In Cooperative Games for a Cooperative World, Dada Maheshvarananda offers an accessible, hands-on practice to reach toward that possible world. It’s an easy book to plunge into head first, and it’s a book that allows each and all of us to prepare for that more harmonious place. Think of it as a book of cooperative calisthenics, little exercises to prepare us for the huge changes that are essential to our survival on this earth.
What does it mean to be human today? Where are we on the clock of the universe? What does this political and social moment demand of us? How shall we live?
These are the substantial questions that are illuminated through the small activities and joyful games on display here. Dada Maheshvarananda does not run from the big issues facing us; rather, he engages them every day. His is the view from a grain of sand, the universe illuminated in a single moment of a child’s laughter. He simply shows up and begins, and it becomes quickly and dazzlingly clear that we belong together, that we are one another’s bounty, and we are one another’s responsibility.
Dada Maheshvarananda invites readers to play games, but these games unlock the magnitude: we begin to imagine the future we would like for the generations to come; we unleash our spiritual and social imaginations. We are playing games, and so we turn to the children and grandchildren, and we think of the grandchildren’s grandchildren. We note that a co-invented and dramatically extended family, at its evolving best, can be a small-scale model of a mini-society driven by norms of equality and reciprocity, a sense of shared community in which people care about and for one another. Mutual respect, recognition of differences, including distinct capacities and interests and needs, shared wealth, cooperation, attempts to account for and correct all chance/accidental disadvantages, and so on—from each according to what he or she is capable of, and to each according to need. Everybody in, nobody out.
In our pursuit of a world powered by love and reaching toward joy and justice, we find that imagination is our most formidable and unyielding ally—our common asset, an endowment to each one of us and the indispensable weapon of the powerless. Yes, the powerful—the casino capitalists and the predatory financiers, the banksters and their hedge-fund homies—control the massive military-industrial complex, the sophisticated surveillance systems, the prison cells, and the organized propaganda. These are on constant display as if to remind us every minute that there is no hope of a world without the instruments of death and oppression, while we have only our minds, our desires, our dreams—and one another. And, yes, in a traditional conflict we are finished before we start. But it’s also true that there’s no power on earth stronger than the imagination unleashed and the collective human soul on fire. Imagination is indispensable because it “ignites the slow fuse of possibility,” as Emily Dickinson wrote. More process than product, more stance than conclusion, engaging the imagination involves the dynamic work of igniting that fuse, mapping the world as it really is, and then purposely stepping outside and leaning toward a possible world. In an irregular struggle that pits our free imaginations against the stillborn and stunted imaginations of the war-makers and the mercenaries, we can win.
When we choose life, we leap into the whirlwind with courage and hope. Hope is a choice, after all—our collective antidote to cynicism and despair. It’s the capacity to notice or invent alternatives, and then to do something about it, to get busy in projects of repair. Choosing hopefulness is holding out the possibility of change. Hope is never a matter of sitting down and waiting patiently; hope is nourished in action, and it assumes that we are—each and all of us—incomplete as human beings. We have things to do, mountains to climb, problems to solve, injuries to heal. We can choose to see life as infused with the capacity to cherish happiness, to respect evidence and argument and reason, to uphold integrity, to share and cooperate, and to imagine a world more loving, more peaceful, more joyous, and more just than the one we were given—and we should. Of course we live in dark times, and some of us inhabit even darker places, and, yes, we act mostly in the dark. But we are never freer than when we shake ourselves and refuse to see the situation or the world before us as the absolute end of the matter.
We must announce through our lives and our work and our play that a new world is in the making. We can create a community of agitators and transform this corner of the world into a place that we want to inhabit. We can identify ourselves as citizens of a country that does not yet exist and has no map, and become that new nation’s pioneers and cartographers—and through our cooperative actions bring a more assertive and vibrant public into being.
Turn out all the lights and ignite a small candle in any corner of the room. That little light held aloft anywhere challenges the darkness everywhere. One candle. We can always do something, and something is where we begin. The tools are everywhere—humor and art, games and stories, protest and spectacle, the quiet, patient intervention and the angry, urgent thrust—and the rhythm is always the same: we open our eyes and look unblinkingly at the immense and dynamic world we find before us; we allow ourselves to be astonished by the beauty and horrified at the suffering all around us; we organize ourselves, link hands with others, dive in, speak up, and act out. We doubt that our efforts have made the important difference we’d hoped for, and so we rethink, recalibrate, look again, and dive in once more.
Start playing cooperative games!
Bill Ayers is a social justice organizer and activist, a teacher and former Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author or editor of 30 books about teaching, social justice, urban school reform, and children in trouble with the law. He has published two memoirs, Fugitive Days and Public Enemy, and his most recent book is Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto.