There are many topics on which I am a dreadful bore. On a subset of those I am a dreadful SMUG bore. On a subset of those I am a dreadful smug bore who will one day be thumped by a breeder. That subset is actually one item – the “I had a vasectomy in 2004, pre-breeding, and it was the second-best decision I ever made. Why did I do it? Not because of what my putative children would do to the planet, but what the planet would do to them” aka “there’s a shitstorm coming, numbnuts, can you not see it?” (1)
Another dreadful bore topic is this: the abject shittiness of most public meetings, especially those organised by people who have an explicit “we need to build a mass movement (of movements) to combat the Pending Ecological Debacle” motivation.
This blog post is about the entirely predictable mediocrity of a recent meeting of a group I shall call the Antipodean Verdant Political Organisation (AVPO).
Disclaimers first. I am sure the AVPO people, like their Limey counterparts, are well-meaning, hard-working, intelligent, dedicated etc, and NOT actively actually power-crazed, more-than-usually narcissistic or sociopathic. In fact, compared to most folks in Political Organisations, I am sure they are paragons of virtue. Which kinda makes their failure to understand the entirely predictable consequences of what they organise all the more frustrating. Because [insert tired Einstein-ascribed quote about doing same thing over and over again blah blah insanity]. Ditto for the invited speakers, who were not from AVPO.
I walked into south Adelaide to attend an AVPO meeting about, oh, let’s say it was about homelessness (hint – it was). The meeting was held at a pub. The chairs were all in rows, which is fine. There was basic info about the entirely sensible and laudatory policy proposals of the AVPO on the seats.
A friendly person checked my details (we live in the COVIDosphere, after all).
We were not invited/encouraged to mingle/talk to anyone. I got chatting to the very nice guy next to me because that’s what I do: there is literally no point going to events if you’re not going to chat to people. But without encouragement/”permission” to do so, it’s only the extroverts like me who will give it a go.
There was a welcome to country. There was no acknowledgement of greenhouse gases (see it in this alternative universe Jay Weatherill speech)
There were then various good/detailed speeches by the invited sages on the stage. There was also a long personal testimony from someone with lived experience of the issues that the other folks had eloquently spoken of.
The facilitator of the meeting then asked if anyone had any questions.
He had not given us a chance to talk among ourselves to hone questions, to improve them. (see meetings are institutionally sexist)
So he asked one of his own. Then, after that, some hands (male to begin with, obvs) went up.
I stuck my hand up and got a go. And I couched my question as politely as I could. And it was my old favourite “why are we losing: what are we, as campaigners, doing WRONG?”
And what I got back was… look, there’s no polite way to say this, but from the intelligent and well-meaning and extremely experienced folks at the front, whom I have great respect for (2), came… the usual “gosh, neoliberalism, gosh, bad ideology”. There was zero reflection on the smugosphere of campaigning, on the boom-and-bust nature of the emotacycle, on the ego-foddering that happens in meetings, the churn and burn of mobilisation instead of movement-building.
Of course there wasn’t. That doesn’t mean
a) there shouldn’t have been
b) I needed to stick around
c) I didn’t – I law of two feeted it – but at least I didn’t flounce/lob any resentment grenades over my shoulder as I left.
But I’ve only been able to arrive at this faux equanimity because… I do not have skin in the game. When the shit really hits the fan for rich over-privileged people like me, instead of all the other species and all the other people that liberal democracy can only pretend to care about, well that shit ain’t gonna be splattering any mini-mes because 2004 vasectomy.
I have only been able to understand and “accept” that social movement organisation incumbents are blind to their privilege and the convenient maintenance of that privilege through failure to innovate in the format of meetings because really, deep down, I, like them, am reaching for the sky just to surrender. Yes, I am doing it from the next level of (self)-awareness of how these rituals of outrage (fun fact – it’s an anagram of eargout) work, and the reasons why innovation in even something as “trivial” (3) just doesn’t happen. Cold comfort.
To remind those of you have come in late.
- Innovation is always difficult (insert that Machiavelli quote)- “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the innovator has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”
- Especially innovation that would undercut the patronage opportunities of organisers, and question their centrality and the importance (some might say fetishisation) of information (do not get me started on the information deficit model, ‘kay?)
So, I walked home, talking to myself, imagining that one day I will be able to approach the organisers of these sorts of events with just the right mix of, I don’t know, social skills, social credibility whatever and get them to start to move away from their stale stale failed formats in the vague direction of something that might actually have a snowball’s chance of building the denser networks of affiliation and weak ties that might then begin to build the movements that “we” all agree we need.
Yeah, whatever I need to tell myself.
Like I said, I’m an insufferable twunt sometimes. So it goes.
(1) For a few years after that, people would look at me goggle-eyed when they heard my spiel, thinking “this guy is nuts.” I don’t get that reaction anymore. While most people think it’s extreme, it is no longer incomprehensible.
(2) This is NOT sarcasm, irony, or sardonicism (sp?) or any such. I mean it straight.
(3) Not trivial at all – actually mission critical but not seen as such by either the shepherds or the sheep