So I said a thing. Or two. Matthew Remski wrote this wonderful piece for Yoga Dork on yoga’s response to the destruction of the planet, or as Bill McKibben wrote, The End of Nature. In responding, I unintentionally released some pent up ideas that I have long wanted to develop, refine and substantiate. Consider this the prospectus, or at least “brain–dump.” I’ll work with this some more.
Thank you for this insightful and provocative contribution.
“Success goes to the unruly,” as William Gamson wrote in “The Strategy of Social Protest” (1990; 1975). Empirically we know, then, that social movements succeed which disturb the good order of exploitative systems. Let’s call this disruption “contentious politics,” following the usage of Charles Tilly and others. Peace movements, incidentally, have this dilemma of being contentious for peace. Yogis, therefore, are not alone in facing this dilemma. It’s no wonder that Mandela had an intimate knowledge of the Gita and was reported to have carried a copy.
The second dilemma pertains to the relationship between personal and social change. In my doctoral dissertation I argued, albeit somewhat obliquely, that the growth of movements for personal change could be, as Gusfield argued, attended by the “demobilization” of movements for social change. In particular by redefining problems caused by oppressive systems as somehow related to a disease, I argued Twelve Step movements could make individuals “biographically unavailable” to support or participate in movements for social change. But if this were true, then it was important to consider the dynamics of movements for personal change alongside of, rather than apart from those of “challenging groups.” At the time I was writing there was a distinct trend away from this inclusive approach, mainly because earlier social movement theorizing argued for the “irrationality” of protestors. Theorists of the 1970s and 1980s sought to emphasize the rationality of protestors, for they themselves had been participants in civil rights, student, anti–war, and feminist movements.
Further, that personal and social change could be inextricably linked through a “radical unity” was advanced by the liberation theologian Gustavo Guttierez. While we might not harmonize with his soteriology, I think it’s worth exploring that basic premise.
Lastly, I want to suggest that the current trend in the literature is toward “the emotional turn” in social movement theorizing. Here emotions are cast as “collective,” evocative of John Lofland’s earlier writing on “crowd joys.” More importantly, emotions are thought to connect the inner and outer worlds. For that is here where the true disconnect lies, between the very finely cultivated inner worlds against and relying upon a backdrop of civilization in collapse. Particularly as modern postural yoga derives from the Tantrikas, who incidentally, have given us some conceptualizing around working with emotions, I think it is perfectly reasonable to portend the development of “liberation yogis.” To the challenge of overcoming Western materialism, I would most emphatically add overcoming American individualism.