I awoke slowly this morning, pulled up the blind and lay back in bed to watch the morning unfold. A few grey clouds trudged across an otherwise blue sky. The birds seemed to be unaware of long-term decline trends. I saw several tits, a collared dove, a magpie, a seagull, and a parakeet. It’s good to see that they all thrive in cities.
It has been a while, I found myself thinking, since I have posted on this journal. My updates were interrupted by a journey to Commie Island and haven’t resumed since. On that Island, so different from this one, the birds of prey were huge, and oblivious to what will happen to them when agrochemicals arrive in force. It was difficult to see a bright future there, when everything relies on a few people at the top.
One reason I haven’t been writing much is that my everyday life doesn’t seem interesting enough to record at the moment. But also what I really want to blog is the future and how good it could be. Something like this perhaps.
A weekend of relative calm before my planned trip to Commie Island. Prof Guerilla moved in last week, so it’s been good to have her about the house and about the area. My nights out have been quiet and the only real busyness was for the union. I have been casting about somewhat for a writing project while away. It may be that I will simply continue writing my journal and perhaps an article, and it may be that I will mostly want to relax, but I like the idea of a bigger project. Perhaps I should investigate the Union of Work and Pleasure.
This afternoon I was at a reading group with Power Fist, Prof Guerilla and others. The room was cold but the atmosphere was warm. We read about the growth of the Island’s maritime empire, alas driven by one of the Parliament of Failed Radicalism. Maritime power was driven by war, forced labour and mass dehumanisation of African people. These are realities that are not taught in schools, that would be inconvenient for the benign view of Empire that the elite like to propagate.
But critique is easy to do. The violent colonialist elite radically changed the planet. To change it in another direction is hard. We can look to pirates and rebels for signs of hope, but their own hopes were so often truncated. The resistance still struggles with changing the planet as radically as the colonialists. Perhaps they always will, unless they are prepared to be as brutal. But then, the more brutal attempts at resistance have rarely ended well. There are days when I wonder whether we must live our utopias now, within the frame we have been given, and whether perhaps that is what we shall always do.
It is another cold, fresh day in Londres. I have been tired all day after sleeping badly. All I can think of is my investigation into what happened in the year 2018. The record is obscured by the torrent of diarrheal data that the age produced. At the time nobody, not even the Black Lamp Collective, and least of all the media companies, understood what information was worth collecting and what wasn’t worth the electricity needed to write it into a data-farm hard drive. The Black Lamp Collective, it seems to me, was already in existence, or had a kind of pre-existence, it’s members already in contact with each other and in the early stages of plotting what would eventually become the future.
However at this point the collective was held back by many factors. Many of its members were traumatised – by events in their lives, by men, by childhoods, by the general brutality of society, or by their previous attempts to change the world. All of them were forced to labour too long for a wage, some of them in jobs they liked, most of them in work they merely tolerated. They were deluged too beneath waves of the same low quality and poorly filtered information that makes this research difficult. The combination of all these factors took its toll on their mental health. There were all, to put it in a blunt but in no way derogatory manner, somewhat crazy.
At the same time there were glimmers of light within the invisible lamp. The effects of a large-scale competitive society, polluted constantly by authoritatively wrong mass media, had left most of the Collective suffering with varying degres of poor self-belief. In such a society, the majority of people will be losers, and encouraged daily to see themselves as loser. Having suffered such perfectly normal and debilitating self-doubt for many years, the members of the Black Lamp Collective, having been drawn together by commonalities both major and trivial (a love of cycling for example), had begun the long drawn-out process of believing in each other. They were to discover over the coming years that this was not merely a substitute for self-belief, it was precisely the same thing. In this discovery lay the beginnings of their project.
A grey day in Londres, and the language of rights and responsibilities seems just as grey. But I am thinking about them nonetheless. Clouds have their uses, and so do the apparently dull concepts of previous political ages. In Londres at the end of the world, when either all ages must end or a new one begin, we are tasked with the grim job of sorting through the festering waste of the language of the past, looking for the building blocks of the future. Nobody has provided gloves.
A compañera I met over coffee the other day told me that nearly all waste sorting in Londres now is done by Eastern European migrants. They are often paid less than the minimum wage, and can sustain themselves only by living in the most squalid of accommodation. Naturally they are unable to complain about dangerous or unsanitary conditions. The less privileged literally sorting through the waste of the more privileged. The possible metaphor for our search for political language occured to me only as I typed here, and perhaps it could be seen as offensive. I am, after all, very privileged in many ways. But our poverty is in the political resources we have to draw upon, the knowledge or lack thereof about alternatives, the lack of political critique encoded in culture, critique seen by Marcuse as present through most of written Western history and now gone. We are reduced to one dimension.
The bureacratisation of life under neo-liberalism must, I thought for a long time, finally provoke mass resistance. And so it did, in the form of Brexit. That is, the resistance could become real only by latching onto a fantasy, a future that did not exist. It seems to me that this confirms a lack within our culture. Where are the resources with which to build a real future? My frustration with the TV series Mr Robot was that, despite being clearly inspired by anti-capitalist struggles, it largely refused to talk about politics in an open way. Censorship could not work better than this targetted marketing.
One of the redeeming features of Londres is that the sheer diversity it contains increases the possibility of critical culture. Yet it often exists only as a possibility. It is easier to imagine the end of the world…
First post of the New Year, and as always we are confronted with a continuation of everything as it is. Today I was working for the Tree Service from home. I went out to the shops to buy tea and yoghurt, and found myself pondering on the odd interactions we have with cashiers and other shop staff. Money, it turns out, is a way of relating to other people. It allows us to have very brief, functional interactions. The money does the talking for us, and all it says is: I have the right to your services. It facilitates an atomised life which we can glide through without forming deep relationships of any kind, unless we choose to.
About this I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I find myself in despair at the idea this is the only way to live, and at the lack of ability to imagine other ways of living. On the other hand I notice the benefits I get from this system: I have taken full advantage of the ability to form relationships only with those I choose to. My circles are interesting because I have chosen those who interest me. Another economic and social system might well force us to interact with those we don’t wish to. The spectre of the repressive community raises its head, and I remember that I find the views of the majority of people either misguided or abhorent in some quite significant ways. If I were forced into relationships with these people, what horrible frictions might occur? If they decided to bring back the stocks, wouldn’t I be in them?
Perhaps where our imaginations have truly failed is in thinking of newly-social systems that can maintain the advantages of the individualistic society while challenging the loneliness and stress and inequality and mental health problems that inevitably come with it. I say ‘inevitably’, because I feel we are a fundamentally social and cooperative species, and going against this part of ourselves is bound to cause problems. But this is a minority viewpoint I suspect: most people, at least in London, believe us to be fundamentally selfish and grasping. This highlights the contradiction within my own position: I assert our social nature because I have taken advantage of the individualistic society. And so the years roll on. But not forever.
The end approaches, and a year that started badly has undeniably improved. Over the last few days I have been on a long ride on my velocipede and on a walk in the Land of Range Rovers. Both trips filled me with a sense of well-being, and it is this I must remember in the coming year. For it is the simpler pleasures that often work best, not the complex projects I set myself.
I find myself at the end of the year thinking frequently of a theme from the beginning of the year: the difficulty most people seem to have in believing in a future different to the present. Sometimes I think this is what I should have applied to study at Goldfish and other colleges, but then, what would be the nature of the research? To put my subjects in pens and stick them with cattle prods until they begin to use their imaginations?
Given that we are all driving off the cliff edge together, it feels necessary to imagine different futures together. What is to be done then if most people simply don’t want to? I have pointed out before that the reasons they don’t are often given as either that they are too comfortable, or that they are not comfortable enough. Perhaps there is some perfectly balanced state of material and emotional dis/comfort in which people are actually willing to put thought and effort into a new future. Perhaps I inhabit that mythical zone: I and a few others. But it seems to me it can’t be so simple, or so intractable. There must be a way of imagining life beyond the cliff edge together.