We live in an age of great scepticism for institutions.
It’s not surprising, really. We are disappointed by periodic reports of abuse caused by paternalistic institutions of church and state. We are frustrated by old ideologies that don’t work anymore, defended by creaky structures and dogged vanguards. We are bored by dying associations that are concerned more with staying alive, than with doing anything much good for the community.
And yet, institutions are not going to go away. While many of us are inclined to run a mile from the nearest AGM, the reality is that if we don’t build our own institutions that embody the kind of values we would like to live by, then the institutions of the status quo will run our lives.
Injustice, war, inequality and consumerism are all institutionalised realities. The organisations of government, market and civil society conspire, consciously and unconsciously, to make sure they continue on indefinitely with as little opposition as possible.
We cannot defeat injustice, war, inequality and consumerism with momentary declarations of peace and equality, or even momentary acts of protest. What is required is the disciplined, sustained embodiment of an alternative reality, that defeats injustice piece by piece. An internet mobilisation of individuated, disembodied voices is no opposition to institutionalised evil, even if they all turn out for the day at the State Library. It is just another way of doing individualism.
What we actually need to do is build our own institutions, which can be formidable forces in the battle for a world defined by love.
If you are like me, you will not like the sexist, racist, hierarchical institutions of old. This is where we must challenge ourselves to not abandon ship, but to create the kind of institutions that begin to embody the reality we are seeking for our world.
My challenge to you all? If you haven’t already, join a faith community, sign up to your union, or become a member of a local community group. If you don’t like any of the ones around you, be part of the long, slow and often painful work of creating better ones.
We have to commit to this work, or else be content with the institutions of the status quo dictating how this world will be.