Of codes of silence, workshops and egos

And you can’t talk about it
And isn’t that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you’ve really got a lot to say
Billy Joel, Code of Silence

A while back I went to a “workshop” that I thought would be not very good. Why go then? Purely and simply (and I said this to the wife and she said it was a very bad idea and I totally agreed with her before I even went) because of… ego. I had been invited to be on the closing roundtable, for reasons that remain mysterious to me.

The day panned out as these days always do. A total lack of imagination in format, followed by piss-poor wet lettuce ‘chairing’ that allowed gasbags to do what gasbags do (not all of them men, btw), and the tea breaks and lunch break curtailed/squeezed, meaning that you couldn’t even do any proper seeking out and schmoozing of interesting people. The people present were not encouraged to engage with each other, but merely with whatever “sage” (in the loosest sense imaginable) happened to be on the stage. Ego-fodderfication galore.

Finally, at the end of the day, there I was: one of the soi-disant sages. Well, I (think I) had novel, useful and possibly important things to say about the topic of the day. But (I felt) I couldn’t say them because the format of the event had been so very very offensive. I was presented with the choice of

a) Going with what everyone else had been doing and was doing and treating the audience as ego-fodder for my own ‘benefit’. This is attractive, in some way, but also, fatally, means that I am a hypocrite in my own eyes, breaking my own code (yes, I am quite aware of how pompous and addicted-to-saviour-narratives that makes me sound. Bite me.)
b) Forgoing what I was going to say to turn (most of) my session into the kind of interaction that most of the event should have been. “Taking one for the team,” when there is in fact no team and the non-existent team has no fucking clue of what game it should be playing, and no ability to ever learn: Groundhog Day without Bill Murray being able to reflect. Yum..

I went with b), as I have in the past, and it lifted the mood, for what that is worth. But the event was by then beyond salvaging, and I doubt very very much that anyone present will ever go for option b), or do the kind of disrupting, transrupting that we need. I could be wrong. I would actually love to be wrong.

Maybe I should stop doing b), or stop going to events altogether.

The third option is if/when invited explaining that I am not going to fucking come unless the organisers do SOME of what they should do for their “workshop” to escape the soul-crushing boredom-fests and ego-fodderfication that we all put up with in academia or activism.  I may even send an email something like this.

Dear x,

Thanks for the invitation to present. My ego is suitably puffed up. However, it needs to be kept on a strict diet. So, before a yes or no to attending, could you please explain a bit more – as detailed as you can/you like – about how you intend to make the event one at which people who attend can engage with each other, and find kindred spirits. If it’s all about sitting in rows listening to speakers and then sharp-elbowing to ask questions in the Q and A, before hunting out old acquaintances during the drinks break/lunch break, sorry, but ‘thanks but no thanks’.
Yours sincerely
That asshole.

Probably time for the XR post I haven’t been writing, because…

I have an article coming out that has come out on The Conversation (yes Sarah, yes Matt, you are both right) that may cause some fur to fly.  This post is for readers of that who want/demand to know where I stand. I will keep it brief and try to keep the glibsnark to tolerable levels

Are you some kind of  climate denier/lukewarmis/eqivocator?

I had a vasectomy in 2004 (pre-breeding) because anthropogenic global warming is all-too real. I have thought since mid-1991 that the human response to its self-created problem would be too slow.  In that I was wrong – the response has been virtually non-existent, if like Greta you don’t count empty words and emissions trading schemes

But you aren’t a full-throated supporter of XR, so you presumably think there are technological fixes, or that we can adapt to temperature rises?

Technological fixes? Er, no. Even before I started studying the intricacies of how innovation works, how social and political change are in a waltz/tango/rumba with those, I didn’t believe in that particular soothing fairy tale (and remember, fairy tales don’t always have a happy ending, do they?). As for adapting. Yeah, right. Because we’re doing so well at 1 degree, the 4 degrees we are probably gonna get this century will be a doddle. Er, no. My hunch is that the second half of the twenty first century is going to make the first half of the twentieth look like a golden age of peace, love and understanding.

So in that case, why aren’t you involved in XR, with all your obvious talents – well, opinions?  After all, it’s the only show in town.

If I were glibsnarking, I’d say because I am a Marxist- a Groucho Marxist – “never be the member of any club that would have you as a member.” But I am not, so I won’t.
There are two ways of looking at this…

But first an important disclaimer – nothing below is aimed at the brave and committed individuals who have been putting their bodies on the line, who have been treated shamefully most of the media, by the Met etc.

One on the basis of what XR’s demands are, and whether I could explain them to an interested potential ally with a straight face and two, my thoughts on XR’s likely success and longevity. Then I will address your Thatcherite ‘there is no alternative’ line.

One.  XR’s demands are both necessary but also simultaneously bat-shit crazy.

Zero-carbon by 2025.  Yeah, I say to people, I can deliver that. Just give me a week and a phial of smallpox and we will all be on our way.  Twelve Monkeys redux (fun fact – that is based on a great short story by a ,gasp, female author. #butIdigress). I have yet to meet a single XRer who thinks this is doable. I totes get the need for stretch targets, but there has to be a modicum of plausibility. The group I am in, we’ve put 2030 as our target for Manchester, which is that-bit-less unimaginable. And don’t even start me on zero carbon.

Tell the truth. Look, there are two people in the UK who are trusted. Queenie, principally for longevity and keeping her mouth shut, and David Attenborough.  Well, Dave, at long long last, finally told the truth about climate change.  And yeah, that has meant (checks notes), everyone has stopped flying, reduced their meat intake, stopped buying gas-guzzling tanks, sneering at the eco-freaks. No, wait.  The ‘tell the truth’ thing is again one of those propositional demands, non-reformist reforms  (yes I’ve read my social movement theory stuff), but wtaf, it also betrays this hypodermic informational-deficit model nonsense that the greenies have been doing for (checks notes again) like, foreva.

Citizens Assembly.  Yeah, because it absolutely would not be captured by elite interests who, and would absolutely not produce a shopping list of wouldn’t it  be nice claims that would then absolutely not be watered down and not implemented by – God, Bless the Civil Service, the nation’s saving grace   Because that’s what’s been lacking all these years. We just needed a bunch of good ideas so our leaders could implement them.  Just like Australia with its Ecologically Sustainable Development process in … 1991…

And don’t even start me on this “capital S science proves – proves I tell you! – that 3.5 percent means the government falls”. FFS.

But, of course, maybe we should take XR seriously if not literally?  Which brings us to two.

I have seen this movie before, I know how it ends. I was involved (very heavily) in Climate Camp in 2006, and for the first half of 2007.  I saw the same psycho-social dynamics at play. I have even read Jo Freeman’s ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’ and knew that it applied.  Sure, this is a sequel, so the body count is higher, the protests are more elaborate. But, I saw this movie before y’all.

XR, at least what I have seen, lacks the skills in meeting design, meeting facilitation, absorptive capacity, you name it.  It has oodles of bonding capital, which is doubtless strengthened by the latest rebellion, but as for it’s bridging capital is, yeah, well.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating – I am not dismissing the energy, concern, intelligence and courage – physical, emotional you name it – of participants in XR. I just doubt their prospects for success, and wish they would use their energy, concern, intelligence and courage to take a close look at what they are doing, how they are doing , and do some innovating (maybe this is happening, but I do not see it where I live).

Holy crap you can waffle.  So what you are saying is XR is irredeemably shit and we should all dance and drink and screw because there’s nothing else to do. Thanks, I will do that.

Er, you interrupted before I got to your Thatcheshite ‘TINA’ argument.  XR is not the only part of the ecosystem, it’s just the gaudiest…

So we should join Friends of the Earth?!

Stop interrupting. And god no. GOD no. Why waste the few good years before nemesis kisses us on the apocalypse getting people to sign colourful postcards.  No, I am saying that as well as the School Strikes (I am a bit long in tooth) there ARE other groups, or at least the possibility of them.  Smaller groups, trying to keep it radical, keep it local, and keep it long-term, for after this moment- and it is a moment- passes.  Groups like Climate Emergency Manchester (full disclosure, I co-founded it) which are trying to take a movement-building rather than mobilising approach, building up skills, knowledge, relationships, confidence, in as structured but simultaneously urgent and radical (that word again) as possible.  See the blog post “The January 4th 2023 problem“.

Yawn

Yeah, it’s getting late, I should be at the gym, and then be doing some of that research and thinking they are paying me for.  And if you want to hear about the why and how of Climate Emergency Manchester, well, for now you can look at this. I may come back to the gritty details later. And you can point out the racism, colonialism, sexism and classism (tube blocking, much?) of environmental social movements.  I will not argue with you about those critiques- they are almost always entirely valid. The more interesting question is how to make things less awful. But that sound you hear is the gym saying ‘where the hell are you, fat arse?”  I’m off…

 

 

Sucking on the hopium pipe

In 2002 I got some weird-ass bug, probably from having been in Cambodia. I ended up in a lot of pain (probably as much as in my life) and on a hospital gurney.   And then they gave me some morphine.

Holy mother of God that stuff is the shit.  You just… the pain just… you float away on this soft warm cloud of bliss.

I TOTALLY see how people get addicted to that. You’d be mad not to, if you had serious pain (and I did not – it was acute, but not chronic, not omfg ‘shoot me now’ pain).

Anyone with a brain who looks at what our species (1) has done to this planet – the genocides, the ecocides, the wanton destruction driven by fear, greed, will to power etc – is in a lot of pain.  That would be the case even if we were not quite clearly a long way down a suicidal path that will turn this planet into a largely uninhabitable overcooked slag-and-plastic heap.

Pain is not fun.

So, we want to suck on the hopium pipe.

“New group X will save us” (for x, insert Climate Camp, Occupy, Corbymentum or some extremely new and depoliticised rendition).

And if anyone has the rudeness to question why the same tactics and rhetoric should be expected to come to a different result, oh my.

“Look has anything else got this big this quickly? We must be winning. If you’re not with us you’re against us!  Don’t be so demoralising. You must be unwell/jealous” etc

I will say it again, (though I am staggered and appalled that I have to). We. Have. A. Moral. Obligation. Not. Just. To. Act. But. To. Learn. From. Past. Mistakes.

Everything is just riding an emotacycle off a cliff. Again. Why should people who ought to know better be applauded for that?

 

 

Footnotes

(1)  Yep, there is common but differentiated responsibility. Most of that responsibility lies with people who look like me – white, male, middle-class, who either actively did stuff or were unwilling to speak up against it, out of fear-greed-complicity-etc.  Anyhows, parsing the anthropocene versus the racialised capitolocene etc is a blog post for another day, ‘kay?

What next for XR? Gazing dimly into my crystal balls #oldfartclimateadvice

Tl:dr  Hard to see radical granular climate action in the UK continuing beyond early 2021 at the latest. But I could be wrong.

Firstly the disclaimers:

  • Disclaimer the first: Who the hell knows?  Who the hell knows anything anymore?
  • Disclaimer the second: In cosmic scheme of things it doesn’t matter- we are a dead species stumbling, about to spaff all the achievements of the Enlightenment against the wall. So it goes.
  • Stories like these, scenarios, give a crumb of comfort, the illusion/delusion of control.

We are not quite a year in to the public face of XR (I went to my first – awful – meeting last September).  The whole climate ‘thing’ (including XR, Thunbergmania, FfF etc) seems to be happening at twice the speed of the last wave (2006-2009), for whatever reasons.   On Monday the next ‘International Rebellion’ is to begin in London, after the events of April.  So, rather than be overtaken by events again, I am putting this long-brewing post (where long = n+ 14 days, for values of n 0-14 days) so that I have to own my predictions and can’t fall to the retrospective smoothing fallacy (fwiw, I don’t think I ever meant XR in toto would be over by end of 2018, just that the idea of maintaining blockades for weeks on end in Nov/Dec was, well, ambitious. But maybe I did)

As far as XR is concerned (the school strikes are different, but not that different), I think we’re coming to a crunch point. Much depends on Monday onwards.  The April evens had a few things going for them

a)  weather (it was warm – can’t think why) and not too rainy
b)  novelty ‘hippies take over London, complete with ‘normal’ people among them’ was a good news story
c)  a gap in the news cycle from the Other Thing Of Which We Will Not Speak
d)  The Metropolitan Police were playing it softly softly (possibly because it helped them in budget negotiations to look outnumbered/overwhelmed? Who can say.)

For this next orgasm in the emotacycle to ‘work’, all of those need to be in favour again, and the novelty factor has to include LOTS more people (if numbers aren’t much much higher,  where is the novelty?) It’s not clear to me the numbers will be that much higher. Lots of people got to tick the I Did My Bit box by turning out in their lunch hour for the Global Climate ‘Strike’ on Sept 20.

It’s not clear at all that the OTOWWWNS window will be there.

It’s also reasonably clear that the  Metropolitan police attitude is different.  Clock this display of pre-emptive we-da-boss-ery. Seems odd to do this and then be all touchy-feely-dancy-yes-we-are-your-friends from Monday on. We shall see.  (Of course, just because the Met may want to change its tactics does not guarantee they they will succeed in changing their tactics/those tactics will succeed.)

But for the sake of argument, let’s say  all the stars align and this next rebellion is a ‘win’ for XR, then what? As far as I can see, then the pressure to do an ‘even bigger’ Rebellion next April will be almost irresistible (and it is not clear to me many participants would WANT to resist).

Okay, so say the event is a damp/ignored/plodded squib. In that case, I suspect that there will be some decruitment, some soul-searching and the splits emerging (the drones-at-Heathrow as XR’s ‘Brexit Moment’, as an insider said not long back) will open.  BUT if I had to bet, I’d say the cracks will be papered over, morale sort of maintained and the caravan will be kept on the road because, you know, momentum (lower case), it’s an emergency, and there is a summit to be hopped in Glasgow next November/December.  And given that the dreary mainstream NGOs (Hello Faux, hello Greenpieces) are busy playing catch-up and will be wanting to mobilise for the COP, then the XR will stagger on.

Meanwhile, in both these extreme cases, the calls  for granular, local, low-adrenaline-radical action will be ignored or wilfully misunderstood by most folks.

But I could be wrong. Time will tell, as she so often does.  In the meantime, will keep pushing on with the granular local, low-adrenaline radical stuff, as best I can, with people I trust.