Karma does what karma does.

About 15 years ago I went on a training day (it didn’t work – I stayed a douche).

It was union steward training. Mostly those days were death by powerpoint, info-deficit tosh.  This one thing I am about to describe, though, it stands out.

It was a card game/exercise.  Each individual was given a card that only they could look at.  They were allowed to answer questions about it, but they could not freely describe what was on the other side.  All the cards together – in some format – added up to a picture or pattern that would be obvious if they were all turned face-upward and re-arranged.

One person in the team was supposed to co-ordinate, and the team ‘won’ by being able to describe the picture on the back simply by communicating with each other, within a time frame.

The trainers in chief chose me to be co-ordinator. And I fucked it up, because they (astutely- though it wasn’t difficult to figure out)  put the key info in the hands of more diffident, older and – gasp – female people.

And because those people weren’t asked the right questions at the right time, and actively listened to/space created for them to speak, we didn’t solve it.  One person’s fault only – mine.

Though I haven’t been able to act (consistently) on that particular lesson, the experience stayed with me   (To be fair to myself – on my good days I try, and on my very best days I succeed in overcoming this. I obsess about it a lot – the quiet voices being the ones with the most important pieces of the puzzle – being unable to pierce the smugosphere ).

 

So, 15 years on, the big wheel has turned, as it does.  Now I am on the receiving end. Not because I am diffident or fit any of the usual low status categories, but because I am dissident from the dissidents. I can’t take their particular riding of the emotacycle seriously.  And so I am easy to overlook (who knows, perhaps that’s what I want – to be the ‘Cassandra’).

 

I have important pieces of the puzzle (I think I do, anyhows – and I don’t see anyone else asking the same specific questions about social movement organisation longevity, effectiveness, self-defeating rituals and norms: Maybe I need to get out more).  And I am being ignored – the way I ignored other people 15 years ago, if not for quite the same reasons.  And I don’t think the team will win, I really don’t.

What goes around, comes around. Karma gets you like that, eh?  So it goes.

 

 

[19th August- Minor edits and fixes]

Desolation angels

She had been asked to attend a shit meeting, at which one of the blithely ignorant assholes the electorate seems to love was talking among his friends.  She was sent on an intelligence-gathering effort, for an environmental pressure group. And she told me, fighting back the tears, that it had been a truly awful, traumatising experience.

Younger me would have thought she was over-dramatising.  Younger me might even have told her to – in effect – grow a pair.

(Younger me was, to use a technical term, an asshole.)

She has two kids. And she doesn’t want to believe that Extinction Rebellion is likely to go up like a rocket, and down like a stick.  She doesn’t want to believe that the research of Chenoweth is being misinterpreted, mis-used.

She doesn’t want to go to more shit meetings.

We met at what was, really, a shit meeting.

I only stuck around for the food. (which turned out to be as good as advertised)  I suppose I also wanted the chance to ask my standard question – “given that we’ve known  about serious environmental problems at a global level for 50 years, and climate change for 30, what have we – the social movements, the ‘good guys’ been doing wrong?”

I got the chance. But of course I didn’t get – I never get- a meaningful answer to that question: talking about your own tribe’s mistakes is not gonna get you promoted or protected or whatever.  And so we slop around in our smugospheres, talking excitedly of the new 3 and 4 letter acronyms, and the new implementation plans, and invoking the magical words like participation, and democracy.  All from the stage.  All top-down, information deficit, that goes on twice the advertised time, leaving virtually no time for questions.  It meets the organisational needs of the organisers, the ego-needs of the speakers and – sad to say – the absolution needs of (most of those) who attend.

Absolution is no solution, as an abandoned blog post, ‘inspired’ (or provoked) by a shocking event six weeks ago was going to go.  We don’t, we really really don’t, need more opportunities for the grey and the white to turn up and relive the seventies, and hear first-hand from An Expert about how screwed everything is if that Expert is not going to present some plausible innovations.  The audience gets to feel absolved, for still demonstrably caring, but are not called upon to do anything differently. Shambling towards Bethlehem.

And we don’t need ego-foddering and incompetent social movement organisations that want us to get up but are unable to help us help each other, but persist with the shame old shame old info-deficit ways of “mobilising”.

But it’s what we get, and I think what we will always get.

Yes, yes, I should come up with some way out. But so far I don’t know how. I don’t seem to have the skills, the reputation, the energy, to take on a culture that claims to be about participation and a brighter future but is stuck in its rut of ravenous egos and incompetence.

It seems to me that the skills we need to change the expectations of meetings – to make it easier rather than harder for people to be involved in meaningful ways for the long-term –  are extremely high-level. And using those skills requires, I think, more time, energy, patience, credibility and courage (as distinct from that stupid thing hope) than I currently possess or can see myself coming to possess. And maybe there are loads of other people working on this, doing better, and news just hasn’t reached the provinces.  Or maybe not.

So it goes, I guess.

She has two young children. She was crying in front of a stranger.

The need for/inevitability of magical thinking

We can laugh at the people buying their Make America Great Again hats (made in China) and chanting at Trump rallies for the return of a mis-remembered past.  It’s easy to see that they want something that is difficult (impossible) to deliver and that they want it with no particular effort on their part, beyond emotional affiliation to an Idea, as represented by a particular individual in front of them, an opportunity to emote collectively.

That’s easy.  Fun too, if you want to unleash your inner condescender…

Nastier, brutally harder and likely to lead to a short solitary life is the following: seeing those same dynamics among those of us who want a habitable planet.

As it becomes so-difficult-as-to-be-impossible to ignore the signs of the times, as it becomes impossible to see a narrative that leads to us getting out of this fix, this sixth great extinction, this anthropo-bad-scene, then we progressives – with the right bumper stickers in our brains-  are just as prone to the same kinds of magical thinking we can spot and deride in those Trump supporters.

We are clinging, will cling, to our own saints (Saint Greta is the obvious one), and our own magical incantations.  Not so much ‘build that wall’ as ‘3.5 per cent!’.  Not so much the 2020 election as a citizens’ assembly, as if that would solve anything, as if that would result in anything more than a confused shopping list that could then be killed off in the committees.

The one sticking point is that those on the reactionary right, the unreflecting nativist, ‘anti-reflexive’ blood and soil crowd don’t PRETEND to understand or desire nuance, complexity, difficulty.  There is black and white, good and evil, zero and sum.

On what passes for the resistance to such binary thinking, there is the ritual obeisance to complexity, emergent properties (hundredth monkey my fat arse) and to feedback loops. We go for timey-wimey feedback  loops, consilience, holarchy, ecosystems approaches. Or rather, we SAY we do, we’d like to believe that we do.  But by and large, we don’t.  Some of us don’t all the time, and it seems like all  of us don’t, at least some of the time.  It’s too hard – cognitively, emotionally, socially.  The temptation to slip into comforting half truths, where the sun in our eyes makes some of the lies worth believing, is so very strong.  And as nobody likes a smart-arse, nobody likes a buzz-killer.

Does any of this matter? I suppose not. If (as I suspect, and have thought for all my adult life, since about 1991 or so) ‘we’ as a species are not going to respond to this emergency with the kinds of actions that we need – that (to use a more recent term) avivocracy cannot rule – then why not let people have their illusions?  Why not let them spout their 3.5% baloney?  Where’s the harm?

Answers on a postcard please, to the usual address….

And, for the benefit of anyone who has wondered in late, the usual address is marcmywords@gmail.com

(The answer, of course – is that the harm is to our dignity. (or amour-propre, if we’re going to be cynical?) The thing that humans can be good at, on their good days, is to see things for what they are, not what we wish they were, what we think they ought to be.  Because then at least you can fail into the abyss, rather than flail into it.  But maybe that’s just me, reaching for theoretical comforts.)

Note to self –  neologism flalling – combination of flailing and falling?