The “well, what’s your alternative?” question ENRAGES me. Because I have answered it so many times, and the people asking me (almost always) know that I have; they just don’t like my answers. These answers would move them out of their comfort zone, decentre them, force them to do (different) hard work.
It enrages me because it is usually said with a “you don’t have any alternatives (you’re just a whiny jealous loser)” tone. And it comes from a place of… well, it comes from the smugosphere, from people heavily invested in/trapped by the emotacycle.
I also hate the question because it is a difficult (impossible) one, and the answers that used to satisfy me (about building sustainable radical social movement organisations that could survive co-optation, repression, zombification) no longer do. Or, rather, what with all the evidence of the storm – wreckage upon wreckage piling up in front of my feet – I can no longer pretend that the old answers are adequate (there was a time they may have been, but that time has passed.)
So why am I writing on it yet again, for the gazillionth time? I mean, very recently I said I wouldn’t be the economist on the desert island.
Because someone I have massive respect for – someone with heart, brains, spine, eloquence, self awareness – has asked me. And while that asking may come from a place of some exasperation (with me), so what? So here goes, in unpolished/rough as a badger’s arse.
Define what you mean by winning
Sustaining the status quo, where billions are insecure, and countless species are being pushed into extinction, is not, in my book, winning.
Define what you mean by winning at a local level.
Without going Full Bendell, take the apocalypse as a given. What does winning look like in the here and now?
Create the right incentive structures, and be aware of the WRONG incentive structures
(without going full B.F. Skinner/behaviourist/stimulus-response. We are not pigeons.) Not just accusing people who rise to the top of groups of being careerists who are “Going To Sell Out, Man” but also the murky emotions and drivers within individuals and groups that keep us looking for salvation – what I recently dubbed “the scraped knee” theory.
Commit to making NEW mistakes
Please for the love of Gaia don’t make the old mistakes. Could we learn from the blatantly obvious patterns of how groups, and movements, go up like a rocket and come tumbling down like a stick? Could we talk about that, and try some new stuff? Eh?
Actually have success metrics that mean you are pushed outside your comfort zone.
Don’t get caught in the traps of doing stuff because it makes you feel good, because you know how to do it.
Nurture yourselves and each other
Create cultures that allow that. No, create cultures that insist on that. But just because you say you have a “regenerative culture” Does. Not. Mean. You. Do. For. Fuckity. Fucking. Fuck’s. Sake. (don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining, ‘kay?).
Expect very little from academics
In fact, take your expectations, halve them and then halve them again. (See “The Defiant Ones” for more about this).
This is not a plan, I know. Just a series of shibboleths and banalities. Turns out I don’t have an image, a vision of some magical grand coalition of unions, academics, community groups, legislators, lawyers coming together – or even working in synergy/synchronicity. No modern princes to sweep us off our feet.
Because if that were going to happen, it would have by now.
I DID have a series of tools and perspectives I developed, that would help individuals and groups avoid some of the obvious mistakes. But it turns out those tools are too much, the mission is too much. I sincerely believe that – at least for now (and I suspect for ever) – creating a viable and long-lasting group that can punch above its weight and support/insist internally and externally on innovation and performance… – nah. Beyond us.
The incentive structures, the situational awareness, the capacity to act, the absorptive capacity, the persistence, the ability to avoid becoming a tribute band to yourself, it’s all wrecked, it’s all just NOT THERE.
So, what is to be done? Be aware of all of the above, but I guess play it as it lays, play the cards you’re dealt. And carpe the diems.
Right, now back to Doctor Who.