together: Jane Kleeb’s Nebraska Activism

3. Human Sacrifice, or, The Occupants of the “Shadow Lands”

Much of “progress”, economic growth, empire-building in whatever spheres, is built on the sacrifice of other people’s welfare or lives. Literally. This is human sacrifice – human sacrifice for our own comfort, power, growth.

We are not, you see, so wonderfully superior to ancient cultures that practiced the sacrificing of individual humans (many, many humans) to their gods. We have our own more crass, mundane gods. And we truly sacrifice others’ lives (and sometimes our own) to them on and on.

“Imagine a world that does not require Shadow Lands, that is not predicated on sacrificial people and sacrificial ecologies.” [327]
The jury is in on capitalism: it lights up our most uncaring, competitive parts and is failing us on every front that matters. [337]

4. “Alternative Ways of Resisting and Living”

Everything some humans created can be changed by other humans,
like monarchies
and supreme courts
and borders
and billionaires.
“a care-based society” [339]
[quoting Bernie Sanders] “My question now to you is are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?” [333]
Like everything else we project onto the other, injury and disability will not stay ‘over there’; they will come for us – our bodies, our families, our beloved places. [340]

Some Alternative Ideas Do Work – Have Already Worked!

We are told that the way things are is the only way they can be, because every other model has supposedly already been tried, and all have failed. But these ideas about different ways of being and thinking and living did not all fail; rather, many of them fell, crushed by political violence and racial terror. [338]

She mentions several 20th Century examples, including:

… the extraordinary child-centered society it [Red Vienna] built in the rubble of the First World War. That experiment fell under the boot of fascist force – but the spirit that built metaphorical palaces for children in order to tear down prisons was an enormous success. [338]

Everything Some Humans Created Can Be Changed By Other Humans.” [342]
Here is a strong call to look and to think, to see possibilities, to deliberately seek improvement, to be committed to a better world – in THIS place. We may not have created these systemic problem-patterns, but we are responsible to work to change them, not just for survival, but for better lives for the generations to come. Even if the cost is “unselfing”; even if the cost is “uncomfortable coalitions”.

“Everything some humans created can be changed by other humans,
like monarchies
and supreme courts
and borders
and billionaires” [342]


Vertigo invades … The known world is crumbling.
That’s okay. It was an edifice stitched together with denial and disavowal, with unseeing and unknowing, with mirrors and shadows. It needed to crash.
Now, in the rubble, we can make something more reliable, more worthy of our trust, more able to survive the coming shocks. [342]

Is she another in the generations-spanning line of prophets – despised, slandered, unpleasant, trustworthy, invaluable?

A bigger part of being human, though, and certainly of living a good life, is not about how we make ourselves in those shifting sands of self. It’s about what we make together.
Besides, I’m not named after Ruth, the loyal one, worth seven sons. I’m named after Naomi, the one who did what it took to survive.” [the end of the Epilogue, 348]

More on PublicChristian:
Speak Up! “Lift your voice; declare to my people their sins.” – Isaiah 58 ]


Questions for us:

1. Are there ways in which you perhaps need to do some “unselfing”? Such as …?
2. “Vertigo invades … The known world is crumbling. That’s okay. It was an edifice stitched together with denial and disavowal.” What reactions do you have to those sentences, e.g. “That’s okay” (right near the end of the article)?

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