Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Drum circle and Inescapable Order

I came across this video on YouTube, and it has a pretty interesting comment thread (which is unusual for YouTube, I know :) ). The one that caught my eye most was:

You'll notice much of it is centered on the one cute long haired brunette!

It highlights a complaint that emerged in the SDS in its later years, and something I've noticed elsewhere too. One of the principles of drum circles is that its an attempt to get rid of hierarchy,formal rules and forms, etc. Out with rules for dancing and let everyone be equal. It mirrors the philosophy that politics should be just as equal and un-ordered.

But the problem is that this philosophy overlooks that unordered-ness and formlessness and lack of imposed structure is not the same as equality. This dance is an excellent example of that.

The drum circle gets rid of patterns, rules, anything that resembles rules imposed on any dancer. But you get rules just the same. Every drum circle in every youth movement finds dancers moving in the same jangly style. And rules and patterns emerge to how people interact, too. In this one, and in many others I expect, the center of focus becomes a particular dancer or two. Thus in the style of dancing and the distribution of attention and influence in the group, an oppressive regime of rules and hierarchy emerges.

This was a problem for the SDS forty years ago. They rejected in their organizational rules formal regulations like hierarchy and voting. They believed in rule by equals arriving together at consensus. Nothing should be imposed on the individual from an authority, be it dictates for behavior or values. Eventually many saw the error of the philosophy. It worked badly for women, for example. Misogyny was rampant, according to some.

If you throw a pile of blocks on the floor, you've imposed no order, no structure. But when they land, there are reasons the blocks stay in the pile they are in, and do not shift to some other kind of pile. There is structure, though it may not look like it.

Isn't it better, then, to talk about the structure? In block tossing, dancing and social organization, isn't it better for us to discuss and decide the precise rules that will govern the structure connecting elements (blocks or people)? We don't need to be afraid of creating laws, and authorities and rules. In fact we must have them, and they must be good, and responsive to input, and they must seek out injustice and reform themselves to correct it if we hope to have a society that is free and equal.

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