Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So Long and Thanks for the Fish...10 Years of Personal Activism & End of this Blog

Hi all. If you were checking this blog you might notice that its been a bit quiet of late here. Well, shit happens in life and I've been busy on other stuff. But other things have been going on and I've decided that its time to end this blog. Its been fun and a blast but this blog has run its course. I want to move on to other things and do other stuff, including to focus more energy on climate change issues and media work and to have a big think about how I put my time into this sort of stuff...

First of I have come to hate the work 'activism' as it implies that those of us to put time into trying to push society into a direction we see as positive are somehow different from normal people; we are not. I have the same money, family worries as anyone else - it's just that as well as the normal things of life - spending time with friends, family on hobbies, household chores and work - I also put some time into things I believe in.

That aside, about 10 years ago I started on a political path that has had a number of twists and turns and while on this path ended up involved in lots of campaigns for things I cared about; human rights, environmental justice, equality - protesting at events like Mayday, G8, Fairford airbase and against things like corporate power and war. Ten years on seems like a good time to take stock of things...

(and when I say we I broadly mean my interpretation of the anti-capitalist movement)

What we got right:

Equality - It has now been proved that there is a causal link between almost every single social problem and the gap between the right and the poor. In the UK that gap has grown in the last 40 years and so, it seems, have our social problems. Each group of politicains that take power propose superficial 'solutions' to the problem but because none of them can ever take on the rich - because they are part of the same elite - nothing will chance.

The casino economy - The anti-capitalist movement argued that the gobal enconoomy was built on nothing real....and we were right. After billions of $/£ on bailing out the banks - that we will have to work for decades to pay back - the bankers are once again on multi-million bonuses. Where is a popular rage?

Iraq and Afghanistan - After 911 much of the anti-war movement turned into a peace one. First Afganistan and then Iraq - we argued that the war-approach, especially one driven by oil-hungry Neo-cons was doomed to fail. After the Taliban melted away in 2001/2 the Sun triumphantly attacked the anti-war voices as wrong. After the fall of Saddam the crowed again. Yet 9 years later, hundreds of thousands of dead and trillions of dollars later both wars grind on.

(Some of) Human nature - People can co-operate, and often humanity is at it's best when we do. Anarchism is first and foremost a philosophy of cooperation and many of the problems that beset us can't be solved with competition or war. We have to find collective ways to work it out else doom future generations to the hell-on-earth depicted in 'The Road'.

The Environment (especially climate change) - We have been arguing that life and ecology are one and the same. That either ignoring, socialising the cost of damage or trying to greenwash it all way is not a viable or adult way to deal with the real limits imposed by nature. Climate change is that issue made flesh - globaly we are trying to dig ourselves out of the hole by privatising the air (carbon trading) and refusing to consider any solution that does not involve continued economic growth. Nature does not do bail-outs. The elite have been using climate change as a political football to beat the miners with in the 80s and now to flirt with crazy-as-shit conspiracy theories now. Climate change is, despite the rush of denial and media fatigue, going away. The climate didn't get the memo that all the CO2 we've been dumping into it is not supposed to have any impact.

What we got wrong:

Mass action? - We've had a series of huge political shocks; the financial collapse, expenses scandal and now the phone hacking. These should reach into the political and financial heart of the establishment and yet no that much has changed. Yes, mass action helped to push for action on all 3, but nothing very radical. So why has the radical left/anarchists failed to make head-way? So if you're from the right you'll be saying that because the ideas they left has are rubbish. Yet the right has failed too. The BNP collapsed right as they hoped to make the mass-popularity break though. The Tories failed to win outright in the elections and had to bully the LibDems to push though their right-wing agenda. While most people seem to agree with the broad thrust of the left's ideas here; make the bankers pay, nobody has managed to turn that into any radical form of mass action.

Islamic Terror - not totally, because I remember distributing sticks from the Afed after 911 reading, Nether Bush nor Bin-Laden, but not enough focus of the hateful idiotic and nasty creed of fundamentalist Islam allowed the right to claim to be for liberty in trying to fight for control of oil and on the streets of the UK via groups like the EDL, when the ideas of the far-right have much more in common with fundamentalist Islam than the left. Not good and we should have been clearer about our opposition to it.

(Some of) Human nature - and this was always a tricky one for me as I believed once you removed oppressive hierarchies (such as the state) from human relations, we could move to mutual aid. I have had this belief knocked from two angles; First evolutionary psychology's view of in and out-group behaviour, as in how we behave towards people who we consider part of our 'in-group' and 'out-group'. There are huge differences (both positive and negative) but ultimately it makes our knowledge human interaction much more complex that 19th century theories of it supposed; humans are both co-operative and combative, irrational and logical. To quote Stephen Pinker; "As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin's anarchism. I laughed off my parents' argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike? This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist)."

Predictability over the Unknown - While I still think that the current system will have to change, I don't think it will be because our societies will happily change. While lots of ideas (e.g. mutual aid, Parecon) they suffer from the issue that they are unpredictable. In theory they are fine but they have to wade though the mass of human nature, cultural and enviromental variables before they will work. They might end up with a fair, sustainable world. You might get something falling apart like Somalia. Us humans like predictability, we're creatures of habit and so we'll tend pick the unfair unequal predictable over the unknown that might be better, but might not. If we want radical ideas of how to organise to work, we have to show then in action - and it does happen - but we're not there yet in practical examples, and more thought is needed about how to make them work long term. For all the faults of capitalism (and there are loooots) it has proven to be a durable system that does (for all its ills) generate lots of innovation in technology (in combination with the socialised system of Universities). Would the same rate of technology development exist without the motive of profit? Don't know, and that's the problem....

Structureless - So many radical groups are run on an ad-hoc basis with volunteers and the like. It tends to be the same few people over and over who do most of the work. Plenty of people will tell you how you should be doing it, but only a handful will get down to it with you and help make it happen. This leads to vaguely structured groups often dominated by either the loudest or the ones with the most time to turn up to meetings. It leads those with kids or other responsibilities at a disadvantage. Not that is this a new issue, the Athenian version of democracy where all free men got a vote and could take part - as well as excluding slaves and women - also meant that the rich, who didn't have to work as much, had more time to take part and so shape politics to suit them.

All Radical Political Movements Often Get Nasty - John Gray's work, a British philosopher, who identified a number of 'isms' as being secular branches of a religion, with a creed and a utopia at the end of a struggle. He mainly takes aim at neo-conservatism and communism in his excellent book 'Black Mass' but the belief in a heaven-like state if certain (sinful) conditions are removed. Now his book is a vicious attack on Neo-conservatives and Communists yet when I read it I realised it points also apply to anarchism. His ultimate and most devastating point is that all utopian political experiments leave behind a vast wreckage of human lives; the 'democratising' of the middle east by Bush and Bliar with the Iraq invasion, the Great leap Froward for examples. Millions died trying to see a pure radical vision implemented in the messy real world. The assumptions we all make about how others will behave based on how we would, just don't work out. Humans are messy thinkers who like to think they are logical and yet are illogical tribal and emotional even about supposed factual subjects (just look a climate denial!)

The state is not all bad - Ok, deep breath.... Now when anarchist ideas emerged a couple of hundred years ago, the function of the state in most people's lives would have been an oppressive. It enforced taxes to the rich, enforced monarchy, land ownership by the gentry etc. Its easy to see at this point how it's removal would have benefited most people. Now however, as we live in much more complex societies with a greater population, the state no longer has an almost entirely oppressive role. For me it offers the a national health service, and a year or so ago having been though a tough time when a close family member and then a few months later, a close friend both died, the involvement of a semi-centralised system providing ambulances, emergency rooms, care and staff that tried unsuccessfully to save then both, showed me that the solution to human relations can forgo all centralised structures. Would we want to rely on volunteers voting to help or not at that point? The right hates these social aspects of the sate because they want us to pay for our own care. Yet the NHS, for all its ills, is full of people doing a job because they care and helping all who come in regardless of race, gender or wealth. That's anarchist ideas in action! The welfare state, for all its ills also provides for basic social dignity and there was a reason the post-war Generation voted in 1945 election not for Churchill but for Labour. Take a look at the BBC's experiment The Street that Cut Everything, where residents essentially became a self-managed collective. The right hated it (e.g. 1 and 2) because they claimed it was not accurate, but they hated is mostly because cos they hate the social functions of the state. This program showed how we have to have a joint co-operative means to care for those less fortunate and the rich and grumpy can't be allowed to opt-out.

Though I must stress that anarchism offers many, many valuable tools to help us progress; it's critique of the current system, it's enlightened struggle for equality and it's questioning of how the state monopoly on violence works - all valuable stuff!

So where next? I don't know, but I'm working on new ideas and planning new things and thinking... lots of thinking... still in it for the long term, just not here....