Cabron Offsetting (aka “Absolution Services”)

So, when I was doing climate campaigning in Manchester there was a subset of people who either wanted to meet or were happy to meet for reasons I didn’t really understand at first.

Eventually I realised that what was going on was that these people wanted to see real action on climate in Manchester, they realised that things were going badly wrong but they were simply not capable of speaking out. Either because they were too thick or too cowardly (or both) – they had climbed to a certain level but knew that if they rocked the boat, then the “Manchester Mafia” – the Labour Party bosses and assorted developers and hangers-on and enforcers – would give them one warning and then throw them overboard, weighted down like in the last scene (spoilers!) of that Michael Haneke film. You do not criticise Labour and its policies and survive long. You do not draw back the curtain and show that the climate policies are fiction, not if you want to stay part of ‘the gang’.

And one way they could deal with the feelings of foreboding about Manchester’s direction, and their own self-disgust at their cowardice/inadequacy was to meet up with someone who had no problem saying, very publicly, “shit is going badly badly wrong.” Meeting up and making sympathetic noises helped them think they were somehow on the side of the angels, helped them ignore the fact that they spent most of their time enabling assholes to be assholes.

This became even more of a thing in 2019-2020, when I was part of “Climate Emergency Manchester.” Various people popped up, wanting to tell us how wonderful we were and ask how they could help. We were wise enough by then, me and colleagues, to understand a bit better what was going on, and to have back-channels so we could compare what we were being told about person X by person X and how person X was actually behaving. And beyond the simple/easy things, the more complex and meaningful promises of help/support did not materialise. So it goes.

At some point I came up with the idea of “absolution services” – that busy and stressed activists were being expected by those in positions of power/influence/whatever to soothe them and say, in effect “there there, I know it’s sooo difficult for you. Diddums.” In exchange for, well scraps from the table, snippets of gossip, tiny amounts of material help.

And then I came up with Cabron Offsetting, which I am quietly (sic) proud of. For those who’ve come late, cabron is a swear word in Spanish, meaning “bastard/asshole.”

Hope it’s useful. To be clear – I am not advising people NOT to meet with elite figures, who might at some point – at least in theory – be ‘useful’. I am saying go into it knowing what is going on, what you’re likely to get, and how much time and energy to devote to maintaining those relationships. Time and energy spent listening to these morons (who are often florid narcissists too) drone on about themselves is time and energy you don’t have for having discussions with “ordinary people,” finding out their perspectives, needs, desires, building power to challenge things. Or just resting, which is also much needed.

Good luck, I hope this helps, let me know your thoughts.

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