The Revolution Will Be Created
Building parallel societies is the ultimate dissent to authoritarianism, history says
T he revolution will be about creation, not destruction—at least that’s what ‘parallel society’ advocates say. It’s also the essence of what Jeanette Winterson said in her book Lighthouse Keeping:
“If you can’t survive in this world, you had better make a world of your own.”
This has always, since the day I read it, been my favorite quote. Not one of my favorites—my favorite. Clearly I felt, even back then in my budding 20s, that I could not in fact survive this world—and Winterson’s solution seemed profound to my young, counter-cultural mind. Fast forward a decade and a half and you can imagine that if the world of then seemed bad to sensitive people like me, the world of now is absolutely harrowing.
Today, the push toward global authoritarianism in unison by big tech, big government, and big media is realer than ever before, and it’s starting to occur to more and more of us that ‘making a world of our own’ is no longer just a hippie dream, but actually vital at this point. (High five to all the “conspiracy theorists” who tried to warn us!)
All that to say: The parallel society’s time has come. (Well, it’s come again—this isn’t the world’s first tyrannical rodeo, after all!) The term ‘parallel society’ refers to a grassroots-fueled society “not dependent on official channels of communications, or on the hierarchy of values of the establishment.” It’s a non-violent solution to the destructiveness of authoritarian regimes. In other words: the ultimate dissent. And history shows us that it works.
The concept of a parallel society was created by Ivan Jirous, a Czech poet and artistic director of the rock band The Plastic People of the Universe, during the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Eartern Europe against a longtime communist government. According to a video by the Academy of Ideas (see below), “Jirous called on the arts community to create music labels, publishing houses, concert halls, art expositions, and other such infrastructure that existed independently of mainstream society and outside the grasp of the communist state. Jirous hypothesized that if enough infrastructure were created, an independent society would spontaneously form and function as a pocket of creative freedom in a highly oppressed society.”
And that’s precisely what happened.
Jirous’ idea was the seed that eventually blossomed into a homegrown social revolution effective in dismantling communism in Eastern Europe. The initial concept was later officially coined “parallel society” by Czech philosopher Vaclav Benda, who defined it as “all social, cultural, and economic structures that existed unconstrained by the state.” If Jirous sprouted this idea in the arts community, Benda farmed it out to include all spheres of society from education to economy and everything in between. The aim was to grow and strengthen alternative, underground structures to the point where they would eventually supplant the existing oppressive government structures, and soften the blow for communism’s inevitable collapse (it always collapses, folks!).
The state always has more brute-force power than the people, so the idea behind building a parallel society is that putting our energy into creating alternate systems—rather than fighting to tear down the oppressive ones that exist—is actually the most fruitful way in which to dissent and, ultimately, to restore freedom in an increasingly unfree world. Defy the state not by fighting against it, but by ignoring it completely.
Stop burning down committees, let us build our own. – Jacek Kuron
And this people-powered underground circumvention works: The parallel society in communist Czechoslovakia became so robust and decentralized by the late ‘80s that it paved the way to the successful 1989 revolution that disintegrated the one-party communist state and birthed democracy in Eastern Europe.
Parallel societies satisfy the needs of the people, not the powers that be. From the rise of cryptocurrencies to the mass migration from public education toward homeschooling to the proliferation of new independent media outlets (such as this here Wildtimes!), parallel structures are naturally manifesting as authoritarianism escalates insidiously worldwide. Sovereignty is the new black, indeed.
I know our post-pandemic world feels uncertain and, frankly, frightening af, but now is the time to remember that we the people are meant to hold the power. As Jirous said, “The parallel society is the only meaningful structure that people can create if they do not wish to remain mere appendices of the political and social structure created by the ruling power.” Dunno about y’all but I’m certainly over the ruling powers, and am ready to do what it takes to create a dope little world of our own.
For a more in-depth look at the parallel society concept, check out this awesome video by Academy of Ideas:
Arizona Bell is the co-founder and editorial director of Wildtimes Media. Her book “Soul Magic: Ancient wisdom for modern mystics” is available everywhere books are sold. Arizona came out the shoot a free thinker, and intends to go to the grave the same.