I’ve said in the past that I distinguish conceptually between “work” and “struggle” – the former being the unintentional process of composing a world by one’s very existence, and the latter being the intentional process of working to make a better world for everyone. But I’m having a new thought. If utopia is not an end towards which we can struggle, and struggle itself is utopia, then struggle can have no end of it’s own. The world cannot be “better” – that sounds dismal, but I only mean that “better” is a relative and subjective term – so the struggle cannot be about a “better world.” If struggle is utopia, then struggle has to be about itself.
So what is struggle? Now I would say that struggle is the intentional act of working together – working with others where “others” is not limited to other humans. There are, of course, unintentional acts of working together. In fact, all work is collaborative in some sense, though it is generally not recognized as such. What distinguishes struggle from other instances of working together is the intentional aspect – purposefully encountering others, altering and affecting them and allowing oneself to be altered and affected by them.
This last part is key, I think. Because, while anytime we work with others we are altered and affected by them, barriers are often put in place that limit the efficacy of one being in relation to another. These barriers could be institutional, affective, physical, conceptual or take any number of other forms. For example, the “objectivity” of scientists often serves as a barrier to becoming entangled with the object of their research as well as the social and political implications of their work. That’s not to say that barriers have to be eliminated – barriers are useful and provide opportunities as much as they are obstacles – however, in order for struggle to take place, there must be an intentional equalization of barriers such that all beings involved in a relation are equally (but not in the same ways) altered and affected by the process. Without this, the being with the most barriers will always be able to close off the process prematurely with little harm done to himself but potentially severe harm done to the others.
This notion of struggle also broadens it out. Instead of thinking of struggle as simply a social process of activism and engagement with political and social issues, struggle – as I always intended, but was not always very expressive of – can take many forms. It could be the struggle with (working with) the others that constitute oneself – physical, mental, emotional, etc. We are heterogeneous beings cobbled together out of parts, adapted for many, often conflicting purposes, and living in a world that is changing with increasing velocity. As a result, everyone – young, old, healthy, diseased, happy, distressed, rich, or poor – is trying to cope with something. Sometimes we cope in ways that create barriers within us – isolating out parts of ourselves that are troublesome or that create internal friction. In this sense, the struggle can be about lifting those barriers (or, rather, working with them) and encountering the frictions between the different parts that compose us (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.). This process of working with ourselves – like the process of social struggle – can have no predefined goal aside from itself. The goal is not happiness or some abstract notion of health, but rather the struggle itself is the goal. As soon as the struggle stops, the frictions begin to accumulate and can become overwhelming.
I’m still thinking this through, and I’m wrapping this up after an extended break so I don’t recall exactly what I was going to say. But thinking about it again with a different frame of mind, I think there’s a better way of saying this. Work is the process of composing a world. It is continual and inevitable. All beings work, if only in a passive sense. Work produces frictions because we share our worlds with other beings and these other beings are simultaneously working to composed a world. Struggle is the process of working with other beings to overcome those frictions. Friction can never be completely eliminated, though, because we can never fully address all frictions at once (and sometimes addressing one friction will create or exacerbate another) and because new frictions are coming up all of the time. That’s why the goal is the struggle – there is no world that can be said to be the end – and the struggle is forever.