Every revolution aspires to the institution it fights and the vice versa is true.
From the outset institutions and revolutions seem at odds. Enemies, set against each other to forever do battle. And yet amidst their enmity I have always found a distinct entanglement. Almost a reverence for the other, not just a simple hero/villain dichotomy but an outstanding connection such that even though one could exist without the other, they probably wouldn’t want to.
This I find very disturbing but in the ever evolving world of individualism, this conundrum is becoming more crucial.
Nowadays, life is centered on the individual as opposed to the past life that was centered on the communal. As a result, in the old world, culture and institutions were the bulwark of life, they were the templates with which life was organized. And now the opposite is true.
Now culture is a decoration, a figurehead to the real master. Me. Marriage used to be entirely about the process, how it was arranged, the role in the community taken after and the minute details of the ceremony were crucial for they were physical containers of the meanings behind it all. Now if you pay dowry it is less symbolic and more of a courtesy, a relic, in fact most do without it.
We are now living in revolutionary times where everything rests on the unique individual experience and thus everything is unique. Institutions have been thrown under the bus and all we pay credence to now is the revolution inside. The needs of the personal person within.
And many including myself have praised this shift. The age of institutions has come and gone. No more external definitions of how we must live, what we must do, who we must love even how we must love. No we are sober to our own lives. We want to write the vows to our lives not just replay those written for us by some obscure authority. It is the annihilation of institutions. The question is, is this good or even true?
Can we really ever do away with institutions? What was the problem with them to begin with and will they make a comeback?
And from that alone I understood the allure of revolutions especially in the context of the current world’s enlightenment. Revolutions are the best choice there is that is a no-brainer, because they are so simple. They are singular focused dealing with one issue at a time, generously while institutions deals with heaps of issues in a constrained manner. They are overworked but it wasn’t always like this. Institutions are revolutions, just grown up .
Think of a recent institution say, feminism that is now properly muddled with numerous opinions and yet in the beginning when it it was so focused and single-minded. It was either about women getting property rights or about the ability to vote or about legislation punishing violence against them. But the inevitable happens, the revolution caught fire and was embraced by many, many of whom saturated it with their individual selves and instead of it expanding in order to maintain its hold. It became obstinate to revision and extension in the face of new realities in an attempt to hold on to its uniqueness, viewing vagueness to accommodate everyone and changing needs a sell-out. Thus its members leave and go set up, revolutions. So now we have a bunch of duplicated institutions doing the same thing but for different persons.
It is this unwavering quality of institutions that make them obsolete and discarded, yet everlasting, in a constant labour because for every one of their disenfranchised member lies a revolution.
They live on but in dismay. As a retrogressive ideal with which to compare progress and lo and behold those revolutions that succeed in usurping it in a cruel twist of fate end up becoming it because like mother, like daugher. The kiswahili proverb sums this up perfectly, “mwana hutazama kichogo cha ninaye.”
So no, institutions are not going anywhere because revolutions need something to pull against. The romance between revolutions and institutions is an eternal one but not necessarily.
So the question is now that we are in a revolutionary space how do we guard against the faults of the institutions before?
Because it is clear that, the greatest dream of a revolution which is to spread and infect all, is in an ironic twist of fate infact its downfall. How do we sieve the obsolescence from the success?
I think the answer lies in realizing that institutions and revolutions are the same thing at different times. They are not at all interdependent or independent. They are the same. This alone removes the difficulty of having to found new institutions when all we need do is reform the old one.
It is an ideal known as generous orthodoxy i recently learnt from the brilliant Malcolm Gladwell . It is learning how to manage the paradox of a wide open sieve. Letting in some new ideas contradictory to the old ones in order to perfect the old ones. It is just as difficult a paradox to live out as it sounds.
Using our earlier example the truth is, we never needed to found feminism all we needed was to reform patriarchy because as we’ve seen in certain instances feminism can be quite patriarchal. The greatest irony of them all.
The next step is the preservation of the old institutions that have very much good in them still.
And for this the structure of institutions needs to change. Elasticity must be included so that it can at once be institutional and revolutionary because we need institutions and culture. Let no one lie to you that we have evolved beyond them.
Many have reported anxiety and even depression in the worst cases at the loss of institutions, every decision becoming one we have to agonize over and research interminably sometimes at the cost of enjoying life itself. Terms such as the ‘paradox of choice’ never even existed before this shift. Sometimes we don’t need new institutions only to find our place in them. It is much more pragmatic to fix a crack that rebuild a house.
In fact I think this is a huge reason why cults, polyamory, groups and all sorts of makeshift communities are on the rise despite the individualistic milieu we find ourselves against. We still need direction and guidelines even if only to go against them. The child within never truly grows up, neither should they. This inherent inadequacy and aspiration is I think the true anchor of the concept of God. And the main reason why we must re-integrate institutions and revolutions for our own good. We are just like ships who need to remain suspended in our own revolutionary ideals but moored nonetheless to institutional anchors.