An Experience Watching the Rough-Cut With a Group of People

March 8, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

"BA just grabbed me and dragged me in," this was one of the first comments after nearly a dozen of us finished watching the first two hours of the rough cut of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION— NOTHING LESS! "He gives so much history to everything he is talking about. Even if you are new to this movement you know what he is talking about because he makes it really clear." The young man speaking is very new to the revolution. He grew up in the projects not far from where we are gathered and has spoken with deep anger as well as searching about the conditions he and those around him have grown up in, about having spent time in jail, about seeing friends cut down by the senseless violence of the streets, about trying to figure out why Black people are always on the bottom. During the film every now and then he would take out his notebook and jot something down. He said he especially liked how BA gave such vivid examples, "like how he said there is blood in our clothes [referring to the crushing process of exploitation through which our clothes are produced under capitalism], I never thought about that... and I am never going to forget that."

The young woman sitting next to him grew up in a different part of the world and had been taking even more notes throughout the speech. She was most struck by how BA forces you to totally reject the normal terms that people think in, "all the pragmatism and excuses not to be thinking about and doing something about the horrors in the world." She went on, "Sometimes you will be having a conversation about drones and the whole thing will be about how drones are cheaper and maybe kill fewer people than regular war and you'll be going along thinking about things all totally within the confines of how things already are. But you hear BA and you realize, those aren't the terms—why is any of this happening in the first place. That is the real issue... He connects the dots, too. He goes from small to big and from past to present and even the future... all in just the first three hours!... Like [the first person to speak] said, he pulls it back to history, to the beginnings of society and shows this is not inherent." She did a mocking type of voice to convey what is conventional wisdom, "Well, people are all just bad." "No. This is NOT inherent. People do good things too, but its leashed and struck in charities or whatever is allowed or easy within the current confines."

She and another young man both took some time to talk about how even when people know some things are wrong in the world, they don't really confront just how bad things actually are. Both of them had seen the speech before and it seems they had both been driven to go and see for themselves if things really were that severe. "Yeah, you can google everything he says... at first you think it might be an exaggeration but really none of it is an exaggeration."

The next person who spoke agreed with what had been said but really seemed to be most struck by the method of the speech. "He also tells you WHY these things are happening. And he's not only asking all these questions, he is asking the question of how to ask the question. How to understand all these things, where does it come from. Not from human nature, not from some 'conscious universe.' He's saying we can understand all this from science, and he is taking you inside the scientific method. And he's showing you how all these other methods lead you to dead-ends. It's really sweeping, like watching someone working in a lab, going into the questions of what kind of system we live in and can we do anything about it and not only does he answer that but he opens up to you how if you aren't coming from science you can't do anything about it."

A Latin American woman who'd never watched BA before then spoke up. She had observations about many of the particular things she learned in the film, but then paused and her face got very intense. When she continued it was slower, "It's kind of amazing what he made me think. You are taught your whole life that the Christians are really good and really moral when they give away money to people who are more poor, but why is it that some people have so much to give away... all the exploitation behind that. I never thought of that before."

A white guy who had been involved in the Occupy movement commented, "I am really inspired by what I saw but also troubled. Particularly this point you were making about science. Capitalism is a system that people say is justified by science too. It takes for granted that some people will always be exploited. The very idea that it is wrong for 10 million children to die every year, that isn't just science. To say it is wrong for that to happen is not a scientific conclusion. It seems to me there is something outside of science that BA is also doing in the film." He went on to explain how capitalist political parties will do things like focus groups that start with the assumption that the world is going to be basically the way it is and then applies science within that to figure out how to go at things. "Like if you take for granted that 10 million children are going to die, you can use a detached science to figure out how to do just do some good for some of those kids. It seems to me there is something beyond science that BA is doing in that film when he says that we should put an end to the deaths of 10 million children each year."

He continued to explain that he is troubled by the rejection of religion and spirituality in the film, clearly things he holds dear to himself. He clearly wasn't resolved on these issues, but wound up his comments saying, "It seems the root of the power of this speech is that BA is really attached to humanity and doesn't pull punches. As for the dismissal of religion, I guess if Cornel West can dig it, I can live with it too."

From here a very rich discussion broke out. Several people went into how important it is to utilize science to understand the real world and the dynamics of change if you want to change the world. They brought to bear things that BA had said in the film about not only what is happening in the world but the importance of having a method to accurately and thoroughly understand it.

As for the question of how the bourgeoisie (capitalist class) also has utilized science in the service of its monumental crimes, at first someone argued that really we have to understand that there is a difference between "bourgeois science" and "proletarian science." This was challenged by others who insisted that science and truth don't have a class character, that what is true is what corresponds to reality, but that whether you want to look at all that and what you do with the truths you discover through science does depend on what your world outlook (or class viewpoint) is. For instance, it is a scientific fact that 10 million children die each year from preventable disease in the Third World, that can be tested and proven. But, whether you want to do something about that, even whether or not you want to look at that fact, does have to do with what your morality and class outlook is.

The young guy who was troubled by such a reliance on science brought up the example of Richard Dawkins' "scientific" theories of the "selfish gene." He said, "This is totally different than what BA was saying about people." Really, others argued, what BA is saying is true not because we reject the scientific facts discovered by Dawkins, but because Dawkins is wrong and reductionist in his theories of selfishness and that what BA argues—about how there is no such thing as an unchangeable and unchanging selfish human nature—actually corresponds to reality, to human history, and is actually scientifically true.

At this point the whole room was leaning in and listening deeply. Many were jumping at the chance to add new layers to the wrangling. What about the actual content of the Bible (with its mandates for rape and oppression and ignorance) but also what of those motivated by their religious beliefs to fight against oppression? What does BA say about, and what does everyone think about, how to handle that contradiction? One person brought up what is written in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) about how people will be free to practice their religions under socialism, but that the state will be secular and science will be taught in all the schools. He mentioned that, "Religious people can even hold office in the new society, but the state will be secular." and discussion ranged into how that might work as well. From this he also emphasized why it is so important, and why BA places such importance, on fighting with people to give up belief in make-believe, but also why we know and are oriented towards uniting very broadly—including with religious people—in the fight to change the whole world.

"What about the fact that reality is always changing," asked the first young woman to speak. "Religion teaches you that god gives orders as to how the world is supposed to be and religion is like a moral dictionary. It just stays there unchanging. It doesn't acknowledge that the world is changing. Instead you have to accept a moral dictionary and it puts people to sleep. It doesn't allow you to evaluate the present, future and past, the micro and the overarching and the understanding of all these things. And it lets you ignore things that are going on that are wrong just because they aren't spoken to in that moral dictionary."

An interesting thing was that all throughout this discussion over the relationship between religion and atheism, science and morality, method and the struggle to change the whole world, it never felt even the least bit "detached" (to use the very accurate description of how science appears to so many today). People were getting into these questions because they could see how they mattered to the struggle to actually put an END to all the tremendous horrors that are grinding on all around us every minute. There was a rigor, but also a real passion, that was shared by everyone even as they explored important differences. There was a drive to dig into these things as a key part of following through on filling the challenges and the great responsibilities and the great possibility of putting an end to the unnecessary suffering that had been laid out in the film.

Still, the time was rushing by and the evening had gotten late. It was clear everyone in the room had new thoughts bubbling up and that it would have been easy to spend several more hours right there on the spot. But, the purpose of this viewing had been to give people a taste of the film but also to organize and unleash enthusiasm and plans for promoting and drawing forward the necessary audiences for the premieres.

It was necessary, in other words, to shift gears to make plans.

Right before we did, actually as a segue into getting organized, one of us made the comment, "Think about all the bullshit people spend so much time talking about and thinking about, all the really mind-numbing shit as well as the truly degrading shit." Everyone laughed and began naming off some of the things they hate most about the current culture. "Now imagine on March 16 and 17 as the theaters let out and hundreds of people spill into the lobbies. Imagine hundreds of new people spending the night and the weeks afterward with their closest friends—or with new friends—digging into all of the kinds of things we've just begun getting into and more. And we've only just watched the first third of this speech—we haven't even gotten to all he has to say about how all this can be ended changed."

People did stop and think about this and then everyone, newer and more experienced, those with different levels of unity and different angles of appreciation, went to work on figuring out the ways to make the greatest use of the days left before the premiere to make sure everyone possible is going to be part of that experience.


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