The revolution will not be funded

The Revolution Will Not be Funded is the title of a book by Incite!, a USA based collective against violence. It is an interesting book (find out more here), but this blog concerns the title, which wormed its way into my mind when I first heard it two years ago and has not left since.

What does it mean that the revolution will not be funded? Well, let’s first assume “the revolution” stands for alternative ways of living that challenge the dominant narrative. Let’s also assume that the dominant narrative is something about capitalism being the best we can do, and that competition between technologies and social structures will eventually produce increased freedom and material wealth for all. Core to this narrative is the assumption that money is essential to flourishing. It’s a complex narrative (oversimplified here) and one that cannot be attributed purely to the political right. The left plays too, with one measure of success being the acquisition of money for groups who previously had less than others (the poor, women, ethnic minorities and so on). This money is wrestled out of the system, often using the competitive structures offered by the system itself.

So one sense in which the revolution will not be funded, is that every time we attract money, we have, to at least some extent, played the dominant game. Another way of putting this is if something is funded, it is probably not the revolution. For example, when a university funds extra places for indigenous people, this does not, in itself, change the narrative and the system it is linked to. The entire process of securing those places tends to assume that the problem is not the current power structures per se but that some categories of people are denied equal access to them. But getting more indigenous people inside elite institutions only changes the narrative if those institutions listen to the voices of indigenous people and adjust to fit their insights. That is (closer to) the revolution. Money is nowhere to be seen. In New Zealand, for example, listening to the voices of Maori at a university might include rethinking our model of individualised learning, and not just for Maori students, but for all students.  

Another sense in which the revolution will not be funded, is that if you act to change the narrative, or simply ignore it and do what you feel is right, the powers that be are very unlikely to reward you for it. This is terribly tricky to get your head around if you acting with integrity. I have had many conversations with academics who work hard on the less visible parts of our job - like student welfare, and who find it difficult to accept that this work barely counts towards being promoted at their university. In fact, it may decrease their chances of promotion because it takes time away from performance criteria that are more easily measured and of higher status - such as research output.

The desire to be noticed and rewarded with money and status by "the system" for doing work that you feel is important is utterly human. Most of us (including me) want approval, and approval from those in power is especially delicious. When you are not noticed or even chastised for doing what you feel is right, the effect can be insidious, making you feel out of kilter; as if you are somehow bad, unworthy or misguided. However, it is simply not the case that doing what is right will eventually lead to success in conventional terms. If you see problems in a system, and refuse to perpetuate these problems (as best you can), then you will not do as well within that system as those who do what it demands. It is a bit like playing Monopoly without buying strategic properties and being surprised when you don’t win.

It is crucial we think about the risks of funding  – what narratives we keep alive by seeking it and when it detracts from creating systems that work better for people and the planet. As Andre Lorde said: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change."

To receive blog posts via email register here