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The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self

Release date: February 9, 2018

The Desire for Mutual Recognition is a work of accessible social theory that seeks to make visible the desire for authentic social connection, emanating from our social nature, that animates all human relationships.

Using a social-phenomenological method that illuminates rather than explains social life, Peter Gabel shows how the legacy of social alienation that we have inherited from prior generations envelops us in a milieu of a “fear of the other,” a fear of each other. Yet because social reality is always co-constituted by the desire for authentic connection and genuine co-presence, social transformation always remains possible, and liberatory social movements are always emerging and providing us with a permanent source of hope. The great progressive social movements for workers’ rights, civil rights, and women’s and gay liberation, generated their transformative power from their capacity to transcend the reciprocal isolation that otherwise separates us. These movements at their best actually realize our fundamental longing for mutual recognition, and for that very reason they can generate immense social change and bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. Gabel examines the struggle between desire and alienation as it unfolds across our social world, calling for a new social-spiritual activism that can go beyond the limitations of existing progressive theory and action, intentionally foster and sustain our capacity to heal what separates us, and inspire a new kind of social movement that can transform the world.

 

"Peter Gabel is one of the grand prophetic voices in our day. He also is a long-distance runner in the struggle for justice." –Cornel West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard University

"This book is a major contribution to critical social theory and to the ongoing project of respiritualizing our lives in the family, the market, and the state. It is broad and deep at the same time, with grace and pleasure to be had on every page."
–Duncan Kennedy, Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence Emeritus, Harvard Law School

"Karl Marx considered the class struggle the engine of human history. In The Desire for Mutual Recognition, however, Peter Gabel boldly asserts the existence of a deeper underlying motive factor: the dynamic of our human yearning, whether towards frustration or fulfillment, to co-create and inhabit a universe of authentic, loving connection, and mutual recognition. Human liberation requires us to intentionally embed social-spiritual strategies within socio-political movements to radically challenge social fear while generating powerful experiences of mutual recognition that support the evolution of humanity toward its full realization. To read this entrancing work is itself to gain entrance into a re-sacralized dimension, evocative of a new future." - Fania E. Davis, long-time activist, civil rights lawyer, and restorative justice scholar and practitioner

"Peter Gabel’s The Desire for Mutual Recognition may soon reshape the landscape of contemporary social theory. With great sophistication and yet accessibility for those with no previous background, Gabel reveals the key to healing and transforming our world. Demonstrating why those who seek liberation must move past liberalism, Marxism, and deconstruction, Gabel shows how a respiritualization of every aspect of our world can move us beyond the alienation that characterizes so much of human interactions and the institutions in which we are continually imagining ourselves to be stuck. Far from utopian, liberation is in our own hands and could be achieved very quickly once we break through the false vision of reality that can be overcome if we follow Gabel's sage advice." - Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun; author of The Left Hand of God and Jewish Renewal

"Peter Gabel is a God-wrestler and has been one for years and decades. In this important and needed book he brings his passion for justice and healing of our world along with his well honed analytical skills to bear on the pressing issue of our time: How to let go of the "false self" and the "false we" that poisons our political discourse and stifles our social imaginations. A deep contribution to a needed movement of sacred activism and the return of conscience to our civic life. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that "true peace is the presence of justice." In this regard, this is a book about true peace-making." - Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing, The Reinvention of Work, A Way to God, and Order of the Sacred Earth (with Skylar Wilson and Jennifer Listug)

"In The Desire for Mutual Recognition, Peter Gabel unfurls a nuanced phenomenology of the social world, a theory of human interbeing as experienced from within its often confounding relational depths. Gabel's ability to think and reflect with his whole organism (with his heart as well as his head) illumines both the uncanny inertia of a destructive civilization seemingly unable to change course, and the erotic energy-flows that provide the ever-present wellspring for such transformation." –David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal

"Now more than ever, progressives need a transformed way to understand ourselves, our world, and the future we imagine. Peter Gabel's extraordinary book demonstrates the revolutionary truth that meaningful social change depends on ordinary people overcoming the alienation from the social world and from each other that frames each of our lives in liberal societies. Contemporary radical theory has been adept at identifying the myriad forms in which social power is manifest, but it has paid little attention to how power works at the level of consciousness and everyday experience to provide a (false) substitute for the mutual recognition and connection that we all desire. The Desire for Mutual Recognition reveals the spiritual and psychological dynamics that form the existential ground for social alienation and that must be addressed for redemptive social change to take hold. It is a beautifully written and evocative work of social theory, and a prophetic and practical call for social change." –Gary Peller, author of Critical Race Consciousness: Reconsidering American Ideologies of Racial Justice

"Peter Gabel’s synthesis of political and spiritual activism is exactly what we need for the future. Gabel offers insights into how we can overcome our “fear of the other” and expand authentic social connections into peaceful and loving communities. This book’s fresh perspective on movement building should be widely read and discussed." –George Katsciaficas, author of The Eros Effect and The Global Imagination of 1968 (2018)

"Modern social movements by embracing a solely materialist perspective have followed the path of the liberal enlightenment in throwing the baby – spirituality - out with the bathwater -tyrannical religion. This has been self-limiting at best, leading down one blind alley or another, setting in motion endless cycles of revolution/counter-revolution. Peter Gabel’ s The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self is a work that evokes Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, Sartre’s Search for a Method/Critique of Dialectical Reason and Huxley’s novel Island in providing the philosophical foundation for a social-spiritual activism in which solidarity and love are combined towards creating the just, sacred and sustainable world we all actually desire." - Michael McAvoy, Director, Center for Social-Spiritual Activism. Western Institute of Social Research

"Peter Gabel's brilliant new book, The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self, seeks to understand both the source of our collective suffering and the prospects for a radical social change movement through a lens that draws from psychoanalysis, critical social theory, and his own sophisticated brand of phenomenology―what Gabel calls a "phenomenology of social being." He uses the high-brow language of philosophy, but his aim is a down-to-earth plea for a dramatic shift in how we understand human alienation and the conditions necessary to effect social change through what he calls a "spiritualization" of politics. Through illuminating the drawbacks of liberalism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, existentialism, and deconstruction, Gabel urges us to create a social movement that expresses and honors our deepest longings for love, understanding and recognition. … In my reading, it is a call for us to find a way to become our best selves and create a better world in the process." – Michael Bader, AlterNet

 "…A profoundly illuminating book for lawyers and non-lawyers alike … and in the near future it will be recommended reading for new lawyers—the ones bravely envisioning, living, and slowly realising this new legal culture we are dreaming of." – Elaine Quinn, Conscious Lawyer

“A thrilling and comprehensive take on how to create a different kind of politics in America. Peter Gabel advances the claim that the great civilizing movements of our times have at their  core a demand that society be made safe for the instincts of human empathy, care and love which are systematically stifled by political structures of injustice and indifference.” – U.S. House of Representatives Member Jamie Raskin


 

Another Way of Seeing: Essays on Transforming Law, Politics and Culture

In ANOTHER WAY OF SEEING, Peter Gabel argues that our most fundamental spiritual need as human beings is the desire for authentic mutual recognition. Because we live in a world in which this desire is systematically denied due to the legacy of fear of the other that has been passed on from generation to generation, we exist as what he calls "withdrawn selves," perceiving the other as a threat rather than as the source of our completion as social beings. Calling for a new kind of "spiritual activism" that speaks to this universal interpersonal longing, Gabel shows how we can transform law, politics, public policy, and culture so as to build a new social movement through which we become more fully present to each other-creating a new "parallel universe" existing alongside our socially separated world and reaffirming the social bond that inherently unites us. • "Peter Gabel is one of the grand prophetic voices in our day. He also is a long-distance runner in the struggle for justice. Don't miss this book!" -Cornel West, The Class of 1943 Professor, Princeton University, and Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary • "Peter Gabel has delivered a set of unmatched phenomenological analyses of the profound alienation that pervades everyday life in America in the early 21st century. His insightful descriptions of the way things really are challenge us to open our eyes, minds and hearts to our own and one another's deepest longings, and together, to bring one another back home. ... Like a pick axe thrown ahead to anchor us all, to paraphrase one of his most evocative images, Gabel's polemic teaches and inspires us to 'think with our hearts,' to genuinely and confidently love ourselves and our brothers and sisters on this very planet Earth, to lift ourselves and one another on the strength of our authentic Presence, and to move things forward together. Now." -Rhonda V. Magee, Professor of Law, University of San Francisco.

 

 
 

The Bank Teller and Other Essays on the Politics of Meaning

These essays, most previously published in Tikkun, where the author is associate editor, exude the spirit of the '60s in their call for spiritual and political renewal based on the "politics of meaning." Gabel (who is also president of New College of California) offers a vision of a communitarian, loving, transformed world. His vision entails a diagnosis of what ails usAa culturally produced "alienation of self from other" yielding "a crisis of meaninglessness"Aand a cure: the politics of meaning, a radical social effort to "transform the alienating public culture that envelops us" and to generate "reciprocal affirmation through meaningful public action" in a way that links spirituality and politics. The concepts sound fluffy in the abstract, and they don't entirely lose their fluff as Gabel applies them to such areas as philosophical foundations, American politics, public policy, education (he wants to abolish the SAT) and law. Yet Gabel is onto something. The title essay nicely challenges the notion that a "bank," for all its hierarchical trappings, is not a "group of people in a room," too terrified of humiliation to step out of their assigned roles, whether that of teller or customer. Clinton's election is convincingly depicted as the triumph of the reemergent "erotic power of the sixties," a decade Gabel extols, down to its rock lyrics (e.g., "All You Need Is Love") and urges us to learn from. This book is like a pie: a flaky crust, but a substantial interior. (Aug.) 
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Publishers Weekly

These essays, most previously published in Tikkun, where the author is associate editor, exude the spirit of the '60s in their call for spiritual and political renewal based on the "politics of meaning." Gabel (who is also president of New College of California) offers a vision of a communitarian, loving, transformed world. His vision entails a diagnosis of what ails usAa culturally produced "alienation of self from other" yielding "a crisis of meaninglessness"Aand a cure: the politics of meaning, a radical social effort to "transform the alienating public culture that envelops us" and to generate "reciprocal affirmation through meaningful public action" in a way that links spirituality and politics. The concepts sound fluffy in the abstract, and they don't entirely lose their fluff as Gabel applies them to such areas as philosophical foundations, American politics, public policy, education (he wants to abolish the SAT) and law. Yet Gabel is onto something. The title essay nicely challenges the notion that a "bank," for all its hierarchical trappings, is not a "group of people in a room," too terrified of humiliation to step out of their assigned roles, whether that of teller or customer. Clinton's election is convincingly depicted as the triumph of the reemergent "erotic power of the sixties," a decade Gabel extols, down to its rock lyrics (e.g., "All You Need Is Love") and urges us to learn from. This book is like a pie: a flaky crust, but a substantial interior. (Aug.) 
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

The Bank Teller and Other Essays on the Politics of Meaning, by Peter Gabel. Law Professor, Law Dean and college President, Peter Gabel gets down to fundamentals about the politics of meaning. This is not a muckraking expose but rather a relentless push on readers to examine their isolation and alienation from one another, their neighborhood, workplace, and community without which a functioning democracy cannot evolve. --Ralph Nader's 2007 Top Ten Holiday Reading List for Activists

Peter Gabel's powerful and profound analysis of the psychodynamics of contemporary Western societies is a major breakthrough in contemporary thought. Gabel demonstrates the way that we each participate in a fear-based withdrawal from each other into social roles that keep us trapped in isolation and loneliness while yearning for real contact and yet denying to ourselves and others that yearning for fear of being humiliated and rejected. Gabel shows that the desire to transcend these crippling dynamics is omni-present, and helps progressives and liberals understand how to address this need for authentic recognition, a need that till now has been largely ignored by the Left while it was being seized upon and manipulated by the Religious Right. This book and the thinking behind it has had a major influence on my own thinking, and I hope everyone who cares about saving America from its own self-destruction will carefully read The Bank Teller. --Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, chair of The Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) and author of 11 books, most recently the national best-selller The Left Hand of God.