“What can we do, as individuals?” Unpopular answer to popular question

Quickly as ever, bringing two strands together.

First, there was an excellent comment on a previous post about why get involved in social movement organisations/what happens if they try.

“isn’t there an option about doing what you can, when you can, and doing your best to live coherently, talking to others when the conversation might be fruitful, but recognising when you don’t live coherently and when the conversation will not help? I worry about champions and role models always being something beyond my reach, and all I can do with integrity is doggedly keep on doing my best.”

Second, , yesterday, when I was a guest on Common Weal’s podcast the question came up of “what can we as individuals do.”

Here’s my answer, fwiw (tidied up slightly so I don’t come across as completely inarticulate)

I think what Keith just said about how as an individual, it’s really difficult.

So for anyone who’s still listening, and who thinks “Who is this mad man?” You know , I’m with you. I often ask myself the same question.

If you are feeling despondent, despairing, at the state of the world, it is nothing wrong in you. Those feelings are totally legitimate. But also, if you don’t do something about them, they will cause you damage. And the only thing that I know in my own life and talking to other people that has worked to deal with those feelings-  It’s not sticking your head in the sand and disappearing into a haze of you know, sex and drugs and rock and roll.  It’s getting together with other people who think about the same issues and have the same concerns and trying to do something. 

But that on its own is not enough. Because so many social movement organisations go up like a rocket and come down like a stick they they sort of start with this buzz where these despairing despondent people have found each other and feel validated and seen. And then they do something that gets lots of profile in the media and they think “hallelujah, the revolution is at hand” and then they keep doing that thing to try and recapture that sense of recognition and momentum and love. And very quickly, it stops working, because the media will report “hippies take over London” but if the hippies take over London six months later, the media need a new angle, and also the police are ready for them. I could talk about Extinction Rebellion all day. 

So what therefore you need, and this is really difficult and I write about this on my blog, what you need is a social movement organisation, a group that is able to harness the feelings of recognition of love of mutual support, and not become addicted to the adrenaline surge that comes with a successful noisy, vibrant musical action or a glowing piece in the media or being patted on the head by some politician who wants to use you as a photo op.

And then what you need is for the group to be able to sort of act calmly with a strategic vision. Not just for weeks or months; I’m afraid we’re talking years here, and then you have to sustain the relationships in the room. You have to keep recruiting more people because over time people drop out of groups because they move to a different city or their parents get sick or their kids need extra support or they lose their job and don’t have the spare time.

So I’m sorry to be sort of really downbeat but you as an individual will burn out if you try and do it on your own. If you get involved in a group that doesn’t have a strategic vision and a way of sustaining itself, you will burn out and the entire group will burn out.  Really the only way forward for you as an individual is to find or form a group that is capable of sustaining itself.

At the same time that’s the only thing that I think will work.  Our Lord and Masters, the people in charge, have gotten very good at containing and co-opting and when necessary, repressing groups that only stick around for a year or two years or three years. They know how to invite some of the people inside the tent and have them sit on, you know this advisory panel that consultancy group and how to demonise other people who refuse the invitation to come and be a fig leaf and sort of sicc the police on them and the laws and the media. 

So unless we have groups that can sustain themselves for the long haul, and avoid being co opted and avoid being repressed and avoid being burnt out, then we’re not going to get anywhere either as individuals or as groups or as a species. So that’s why I think we’re doomed – ,because doing doing all of those things I’ve described is so fricking difficult.

And i think it is unpopular for multiple reasons

a) it’s CLEARLY inadequate to the scale of the problems we face (but then, ain’t everything)

b) it would involve a sacrifice of time, energy and having to sit in meetings/interacting with people whose ideas, personalities and actions we might find problematic and/or discombobulating.

c) being a citizen in a world that tries to enforce mere consumership comes with risks…

d) it’s CLEARLY futile – groups gonna keep going up like rockets and tumble down like sticks. Only now, because you went and gave a fuck when it wasn’t your turn, you’re to “blame”// you’ve become collateral damage etc.

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