Dialogue - Issue #15
In this edited extract from their new book, It’s Not Just You, Tori Tsui discusses the transformative power of radical imagination.
When was the last time you sat and dreamed about the world you want to live in? It might feel rather contrarian given how “time is ticking” and how the world is fraught with inequality. I too believed this for a long time, feeling as though anything other than hard-nosed “organising” was an indulgence that only those with privilege could afford. It was actually through spending time around radical thinkers (and dreamers) that I realised joyful practice and imagination are essential tenets of any long-term movement. Now I give myself permission to seek joy and sustainability in the work I am pursuing, and allow myself to hold onto the goodness of the world as a sign that the best is yet to come.
I’ve come to learn that, if anything, imagining a more just world acts as a blueprint for action and allows us to reorient our priorities in a system that has aimed to dismantle them. It is a radical call to arms to create the world that we want to see, but also to create one that will nurture us. Utopias need not be farfetched. They can be microcosmic examples that we can scale up with time. They can give us something to work towards and live for as the world is neither unmovable nor unchanging. And in order to sow the seeds for a better tomorrow, we need to first dream about what future we can create. Whether it be a world characterised by climate justice, and, by extension, a world in which we thrive healthily - mentally, physically and spiritually. Such that eco-anxious predispositions, or otherwise, are merely remnants of the past, having been conquered and reimagined.
Radical imagination - the practice of reimagining the world and its systems, guided by principles of community, solidarity and radical change - is an opportunity to envisage the world, its inhabitants and structures beyond what they are currently. To me, and many others, radical imagination allows us to create and innovate beyond neoliberal capitalist beliefs, beyond climate injustice, and beyond the “mental health” crisis that plagues our communities. It is the adversary of capitalist realism and climate doomism, encouraging endless possibilities and multifarious ways of being. As sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin famously said: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
The term “radical” asks us to address things at the root, the fundamental level of how systems and injustices come to be, and implores us to imagine a world where these inequalities can be dismantled. In its own right, it asks us to question the weaponisation of the word radical, which has been branded as dangerous and negative, despite the reality that what we’re asking for isn’t too much nor impossible, but rather what we deserve. After all, the alternative is far less gratuitous; is it really so radical to imagine a life where we avoid catastrophic climate breakdown? And by virtue of that, the deterioration of all (environ)mental health?
Abolitionist movements have long understood the importance of radical imagination as a practice, US political activist Angela Davis once said: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time,” and, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
Akin to us as individuals constantly modifying minute behaviours to make up for the system in place, we need to change the system at the root, forgoing the dehumanising processes of policing and carcerality that further harm our communities - whether it be the fossil fuel industry who willingly prioritise profits over people, the capitalist system that allows billionaires to exist, or the institutions that imprison communities resisting, challenging or reacting to oppressive forces. Abolition is not about inviting us to the table; it’s about dismantling the old and building an entirely new system in place to house us all equitably.
Until we believe that another world is possible, we are trapped in a cycle of blame and infighting that furthers the mental toll already facing so many, leading us astray. After all, if the goal is to deal with both the mental health and climate crisis, at an individual level, without any consideration for the system writ large, we may come to a standstill. Radical imagination offers respite from this, allowing for the possibility of something better through carefully considered and collective means: an invitation to honour the power of community and a shared understanding of where we are now and where we need to go
This is an edited excerpt from It’s Not Just You: How To Navigate Eco-Anxiety And The Climate Crisis, by Tori Tsui. Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK, 2023.
Dreaming a World