tl;dr – I’m allowed to be angry about people who really ought to know better colluding with muppetry.
Worse than useless. If you sat smart people down and asked them to come up with something that would make building granular, thickly networked radical movements and movement organisations that could sustain themselves in the face of co-optation, repression, harassment, burnout, “personality” cults and the other usual existential-threats the Good Guys face more difficult rather than easier, then I reckon they would come up with something that looked and felt a lot like XR. Messianic leaders, millennarian rhetoric and limited repertoires that are easily outfoxed once the Met has got what it wants (higher budget allocations).
Up like a rocket, down like a stick, leaving those few still “in” ever-more rigid and resentful of those who voted with their feet, and those who voted with their feet feeling guilty and self-flagellating for having walked (or run) away.
XR could have been a useful way “into” sustained and sustainable radical activism. Instead, it is stumbling along, still “alive” but unable to fulfil its role in the ecosystem (this is what is known in the ecology game as functionally extinct).
Case in point, this Easter’s “Rebellion of One.” In Manchester, a conurbation of two and a half million people, one person did one thing one time and got one bit of press coverage. You have to one-der how healthy the “movement” (it’s not a movement, it’s a social movement organisation) is.
The brand will persist, morph and still be seen “supporting” pre-existing local campaigns over this or that patch of land that bosses of a local council are flogging off to their developer mates. But as a catalyst and transformer and all that? Nope, functionally extinct, no matter what happens (or doesn’t) in Cornwall and Glasgow.
All this was predictable and in fact predicted. And, worse, the worst of it was avoidable. Or you can imagine, without being on TOO strong a prescription of Hopium, a world in which those who have been in the game A Long Time were able to offer what wisdom they had accrued, what tradecraft, without seeing themselves or being seen as “Elders” or interferers.
Yes, people have to learn from their own mistakes, but we don’t look kindly on people who allow their children to learn how to dodge traffic by sending them out onto the M6 saying “they’ll pick it up, they have to learn for themselves.” There is such a thing as scaffolding, as a zone of proximal development. Watching someone drowning in the deep end and shrugging your shoulders is, well, interesting, morally speaking.
This is mis-characterising, of course, but no more than the idea that any attempt to create a forum for intergenerational learning is oppressive or paternalistic or patriarchal or whatever.
A few further random observations
a) If reflecting on your activism disempowers you, disheartens you then you should consider that maybe
- You’re doing the reflecting wrong
- You’re doing the activism wrong
Or, gee, I dunno, maybe
3. YOU ARE DOING BOTH OF THEM WRONG
b) These XR people were not all 18, and therefore clutching a “get out of jail, where I do all my best yoga, free” card (1). Yes, the arrogance of youth, BUT quite a few of the XR folks were old enough to know better, but chose not to, chose instead to glug the Kool-Aid with the kool kids.
Yes there was a sizeable number of 18 year olds, but there were also quite a lot of older/retired folks, who ought to have had the nous to say “gee, maybe we could learn from those who have come before, even if they failed – there might be some lessons to learn from failure.”
Here’s one reason (not the only one) I think (speculate) that these older folks did not do that.
They would have to hear stories from 10 or 12 years previous, of activism taking place when they were still living their high-carbon lifestyles that they were now trying to disown and abjure. And the realisation that when it mattered, when there was still time (theoretically at least) to turn it around, they, the older XR folks, had FAILED TO FUCKING SHOW UP. And rather than confront that, cope with that, process that guilt, it was far easier to pretend that nothing of significance/note had ever happened before.
Somebody (2) once said “Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power, that is not easy.”
Mostly I am angry at this species’ sociopaths, who have been raping, murdering, ecociding for hundreds of years (millennia). We could have been better than this.
But you know, I am also allowed to be angry at those grifters who have their own thing, their Opposition Hustle, who are using (with various degrees of self-awareness and cynicism) important issues (the right of future generations and other species to, you know, exist) as backdrops for their own emotional needs, who turn allegedly anti-systemic movements into opportunities to strut and fret for little more than an hour upon the stage, who turn other human beings into ego-fodder, who are then discarded or self-discard.
And I’m gonna push the boat out here (even though it’s sinking) and say I am even allowed to have a little anger at those who enable the sociopaths and the grifters. Those with some years on the clock (25? 30?) who are brave enough to say that the dominant game is rigged, but lack the courage or the curiosity to look at the rituals of redemption and dissent (resistance would be alliterative, but also asinine) and go “hmm, maybe it ain’t gonna be as easy as a sleepover in the capital with a pink boat. And those who tell me it is and bandy around meaningless precise statistics are not all that or all there.”
We’re toast. We will wriggle on the hook, the corpse of liberal democracy will twitch. Right now we are in the Cheynes-Stokes breathing phase. This too shall pass.
What is to be done? Taking movement-building seriously. Learning from the past while knowing that the future will be different, that there is no model or guru to follow slavishly. Maybe we, the white, middle-class privileged (3) people, need to raise our expectations of ourselves and each wmcps. Because, you know, it happens to be an emergency, some things – like rebel status – don’t come for free.
- (1) Toxic analogy- this is in the same way that you can’t explain 911 by invoking the idea that those 19 assholes on the planes on 911 were oppressed proletarians (they weren’t)
- (2) It was a Dead White Male by the name of Aristotle.
- (3) Life can (and often does) suck for white, middle-class privileged people too. We get abused, neglected, shafted. We suffer hardships too.