All posts by marchudson

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

What is “hope” anyway? A conjecture on collective emotions, reservoirs and replenishment

Hope gets on my tits.

The need for hope censors.  I am sick of the constant whining that if you tell people how serious things are they will “switch off”. This is usually argued by people who basically believe in and are supported by the current system, who think the only problem is that our lords and masters are under-informed about, say, climate change.

This censorship means that we are all brightsided most of the time.

And so, I’m with Saint Greta when she says ‘I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic.

But of course, panic leads, more often than not, to stupidity.

So, this dilemma forces me to think a bit more about hope and what people mean by it (and what I think they mean by it) and how we think about it.

New topic for me, so  may change mind. Haven’t done any reading on it yet, either. Fwiw, my hunches are

  • people think of hope as something to do with how they as individuals see the world – are they glass half-full or glass-half empty kinda people
  • people don’t think of themselves as particularly influenced by wider social phenomena, as picking up “contagions”
  • they think of hope as an exhaustible resource – once you’ve used it up, it’s gone

Now, these are in their various ways, entirely defensible positions to hold.  They’re not universal, of course  I remember reading one time somewhere about what happens to young black kids in the US – they have that sheen in their eyes of ‘anything is possible’ and then, by their teens, they realise it isn’t – they understand, on some visceral level – just what they are up against.

Anyways, this way of thinking about hope – it’s personal, it’s possibly genetic (or at least tied to personality/dispositions) and it is finite has some consequences.  The consequences are, at least, these

we don’t think about the role of social movements in creating and maintaining hope and hopefulness

  • we don’t think about hope as something that comes from shared experiences, from others’ actions and support
  • we don’t think about hope as something that can (and does) fade and return (in the right circumstances)
  • we think of hope as a concrete measurable entity, rather than as something
  1. processual,  (meaning it waxes and wanes over time, is the outcome of processes and actions. See here  – hat tip Sam)
  2. socially constituted and
  3. socially constructed and reconstructed, endlessly

In other words, were are the perfect little atomised neoliberal subjects.

We need to think about hope as a kind of potlatch – where people bring as much food as they can to share, that there will be times when they can’t bring as much and need to take more.  That our actions are contagious, that we can support each other at distance.  Hope will run low, hope will on occasion feel like lies. Hope though, is not a finite pile of something, it is something you (co)create, for want of a lot less shitty term.

As I said, first thoughts.  Happy to hear yours.

Disclaimers

Besides these being first thoughts,  another important disclaimer – I am white and middle-class, and many/most of the people I know are too. We have both the illusion of control but also some actual control over our lives, in ordinary times.  That changes the way you look at the world, for better or worse.

My thinking about hope is in part being shaped by my experience of being in a relatively functional activist group Climate Emergency Manchester – one of the few things that kept me out of the nuthouse during the Australian bushfires.

 

Fear eats the soul – of COVID19, narking and Trump/Johnson approval ratings

Over the last few days I’ve seen some facebook posts/tweets/etc expressing anger/bewilderment that

a) people are phoning up the cops to inform on neighbours who are going out more than the narks think they should

b) the approval ratings for clearly failed “leaders” like Trump, Johnson and Morrison are going UP even though they are clearly flailing over-promoted charlatans.

I was planning a longer blog post taking in Just World theory/some half-baked Freud/Hell’s Angels/voters remorse, but, you know, life-is-short, so this:

People don’t reflect on their decision-making and information processing apparatus at the BEST of times (Dunning-Kruger much?), and these are not the best of times. In this dumpster fire of a civilisation, most folks are having a helmet fire.

And to cut and paste myself from Facebook (because life really is short) –

People are hella frightened. They want to prove to themselves that they are Good People (because, you know, bad things don’t happen to Good People. Because the universe is fair and all…) And so they are “sucking up” and displaying their probity. They haven’t learnt how/don’t have the wherewithal to process their anxiety/dread/stress etc, and so it comes out in these sorts of displays. Deeply depressing, but not surprising…

So, we need to have some compassion for stress-induced stupidity, but also push back against it, because stupid people whipped up by venal/evil string-pullers has often  led to mildly unpleasant forms of historical shit-fuckery…

See also

 

 

What COVID-19 might also be threatening – “our” dream of absolute control….

You can look at the top of a fountain of water and think it is static. But it is only there because of a constant flow of water, versus gravity. (1) The perception is an illusion. In strange days like these, we can see this (whether it’s always full supermarket shelves, or ICU beds, or whatever)

Thanks to long supply chains, fancy logistics, we have lived these last 40-ish years with permanent global summer time (no seasons), the “always on” world where enough money buys you (the illusion of) total freedom. That – if you are IN IT – seems normal, just, permanent.

Of course, if you don’t have money, or get sick, or are involved in an accident, well, the illusion is damaged, sometimes beyond hope of recovery. Right now, there is a simultaneous breech in the illusion – this virus is punching holes in the walls of “reality.” That’s why I put scare quotes around “our” in the title. What do you mean ‘we’, white man?

If you always had money, and had no imagination, no perception of your own privilege, of just how unusual the PGST world, 24/7, JIT logistics was, then the psychic/cognitive shock is just overwhelming. So you deny “It’s just the flu”, or you try to regain control through so-called “panic buying” (2). You look for something that will help you to not see what is happening.

It’s not JUST a possible unravelling of “neoliberalism” (another loaded term) but of a dream of predictability

We” were told, from the 1950s on, that the future was gonna be so bright we’d have to wear shades. There was going to be MORE of everything, and everything was “under control”. A comforting story, that you’d be unusual not to want to believe.

It’s not just lungs which are under threat from COVID-19 (and for god’s sake, stay indoors if you can, wash your hands etc). It’s that myth of control, of predictability, that things can be managed. Some can, sure (yay antibiotics and checklists). But much cannot: more than we want to admit.

If/when we come out of “the other side” of this into some new “normal” the psychological and social desire to repress this moment, this lesson, will be huge.We will want to manage our terror by forgetting what we saw.

Those of us who think climate emergency is about more than carbon, that it is about our relations with other people, with other generations, with other species,  will need to keep that discomfort alive… /end

 

 

Footnotes

(1) this is a tidied up and footnoted version of a Twitter thread I wrote as a first draft of a coda for an academic article I am about to submit..

(2) “Panic buying” is a loaded term to cover many differently motivated bhvrs . If you don’t trust the assurances of politicians like Boris Johnson that everything is “under control” then it is surely “sensible” to “panic buy.”  There’s a lovely thought experiment in “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge about a brewery and its customers not being able to communicate effectively and causing unnecessary heartache for each other. Well, the  same dynamic plays out. And no, I did not go out “panic buying”  I am not trying to wrap up shitty behaviour in some sort of half-assed justification. Not that behaviour, anyhowsame

White Saviour Complex, COP26 and #climate activism – my two cents

I was sat recently in a room as white as Cumbria. It was full (80ish)  of white people who sincerely believe that the revolution will only come when the last capitalist is strangled with the intestines of the last racist.  There were three women of colour present. I was sat next to one, a friend, (who prefers the term black).  She is, as I said to her, one of my very few Black/poc friends (as in, I’m no better than any other white person on this matter).

And the meeting was about climate change. And the meeting was all culminating with… Fucking Glasgow.

But wait. This.  I’m a white guy.  And if I am gonna write about whiteness and climate change, I gotta flag some debts.  Beyond the debts to folks like June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Bob Moses and others who’ve shaped my thinking long term, more recently, Mary Heglar has been just nailing it. To not read her is to court serious ignorance.  Follow this link, read this piece then come back.

“I find it nearly impossible to look at the climate crisis without seeing the consequences of all the times white folks told people of color: “Wait, we’ll get back to it later.” To be satisfied with “incremental change” and not “push too far.” To settle for band-aids atop gaping, festering wounds.”

Back? Right, well, go away again and read this piece too.  Then come back.

Where was I? Oh yeah, fucking fucking Glasgow.  There was even someone there, from Glasgow, telling us we should all be there in November for this fucking COP26, big fat emotacycle that it will be.

Imma call it now.  The obsession with “summit hopping” is just another manifestation of white privilege.  Not as blatant as chanting “we love the police” or sending flowers to Brixton Police Station, but another manifestation nonetheless. Harder to see because it would be horribly conflicting to see it.  Summit hopping is just another way for us white folks, with our unexamined privilege, to avoid the tricky work of local activism around local issues, of building coalitions with people who don’t talk like us, dress like us, speak like us and have the same/similar experience of the state (1).

Instead we can get to prepare for months for some big international jamboree, displaying our virtue, our knowledge, our concern.   Those who go will be the students, the retired and those who can take annual leave. Those with caring responsibilities, those on zero hour contracts, those who can’t afford to get nicked, will not go. And will feel second class for it, no matter what assurances are given that “we are all crew.” And for what? To achieve  what exactly?

And there is a zero-sum game here. Time we spend on that is time we don’t spend  on local issues.

And yes, as individuals these people will admit that they don’t expect Glasgow to be a magical solution. But the emotional and organisational imperatives are overwhelming. And the herd mentality is overwhelming. It’s not the Abilene Paradox, it’s the goddam Glasgow Paradox (except the reasons for it are not difficult to understand).

Where does the white saviour thing come in? Allow me to use my reconditioned IPhone6 (2) to share the scribblings I made and shared with my black friend.

First, the Glasgow shitshow and its demobilising potential…  (see also here)

IMG_0061

 

Now, White Saviour Complex.  Teju Cole kinda nailed that.

white saviour variation

and then, because I wanted to make my friend laugh (with/at me), and because it’s true-

virtue signalling

 

 

I suspect many people enraged by this post will have stopped reading by now. But for the record

  • I am not saying everyone who is “organising” for Glasgow is a racist.
  • I am not saying everyone who wants to go to Glasgow is a racist.

That would be absurd, and I am leaving the absurdity to those among us (and there are many) who think that the current system is in ANY way sustainable. It has been a horrorshow for most people of colour for a very long time. And a lot of white folks.  The horrorshowness of it all is expanding, is all  (oh, and don’t even start me on the other species we allegedly “share” this planet with).

For clarity, what I am saying is that there is more to unexamined privilege that we folks with most of the privilege can understand without a serious and painful effort.

What I am saying is we need to listen carefully to those among us  – black, white, indigo, green with polka dots – who are making an argument about white privilege that get our hackles up, that get us defensive. Because if the claims makesus angry, well, there’s quite possibly something to them, eh? And it then becomes a question of whether we retreat into the comfort of white tears, of being allowed to be angry (and who gets to be legitimate and non-hysterical in their anger is a whole other blog post).  Or if we try to manage our emotions and think with clarity about who we are, why we do what we do and what is not getting done that really really needs to get done because we’re too busy organising the next emotacycle.

FINALLY, those of you who know me, online or in meat space, know that I am hardly any bloody paragon of virtue. I am full of unexamined privilege (some would say full of other things). I have pissed off people I massively respect, and had my ass (quite rightly) kicked to the kerb, more than once, which is a source of ongoing regret (the pain caused to others, more than the exile).  But pointing out that I am a hypocrite (for the record – I AM A HYPOCRITE) does not invalidate the argument I’ve made.  Counter-arguments could well do that, but ad hominems are not counter-arguments..

Okay, FINALLY FINALLY. We have work to do.  Summit-hopping is going to at the very best be a massive distraction from that work. At worst it will kill the possibility of building that mass movement (less white than Cumbria please) that we all agree we need.  We white folks have the privilege of a choice. I hope we have the wisdom and the courage to choose right.

 

Footnotes

(1) This is NOT to say that all white people have the same privilege in relation to the state. If you’re working class, well, the truncheon will come down on you too. You The middle-classness of various environmental activists didn’t protect them from being abused by the SpyCops..

(2) Nonetheless originally mined by children, gorillas killed, put together by slaves prevented from killing themselves with those safety nets.

30 mins at a meeting’s outset tell you EVERYTHING. Also, crap plenaries…

There are other blog posts I need to write.

A review of an extraordinary book about Norfolk, the Stone Age, incumbency, patriarchy and sociotechnical transitions (no, seriously it’s all that and more. Staggeringly good))

Something about the intellectual work behind the job I just was interviewed for (accelerating sociotechnical transitions. Or sociomaterial transitions – or something in between)

Something about ‘you can’t blow up a social relationship’ – a bunch of novels I’ve read recently or a long time ago about ill-fated adventures in violent resistance (a 1970s genre of fiction, not all of it pulp)

But for now, I have Something To Get Off My Chest (as usual)

FOR FUCKS SAKE CAN WE PLEASE BE LESS FUCKING SHIT?? (okay, okay, I will tone this down now, given potential future and future potential bosses have checked out this site),.

So, sweet- natured version.

“Progressive social movement organisations may possibly benefit from some reflection on long-standing methods of organising and holding meetings”

So, here’s the ranty bit about the first 30 minutes of meetings

You can tell how a meeting, (and quite probably the campaign it is ‘part’ of will go) from the 15 minutes either side of the start.

If the answer to many of the following questions is “no”,  then time and energy are being spaffed against the wall.

Have people been given the option of wearing name badges and badges that say broadly where they are from, to help make it easier for other people to cross the first hurdle and speak to them?

Is there a notice up on the powerpoint saying “a big part of today is you getting to meet other people you don’t already know, to thicken the networks on which a movement sits.  Please do talk to strangers!”

Is it clear where the toilets are, the coffee/tea etc?

Opening speeches/announcements

  • Is there a clear “thank you for coming” and a repeated encouragement (perhaps even two minutes of doing it) to talk with someone you don’t know?
  • Has provision been made for people who would like to come but couldn’t (e.g. livestreaming of opening speeches, some sort of online interaction (a hashtag at least)
  • Is the opening introduction clear and concise and high energy?
  • Is the opening speech – if there is one – full of things that those attending DON’T already know/agree with?
  • Is there an opportunity for at least a couple of questions to the opening speaker, so the tone is set for, you know, discussion?  Is that opportunity after people have had a chance to talk with someone else to hone their question (if not, the usual suspects’ hands will go straight up)
  • Is it clear – crystal clear – what the purposes of the day are, from the opening introductions and the first speech?

So, here’s the ranty bit about plenary sessions. Also if the answer is no…

  • Has the reporting back from break out sessions been carefully designed (or, if you must “curated”), with clear time limits?   (Reporting back meaningfully from breakouts sessions is a skill. Most people do not possess that skill at all, or at the level required for it to be meaningful. In the absence of that skill, and of a time constraint, the report-backers will blather and foreground their own (organisational/emotional) needs. This will drain energy  from the room and credibility from the process, simultaneously.)
  • Have the announcements of upcoming events been carefully thought through, and a way of avoiding rants devised and implemented?  (If you really want concise comments, especially about upcoming events, have a ‘hand in details’ form, which can be entered on a powerpoint and flashed up for all to see.  Again, no time limit is going to mean some very long, rambling and energy-sapping and credibility destroying speechifying).

Oh, and sidebar – the emotacycle will get us all killed.

The answers to most of these questions, at most of the events I go to is “no”. Which is why I don’t stick around.  The number of months we have before the shit properly hits the fan is more finite than we want to admit – it’s later than you think.  So, why waste time at time-wasting and morale-destroying meetings.

What’s that you say?  I sound down on the “Left”?  Why, yes, yes I do, don’t I.

What’s that?  Am I a Daily Mail reader?  No, but I can see why you would need to believe that, since I am traipsing all over your tribe’s culture, and there is an implicit rebuke in this to you for tolerating crap culture in your subculture for so long.

Fwiw, I have raised these issues REPEATEDLY.  Both unhelpfully, but also as helpfully as I know how. You can, on a good day, get individual “organisers” to agree with bits and pieces.  But when time comes for them to innovate, to push past the resistance of their colleagues to any deviation from The Way Things Have Always Been Done, they bottle it. They lack either the skills or the spine – or both – to make things any different.  So it goes.

 

Why does nothing change, will nothing change?
Because the success or failure of one meeting doesn’t register for those who are making the decisions about it and future meetings, because those people are a tight-ish band of long-term/baked on activists, who will keep doing what they do. They lack the insight into what behaviours really put off newcomers, or have the insight but are unwilling to innovate the format of meetings because. well, lots of reasons.  Nobody else is going to be able to do a sustained change of format – the incumbents will have to do the disrupting, and everything we know about incumbents is that them doing disrupting is pretty damn rare.

So, we’re doomed. So it goes. It didn’t have to be this way, but it is, so suck it up.

 

 

Asking the wrong people the wrong questions in the wrong way: WW2 bombers and social movements

Those who know me will put two and two together, but the rest of you can wonder why and what.

This.

There’s a story about the beginnings of Operations Research, I think from De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, which goes like this:

trying to figure out what bits of bombers required (heavy and therefore necessarily scarce) reinforcement, the people assessing would look at planes which came back from hitting German targets, see where all the holes in the fuselage/wings were and say “reinforce the bits with the most holes.

No.  No, that’s wrong.  Because the planes that made it back, with that damage, were the ones that were still flying, by definition.  Those bits full of holes were precisely the bits that did NOT need reinforcing.  But it’s hard to look at planes that got hit in their weak spots and went down in flames, them being in thousands of pieces in Nazi Germany and all.

Fortunately, the mistake was seen, the right bits reinforced and We Won the War.

 

So, when I see an excruciating survey, full of the wrong questions, being aimed at people who are STILL INVOLVED, I weep.  Because nowhere does it ask “do you know anyone who is no longer coming? Did they tell you why they stopped coming?  If not, could you ask them to tell you, anonymously?”

THEN we might be looking at the right bits of the shot-down planes.

But that would open up a different can of worms, and quite a squidgy one. And require a level of emotional intelligence that is lacking. Has always been lacking, not just from this particular iteration.
We are just not smart enough. Or we are smart enough – on our good days – but simply not BRAVE enough.

Whatever it is, we are toast.

 

 

The Murray Andersen Syndrome – of #climate memory-holes, farces and doom (natch)

No, not that Murray Anderson. No, not that one either.
Let me describe it to you, and see if you can figure it out for yourself. Stuff embeds better that way anyhow.

In reverse order. (drum roll please)

Everybody secretly knows that the game is rigged, the war is over, that the fine words and fripperies and fineries describe – nothing, a phantasm. Unless you are a complete imbecilic coward (and they do exist), you have seen it and have to suppress it, for reasons of career/mortgage/the same old story.


That’s bad enough, that in this terminal phase of human history, we are too scared to break out and call it like it is.

But even worse. EVERY DAY WE WAKE UP AND IT IS THE SAME. We have seen this movie before. We saw this movie (the climate movie- it’s always about the climate these days) from 2006 (An Inconvenient Truth) through to the joke of Copenhagen. (2009) We saw it from Hansen to the Senate committee (1988) through to Rio (1992). We saw it (or read about other people seeing it from Santa Barbara (1969) through to Stockholm (1972). And now we are seeing it with Greta and the 1.5 (late 2018) through to… well, probably the Glasgow Shitshow (Nov 2020).

There’s preening, and promising and posturing. There’s hopium pipes being sucked, and a conga line of con artists, throwing out glossy reports, pathways, roadmaps.

We saw this movie. We know how it plays, how it ends. Over and over.

So, “can you tell what it is yet”, as I am no longer allowed to say?

It’s the horror of Groundhog Day (Bill Murray) where every day, instead of Punk-so- tawny Phil we are treated instead to the Freaking Naked Emperor (Hans Christian Andersen), with his zero carbon this and his sustainable that, as he parades through town and everyone looks at each other during the Two Minutes Love (yeah, mixing it up now) and … applauds wildly.  Nothing to see here… move along.

FFS.

This is not a comedy. Or a dramedy. This is a farce.  We could have been better than this.  Instead we’re just a bunch of planet-trashing shaved monkeys with opposable thumbs.