The little bit of Brazilian jiu-jitsu I’ve done (before I quit because of neck issues) is a constant source of analogies.
Today it helped me think about how the conditions that led to the civil rights movement are different from current conditions that appear to prevent effective social change from materialising—different in the degree of clarity and unambiguity potential target positions present themselves with.
There are two common mistakes in BJJ that are related:
1) your intention is too easily identifiable
2) your action makes you vulnerable to an equally effective counteraction.
“Thank you for offering me your arm/neck/ankle” is a common joking remark to hear from a BJJ partner over the first few months. Presenting a target is a mistake. Presenting a clear intention is a kind of presenting a target.
The current state is that there is an incredible amount of confusion and disagreement about what The Problem is and what The System is doing exacty that needs to be stopped on what level exactly. The confusion, whether or not necessarily created intentionally, certainly benefits existing power structures and may as well be described as “intentional” from that functional (as opposed to subjective, individual) perspective. It benefits them because it presents opportunities for individuals as well as groups organised along certain lines of classification and identification to spend energy and feel like they are making progress, all the while existing structures, still in full operation, act uninhibitedly.
Unfortunately there is a pretty obvious limit to the analogy, which makes it difficult to extend it to help think about solutions: humanity is not two bodies in conflict.
Even if there was agreement on what The System (as one body) is doing, there wouldn’t be a second body to act in response or anticipation. This is the difficulty of finding or constructing a political subject that has a voice and has power. Finding such a subject has become increasingly difficult due to advances in understanding the multiplicity of social positions and the way they interact with each other in ways that prevent a single core position, a united subject, from disintegrating as a result of its own contradictions. The next step is usually separation: if we can’t agree on who “we” are, then those groups that do see a viable “we” move forward and fight their own fight. These movements are always problematic in some way, but at the same time people just don’t feel like they have time to solve the bigger problem first. The dependency on an unsolved problem is rightfully seen as a barrier to action, and it is indeed pragmatic to decouple a movement from it—to basically ground it in momentary arbitrariness.
I admit that I have veered away from Brazilian jiu-jitsu quite a bit, so maybe to bring this chain of thoughts back to the starting point, let me suggest that it is important to recognize the function of multilayered confusion and ambiguity and to not get distracted with individual, very local conflicts whose resolution is unlikely to work towards a more powerful position for people affected by various forms of oppression.
Ideally, resolving a conflict has effects that exceed the locality of the particular conflict itself.