I am sat in a cafe, at a table outside. The coffee is cold and sweet. A tram line runs past me, a church looms on the other side of the small plaza. At the table beside me a family is caught in intense conversation. Or rather the adult daughter is caught. Her parents appear to be trying to persuade her out of some course of action, or to do something she is reluctant to do. She is saying very little. Often the father and mother speak at once, so a contribution from her seems unnecessary.
I am out of Londres in the south of the continent. The weather is intensely humid in addition to the heat. If you are still, so is the sweat. I and a group of friends have been here two days. In theory we are here to meet people of different cultures. In practice we are also meeting people from different parts of cultures similar to our own. One woman is super proud and happy to work for the largest global seller from warehouses. The company, she says, loves to challenge her, push her to her limits. It is a challenging and fun environment in which to sell everything to everyone.
Last night three groups attempted to present their home countries. They showed tourist promotional films or, in one case, what appeared to be a promotional film by some chamber of commerce. It was painful to us to watch people attempting to ‘sell’ their home countries, unconcerned about what or who the product might be, and who might benefit from the selling of it.
Meanwhile the group from the great eastern country on the edge of Europe is split down the middle, between those who think their president a hero and those who think him an arsehole. He is definitely an arsehole, but even the fellow citizens of his admirers can see no way to broach the topic.
The Red Flash has been inconsolable these first two days. One of our group was kept from joining us by new draconian visa regulations, imposed by a rising tide of anti-immigrant feeling in this region. Suddenly refugees cannot move about as previously. Lives are interrupted in ways not imagined, and this experience no doubt the smallest part of it. Meanwhile we are here having fun. Even, eventually, The Red Flash.
Caught in an eternal summer, Londres swirls around and around and me with it. To the South Bank on Friday for free music and conversation, the best brutalist building in Londres our backdrop. Then a Saturday of drinking and eating, walking in the sun down a long strip of breweries in arches. The class connotations of these breweries are fascinating, some presenting themselves as very everyday, others attempting to be an elite product with nostalgic undertones. In reality most of them are out of the price range of those who live beside the arches.
Being busy is enjoyable, can be a break from thinking and feeling too much – the type of thinking above is removed from yourself, it costs very little. So I know the period of busyness will come to an end, and it will be time to think and feel more. In the meantime, Londres has infinite distractions.
There is a question of whether it dents the enjoyment of some pleasures to realise they are beyond the reach of many people. I was saying to the Maltese Coder the other day that it feels like people from moneyed backgrounds now set up bakeries and breweries almost as hobbies, the risk very low since their lives will be fine if the business fails. In the 60s and 70s they might have set up record labels, or perhaps hippy fashion labels. The new version feels more purely consumptive, and has no new radical view of the world attached to it. It doesn’t feel like an improvement, but the beer is very good.
At the weekend I left Londres for a few hours by train and velocipede. The Red Flash and I ate lunch at an ancient barrow, 5-6000 years old. What I like about these sites is the reminder that humans can live utterly differently to us. I stare at a strange arrangement of massive stones and think about the mentalities and behaviours that led to them being cut and dragged there. Months of investment in rocks in a society of scarcity could be seen as madness, but no more mad than the way our society behaves, as it accelerates towards a dead planet. And building stone circles and barrows is different, you can’t deny that. Humans and human society are incredibly mutable. There are always alternatives.
I’ve been thinking, in the context of a couple of projects I’m involved with in Londres, about the ability to make decisions. It seems to me that many individuals and groups need plenty of practice at this. To own our own city and our own world is to make decisions about it. Decision-making then is a very political skill, yet no radical writer I know of has written a book about how to make decisions, about the difference in abilities between the ruling class and working class, about the mentalities and education of the less privileged that make decision-making difficult. Yet decision-making, I think, is one of the most essential and practical elements of radical action that I can think of.
Today has ticked past slowly. This evening is something to look forward to but the day feels like dead time. I have tried to usefully research useful things that I would like to know, but still here I am, passing time. I would like to write but my mind doesn’t feel sharp enough, so I write this.
Yesterday I went to a discussion in one of the venerable art institutions of Londres. It was about housing co-operatives, on which I can talk for some time. People came along who wanted to start co-operatives and I tried to offer helpful advice. But what they needed was a land and housing market not utterly destroyed for the sake of capital accumulation. This I couldn’t offer them.
I found myself railing against municipal authorities, wondering when we might have some that don’t believe only in the mythical market. I’d rather do things than talk about them, but that particular fight is not for me. The arcane bureaucracies of established parties would swallow up all my energies and spit me out.
Still, I hope the need to take control of local authorities is evident to others, some of whom may have more to offer in a hierarchical fight. I shall cheer and give support where possible, while focussing on what I can do. I have plenty of windmills to tilt at.
Summer in Londres has a lot going for it, even when the bankers and landlords own most of the city. Yesterday I went on a small housing march, and wished it was larger. But I enjoyed the sun, and discussing some future research I hope to do. In the evening I met Dr Guerrilla for some food and music by the river. It was good to be outdoors at night and not feel cold. The Dr has a job in Londres now, so more rides and reading groups on the horizon. The Red Flash and others joined us later, and then I wheeled home enjoying the cool evening air.
Today was something of a continuation, a trip to the East End Basin for a swim. It felt like being on a mini-holiday, particularly when I popped into the fine nearby riverside pub for a coffee. Most of the other people there were on holiday, and it was clear that it was just a state of mind. Lying on the pontoon I gazed across the shimmering surface of the water and my mind shimmered pleasantly in response. I have returned home with a warm glow from the exercise and cold water.
As for that research I hope to do, it remains a little unstable in my mind, swinging between over-ambitious and more realistic. Perhaps it doesn’t quite matter where I aim. Perhaps the key thing is to find other people interested in it, within academia or without.
Back in Londres after a week away. The return to routine does not feel positive, but then it rarely does. The return to being busy is partly welcome, but I am in the mood to feel busy with things that interest me, rather than with my paid work. Many people feel this, when they have time to think, though it is considered aberrant to voice it, at least among the middle class. Thankfully I spend time with other aberrant types, and so feel comfortable with my dislike of salaried labour.
Frustratingly the rain seems to have settled in for the day. I would have enjoyed walking around outside today. I would have been thinking about ownership, specifically blended forms of democratic and individual ownership, with state systems only providing frameworks. Gar Alperowitz calls this a Pluralist Commonwealth, but I think we need a pithier term. Ideally it would convey the emotional experience of blended forms of ownership: the inbuilt community aspects of democratic ownership and the secure feelings of some individual ownership.
Unfortunately many terms have been used up. Democratic socialism and social democracy and commons economy and property owning democracy and commonwealth and mixed ownership and co-operative socialism and owning the means of production and new economy and it’s difficult to connect to any of them because of their pasts or their abstractness or vagueness. It’s possible to invent new terms. How about a ‘global community economy’ to express the multi-level democracy required on a planet of billions? But any new term needs a weight of ideas and associations behind it. For that to happen we need broad discussion of the ideas so that some version of it can become dominant. Instead public discussion is dominated by nonsense, and Londres is little better than the small town where I took the above photo.
I try to talk about the future here but sense it is not much in fashion, except in the wrong-headed circles of silicon valley.