14th April 2017

Greenwich has become once more a colonial shipping centre. The other night I was passing through, and stopped briefly to lean on the rail and watch the ships. I saw the Thames as it used to be, in those times when its shipping dominated the waves and black people. Tamesis has long tried to throw off the memory of the naval empire, the slavery it instituted, the kidnappings and terror it relied upon at home – for working the ships was so terrible that forced labour was required. I enjoyed seeing a more honest river. Perhaps we should moor a replica slave ship in the middle of it forever, as reminder that The Island could only lead the way in abolishing the slave trade because it had led the way in establishing it.

The Empire has been dropping large, horrific bombs in countries it does not understand. Again. There is nothing wrong with this, according to the authorities. No outcry. In days of empire, the voice that says empire is cruel and worthless is a quiet one. It cannot be heard except by those who are already attuned to it. I feel part of a rather small community in the face of newly aggressive imperialism, but those who shout loudest don’t always last longest.

Which is a genuine feeling of optimism. I’ve been in a positive mood over the last couple of days, and have had energy to think about future projects.

Later

I’ve just been to see a screening of ‘I am not your negro’ about James Baldwin. He was concerned with the will to dominate and denigrate, the need for a nigger, as he put it, that plagues Western civilisation. In part he locates it in the strange separation of public and private upon which our institutions and economy rest. Nothing that is really felt can be said, and nothing said in public is truly felt, and so we inhabit a strange ersatz reality. If I interpret Baldwin correctly, the fear of this barrier breaking down, of facing our own emotions, of losing control, is one of the sources of the fear of blackness. He implied that there is a form of blackness we only allow to appear in public in musical form, where it can be passed off as entertainment, though secretly we know it to be much more.

Having always been either suspicious or hostile to the liberal separation of public and private, or at least its importance to institutions, I was struck by Baldwin’s emphasis on the damage it does (or represents). Parts of the feminist movement also tried to break down that apartheid but not, perhaps, with much success.

It is significant that empire always begins with enclosure and theft, with accumulation that then becomes more accumulation, and goes adventuring abroad to accumulate more. Yet it must always dress this up as something else, even nobility – power will always have a story to establish respectability. Maybe if commoning is the method to undo enclosure, it must also undo the public face, undo the public story of who we are.

There’s no point in having small goals. There would be a danger of achieving them all, and then what would you do with yourself?

14th April 2017

13th April 2017

Spring is slowly unfolding and most of the trees are still putting out their leaves, but one just outside my window is well and truly out, in the full dress of summer. Winter has felt long, so gazing at this tree creates association in multiple directions: forward to summer, backwards to last summer, far back to other summers, and also associations with shade, woodlands, birdsong, walks, people.

My mind seems to be in an associating mood. I rode back through Burble Park last night and the recently re-laid curves of the landscape with the modernist blocks all around took me back, not to my past, but to pasts depicted in films, in books. It was what the future used to look like. The crows that live in Burble Park flapped alongside me to remind me that that future died, but it was still possible to read the good intentions in the landscape.

My mood lifted soon after writing the last journal entry. I went out to a dinner, a feast in fact, in a Persian restaurant. The food was mouth-watering, course upon course of it, until the sight of dessert made us groan. The company too was good, and I left there with the dark mood of the day entirely gone. Good food and good company is the solution to many of life’s problems, at least for a while.

Still, after a relaxed day I am now sitting listening to a podcast on the commons, and thinking about how easy it is to burn out when fighting for things that few others are fighting for. Sometimes I wonder if I should stop and simply record what is happening. A rational person would admit that our society is too big and monstrous to be affected by a mere individual. In theory collectives are the answer to that problem but, at the risk of stating the obvious, you need a lot of other people. But I find that if I stop fighting I stop learning, and I very much enjoy learning. And in fighting, comrades are also found. So I’ll continue, even if there are days I can’t see a way through to the future. Perhaps I should integrate the politics with more good food. Why not?

13th April 2017

11th April 2017

A day of irritations, small and large, at the Public Tree Service. At the end of the world nothing is done properly, or only by those who believe in the future. I’ve come back home with a small knot in my stomach and can’t wait to go out to dinner and have a pint. The day started off well enough, reading, in the early hours of the morning when my body often forces me to take a break from sleep, this oath, recited with bandaged eyes:

I call upon God to witness this my most solemn declaration, that neither hopes, fears, rewards, punishments, nor even death itself, shall ever induce me directly or indirectly, to give any information respecting any thing contained in this Lodge, or any similar Lodge connected with the Society; and I will neither write, nor cause to be written, upon paper, wood, sand, stone or any thing else, whereby it may be known…

Such was the oath of woolcombers forming secret societies for mutual benefit and resistance to the employers in the early nineteenth century. I love the comprehensiveness of it. I love the commitment to each other, which they took seriously. The result of this secret organising was that in the period when organising strikes was illegal, the workers knew each other well enough to decide on a strike instantly in the workshop, only by casting glances between them. They would walk out together, and no organiser could be found.

The repercussions of being found to be a strike or protest organiser were grim: a lengthy prison sentence, hanging or transportation. It can’t be then they had less to fear than we do today, but perhaps they did have less to lose.

A few days ago the President of the Empire bombed an airfield in a country the problems of which most people do not understand, least of all him. Most of the people I know were disgusted, but there is no method of putting that disgust into action, nor of showing disgust at the support for the Kingdom of Saud show by our rulers. Protests do not work, not for that, nor to put an end to the border prisons, nor to show that the neglect and harassment of the poor is not acceptable. Protests do not work in part because they are ignored, but few know that many of them fall to police repression: UKUncut and the student fees protests being the last I witnessed.

Perhaps we should start to swear oaths again. If current television shows are anything to go by, people still love some melodrama. Perhaps we could all do with a bit more of it in real life.

11th April 2017

9th April 2017

Today I and a friend took our velocipedes for a brisk ride around the hills of North Cantia. As usual I cringed inwardly at the fate of the villages close to the city. The well-to-do long since began escaping Londres, and villages with attractively ancient architecture are their refuge of choice. This means they aren’t villages any more, or not in the sense they used to be. They are no longer economic communities, more a sort of series of dormitories. The cars parked outside the better houses say that this money was not made here. A passing driver leaned out her window and screamed at us for using velocipedes, ignoring the miasma of Londres on the horizon behind her.

There used to be two types of villages, the usually better-off tied villages, which were owned by one aristocratic landlord who ran them as their petty fiefdoms, even mandating what residents should plant in their garden; and free villages, where the residents could live as they wished, but were often underemployed and struggling to survive. Meanwhile across the southern part of the Continent the villages empty out, no longer sustainable. We could ask the question of whether it shouldn’t be possible to have a village both free and prosperous. History has answered that question by killing the villages entirely. This needn’t, I can’t help thinking, be the only answer.

It was a good day besides all this, and the beeches and bluebells couldn’t be faulted. Now I am pink from over-exposure to the sun, and my legs are tired in a way that suggests I’ll sleep well tonight.

I’ve just discovered a note in my calendar saying only ‘film night’. I have no memory of what this is about. Am I organising something with someone? Who am I going to a film night with? I’ve had a couple of memory lapses lately, a product of filling my time with so many tasks – including writing this journal. Perhaps it is hypocritical of me to rail against our failing civilisation’s obsession with work while constantly keeping myself busy. But then, a lot of my time is filled with things I want to do, rather than am paid to do. I am very fortunate to be in this position, but my ingratitude is limitless. All I want is more time.

Image

6th April 2017

Today, in my Public Tree Service role, I spent some time in an abandoned cemetery in North Londres. The neglect gave it a gloomy air, despite the sunny day. A crow sat on a crooked dead tree and watched us as we passed. The meeting was in part about whether the trees or the stones were more worth saving. I couldn’t help thinking that civilisation and its end have been largely determined by a tendency to prioritise what we pull out of the ground over what grows on it. I don’t deny that death is worth marking, even at the end of the world. Still, it will be the trees that live on.

I was chatting with People Builder tonight about imagination. We were wondering about the effects of trauma on imagination, but reached no conclusions. I wonder if anyone has done any work on correlating political position with imagination. Are you more likely to be on the left if you have a good imagination I wonder? Certainly when I talk to many people in Londres about the world being arranged differently than now, they appear to think it impossible. This is rather strange, because the world constantly changes. The late Mark Fisher tried to explain it in ‘Capitalist Realism’, but it doesn’t reduce the frustration I sometimes feel with such people.

On the topic of the world changing, I’ve been reading more about Samuel Bamford. The name is an obscure one now, though he was well known in his time. He campaigned for parliamentary reform, and was imprisoned for treason for his troubles. As some of my recent journal entries show, people still get imprisoned for fighting for what they believe in on the Island, but at least something has changed: political charges rarely take the form of treason. Now Disruption is the ultimate crime, signalling a move from worship of authority to worship of work.  We wouldn’t want to slow down, lest we wonder where we’re going. Understanding why people might Disrupt also requires imagination. Most judges would rather find the end of the world than their imaginations.

Enough of the gloomy thoughts, and off to work.

6th April 2017

4th April 2017

I am tired today, after sleeping badly for no reason. Or no reason except the end of the world and so on. The sky is overcast after several days of sun, making it even more difficult to feel positive. Dancy Meditator, when I spoke to her on the phone, was lower than me. She has various difficult things to deal with right now, all hugely exacerbated by over-work and the isolation that working too much can bring. What is wrong with a civilisation that is richer than any to have existed previously, but is still obsessed with work? There must be a word for it.

Still, while wandering the streets looking at trees for the Public Tree Service I have been thinking again about a project to address the lack of stories necessary to create a future. The project would be built, perhaps, around land, property and commons thinking. The question is whether it could really impel people towards action, whether anything could, or whether people are too resigned.

Yet resigned isn’t always the right word. Tonight I met the Physicist, who is concerned mostly with his Physics work, his family, and running. I say mostly, I mean entirely. ‘Distracted’ may be the right word. But again, ‘over-worked’ might be another appropriate perspective on the situation. I know some people campaigning for a four day week. They are still seen as an oddity rather than a necessity. Meanwhile ads constantly appear on the tube in Londres offering snake oil supplements to cure your tiredness. We know the cure.

4th April 2017