All posts by marchudson

Ex- health care professional, ex-ing activist and ambivalently aspiring academic. Climate doomster. We are so toast.

Of former friends and financial metaphors

Two things on my mind:

A former friend made a very good point as we parted ways, about my sometime hazy (cough cough) attention to finer detail.  Blah blah extraversion blah blah … but actually, this is something I need to work on a bit more.  Hmmm (grim reality is that as an old dog it is hard to learn new tricks, but nonetheless, not impossible blah blah).  And will save time (am having to redo some grindingly boring work because I simply didn’t get it right the first time round. Only Myself To Blame, sadly.)

Second, financial metaphors.  Reading about platform economies etc.  Lots of people getting scammed. The old line about “if you’re sitting down to play poker and you can’t see who the sucker at the table is, get up and walk out, cos it’s you” applies.

Then there’s something to signify enormous risks – “picking up dimes in front of steamrollers”

And – a new one on me – “selling 10 dollar bills for five bucks” (the point being your units shifted and revenue gained per unit look fab. Lots of satisfied customers. But, um, you’re losing five bucks on every transaction….
That’ll do for now.

Oh, I suppose I should point to a couple of posts on Manchester Climate Monthly that I am proud- ish of –

  1. Meet is murder – “Where do we meet?” is not the only question
  2. Global Warming Local Swarming (on how you might try to run a BIG meeting of new folk)

 

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Overdue update – on flubbing interviews, books that need writing etc.

Didn’t get another job. Knew within five minutes of the interview starting that I’d blown it (these always remind me of the opening sequence of that Black Mirror episode).

I can and will learn from this, and try to get hold of some more quantitative skills, or even just better analytics on my existing qualitative ones.  And do practice interviews. Etc.

Meanwhile, here’s some stuff I’ve written on another site recently.

And a kick-ass interview (the answers not the questions) with Prof Julia Steinberger on Manchester, climate and solidarity

As has been suggested to me, need to focus more on a book proposal or two…

 

 

 

 

 

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Activism and the #emotacycle: opinions/suggestions sought.

Hello everyone,

In July 2019 I will present a paper at an academic conference entitled “Political Emotions.” The abstract is below.  I’m posting a very first draft/series of thoughts in the hope that I can stea… sorry, borrow, insights from smart people.  Let me know what you think of the emotacycle concept, the details. What’s missing, what’s wrong, what are some examples of it?  And, crucially,  (how) might it be useful to activists, how would it need to be presented to “them.” (At the moment it is written in first person. I may keep that, I may dump it. Who knows).

TITLE: “Riding the Emotacycle off a cliff”- of (climate) activism, emotional management and eternal return.

Abstract: Thinking people are prone to despair. They join movements and movement organisations to change the world, but also to “manage” that despair. In this paper, an identifiable cycle of emotional peaks and troughs, partially under movement control, is identified. This “emotacycle” has four phases- the Big Event (a march, rally, camp) at which positive emotions (hope, optimism, affiliation) are performed and displayed; the aftermath, where disappointment and despair are contained; the Re-evaluation, where “next steps” are mooted; and Feeder Events building with optimism towards the next Big Event.

The article, based on personal experience, observation and interviews, will outline some of the psycho-social dynamics within each phase, the movement between phases, and  – crucially – the efforts to move social movement organisations towards more effective styles of behaviour, and outline a research agenda for scholar activists and activist scholars.

Keywords: Political Emotions, activism, smugosphere, cliques

Introduction

It is now over thirty years since the general public were made aware of climate change (n.b. the threat of anthropogenic global warming had been at least mentioned in specialist publications for almost 20 years before that, and the oil industry was keeping tabs from the 1960s). So, now is a good time  to examine the reasons for the  failure of social movements to sustain concerted radical pressure on elites and force a societal (indeed, socio-technical) transition.

Of course, climate change is a particularly hard issue to address, since there has been no “easy” substitute for fossil fuels in the same way that there was for the other atmospheric culprit of the 1970s-80s, ozone-destroying chlorofluorachlorines.  And “our” (1) enormous ‘Great Acceleration” of (economic) wealth since the 1950s.

I became aware of climate change during that period (having been sensitised to environmental considerations through a mix of biographical experiences and a love of classic-era Doctor Who).  By 1991 at the latest I was pretty sure we (as a species) were in deep shit and very very unlikely to get out of it.  Nothing these last thirty years has changed that view.

I have lived in the UK for nearly 25 years now, and I’ve seen waves of activity around “the environment” come and go. I’ve participated in a couple of them.  At the same time, I’ve looted (and I used the word in the sense of grabbing things without quite knowing what they are worth and then pegging it) ideas about issue attention cycles and social movement studies (mostly crap, imo) and so on.  And I’ve reflected on the comings and goings of these waves of activity, what happens within them, between them. And I have written A LOT, and coined (too) many neologisms.  Two that particularly stand out are the smugosphere and the emotacycle.  They are connected in a non-determinate (I think) way.  The smugosphere is the place where things are done not because they might be effective but because they meet the emotional/status needs of those (individuals or groups/organisations) who do them.  If a student doesn’t study for their exams, they get robust feedback. If an athlete doesn’t train for the tournament/match, there is robust feedback they can’t explain away. If politicians don’t knock on doors, kiss babies and do what Rupert tells them… you get the idea. In most fields of human activity there is a link between effort/innovation and outcomes. Except in climate activism.  “Activists” don’t generally get text messages from angry polar bears saying “your marches/petitions/camps have achieved nothing, thanks” or a voicemail from a child born in 2030 saying similar. And in the absence of feedback, people tend to keep doing what they’re “good” at, what gives them importance in their tribe, what helps them sleep at night. And the big wheel keeps on turning.

The idea has had an, ah, mixed reception. It turns out people don’t like being accused of smugness. Who knew, eh?

This article is not about the smugosphere directly, though it lurks in the background. This article is about a related concept – the emotacycle.  I suppose the smugosphere is the “spatial” aspect (can I have a Geography post-doc now please) and the emotacycle is the temporal aspect.  Put them together and you have a part of the explanation about the internal dynamics that keep “civil society” (my goodness I hate that term) where it is, at least on climate change.

I got thinking about the emotions of climate change activism in 2006 (a big year for me). In mid-2006 I was in a squat in London. I’d convinced myself that the reason the numbers at previous monthly meetings of the Climate Camp had been static was that we weren’t in London.   But the London meeting was no bigger than those held in the provinces. When I pointed this out, and my puzzlement over it, to an activist friend, he was not  surprised.  “No smell of victory” he said, meaning that you could imagine “winning” by stopping a road being built, or by stopping genetically modified food hitting the supermarket shelves. But climate change? No, if you thought about it for a few minutes, you knew you were on a hiding to nothing.  It may be that there was never a path to victory, that the power of inertia and denial (in the fullest sense) was too strong. But that doesn’t, I think, mean, that we should ignore the emotacycle.

So, what is the emotacycle?  It’s the cycle of emotions that are facilitated/enabled/demanded by groups/organisations which mobilise (as distinct from movement-building) around an issue (in this case climate change, but I’ve seen it on other topics, and would be very interested to know how transferable/generalizable readers think it is.

I first came up with it back in 2011/2, when I was co-editing Manchester Climate Monthly. Then I called it the emotathon, to highlight its persistence/duration (as in marathon). I think that was a mistake, and so changed to emotacycle, which also allows me to riff on the wondrous song “Motorcycle Emptiness” by the Manic Street Preachers.

The following figure (Fig. 1) lays it out.  There’s a Big Event where people emote.  This is followed by the come down, the re-creating of a sense of possibility, the proposal of a another Big Event which must be fed with “Feeder Events.”

emotacycle1

As long as the Big Events are bigger than the last one (or a failure to grow can plausibly be explained away, then the forward momentum can disguise the fact that many people are either dropping out after one or two meetings, or after one or two years.  When though, the bubble bursts, then it all disappears (to mix a metaphor) like a fist when you open your palm.

It’s captured by this observation from – of all people – Hunter S. Thompson, speaking of the feeling in the mid- 1960s from the vantage point of 1971.

“that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

The article proceeds as follows. Firstly it explains the relatively novel methodology, in which I write an exploratory article and publish it on my website (this what you are reading). Secondly, I will approach various individuals and conducted a one-to-one interviews Finally, I will conduct  two semi-structured discussions groups, one in Manchester and one in Adelaide, Australia. .

Secondly, drawing on interview and focus group material it describes the “emotacycle”  and its four phases in detail.

A discussion of the possible utility of the concept to activists follows, and what they might do to overcome the emotacycle. This is followed by pointers to the weaknesses in the model and a future study agenda.

Methodology

  • Listen to feedback (if any) on this blog post/exploratory article.
  • One-to-one interviews with activists I respect who are reflective (these people do exist). Discussion groups. Reflection and some re-reading of brilliant work on activism (Debbie Louis, Kathleen Blee).
  • Yeah. That sort of thing.
  • Watch Milk?!
  • PROBABLY SHOULD LOOK AT COMPETING THEORIES OF EMOTIONS AND MOBILISATION IN SOC MOVEMENT THEORY…

The Emotacycle and its dynamics

So, this section looks more closely at the four phases within the emotacycle, examining what emotions are allowed/encouraged/discouraged at various stages – the psycho-social dynamics – and the passage between the phases.

  1. The Big Event (a march, rally, camp)

This event, usually lasting a few hours or at most a few days (the politics of long-running protests camps/blockades etc are outside the experience of the author, and the scope of this article) are the focus here. The predominant emotions encouraged are positive ones (hope, optimism, affiliation) are A big even allows these to be performed and displayed, both by and for the performer.  These will be mixed with  excitement and fear (Rathbone quote from Eurokillers)

While these big events are getting bigger, you can, if you squint say with conviction that  “we are winning”  ( a cynic would say that people are sucking on the hopium pipe, staying in a comforting  hallucination, as so many second-rate sci-fi tropes would have it).

I suspect (but cannot prove) that there is a “re-enacment fallacy” going on here, that people are expecting to follow the script of the last “successful” mass struggle that people will have been exposed to (there have of course been others, but they are less well known).  And that’s the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington (where MLK gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Here’s Noam Chomsky [quoted in Manufacturing Consent]  on this phenomenon –

The way things change is because lots of people are working all the time, and they’re working in their communities or their workplace or wherever they happen to be, and they’re building up the basis for popular movements. In the history books, there’s a couple of leaders, you know, George Washington or Martin Luther King, or whatever, and I don’t want to say that those people are unimportant. Martin Luther King was certainly important, but he was not the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King can appear in the history books ‘cause lots of people whose names you will never know, and whose names are all forgotten and who may have been killed and so on were working down in the South.

So (controversially), with no disrespect to the many many people who risked their lives (and some lost their lives) in that struggle, I’d like to say that we’ve turned it into a cargo cult.

Cargo cult you say? What they, you say?  Well, during World War 2,  “primitive” peoples living on the South Pacific Islands saw American soldiers arrive with coke and chewing gum and want some of that. They know there are planes involved.  But they go away… so what do they do? They make bamboo planes to ask the gods to bring the coke and chewing gum back.  Oh how we laugh at them.  While being identical. We want the energy, clarity, connection and courage of the Black Civil Rights Movement.  We know that there was some big marches (MLK I have a dream). So… we have marches.  It’s grotesque magical thinking.

So, this is a long quote below, from a fantastic novel called Mud, by Nicky Edwards.  It’s about a disillusioned activist who is explaining her perspective on the Greenham Common Peace Camp actions to a much older woman (Ada).

“OK. Once upon a time there was this big day out at a peace camp, when Janet and Janet and some Johns, but mainly thirty thousand or so Janets went and held hands and sang songs and generally had a good time.”

“…. Lots of adventures for the Janets. But time passes, until it’s a year after that first day out in the country, which so many of our heroines found so inspiring. Almost exactly a year to the day…. Well, our particularly Janet is there, of course, older and a bit more battered and generally fed up to the back teeth with being pushed around in the good cause that has brought everyone out in their thermal underwear again.”

“But still she went.”

“Couldn’t miss it really. Big day out, lots of women there, sense of obligation, not wanting to be left out. All sorts of things.”

“And how was it different from the first time?” Ada was really quite good at this cross-examining business.

“In many ways, not at all. Same thousands of women milling around, looking pretty similar, singing the same song. Same mud, same camera crews, same tail-back of coaches with posters in the windows jamming the Basingstoke road. More police helicopters, more barbed wire, more soldiers and watchtowers and floodlights and guns in evidence. More crackle of walkie-talkies filling up every bit of the airwaves, even the ones the Janets were trying to sing in. But a lot of the same looks on their faces. Untroubled.”

“And?”

“Like I said, our particular Janet was wandering around feeling rather jaded, and wondering why they all thought the nastiness would go away because they’d turned out in such numbers to be nice all round it, when they’d done the same thing last year and not changed it for the better.”

Ada tutted gently to herself. Not sure how to interpret the noise, I carried on.

“And, of course, Janet felt guilty for being so cynical and making comparisons with the way she always got taken to midnight mass when she went home for Christmas, a pleasant and colourful, but fairly pointless annual ritual.”

….

“Sounds a proper shambles.”

“It was.” I chewed the end of a match reflectively. “And because there’s no mechanism for anyone to have less than a wonderful inspiring time on a big day out like that, there were all these women left thinking that the kind of chaotic scrum they’d just been involved in was what you were meant to do there, and suffering from guilt that they didn’t come away feeling good about it. Trying to convince themselves that they did feel good about it.”

page 123/5

So, this is what the Big Event does for the people who can participate. Those who can’t? Well, they’ left to answer the Oasis question (“Where were you while we were getting high?”).

Move to next phase

The positive feeling here can of course create affiliations, connections between people, but mostly between people who are already on the same page – it’s bonding capital more than bridging capital, to use more terminology that I hate.

2. The aftermath, where disappointment and despair are contained;

Of course, the Big Event fades, memory fades, the media circus moves on. And if numbers were not as high as the organisers had hoped, then there is emotional work to be done to reframe the event as a “success”.  And if people have been left injured- physically or psychologically – by confrontation with opponents (state, corporate or civil society) then there are feelings of anger and uncertainty as well as  disappointment  and despair which need containing, (explaining away?) and managing.  However, everyone is so exhausted that, in my limited experience, that kind of work is either not performed at all or done very badly and haphazardly.

The main difficulty, psycho-socially, is that people want to remember the Big Event fondly, and all these awkward questions make that harder (or even impossible) to do.  So, sweep under carpet…

I suspect a bunch of people who might otherwise stay involved give up at this point, which – if it gets to a certain number – can cause a death spiral.  It depends on local factors, media etc etc.

This refractory period, where not much is “happening”, at least on the surface is – while an emotacycle is on its way “up” relatively short, I think.

3. The Re-evaluation, where “next steps” are mooted;

Here we see a “re-gathering emotions”.  Failures are explained away using the Lady Macbeth line – “screw your courage to the sticky place, and we’ll not fail!”

Those who had a good time at the Big Event are more likely to have stuck around, and they want to recapture that elusive feeling of being on the road to victory.  They know how to organise (or at least participate in) a Big Event, and so when the “what to do next?” question is posed, they are well-placed and well-motivated to suggest More of the Same – a big event at some suitably distant point (six months or so? Depends of course, on multiple factors.)

4. Feeder Events (aka the Frank N Furter manoeuvre)

So, here I think we need to go back to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Individuals/groups/movements decide that they can bury their differences and all build with optimism towards the next Big Event.

This enables people to have hope, defer pain/uncertainty and – above all –  have a feeling of “progress”, gathering the flock, calling people together. It allows good opportunities for local and regional “ego-foddering” (another neologism – where those who attend meetings are turned into empty vessels to be filled with The Word.  An organisation has a Message that the doubters and the ignorant Need to Hear.  Nothing millenarian or eschatological about it at all, nosiree).

Again, those with doubts about how it will, in fact, be different this time are around are invited to do the Hirschman “Exit, Voice, Loyalty” – they can shut up or piss off, while everyone revels in lots of activity, very little action.

(So, I will include other people’s insights in each of these four phases (and perhaps there are more?  Perhaps the whole thing is wrong-headed?)

What is is not what has to be. (aka “no future but the one we make”)
It doesn’t have to be like this of course, but we can’t just exhort ourselves to escape the emotacycle without understanding why it persists and how it can defend itself from attack.

I will tackle them both on the “individual” and the organisational level (these two imbricate, of course they do, but let’s keep it analytically simples for now).

Individuals are battling – if they understand the climate science – sheer terror.  And when we are scared we tend to do what those around us are doing (for better or worse – over-reacting or under-reacting).  And if everyone is going on marches and calling that activism, then so be it.  Rather than think about what particular skills they have, what skills they could cultivate, people are invited to see themselves as fodder for organisations.

Mostly, rather than doing long-term, non-co-opted, boring/un-adrenaliney grunt work (a walk on part in the war) it’s easier (and more socially acceptable) to swap that for a lead role in the cage. So it goes.

Ultimately, participation in the emotacycle works as a selection pressure against those who do not have spare time, cash, hope.  Who has the time to go to feeder events and then the Big Event.  Or, they go to the Big Event and call that activism, call that their ‘duty’.  Ultimately, this way of organising means that the ghetto is sustained

Organisationally, well, if your group is good at “doing” marches (booking coaches, printing placards etc), then that is what you are going to keep doing, isn’t it?  And turning people into ego-fodder and forcing them into the emotacycle is EASIER, requires less courage, less imagination, less skill. And so it persists.  Not to be determinist or anything.

If you name this, expect to be shouted down as “opposed to activism”.  Expect to be sneeringly asked “well, what’s your alternative” and then be interrupted as you try to explain it.  Expect to be resisted by those who see your criticism as a personal reproach for the decades they wasted, the “human resources” they have let slip through their hands from the endless enaction of the emotacycle.
Ultimately, this may be beyond the grasp of some people. Socio-dynamics tend to be poorly understood, or ignored or repressed.  We have need of the liberal myth that we are atoms bouncing off each other.

I also don’t want to say that the only reason social movements have failed to “win” on climate change is the emotacycle/smugosphere. That would be to ignore the active efforts to keep us stupid (agnotology) divided (Agent provocateurs and ‘sheep and goats’ strategy) and stuck in old patterns (o-optation, undercovers making sure we are never, you know, effective.)

Research agenda for scholar activists and activist scholars
At the moment all I have is this –

  • What are we trying to find out?
  • For who?
  • How would we communicate our findings (given the knowledge that calling people smug tends to have them plug up their ears, and talking about the psycho-social dynamics of emotions in movement cycles might have the same outcome).
  • What and how might we learn from history?

 

Ego-foddering: Why is it awful, who benefits, what is to be done? #oldfartclimateadvice #climate

I believe that one of the biggest problems “we” face as individuals-in-groups-trying-to-unfuck-the- world, is the seductive call of ego-foddering. This piece explains what I mean by ego-foddering, the two main types that I have spotted (there may well be others!). It then moves on to who benefits from it, who does NOT and what consequences ego-foddering has. Finally, it turns to the ever-important “what is to be done?” question. This is published “in beta” – that is, it’s provisional, subject to modification (hopefully improvement!) I’d really appreciate any reasoned critique of it. Many thanks in advance

What is ego-foddering?
Back in 2011,when I came up with the term, I described ego-fodder as

“the audience at any public event (big or small) which has not been structured by the organisers to provoke the highest possible amount of participation, engagement and mingling.“

So, ego-foddering is the process – deliberate or merely “passive” – of destroying the potential of attendees/participants and turning them into an audience, into ego-fodder for you/your organisation/another speaker who you’ve got along to get more people to come along and make you feel validated.

Here’s a possibly controversial bit. Traditionally the sages on the stage have been old white men. In my opinion it doesn’t actually help so very much if those on the stage at the front are black, radical women. If it’s ego-foddering, it’s ego-foddering, not movement-building. In the same way that neoliberalism can find willing meat-puppets of any gender or race, without changing its basic operating system, so it is with ego-foddering.

The label ego-fodder(ing) comes from “cannon-fodder”, with its understanding of rows of soldiers being fed into the mouths of guns. But there is a “modern” variant. Let’s call them for termin(ator)ological ease, the T-800 type and the T-1000 type.

The T-800 of ego-foddering is big, lumbering but deadly and comes with a Germanic accent, of people in rows, with those at the front to focus of attention/adulation.
It’s pretty easy to see T-800 ego-foddering, they’re not so good at disguise. And in fact, we’ve all been in plenty (too many) of these meetings. In fact, most people’s experience of schooling is this. Sit in rows. Stay silent. Absorb what the teacher is telling you. Squeeze out the sponge on the appointed (exam) day. Get the result. Repeat. A society built on the Peter Principle, filtering, filtering, always filtering sheep and goats. But I digress…

The second variant of ego-foddering, the T-1000 is far harder to spot, far hardier. It’s slinky, shape-shifting, really really deadly, super-good at disguising itself.
No longer are you stuck in rows, but you’re in a circle, or sat around in small circles, at tables. There may even be flipcharts and coloured-pens.
But ultimately , you’ll be focused on what they want you to be focussed on, answering questions they think are important, that help THEM do what they want. You’ll not be actually invited to find out anything useful about the other people around your table (for more on this see here and here).

Who benefits from it?
The powers-that-be, basically. They achieve/sustain and maintain their hierarchy, their sense of (self) importance and knowledge.
Speakers get a captive audience, and people likely to buy their books. Organisers get to see dozens/hundreds of people present, and bask in (reflected) glory.
Though that’s only part of the story. There are, depressingly, other beneficiaries. To quote myself-

It finally occurred to me today the level of collusion in this. Yes, the people at the front want their egos stoked and stroked. Yes that is endless and destructive. But the ‘audience’ wants – for the most part – to be infantilised, to be “taken care of.” We want parents to blame, we want parents who will take care of us. We surrender our autonomy, our ability to make connections, to forge (in every sense) our own paths. We allow ourselves to be seated, bored and patronised. In exchange, we get to offset responsibility for our own education, our own movement-building.
The parents (not “adults”) at the front of the room want children who will obey, and be dutiful and respectful. But it’s not as if the audience is all rushing for the door marked “adult.” Through that door are the horrible fearful rooms marked responsibility, uncertainty, self-mastery.
Better to suck the thumb, suck the dummy. Watch the powerpoint. Listen to the plenary.“There there, it was just a bad dream. Sleep. We are here to protect you.”

 

Who does NOT benefit from it?
Anyone/thing with any investment in a habitable (not-just-for-humans) planet, obvs. All those – present humans and other species, future humans and other species who are being sacrificed on the altar of the great god Economy, of Growth. Who thought that social movements (especially in countries where we have formal freedoms around information, speech and assembly) were going to get their fucking gamefaces on and do something about the eco-cide. Them, they’re getting screwed by ego-fodder. But they don’t vote/turn up to meetings or fill out direct debits, so, you know, screw them.

 

What are the consequences?
The consequences of ego-foddering is that the few people who do occasionally turn up to meetings feel alienated and don’t come again. They think they don’t have the stamina/intelligence to be an “activist.” They also tell any of their acquaintances who ask that organisation X is not interested in their skills, knowledge, perspectives and is just more of the same grand-standing middle-class complicit boring condescending wankery.

 

Why/how does it persist?
So if it is so terrible, why does it persist? Because it meets the emotional needs (for attention or for denial of personal responsibility) of speakers, organisers and attendees. Those who might “change the system” never stick around long enough, or don’t have a name for what they are being subjected to.

 

What is to be done? “You” could do about it.
I’m not going to waste everyone’s time by saying much about what event organisers could do. They tend, in my experience, to be very small c-conservative, and quickly realise that a change of format could mean they could not offer up captive audiences to visiting Celebrities. This would upset the business model, and mean fewer bums on seats and less ego-fodder for them too.
Here’s a checklist from ages ago
checklist-for-organisations

Nor shall I waste much time on speakers, who are not going to refuse it. It would be too much of a (monkey)-wrench to forego the pleasures of basking in the adulation (or at very least attention) of a captive audience.

Both types could, in theory, forego the dubious and parasitical pleasures of ego-foddering, but they have not done so to date, and to “hope” they will is just silly. We need courage, not hope.

So, it’s up to us – we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Here’s a few things we could do.

  • We could refuse to participate. We could let organisers of meetings know that we’re not going to meet their ego needs unless they meet the broader movement’s needs. We could send them a letter/email beforehand, along these lines.

algorithm-for-event-attendance-page1

  • If we decide to trust their blandishments and go, then we could always separate under the law of two feet (I personally do this, to the disgust of people who think that it’s rude to walk out of meetings. Me, I think it’s ruder to stage meetings that people want to walk out of. Again and again and again).
  • We can NAME what we see. We can explain to other people (in blogs, conversations, on social media that what is happening is ego-foddering, and that it is not okay, because it has terrible consequences).

See also (and omfg have I written a lot about this topic)

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this”

Beginnings of an “undercovers” fiction list

So, recently I reviewed two books “about” infiltration/undercovers, and asked for suggestions. I got loads of really helpful pointers. Here is the first very rough list of additions (there were some others, mentioned in the blog post.  I’ve kept track of the various people I have to thank for these tips too, but decided not to include that info here.

I need to integrate it/alphabeticise/annotate etc.  Oh, and actually read some more of them and produce the paper for the conference and the activists… should keep me off the streets…

 

Books “about” undercovers

Book Author(s) Description Suggested by (for thanks)
Q Luther Blissett Q is a novel by Luther Blissett first published in Italian in 1999. The novel is set in Europe during the 16th century, and deals with Protestant reformation movements. Jonathan Atkinson
Orkney Twilight Clare Carson https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/alix-long/clare-carsons-orkney-twilight_b_7233992.html? @UndercoverNet

 

Stealing The Future @MaxHertzberg Alt Future East Germany @UndercoverNet
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare G. K. Chesterton @UndercoverNet
Naming the Dead Ian Rankin G8 Gleneagles shenanigans
The Terrorists Sjöwall and Wahlöö
Javelin Roger Pearce @BristolKRS
Sweet Tooth Ian McEwan Sweet Tooth is a novel by the English writer Ian McEwan, published on 21 August 2012. It deals with the experiences of its protagonist, Serena Frome, during the early 1970s. After graduating from Cambridge she is recruited by MI5, and becomes involved in a covert program to combat communism by infiltrating the intellectual world. When she becomes romantically involved with her mark, complications ensue. @UndercoverNet
A Legacy of Spies John le Carré https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Legacy_of_Spies @UndercoverNet
Guest SJ Bradley, @BradleyBooks An authentic look at anarcho-greens, anti-globalisation, the squatter movement and punk bands by someone who was clearly there @MaxHertzberg
Cold Island @MaxHertzberg It’s over twenty-five years since Mara arrived in Britain, yet today she no longer feels safe in the country she thought she knew.

Threatened with deportation, Mara goes underground. She meets others who have made their home in the UK but are now leading lives in the half-shadows of society.

Together they embark on a journey across the moors of northern England, hoping to reach relative safety in Scotland—but the officers of Immigration Enforcement are never far behind.

@MaxHertzberg
Demo Richard Allen OH GOD AVOID THIS BOOK.
The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad Excellent, gripping, thought-provoking
Under Western Eyes Joseph Conrad Sadly, no
Vida Marge Piercy READ THIS BOOK
My Revolutions Hari Kunzru

 

Really good 70s/90s stuff. Very well written, thought provoking
The Invisible Circus Jenny Egan Also good on the consequences of violence, but not actually so much about undercovers as memory, activism etc
Invisible Armies Jon Evans Highly competent thriller, with a corporate spying on activists thread throughout.
The Weatherman Guy Jon Burmeister Dunno yet, but looks lurid af.

 

 

Films (documentaries and live action)

Documentary- “In the inner circle”

 

The documentary “Im inneren Kreis” (English: “In the inner circle“) by Hannes Obens and Claudia Morar, which will be distributed from now on UCM.ONE (NONFY Documentaries), describes the already almost unbelievable twists of the undercover employments of Iris P. in Hamburg and Simon B. in Heidelberg. Both assignments combine fundamental ethical and political topics and questions in themselves Sarah Arens
Film – Police, Adjective  2009 Romanian drama film directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. The movie focuses on policeman Cristi, who is investigating a teenage boy who has been smoking hashish. Over time, Cristi begins to question the ethical ramifications of his task. Sarah Arens
Film – Ummah – among friends
 
After killing two skinheads in a failed operation against neo-Nazis, young undercover intelligence agent Daniel finds a hiding place and new friends in Berlin’s Turkish Arab community. In a realistic and witty way, the German director of Turkish origin shows the rapprochement of two worlds which seem violently opposed. Sarah Arens

TV Shows

TV Shows- Between the Lines season 3 interesting stuff about the intersection of private sector & state actors as both attempt to undermine civil society (animal rights, anti-Pinochet, anti-fascism) through infiltrators, agents & touts.
TV Show
Ghost Squad
“Whilst superficially the focus is on CIB2/CIB3-style police-investigating-police storylines (similar to start of BTL), ‘The Ghost Squad’ (2005) is largely interested on the cumulative effect of UC work on an officer’s sense of self “

 

Ghost Squad is an unofficial top secret Internal Affairs unit that recruits former police officers who’ve proved their honesty during their service and sends them undercover to investigate and root out corruption within the police.

TV Show Spooks Season 1 ‘Spooks’ S1 has the ‘Traitor’s Gate’ episode, with veteran MI5 field officer Peter Salter infiltrating dastardly anarchist/anti-capitalist terrorists, but falling in love, etc etc
TV Show Undercover – BBC drama https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b076vdbc/episodes/guide

 

 

Plays

Any Means Necessary Kefi Chadwick

 

 

Of plastic documentaries, heroism and Spanish Researchers

The Spanish Researchers UK network is kinda cool.  They were created to promote communication within the community of Spanish Researchers working in the United Kingdom by creating a social network that facilitates the sharing of professional and life experiences. The association has encouraged this communication via the establishment of Constituencies throughout the UK.”

Last year some Northwest SRUK folks got in touch with me because they were putting together a day’s seminar on climate change and sustainability, here in Manchester. I got together with colleagues from the Sustainable Consumption Institute (hello Sherilyn McGregor and Joe Blakey) and, along with other folks (from Tyndall Manchester) we helped them put on a good day.(Their blog–  and fwiw my reflections.)

They got in touch again (usually a good sign) and asked if I’d come along as an “expert” (cough, cough) to a film showing and discussion. I said yes. The event was last Wednesday, 30th January. This is a blog about that.

After welcoming everyone and pointing to the popcorn and pop, they showed the film. It’s a recent documentary called A Plastic Ocean, and it was very very much of its type. That is to say, it started with some photogenic/sympathetic (if you’re white and middle-class) people doing something Nice.  And then realising that there was Trouble. And so then setting out to find the Source of the Trouble. And while not necessarily DOING that (erm, capitalism, much?), finding that things are A Lot Worse Than They Thought. But nobody wants a downer. There’s enough of that, so the second half of these documentaries – and this one is no exception – have to talk about shiny New Technologies. If ONLY these could be deployed, maybe there would be some Hope.

standard doco narrative

This, of course, follows the hero’s path (thanks to David Ruiz for this insight – he put the theoretical meat on mere empirical bones).

So we started with some ocean-photographers and divers realising there is trouble (plastic) in paradise (oceans off Sri Lanka) and then expanding to the human and ecosystem impacts, without ever doing more than hinting at the vast lobbying power of the plastics industry, or the Anthropocene or… well, anything that would orientate people and empower them.
And – as I said in my comments afterwards (I was asked along for my ‘expertise’, after all), these documentaries never almost never talk in any historically informed way about the power of social movements to force the state to regulate private corporations, and create some of these new industries we pin our hopes on (e.g. the USA and recycling).

Anyway, the Q and A went pretty well. The chairs went straight into a big circle, so everyone could see each other and the “sage on the stage” thing was mostly undermined,  but for one painful instance when some idiot older white guy interrupted a younger woman before she’d finished what she was saying. Sigh.  Could it have been done better? Well, perhaps if people worked in pairs on observations and questions before feeding into the group, but that doesn’t always work. Anyhows apparently the feedback was good, and I hope the organisers are happy – they did a fine job.

Next up for SRUK in Manchester is a showing of a film about how women were passed over by NASA as pilots, back in the day.  It’s on Wednesday 6th February, from 6.15 at the Cervantes Institute on Deansgate. It’s free (but you’re welcome to make a donation for the popcorn and fizz!)

 

Fwiw- On plastics – here are some articles that I will be blogging about (I need to read anyway for an upcoming TAing thing)

  • Clapp, J. 2012 The Rising Tide against Plastic Waste: Unpacking Industry Attempts to Influence the Debate. In Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice, Publisher: MIT Press, Editors: Stephanie Foote and Elizabeth Mazzolini, pp.199-226
  • Meikle, J. 1997 Material Doubts: The Consequences of Plastic. Environmental History Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 278-300
  • Fisher, T.2004.  What we touch, Touches Us: Material Affects, and Affordances. Design Issues Volume 20 | Issue 4 |p.20-31
  • Walker, A. 1994.  Plastic The Building Block of the Twentieth Century. Construction History.Vol. 10, pp. 67-88

Two novels on undercovers and infiltration – #Spycops #Spycopsfiction

Books reviewed:

  • Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad (1911)
  • Demo by Richard Allen (New England Library, 1970)

 

So, I am guiding my reading a bit, because I am Writing A Paper.  These two are both

  • about Russian secret intelligence operations overseas.
  • about the infiltration and attempted disruption of dissident social movements.
  • pretty tough to read (for different reasons).

There ends the similarity.

Under Western Eyes (UWE) is a late novel from Joseph “Heart of Darkness” Conrad, and apparently almost broke him in the writing (and me in the reading – not to War and Peace levels, but in the same ballpark).  It’s about a young student, Razumov, in Moscow who gets caught up – against his will – in an assassination plot and its aftermath.  The majority of UWE takes place in Geneva, where he is attempting to infiltrate/spy on some expat Russians.  My god it goes on. This is Conrad, so obvs there is an Unreliable Narrator, an elderly Brit trying to keep his lechery under control. It is, apparently, a Novel of Ideas.  Yes, well, Conrad sure does stint on the car chases and explosions…

People say things like this-

“I’ll tell you what you think,” he said explosively, but not raising his voice. “You think that you are dealing with a secret accomplice of that unhappy man. No, I do not know that he was unhappy. He did not tell me. He was a wretch from my point of view, because to keep alive a false idea is a greater crime than to kill a man. I suppose you will not deny that? I hated him! Visionaries work everlasting evil on earth. Their Utopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust of reality and a contempt for the secular logic of human development.”

(Conrad, 1911: 95)

This is Conrad, of course, so there are plenty of acid observations to be going along with

“No!” Razumov interrupted without heat. “Indeed, I don’t want to cast aspersions, but it’s just as well to have no illusions.”

Peter Ivanovitch gave him an inscrutable glance of his dark spectacles, accompanied by a faint smile.

“The man who says that he has no illusions has at least that one,” he said, in a very friendly tone. “But I see how it is, Kirylo Sidorovitch. You aim at stoicism.”

(Conrad, 1911: 207)

and, if you like it really really over-wrought

Then, looking hard at me with her brilliant black eyes—

“There are evil moments in every life. A false suggestion enters one’s brain, and then fear is born—fear of oneself, fear for oneself. Or else a false courage—who knows? Well, call it what you like; but tell me, how many of them would deliver themselves up deliberately to perdition (as he himself says in that book) rather than go on living, secretly debased in their own eyes? How many?… And please mark this—he was safe when he did it. It was just when he believed himself safe and more—infinitely more—when the possibility of being loved by that admirable girl first dawned upon him, that he discovered that his bitterest railings, the worst wickedness, the devil work of his hate and pride, could never cover up the ignominy of the existence before him. There’s character in such a discovery.”

(Conrad, 1911: 379)

But tbh, I would not have finished it but for the Paper (see below) (And yes, this is almost certainly a reflection on my shallowness rather than the book’s worth!)

richard-allen-demo-bk

Meanwhile, Demo is a 1970 offering from the New England Library (men of certain age will know that this means violence, sex, sexual violence and Social Darwinism that would have Herbert Spencer saying “steady on old chap”). This book is the kind of trash that gives enjoyable trash a bad name.  The racism, sexism, classism, unabashed madness of it all makes it a very hard read.  Plot? Well, if you can call it that – some old farts from a thinly veiled Special Operations Executive get it in their heads that all the demos around the world are being orchestrated by Moscow.

Here’s a flavour of the writing (warning, there are pages and pages of this-

The colonel felt pride wash over him as Mai Bedford lifted her glass high. It was a distinctive appelation (sic) – like Flying Tigers and Desert Rats. But for sheer guts and courage none of those others could begin to match a Hartsman or Hartswoman as they had fondly been called in those final days of Europe’s torment. These were the backbone Britain and the Free World had needed when dark clouds clouded the horizon> They had been a strange mixture of bravery, nervelessness, patriotic neurotic so vital in that ancient game called espionage.

(Allen, 1970: 19)

And they are right – there is a baby-faced KGB agent inciting and pulling the strings, while getting laid a lot (who knew that Bolsheviks could be so, well, horizontal).

So these codgers get their mostly willing kids to do counter-espionage. Most of this seems to be done by shagging hippies (always with huge tits, obvs) who have relevant info-

““They’re avid protesters. Anything goes for that Cy, Tim. He’s part Panther, part anti-pollutionist, part anti-Vietnam. You name it, he’s in there pitching against established order. He hates pigs, too,” and she laughed uproariously.
(Allen, 1970: 45)

There’s a grotesque faux-apologia for My Lai and by the end……. ah, look, I can’t go on.  It’s repetitive, lurid, gratuitous, with plot holes you could stage a march of millions through.  …  I would not have finished it but for the Paper (see below).  This is not a book that should be tossed aside lightly. It should be…  blow-torched.

Weirdly it makes zero reference to the Angry Brigade shit that was going down at the same time. It should be read against the slightly- later “Leftwing Terrorism in Britain literature” that has been so well-explored by Joseph Dartington.

 

 

I am writing an article for an upcoming conference, organised by the State Violence Research network with the title “Spies Like Us: Of the usefulness to activists of fictional representations of the agent provocateur and the spy.”

IF YOU KNOW OF ANY BOOKS, FILMS, PLAYS, TV shows that have a representation of the penetration of a social movement organisation (ideally an environmental one), ideally by a member of the police (but corporate spy will do), ESPECIALLY if it set in the recent past (i.e. since, oh, 2000), then please let me know!

 

At the moment the A-list includes

Vida by Marge Piercy (an all-time favourite, which I look forward to reading with my all-time favourite wife in a few weeks)

My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru

The Invisible Circus by Jenny Egan

Invisible Armies by Jon Evans

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The meh list

Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

 

The Under NO circumstances attempt to read list

Demo by Richard Allen

 

(I will do a separate review for some non-fiction that I read – Under Cover, Deep Cover etc)

 

 

The I don’t know yet list

The Weatherman Guy by Jon Burmeister