On sacrifice

So, erstwhile colleagues at Climate Emergency Manchester have written about this.

Here’s my two cents (or three pounds, as the exchange rate would have it).

The clue is in the word; sacrifice is “to make sacred”.

Sacredness gets an understandably bad rap these days, given what organised religion has justified (am re-reading Brendan Phibbs’ “The Other Side of Time” and he makes the point that both the German Lutheran Church and Catholic Church went along with the Nazis without a murmur).

And to call something “sacred” is to open yourself up to accusations of believing in bearded sky-gods, in mystic woo-woo.

Hmm. I am not sure a strictly materialist “rationalist” approach is terribly helpful either. Without going full-Heidegger (what was that I was saying about fucking Nazis?), I think we can say that something is lost – and things can come unstuck – when we believe that it’s molecules all the way down. Look at the mess we made of this planet (as per Calum’s observations in the CEM post).

So what, in a ‘rationalist’ (question-begging/tanks-parked-on-lawn term that it is) world would the “sacrifice” around climate activism actually look like?

I think it would include at least the following;

  • being committed (“x hours a week, except in truly exceptional circumstances”) to a local group (and reluctantly I will concede that ‘local’ can include branches of (inter)national franchises) that was pushing for radical action (1).
  • being committed to pushing the growth and development of that local group and its members (its absorptive capacity, its resilience and ability to do the bread and butter work, its innovative capacity etc) even if it meant tricky conversations have to be had about individuals and group behaviour and performance. (And just because a conversation is going to be ‘tricky’ does not mean you’re allowed to jump in boots and all because it’s “bound to fail” – quite the opposite.) And having a programme of training and skill-maintenance/extension that was visible and enacted.
  • being committed to being unpopular whenever it is required (2) because you consistently and persistently call bullshit on fake solutions offered by the dominant actors (whether those are inadequate policy fixes or technofixes) and ALSO the useless (worse-than-useless?) self-indulgent rituals of other groups (see endless blog posts from me about the smugosphere, the emotacycle and I just don’t have the will to repeat it all – am not willing to make that sacrifice. Ha ha. Sue me, bite me).

To hold those things (at a minimum) as “sacred” – inviolable, immanent, transcendent, numinous, whatever all those words mean – would involve you committing a portion of your own time, energy, intellect, compassion, courage, networks to meet those commitments.

But we don’t do these things, for various reasons (and these reasons shift). One is simply that you can get your activist self-respect and credibility tokens simply by going on some marches or gluing yourself to something or engaging in dreary zombie repertoires. There’s a real free-rider problem here, but nobody wants to talk about it because we’re so unused to thinking about “our” (individual) activism as contingent for its effectiveness on social movements of movements made up of movements and those movements being in turn made up of resilient and effective organisations. We are sold the myth of the One Lone Person Who Made A Difference (Rosa, Greta) and in our narcissistic times, we eat it up (3).

Another is because it’s damn difficult, there are few role models, there is no language for it.

Am I sacrificing at the moment? Nope. Do I intend to sacrifice anytime soon? Nope.

Is this a moral position?

Hell nope.



(1) I can’t find it, but somewhere Noam Chomsky writes that the late Israel Shahak, who loved classical music, deciding not to go to concerts and to use that time to work for Palestinian rights ,every night.

(2) And knowing when you are being gratuitously and/or unconstructively unpopular, for the shiggles or out of habit, and knocking that on the head. And being able to cope effectively with people accusing you of that (shiggleness) as a way of not engaging with your critique of their idiotic ritualistic and self-serving shite.

(3) Rosa Parks was brave af (you had to be to do what she did when she did it. People of colour were being killed with virtual impunity back then), but the Civil Rights Movement has been reduced (by bad historians and worse) to a few super-stars and hordes of unnamed Orc-like followers. It’s a damned travesty.

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