How the Bouldering Gym Reminds Me of Collective Liberation

It was my first time at the bouldering gym a few weeks ago, and it embodies so much of my understanding of value and liberation. Before I get into it, I should note that businesses in general — especially those in gentrified areas — are not an actual example of liberation, but this particular one does remind me of what liberation could be like. Here are four ways the bouldering gym reminds me of collective liberation:

  1. Intrinsic Value

    The bouldering gym is a place that makes life worth living. People go there not because it’s instrumental to something else, but because it’s fun, challenging, or otherwise worthwhile. That’s what I call “intrinsic value”: something that makes life worth living. Bouldering is not just a means to an end, but an end in itself.
  2. Place-based rules

    Unlike the arbitrary “ruling” structures that we’ve inherited from centuries ago, the rules of the bouldering gym are inherently tied to the activity. So much of our conversation on social structures is separate from the actual activities being structured. We need to eliminate those conversations in favor of understanding what makes life worth living and how to organize it. It’s that simple. We don’t have to have huge, antagonistic, centuries-long debates about huge, abstract social structures (such as forms of government, socialism, capitalism, and so on). All we need to do is understand what makes life worth living, and how to manage those activities. There is an ever-expanding menu of what makes life worth living, and each of those activities need to be managed differently. When we understand that, we can replace our social structures with the direct intent of creating and sustaining what makes life worth living.
  3. Learning from context

    As you experience being active in the context of a certain place, you make meaning and you learn from yourself and others. When I was climbing a higher level route than I thought I could do, I was so surprised that I was able to reach what appeared to be impossible. That’s a lesson that I gathered from the context and my interaction with it: “What you think is impossible is possible.” The lessons learned at the bouldering gym are contextual and personal. Each person makes their own meaning. People share that meaning in context of the “land” and their interaction with it. They are teaching and learning from each other at different levels, while still pursuing their own challenges at their own pace. This is a metropolitan example of what Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is saying in the “Land as Pedagogy” chapter of As We Have Always Done. There is no decontextualized “education.” The land is the lesson. It’s a far cry from how kids are raised in Western society and for what purpose.
  4. Intrinsic motivation

    People at the gym can choose to climb, sit and watch, socialize, bounce around on the mats, and freely move from activity to activity. Since the rules of the space are inherently tied to the activity — such as the rule not to climb underneath someone — people follow them because they make sense. Everyone is driven by intrinsic motivation and their own self- and context-awareness. To be fair, within our capitalist context, the employees have to be there to pay their bills. But it’s not too hard to think of people volunteering to maintain the space, if the rest of the world were similarly operating on intrinsic motivation.

When you combine intrinsic value, place-based rules, learning from context, and intrinsic motivation, what you get is collective liberation across the spectrum of childhood and adulthood. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine those concepts when we live in structures that promote their opposite, but there are little glimpses of it, even in metropolitan areas. What we need to do is see beyond the metropolitan context and understand how the elements I listed above used to function before this context was forced onto this land, and how indigenous people are struggling to keep it alive. With that understanding, and a vocabulary that we can use across contexts, we can articulate liberated futures in familiar terms. Even places like the park or the beach can give us a taste of a liberated world.

When we combine intrinsic value, place-based rules, learning from context, and intrinsic motivation, there is no need for a point system or for structures based on extrinsic motivation. There is no need for overarching rules, because the rules emerge from the intrinsically valuable activities themselves. There is no need for decontextualized or coercive “education,” because the pursuit of what makes life worth living itself is the education. When we combine intrinisic value, place-based rules, learning from context, and intrinsic motivation, we get collective liberation. Collective liberation is an abundance of what makes life worth living. And though it may appear to be impossible, it is definitely possible.

Vanessa Molano is a philosophical entertainer, writing Redesign Everything, a book that reimagines the entire world and ourselves in it. Empathematics.com

Vanessa Molano is a philosophical entertainer, putting on shows about strange loops, social structures, and what makes life worth living. Empathematics.com

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Vanessa Molano

Vanessa Molano

Vanessa Molano is a philosophical entertainer, putting on shows about strange loops, social structures, and what makes life worth living. Empathematics.com

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