Category Archives: The quiet revolution

What kind of work are we doing?

I’m currently contemplating the language of work, and whether it is in any way possible to decouple that from the concepts of capitalism. Work is intrinsic to capitalism, the whole system is built on the underpaid work and on the unpaid work that the poorest in society are obliged to do.

There are all kinds of things I do that involve effort, commitment and high standards that are not part of capitalism. I wonder how useful it is to tease these different kinds of work out from each other. I think it’s important to assert at the same time that there’s a great deal of unpaid work – domestic work and caring work especially, that are key to keeping capitalism grinding along. These unpaid forms of work are often undervalued in a system that only values people based on what they earn. Domestic work and care work are vital for the wellbeing of people, these aren’t just services provided to the economy.

Sometimes we talk about spiritual work. Anything that feels difficult and important, where we have to put in effort, it can be tempting to describe it in terms of work. We might put work into developing our skills, or into sustaining our relationships. We might work on creating community, and we might work on creating beauty. Work in the vegetable patch, or work on a blanket all have value in our lives, and some of these things will save us money even when they don’t get us paid.

I need to work on taking time off! What a splendid irony. And yet, with my brain infiltrated by capitalist concepts, putting that down is a job of itself. I note how we also use the language of work and jobs to express feelings about things we feel obliged to do but take no joy in. Perhaps that’s a key point for considering language use.

I’m going to have a play around with my own language use and see what happens. Perhaps I should think of some of this as investing in myself. There are places I can swap in words like development, creating, maybe even manifesting. I think it’s important territory to explore, because the words we use have such an impact on how we experience ourselves and the world. There would be a lot of perspective shifts happening between working on myself, and investing in myself and those terms suggest entirely different directions to move in.

Healing and breaking

Healing is seldom a linear process. This is as true for bodies as it is for minds, especially when healing requires rebuilding. When we build muscle, part of the process involves our bodies ripping apart the structures we already have in order to respond to the demands we’ve made on ourselves. This tends to hurt. Push too hard and you can end up – in the short term at least – able to do far less than you could. Push far too hard and you can damage yourself. Mind and body alike have limits, and while you can push to try and recover from pretty much anything, sometimes what’s needed most is rest, and time.

When you’re in the middle of it, telling the difference between breakdown and breakthrough is difficult. I’ve been around this one a few times. Dismantling a limiting belief, or an out of date coping mechanism can be messy. Dismantling the consequences of gaslighting is frankly a brutal process. I’ve gone a lot of rounds with that one over the years. It isn’t the sort of thing you can unpick quickly.

There’s been a lot of gaslighting at a national level here in the UK. A lot of saying that things we all saw happen did not happen. A lot of telling us that we are all to blame for the state of the economy, that it’s all down to poor people not trying hard enough. Instead, this is a consequence of deliberate policy. Not internalising the blame is challenging, and I have no doubt that many people will end up feeling that the cold and hunger they experience this winter is their fault. 

At some point there will have to be a collective squaring up to the impact of that gaslighting. There’s going to be a lot of breaking down in order to be able to heal and rebuild. Not just on the individual level, either. If we’re going to make it as a species we’re going to need to break down some aspects of our civilization in order to heal and go forward. We may have to break down all kinds of assumptions, structures and systems because so much of what we have right now just doesn’t work and is making life on this planet ever less viable. Inevitably this is going to be messy, but it is possible.

How to be good

My suspicion is that there are no intrinsically good people. Anyone, viewed from the right perspective will turn out to have things going on that are complicated. I’m not at all sure that selflessness is a fair measure of goodness, either. It’s through the offering of our needs to each other that we form the strongest and deepest relationships. Selfless people might find they can’t do that, which means they are, arguably, withholding things that might be essential to other people, and that’s problematic, too.

Most of us need to be needed. Selflessness therefore doesn’t enable us to meet each other’s needs.

I’m definitely not an intrinsically good person – it’s a necessary qualification for being a fiction author. You’ve got to have some capacity to imagine terrible things in order to write books. There’s a case for saying that many authors are terrible people who have chosen to use their powers for good.

I think that’s often the key thing. It’s not the raw clay of ourselves that matters most, but how we choose to use it. I can examine a situation and see what the most manipulative thing is that I could do to get my own way. I almost never pick that path. However, understanding how that would work can help me find a better way through. I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to give people options and to make sure I’m not being emotionally manipulative or putting undue pressure on anyone.

Being good as an abstract concept is hard to pin down. It might be more useful to think about who, or what we want to be good for. Being good for the shareholders usually means being bloody awful to the workers. A lot of interesting things happen when we explore the idea of how to be good for each other. That’s true when we’re dealing with people one to one. It also holds up in any kind of collective human space. When we undertake to be good for each other there’s a lot more room to also be messy, flawed and not some kind of saint. On those terms it makes no sense to martyr anyone.

At the same time, so much of contemporary eco-thinking is framed by the idea of being less bad and reducing harm. What happens when we ask instead how we might be good? How can we live in a way that supports life? How can we act to be regenerative, and to move beyond sustainability into actually making things better?

I think the idea of goodness is much more interesting when we stop trying to foster it as some sort of inner quality, and start asking what it could mean as a way to live and interact.

Inspiration for revolution

I’m always much more motivated to create when I can see what purpose that may serve. This is as true of my writing as it is of any action that depends on manifesting inspiration into the world. I won’t cook an elaborate meal for myself, but I will certainly do that for other people.

Like everyone else, I need to be able to afford to eat, so ‘will this sell?’ is a question I have to ask. However, along the way I’ve found that things written in the hopes that they will sell don’t do any better than things I wrote because I thought they were needed. If I’m passionate about something, the odds are at least some other people will be too, and that tends to work out ok.

I’ve run into the idea around ‘fine’ and ‘high’ arts that if something is Serious Art then it is art for art’s sake. I’m the sort of person who wants to make essential and useful things that are also cheering in some way. That’s why I craft. We ran into this last year when Tom and I put on a Hopeless, Maine show in the local gallery. A fair few people who came to look at the work commented that they don’t usually go into that space because they don’t feel that what’s in there is for them.

Things that are supposedly made for everyone tend to be box tickers designed by a committee, often targeting what they imagine to be the lowest common denominator. Creativity doesn’t have to be deliberately exclusive in order to oppose this and be clever and good. The sweet spot – to my thinking – is making things for people. 

One of the key stages when I’m creating is to establish who I am creating for. With a craft piece I usually have a specific person in mind. When I’m setting out to write something, I may have one or more people in mind – usually the longer the piece, the larger the imagined audience, but there’s always someone specific in there. I write for Pagans and Druids, for steampunks and for people who like speculative stuff. I write for my friends. I find it really helps to think about what would entertain, engage and delight a few specific people I know well and I know like the kinds of things I tend to do.

I also find there’s nothing like encountering need to focus my inspiration. If something needs doing, or fixing, or figuring out, my brain gets right in there.

Humans are intrinsically creative people. We’re problem solvers and innovators – not just a special few of us, but all of us. Being able to make answers to our problems isn’t just a useful skill, it’s empowering and uplifting. Having the inspiration to make change is one of the most powerful forms inspiration can take in our lives.

It’s good to delight in arty inspiration, but it’s important to remember that inspiration is not just here for making pretty things of no great consequence. Inspiration is how we get things done and fix what’s wrong, and that inspiration has never been more needed than it is now.

Getting into hot water

For many people in the UK, this winter is going to raise enormous challenges and require difficult, miserable choices about priorities. There are no good answers here. There are no workarounds for not being able to afford to live, and it is appalling that anyone should be facing this, but here we are. 

Hot water is one of those things most of us take for granted. My grandmother had things to say about the arrival of hot running water in the home, but most of us alive now have grown up with it being normal. Heating water costs money.

Hot water is better for hygiene than cold water, so if people cut back on hot water we can expect more illness and food poisoning. As is always the way of it, people with physical vulnerabilities will be hardest hit.

Soaking in hot water offers pain relief to many. The cost of not being able to have a long, hot shower or a decent soak in a bath will be high for some of us. Washing can also help a lot with mental health, while not feeling clean will undermine it.

Hot drinks do a lot to comfort people. To the point whereby heating water is strongly recommended in survival situations because it has such a massive impact on morale and your ability to keep going.

When you are cold already, or ill, or in pain then cold water just takes more out of you. Washing yourself or your stuff in cold water will add to your exhaustion and discomfort. Most of us are not equipped to heat water by other means.

As a society we have – I think – gone too far with the washing of bodies and clothes. There would be environmental benefits to cutting back on that a bit. However, this isn’t the way to do it. Forcing people not to be able to use resources in the way they need to is cruel. We should be scaling back thoughtfully and on our own terms. We should all be able to afford to be warm enough.

Anxiety, Inaction and Compassion

This week, splendid Druid blogger Cat Treadwell put up a really brave piece of writing about how anxiety has been making her freeze.

I recognise all of this, and it’s an issue that has crippled me repeatedly this year, leaving me unable to function at times. I’ve not talked about it much because I haven’t known how to, but seeing Cat’s post inclines me to step up. It’s a lot easier to think about these things when they affect other people. What Cat is going through clearly isn’t ok, and I wouldn’t blame her for that in the way that I tend to blame myself for my issues.

What do we expect of each other? What do we assume in face of other people’s efforts, shortcomings and struggles? If you start from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got, then it’s a good deal easier to stay kind when people fall short of the mark. Sooner or later, we all mess up, or aren’t as good as would have been ideal. It’s a human thing. It is necessary to be able to say when things aren’t good enough, but it’s better not to assume this is either malice or lack of care.

Assumptions of laziness plague people who are ill. This is not an accident. It’s a deliberate approach coming from both governments and media, to blame and shame people who are struggling and to put the burden of responsibility onto them. Right now in the UK we’re seeing that extended to all people in poverty who are being told they must work harder, even though the problem is clearly the amount of profit going to shareholders.

There’s nothing lazy about wanting time to rest and recover, or needing to get well. There’s also nothing lazy about a person not wanting to work themselves to death so that someone else can make a profit out of them. Most of us are doing the best we can with what we’ve got – when what we’ve got isn’t enough and there is too much that we feel under pressure to do. No one should feel frightened or ashamed for trying to meet their own basic needs, but here we are.

It costs nothing to lift, support and encourage people. It is an easy thing to affirm that you know people are doing their best. Keep your rage and frustration for the people who create the impossible situations we’re all now in, not the people who are just trying to deal with it and cope. There is power in kindness, and the potential for transformative change in not adding blame and humiliation to the burdens people are already bearing.

It is easier to act when you feel supported. When you anticipate knockdowns, criticism and humiliation it is very hard to do anything. Being distressed to the point of being unable to function doesn’t improve anything for anyone. We can all contribute to doing better around this, by deliberately lifting and encouraging people when we can. Culture – after all – is just people, and as people we have the power to change how it works.

Quiet Quitting is an abomination

When people talk about ‘quiet quitting’ what they mean is just doing the job you were paid to do. That’s a truly horrendous concept. Doing the job you were paid to do is doing your job. Going above and beyond is not something your employer is entitled to. Whether that’s unpaid overtime, being available when out of work when that isn’t in your contract, or anything else being extracted from you that you aren’t paid to do – that’s exploitation.

The dangled carrot is that this is the only way to progress. Doing the job you are paid to do is not enough to get you a pay rise or a promotion. That’s also appalling when you stop and think about it. The idea that your job should be more important than anything else in your life, and that your job should own you, is entirely vile. Unpaid overtime is wage theft. Most people aren’t following a calling, they just want to be able to afford to live. Asking everyone to work like they have a soul deep compulsion to do the job is unreasonable in the extreme.

Workplaces often try to save money by not replacing staff who leave, making those who remain pick up more than their share of the work. It’s exploitative. We’re seeing at the moment in UK transport what happens when a business runs on the assumption that employees can be pressured into working their days off to cover for colleagues who are ill. You can’t sustain that as a model, especially not for a public facing job during a pandemic. You can’t have people working their rest time and not have them get ill and burned out. Companies should employ enough people so that they can cope with illness and holiday leave, but far too many don’t. It’s not a lack of money – vast sums go to shareholders in this case.

I had a round some years ago when it became apparent that I’d got pretty good at the freelance job I was doing. It was suggested to me that my workload should therefore increase with no pay increase, because they were paying for my time. I was able to sit the relevant people down and explain that this is basically punishing someone for being good at their job and honest about what they are doing, and the whole thing was dropped. It helped that as a freelancer doing multiple jobs I was in a position where I could really quit if something became too much work for too little money. Of course, not everyone can do that.

Doing the job you are being paid to do, is doing your job. Don’t let anyone persuade you that they are entitled to more than that, or that you are a bad employee if you simply do what you’ve been contracted to do.

How to try harder

The normal thing to do is to frame mental illness as something the person is going to recover from by making more effort.

Practice self care. Practice mindfulness. Practice gratitude. Challenge yourself to overcome your anxieties with a supportive CBT booklet. Talk to a therapist to get a plan in place for how you are going to do better. You know the drill.

No one is going to sit your abusive or neglectful family members down and explain to them what they should be doing to stop messing you up. No one is going to write a letter to your boss about how your toxic workplace is destroying you. The odds are that if you’ve suffered trauma, you’ve experienced nothing that was restorative. The odds of even experiencing any kind of justice around that are always slim.

It would be possible, through the medium of politics, to end the brutal toll that poverty and insecurity takes on people’s mental health. These are all situations that could be changed. Poverty is manufactured and is a deliberate aspect of capitalism. It isn’t natural, or necessary or unavoidable, but it does keep that system in place. Take away the massive stress caused by financial insecurity, work pressure, fear of losing your home and not being able to afford decent food, and a lot of mental illness would ease and disappear pretty quickly. Stress makes people sick.

From first hand experience, there is an extra layer of distress that comes from being made personally responsible for sorting out things you didn’t cause and can’t fix. There’s a weight to it, this a tough burden to shoulder on top of everything else. To have to try harder to be well and functional when something is gnawing on your guts, is a harsh thing to face. Your suffering is added to when there is no one willing to help you deal with the thing that is, metaphorically speaking, eating your innards in a slow and painful way. It doesn’t help to be told that you’d probably feel better if you could take a more positive approach to the thing that is destroying you.

Of course there’s no way of turning yourself into a happy and well person when the causes of your suffering are real and ongoing. Instead, you get to feel like a failure for not managing that impossible task. You get to feel like it’s your fault. I don’t think this is an accident. Misery makes it harder to push back and make change. The more of us there are feeling responsible, and useless and full of despair, the harder many of us will try to keep jumping through the unreachable hoops, and in so doing, continuing to be part of this toxic way of life.

If you are in more pain than you can bear it is probably because you are being asked to bear an inhuman load.

Economic Democracy

One of the key places where social justice and climate justice meet, is around the issue of work. The work that exploits and exhausts the workers, only to then exploit people as customers as well, is toxic to the planet. Capitalism means that essential things – like taking proper care of vulnerable people – don’t happen because there isn’t enough profit in it. This is why we don’t have rural bus services, and our shit ends up in the rivers.

I recently ran into the term economic democracy, and I love it. I think it’s hugely important to talk about alternative ways of living. Part of our problem at the moment is that so many people believe capitalism is natural, necessary and unavoidable. It’s an exploitative, planet killing, soul destroying thing and we could ditch it.

What does economic democracy mean? Well, imagine if the work done was decided by the people doing it. What would we choose? Who is going to choose to work long hours for little pay doing things that are pointless or destructive? Obviously we’d start by making sure that everyone’s basic needs are met. We’d share out that work as fairly as we could, with everyone doing some of the essentials, and essential work being valued because it’s essential. Once we’d got that in place, we’d all be looking for nice things.That would mean having the time and resources to devote to whatever brings us joy, and having enough people working on the joyful stuff to enable it. Leisure, entertainment, health, sport, looking good… 

An economic democracy would share out the good things more evenly. It would not support exploitation. The whole point of democracy is that it is supposed to put us all on an equal footing, but capitalism prevents that. Capitalism creates poverty, requires a struggling underclass, and enables an affluent, leisured class who contribute little or nothing to humanity while overconsuming to the detriment of the planet. Capitalism means we have people who can use their extreme wealth to corrupt democracy to serve them. In an economic democracy we would share responsibility, while all having more time to enjoy ourselves and we would not accept massive wealth gaps.

Defining a woman

This never goes well. For too much of recent history in too many places, defining women has gone hand in hand with excluding anyone defined as a woman. It’s been about keeping women out of public spaces, out of most kinds of work, and often about keeping women in the domestic sphere. It has meant not getting to vote, and not being allowed to own property. Too often, women have been defined as daughters, wives and mothers, existing only in relation to the men who control them.

Defining women always functions to exclude people. If a woman is a person with a womb, where does that leave the many women who have had a hysterectomy? Definitions of femininity too often tend towards smallness, weakness, fragility, and being inferior to men. Tall women exist, so do muscular women, but like a lot of people I grew up absorbing the message that muscles aren’t feminine, and delicacy is. I have never wanted to be delicate.

Then there’s all the psychological stuff – that women are gentle, carers, nurturers, kind and soft and warm and loving… Which all sounds charming I suppose, but does not play out well. It de-persons the women who aren’t intrinsically maternal, and it pushes all women back into the domestic sphere and the caring occupations while reinforcing ideas that these things aren’t appropriate for men.

When women are supposed to be gentle, kindly, delicate little things, the women who don’t fit are treated as monsters. You don’t have to look far back in history to find that having ideas, ambition, a desire to be active in the world, a desire for physical activity, for education and opportunity would get a woman labelled as unnatural and monstrous.

I see far too many conversations – especially around British politics – where ‘defining a woman’ is a thing. I don’t see any conversations about ‘defining a man’ because there’s far less interest in controlling male bodies and limiting male opportunities. I don’t see any of the people engaged in this giving any thought at all to the women who they want to define as not-women. Those of us who are too tall and too muscular, those of us who were never pretty, and have strong bone structures. Those of us who are not docile and domesticated. Are we men now? What are we? 

Defining a woman is not the beginning of a process that empowers women. It’s a process that will cause many people who experience themselves as women to be excluded, and loaded down with body shame and humiliation. It is a process that leads to narrower options for women. 

Demand equal rights for all people. Demand the freedom to live comfortably in your own body. Resist body shaming and pressure to conform to narrow and oppressive gender stereotypes. Also check out the science, because the differences between people of the same gender and the differences between genders are not clear cut. Some cis women naturally have more testosterone in their bodies than some cis men. There’s a lot of diversity in humanity, and there is a lot to be gained from embracing that. Denying that it exists of course makes it easier to attack trans people (which is a gross thing to do) and also harms a lot of cis people too.