An Infinity of Alternatives

Anooj Bhandari

“But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

-David Foster Wallace


David Foster Wallace, in his graduation speech to Kenyon College in 2005 titled This is Water, spoke on the importance of education is the freedom to choose.  If you’ve read this speech, you’re probably going to name my sentence-long recap as reductionist (also, I’ll have you know that my new year’s resolution is to be less reductionist), but ideas of agency and choice in a world of socialized behavior is a distinct through-line throughout his writing.  We live in a world that has named a lot of things and split them off into binaries or larger categories, ranked them against one another, and paired them with larger institutions that provide us with different amounts of education to believe, or not, that these categories are okay (or awful).  This works very similarly with our political ideologies and systems.  These systems, in the United States government, are typically known as Democratic and Republican, with some names of Independent, Green, Libertarian, and the radical left and the radical right, thrown in there.  The more we introduce people to the existence of these parties and what they consist of, the more they will have become educated to choose what feels right for them.  How do naming parties and ideologies prevent our imagination from being able to create and opt into things beyond simply what we are able to name? What I want to question here isn’t the validity of these as choices, but rather, how do our groupings limit what we see as possible?  

Restorative Justice is a growing practice that focuses on alternatives to traditional punitive discipline.  Essentially, rather than resorting to exclusionary practices that remove members of a community after a “wrong-doing,” restorative justice implements community circles and interventions that use storytelling and opening up lines of communication to understand what harm is being felt by a community and its members.  From there, it looks at what harm’s impact is on a community as a whole, and how to transform that harm into collective progress and growth for a community.  It asserts that everybody has a role in making a community better, and while those roles are variant, dynamic, and contextual, that introspection is a necessary first step.  Restorative justice is not the alternative to punitive discipline itself, but rather an entry point into exploring what options exist for our future, even if we haven’t named them.  These processes are typically integrated into the criminal justice and education systems, but Restorative Justice boiled down to a single process is simply the act of interdependence; understanding a need and counting on one’s community to come to bat to, at the very least, talk about it together.  This process, ingrained into a political system, would ideally give agency to community members, no matter their status, to have something important to say and to build a space where rules, understanding, and ways to move forward is cultivated as an autonomous body, even if for a brief time, before returning back into the community to try to manifest their alternatives.  This is typically what community focus groups try to do, but with the notion that the call for intervention comes from all parts of society-- not just the ones who hold systemic power and privilege.

As the Trump administration continues to show our nation the horrors of a system that associates human value to the amount of capital one can produce, Restorative Justice can be seen as a way to simultaneously move away from seeing socialism as what may seem as an obvious alternative, and to remind ourselves that there are ideologies and systems that exist out there that we have yet to realize exist because we have not used our collective imagination to pull them into existence.  I truly have no reason what this system could be, but it is my excitement and curiosity around working together to figure out what it could be that pulls me towards it each and every day.

(Published February 1, 2018 - View Full Newsletter Here)