It’s no fun falling asleep on the train and waking up at the last stop – so I woke the guy in clubwear up as I was leaving. Sunday morning 8.30am. Day after the night before. Turns out he hadn’t missed his stop – he was on completely the wrong train – South of the river when he wanted to go East… which reminded me of a quote by Lao Tzu
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
Perhaps I’m foolish wishing for change when there is absolutely nothing I can do to change the way things are and when change comes which inevitably it will – it will come on its own terms and at its own time with no encouragement from me – I mean, what’s the point?
Yet still I do care – more for people without shoes than for people with shoes and bad manners it has to be said… But it seems to me the man on the street cares too. Perhaps it’s just politicians, bankers, CEOs of corporate business and vast swathes of the middle classes who give the appearance of not caring for anyone apart from themselves and show little evidence of concern for the fact we seem to be consuming the world’s resources at a much higher rate than it can possibly renew them.
Our apathy is perhaps generational. Not so long ago women were encouraged to think about virtually nothing… if they had opinions they were often dismissed as emotional or hysterical and so half the population lost its voice. An invisible line also seems to divide those who make decisions from those who feel qualified to contribute. Our apathy may be in direct relation to our levels of comfort as the more comfortable we appear to be – the less we seem to care. While working class people march and demonstrate in Trade Unions for fair pay and workers rights – the middle classes sit at home watching their plasma screens and planning which celebrity chef meal to serve next for dinner while paying lip-service to the latest world issues as broadcast by the media.
Living with free market capitalism – a deregulated system which enriches the already rich and represses the poor- sometimes feels like being in a bad relationship. You’re not well matched, you long for change but the system wants to stay the same. You want to leave but the relationship is with your life and your own time and the decision to leave is not yours to make. It’s subtle but it’s there in the background making demands.
The problem is if for too long you spend meeting those demands, you begin to forget yourself entirely. You lose faith in yourself and your own abilities – you forget your dreams, the things that make you feel truly alive. If you were able to sit quietly and cease relentless participation where might you end up? You could build your own low impact home if land rights were not in the hands of the few. What did you want to experience and contribute to the world? The future begins in our own imaginations – we’re all so much more capable than any of us realise.
A voice of dissent is becoming less unusual in London. In the past, expressing discomfort with the way things are tended to marginalise and exclude you – it was frowned upon and perhaps still is – there are certain things it ‘just wouldn’t do to say’. One of the conditions of living and surviving here is to some degree you accept the conditions of your own dispossession without complaint and if at all possible, celebrate every weekend by drinking to forget. It’s not in your interest to bite the hand that feeds you even when you’re aware the other hand is raised in threat.
The mainstream media and cultural conditioning dumb us down – they distract and make us compliant. We believe we’re in agreement yet to a certain degree – we’re being controlled. We’ve internalised behaviours of conformity with harmful effect. We believe politicians are capable of making decisions on our behalf and Capitalism is the only solution. Our society encourages individualism and independence when it’s so much easier to do things in collaboration. We are adults behaving like children. If we took personal responsibility for our lives we would experience ourselves as the cause of things we do – yet so many of us find ourselves acting in response to circumstance. In the past, people have told me ‘If you don’t like it, leave.’ – But why should I have to leave… This is my home, my people are here.
Perhaps I’m just harder to impress. I’m looking for something more reverent. A respect for life, dignity and grace. I’ve seen it in the people of Chiapas – humility – a deep respect for the day – for each other – for life… Living in direct relation to nature and the skies these people have a fierce spirit of identity and community and while discounted by the global economy as they have little purchasing power – they seem to be aware of a truth we are missing – We are all part of the natural world.
London seems to be in denial of that.
According to research by specialist biographers Peter Ackroyd, Claire Tomalin and Ian Sinclair on the Radio 4 programme ‘In Our Time’. London, is a city built on authority, violence, oppression, commerce and trade. Non-spiritual values, which encourage widening gaps of inequality.
We’re steeped in oppressive history and one of the most expensive and unequal cities on the planet. We’re also host to the most millionaires in Europe. It’s apparent the intention of policymakers is to purge central London of low-income families in order to make a hub for commercial wealth and commerce.
In this, I agree with Eugene Victor Debs who opposes a social order in which ‘it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for existence.’
In 2012, Trenton Oldfield threw himself into the path of the Oxbridge boat race in protest at the elitism within British society; he was arrested and faces deportation as his presence in the country ‘could be considered a threat to national security’ despite the fact he’s lived here for 12 years and is expecting a first child to his British wife.
We’re governed by an elite who don’t like their entertainment interrupted. They go to the same schools, share the same networks and forge alliances in their nappies while we take no part in the decision making process. Voting once every four years and leaving them to devices largely in their own self-interest and divest of ours.
An act of dissent could be seen as an act of participation. As a wish to open dialogue – but these voices are silenced and discredited in order to maintain the status quo. Protest here is legal. We’re allowed to march from ‘passive frustration to impotence’ (JD Taylor –STRIKE magazine) we’re permitted to go through mechanisms of protest but the protest in itself is not free, it’s controlled and largely makes no difference.
Most activists these days encourage ‘direct action’ that is, physically doing something to change your relation to the way things are. Signing petitions is something but if you don’t want someone to cut down a tree – you’re best putting yourself between the tree and the person intent on doing the harm.
Attitudes of the rich and poor were tested recently in a study at Berkeley University.
Even with the game openly rigged in their favour, the rich attributed success to their own skills and were completely un-attuned to contributing factors which gave them a distinct advantage such as; they were playing with two dice, their opponent had one; they started the game with twice as much money, their opponent had half. They also lied and cheated. This lack of compassion and sense of entitlement run through our society with little exception. The poor work for the rich. The public fund private enterprise. The rich believe in meritocracy and their own superiority. Honesty, integrity and truth are attitudes more aligned with the poor and there you have it – Class divide.
All men are not created equal but some are more equal than others and with this inequality we seem to have lost much of our freedom. The thing is.. we’re all equally human.
When you travel you’re awake. One of the many gifts of travel is seeing things for the first time. You’re stimulated and alive. Most people don’t have the luxury of travel – a staggering percentage of the worlds population have only their names and the clothes they stand in – yet British holidaymakers go on absurd quests – travel for people deprived of freedom.
As a fish is aware of everything surrounding it, except for the water – so are we, it seems in relation to the nature of our society. We seem to have lost contact with what individual freedom means. We’re not awake. Living is easier with your eyes closed.
‘We don’t do politics’- we are politics. Wheels turn to create illusions for us to believe in, money is spent to manufacture our consent. The more apathetic, self-absorbed and acquisitive we are, the better. Life is political and for as long as we’re not engaged in that, we’re being manipulated, whether we’re aware of it or not and whether we object to it or not.
The state with its greedy hands reaches into just about every aspect of our lives. It controls our housing, food, water, employment, schooling, services and leisure. It controls the temperature hot drinks are served at. And we accept that as normal. We don’t know freedom.
On a quest to find alternatives and break the demands of a materialist existence, I left the UK in 2005. Travelling alone for 10 solid months – moving on from one place to the next by bus, boat, plane and train – accountable to no one – I began living with different parts of myself – with imagination, appreciation, acceptance and humanity. I was open to life and all it had to offer – I accepted and experienced – I gave my open heart and received beauty, joy, pain and serendipity in return… It was an experience to be free and truly alive.
At a screening of “There Is No Authority But Yourself’ in a vegan café in Hackney a few years ago, Penny Rimbaud from Crass wanted to know where the voice of dissent had gone. Neutralised by materialism was my theory. And the cost to our emotions is high. While there is crucial awareness to be made in comparison between ‘1st world problems’ and real human needs like having no shoes or water, let’s not trivialise our own experience.
In considering ourselves fortunate enough to have running water, healthcare and education – we’re encouraged to be eternally grateful, thereby preventing us from being discontent with wider issues and turning that anger into energy for positive social change. Here’s a 1st world problem I would like to add to the list; ‘contributing to a system which continues to hold the third world in poverty and debt’ and another ‘living in a place where no-one can stop their own leaders from going to war even when 2 million of them go out on the streets in protest’.
‘It’s not the fact that we don’t want to live ecologically- it’s the fact that we don’t have the freedom to do that’ (Simon Moore – Grasp the Nettle)
The relentless demands of neo-liberalism leave many of us with our souls in tatters and while we’re happy to export idealised views of our protected consumer lifestyles we seldom report on the greater devastation caused to our collective personality;
short-term attention, feelings of inadequacy, narcissism, depression, loneliness and anxiety.
Consumerism, defined by Wikipedia as ‘a social and economic order based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods or services in ever greater amounts’ – exploits humankind for cheap labor and makes profits from the natural and mineral resources of the planet which by birthright, actually belong to everyone. That oil? It’s not yours to sell! The corporations leading consumerism display narcissistic behaviour characterised by an inflated sense of self, superiority, arrogance and entitlement. ‘They deceive, dominate, exploit, and destroy’ (Wanda Marie Woodward – Countercurrents) and for as long as we continue to remain disengaged with the very real implications of allowing these lunatics to continue making decisions in the interest of shareholders on our behalf we are Frankenstein products of society – living in collective delusion – silent, apathetic, consenting automatons, just as they wish.
Free Market Capitalism dominates the world. It eliminates social services and privatises everything. We all exist for the market. But the system is not working for anyone. The rich lead phony, privileged lives which lack meaning – the supermarkets throw a third of their products away – as do consumers. The poor struggle to survive and a short plane ride away – people are starving. The playing field is not flat. The world of commodity, the world of desire without compassion, is an empty one. The majority of people cannot benefit from a system which requires ongoing disadvantage and ecological aggression to sustain its growth. Privatisation also reduces choice as the biggest players in the strongest positions dominate and control the market.
So in the face of the uncaring, what do you do?
There are many different stances you can take. You can be resolute or engaged, defiant or accepting. You can place your trust in the providence of the divine and leave things to chance. The one thing you cannot do is turn away. We have learnt to control our thoughts and manage our behaviours by speaking in affirmation but in dominating bad actions with positive thoughts, we dismiss and turn away from all that is wrong. Which just, doesn’t work. Things don’t go away. Bad things tend to get worse if you ignore them.
If we can begin to recognise what is not working and start doing any small thing we can to redress the balance – if we can stop dominating and trying to manipulate and control – if we can stop measuring success by the accumulation of wealth and appearances – if we can leave things in a better state than we found them – if we had a sense our contribution was of value and did make a difference, not because it was ‘worthy’ or recognised by outside experts or authorities as being of value but because we in ourselves knew it’s value to us and to others then perhaps, we might be on our way.
‘Power’ is the ability to influence the behavior of people. Our current power structure is a masculine version by definition – to do, act, accomplish and wield, to command and control. It has brought great advances in science and industry, our standard of living is way beyond any our great grandmothers could have imagined but also, it is competitive and has self-interest at heart. And just as politics are evasive and filter into every aspect of our lives, so do they filter into personality. I’ve seen it as I crossed borders – the politics of a country become characteristic of national psyche. We in the West, seem to have developed a psyche which is solely concerned with Western interests – we exclude nature and the rest of humanity which essentially we are a part of. We have a reputation for judging everything by our own standards and we’re navigating towards the future. Way off balance.
I personally think better times lie ahead. If we can bridge the gap between the power structure imposed on us and our own choice on how we wish to behave. If we can think for ourselves and question our motivations, consider our doubts and consume a lot less. If we can show compassion and understanding and be supportive and open-minded, perhaps then we can lift each other up instead of holding each other down and perhaps then – we can begin to contribute positively to the lives of all people we touch.
They can take our money and they can take our time, but they can’t take our love.
Love doesn’t come with a strategic plan. It’s not predictable, logical or linear. It can’t be controlled. So if we can extend that love and concern outside our immediate homes, outside the white noise of dumb current affairs to the wider experience of humanity – perhaps we’d intuitively know how to act.
And while. Accepting your lot in life and living within those boundaries is a skill, you can’t become too disappointed in challenging established systems even if you fail – as that very act of opposition is in itself an act of engagement and hope.
History will show, the behaviours of capitalism which have come to be seen as normal; self-interest, greed, disinterest in other peoples suffering, violence, lack of empathy for the consequences of our actions and the accumulation of wealth, are very much toxic and dysfunctional.
Times are changing. It may still take a generation or two – 50 years or more but we’re on our way to kinder ways of being in relation to the world – to each other and – to the rest of humanity. We will evolve beyond false and imposed beliefs and we have to keep hoping –
No matter how uncomfortable that makes us feel- because if no one hoped – change wouldn’t come.
‘Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. It is not about the ‘right attitude’ or ‘peace of mind.’ Hope is action. Hope is doing something… The more useless and futile, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and more potent hope becomes..’
Hope in itself is an act of belief and if collectively we all live in hope things will change .. Surely they will.
With thanks to the people who contributed to this article.
Political Democracy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTHXnNsWdWg
Corporate Pathology : http://www.countercurrents.org/woodward030610.htm
Rich tourist Poor Tourist: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/25/rich-tourist-poor-tourist/?_r=0