Tag Archives: revolution

A happiness revolution

I was an anxious child, more fearful of the world than excited about it. I can’t remember not being aware of the threats and hazards around me and the importance of being very careful about everything all the time.  I grew up understanding that the important things were to work hard and be good, to learn and be useful. Everything I did I was supposed to do well – mostly I fell short of the mark. Wasting time, mucking about, playing – these were not encouraged. 

I have a suspicion that the knack for being happy is to a large extent a learned skill. I suspect it helps a lot to have emotional support around doing things simply for the pleasure of doing them. For children who are always supposed to be learning, practicing and improving themselves, how to be happy is a skill that might not be in the mix. For adults, much may depend on the expectations of the people around us. Are we allowed to have fun? What kind of fun are we allowed to have? Outside of sport and alcohol, the options can be sadly limited.

I’m not terribly good at being happy. There always seems to be something more important that needs my energy and attention. The state of the world doesn’t help with this and it often seems impossible to be happy when surrounded by so much suffering. The question of what I can do that would be good, or helpful always looms large.

At this point, philosophically it all gets a bit awkward. I believe that happiness is a good goal, a needful part of human life. I don’t think we’re going to save the world by martyring ourselves. No one is going to effectively dismantle colonialism, capitalism or patriarchy while working themselves to death. Joyfulness is radical and essential.

I’m fairly good at taking brief delight in small beauties – light on leaves, a moment of cat cuteness, a wildflower, a bee… I know how to appreciate that sort of thing. What I don’t know how to do is how to build a life where gentle, sustainable happiness is at the core of how you live. I’m convinced that kind of life is possible, but I don’t know what it would take to achieve it. I particularly don’t know what that would even look like for me, which is an interesting problem to have.

What is there that would be enriching without having to be focused on productivity? What could I (or for that matter anyone else) do for the pleasure of doing it? Clearly it would be good to do things that do not feel essential, are not economically oriented, and that are intrinsically rewarding. Happiness that doesn’t revolve around work or consumption, would move us all towards more sustainable ways of living. Certainly our current ways of doing things aren’t uplifting or emotionally rewarding for most people.


Reimagining the revolution

Imagine what the industrial revolution would have been like around the world if the aims had been different. Imagine if the developing technology had been all about freeing people from drudgery and improving their quality of life. Not children working twelve hour shifts in factories, not working humans routinely maimed and killed by machines, and not squalid slums for workers to live in. Imagine if the industrial revolution had been all about making life better for everyone.

Of course with the kind of technology we had, this would have been difficult. The city smogs were caused by air pollution from coal burning industries. The whole thing depended on human lives sacrificed for coal, sacrificed for building projects, cut short by horrific illness caused by exposure to pollutants. Around the world, industrial revolution has meant a dramatic plummet in quality of life for the working poor.

What if that wasn’t inevitable? What if that wasn’t progress? What if the ‘gains’ made for the already rich and comfortable weren’t actually worth the price so many paid for it? 

If progress meant better quality of life, we wouldn’t have people living in poverty. No one would have to choose between heating and eating. We have the resources to take care of everyone, but not the political will. What if we saw no virtue or value in tedious jobs and cheerfully handed those over to the machines to give everyone more time to live rich, full and rewarding lives? What if we didn’t create an impoverished underclass who could then be pressured into working miserably in order to barely survive? 

We could have done that with the first industrial revolution. New technology could have been harnessed to serve the common good, not the profits of the few. This is always an option, and never the one that gets priority. Meanwhile we celebrate and idolise the wealth that costs most of us, and the planet an unbearable amount.

What if we stopped imagining that work is the key to human existence, and started considering some alternative ways of thinking about ourselves?


The Walking Skirt

Skirts are not inherently impractical. For much of history, men have worn skirts – they may be called robes, or tunics, but they are basically a loose bit of fabric draped over the thighs. Longer, if you happen to be a Viking. However, all too often, modern skirts designed for the female body are inherently impractical. It encourages us to believe that being feminine also means being impractical.

If a skirt is made of delicate fabric, you can’t go through a bramble patch in it. If the fabric is light, it won’t keep you warm for being active outside. If the skirt is tight, it won’t let you move – no climbing stiles or getting on bicycles in that! If the important thing about the skirt is that it looks pretty and you are to look pretty wearing it, you can’t risk accident or dirt. How many girls are told not to do things because keeping the skirt looking nice is deemed to be the most important thing?

When it comes to making skirts for women, clothes designers usually focus on what is attractive – especially what is sexually attractive to the male gaze. This does not result in practical or useful clothing, and there tend not to be pockets.

I find that in cold weather, a skirt over leggings or trousers is the warmest option. I can move the bulk out of the way if I need to. The fabric keeps my thighs warm, but if the skirt is about knee length, it doesn’t get caught on things and the hem doesn’t get muddy. If the skirt is made of a substantial, heavy fabric, it really helps. However, the right fabric and the right weight is hard to find. So I made a walking skirt out of dead hoodies. It is warm, and practical, and allows me to do stuff.

Skirts are not gender identity. Lots of men have, historically, worn skirts. Some still do. If you want to wear a skirt as an expression of femininity, the skirt does not have to be limiting, or useless, or make you vulnerable or fragile. The skirt can be your friend. Clothes have a huge impact on sense of self, and when they limit what we can do, that impact really isn’t helping. Interrogate your wardrobe. Ask who your clothes are really serving. Learn to sew as an act of revolution, and make the clothes that serve you! Or modify the clothes you buy so that they work for you. Put pretty decoration on the practical stuff if you fancy that. Sew on extra pockets. Cut out the patriarchal bullshit hiding in your wardrobe.


Not Punching Nazis

Realistically, I am never going to punch a Nazi. I’ve never punched anyone, I’m not especially strong, and in an emergency, it is unlikely to be my first response. If it was a case of fighting for my life or trying to protect someone else, I’d be more likely to kick than punch, but in a scenario where there is violence, I am going to be injured, or die.

What I can do more usefully, is put my body in the way. I’m large, white and female. Some of that might function as privilege in some contexts. Some of it might make another person pause for a few seconds. And also, I have size. I can do a fair bit of getting in the way. I’m heavy enough that I can be a nuisance to remove. I can put my body between people who are more vulnerable than me, and possible threats. It’s something I’ve already explored a little bit and is one way I am confident that I can be anti-fascist in a physical context.

I’m openly queer, openly polyamorous, openly Pagan, openly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, openly opposed to fascism. These are not things that can automatically be identified by looking at me. But I have no doubt that if the fascists took over, I would be on a list fairly quickly. I am exactly the sort of person to be disappeared in that kind of scenario. I would like to think I’d manage to put up some kind of fight, but it would also depend on whether I would make other people safer or more at risk by so doing.

The state of the world frightens me. But, resistance is important, and there are many ways to resist. Kindness is resistance. Putting love and beauty into the world is a good way of pushing back against hate and intolerance. Make good things, share good things, take care of who you can, speak up when you can, amplify whoever you can. Vote, petition, march. Share, gift, feed people, help out. A culture of kindness and inclusion is the only thing that will work for the longer term. Punching a Nazi doesn’t deal with the underlying causes of fascism, and we need to deal with those underlying causes.

One of the key things that takes people into far right thinking and the desire to hurt and harm others, is lack of empathy. We can learn empathy. One of the most powerful teaching tools for building empathy in others is in fact the novel, as through novels we can live many lives, understand different perspectives and learn how to empathise with others. (There is science! The novels-empathy thing is evidenced.) Buying books for people might be more effective than punching them. Writing books and telling stories turns out not to be some kind of self indulgent silliness that has no place in the revolution… art may in fact be the revolution. It may be our best way of saving ourselves from the worst parts of each other. And if all else fails, I guess hitting a Nazi with a really heavy fantasy hardback is always going to be worth a thought.


The Revolution Must Be Inclusive

I’m not a member of Extinction Rebellion and it’s a movement I have mixed feelings about. There are a lot of people I like and admire who are getting involved. There are a fair few people co-opting it for self promotion purposes, or to further other personal projects. That it is getting attention for climate crisis is important. That its means do not align reliably with its intended ends is a problem for me.

I am absolutely in favour of gathering in Trafalgar Square to speak truth to power. Protesting in the right place, in the faces of those in power whose minds need changing, is a good idea. Not all of it goes this way, which I think is counter-productive. I’ve seen a lot of it locally and there have been too many actions that alienate people rather than engaging them.

To radically change our cultures, our behaviour, our laws and politics, we needs as many people persuaded as possible. That makes the question of who to inconvenience, and how, an important one. An inclusive movement draws people in and persuades them. There is going to be discomfort for people whose lifestyles are not sustainable, and there will be pushback, but if people feel too uncomfortable, they’re more likely to dig in and resist change, which does not help.

I worry about the way in which many Green activities look like middle class hobbies. It suits certain areas of the media to push that message, because persuading most people that it’s snobbery and hypocrisy and not for them is an effective way of maintaining the status quo. Activists need to think carefully about this because we need more people engaging, not being put off. It is important not to price people out of participation. Protesting in ways that hurt people who are already struggling isn’t an appealing look.

I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I was the youngest person in the room, as a middle aged person, conscious that an even younger person might have had a much harder time of feeling comfortable there. The assumption that you are retired and can afford the time is a big assumption, and a common one. I’ve been in so many spaces where the assumption of middle class affluence was a real problem for me, and I’ve heard people say some pretty awful things about ‘the poor’ in those contexts.

It isn’t easy for people who feel themselves to be normal, to see who is missing from the room. All-male spaces don’t notice the lack of women as an issue. All-middle-class spaces don’t notice the lack of working class people. All-white spaces don’t notice the lack of ethnic diversity. Able bodied groups do not notice the lack of disabled people. And so on. Invariably, it becomes the job of the first person in the room not to fit to try and make that space. Which is exhausting and difficult and thankless. We should not be making disadvantaged people fight to get into the room and fight for a space at the table. We should be smoothing the way whenever we can.

If you think ‘those people’ aren’t in your movement because ‘they’ don’t really care about that sort of thing, please rethink this. If you’re treating a demographic as all being the same, you are going to be making terrible mistakes. If you’re participating, and seeing someone else’s lack of participation as them not being the sort of person who would, you won’t change anything. When you ask what you can do to be more inclusive and to enable more people to get involved and see green movements as for them, in their interests, and spaces where they would be welcome, you can make changes.

A non-inclusive revolution won’t work. A revolution for the middle classes won’t tackle many of the ways in which poverty and environmental problems go hand in hand. A revolution that isn’t for everyone, isn’t going to work. It will take maximum engagement to really change things. It should fall to those who are most able to help people get involved. If something is easy for you that doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.


Steampunk Hands Around The World – Favourite Things

It’s February, the month of Steampunk Hands Around The World. The theme this year is ‘Favourite Things’ – cute little puppy dogs swimming in gin and all that. I’m going to use it as an opportunity to enthuse about some of my favourite Steampunk people, and to talk more broadly about things I love. Alongside this, there will be a fair amount of the usual blog mix as well.

Steampunk is something serious people find it hard to take seriously. It’s all about dressing up and messing about and pretending – not the proper business of reasonable adults. I’ve watched people sneer about Steampunk fiction whilst being perfectly willing to write one if they think there’s money in it. The thing is that Steampunk *is* incredibly and deliberately silly, and this is a big part of why I like it.

Life is hard for too many of us, too much of the time. The rest of the world can be terrifying, and we’re bombarded every day with more misery than we can hope to make sense of. The news is largely soul destroying. Our governments want us to work harder for less while they strip away the services we depend on. Tired people spend their leisure time resting if they can. That makes us socially isolated. It reduces our support networks and sucks the joy out of life.

We all need things that make us happy. I like Steampunk in no small part because it’s a way of people getting together and hanging out and having a laugh. You don’t have to be wealthy – some disposable income tends to help, but that’s pretty much always the case. You don’t have to spend a fortune on gear. If you can get something out of a skip and add it to something from a charity shop and something that used to belong to your Gran – you’re on the right lines.

At events there’s an emphasis on participation. You don’t go to a Steampunk gathering to be a passive consumer, and I think that’s really important.

Of course it’s not all perfect – nothing involving people is all perfect because some people are assholes and the assholes get everywhere. But on the whole, it’s a good, friendly space providing a wondrous antidote to the rest of life.

Working ourselves to death, activist martyrdom, tireless campaigning, endless fighting for rights, all out full on everything I do today has to be about saving the world… is not a sustainable way to live. Emotional collapse is inevitable. If all you do is fight, then it’s not long before you lose sight of what you were fighting for. It’s hard to keep fighting when all you do is fight against what’s wrong. It is necessary to have something to fight for.

This is why we need frivolity. We need playful spaces and community spaces, and the scope to be peacefully human with each other. We need opportunities to be happy, to be carefree, to forget all the awful stuff in the world. It’s very hard work fixing anything from a place of being broken yourself. If all we do is worthy and purposeful, we lose part of what it is to be alive, because it is human to play. We need music, and dance and stories and theatre, we need silly hats and clothes we enjoy and things that make us laugh. We need to stop trying to buy these from commercial producers and start trying to find them collectively. Having a good time without buying it off the peg is just as revolutionary as anything else you can commit to.

More about Steampunk Hands Around The World here – https://airshipambassador.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/announce-hands-2016/


Not so quiet revolution

Last weekend, the British Labour party voted a passably left wing chap to be their new leader. This is pretty revolutionary, because for a long time now, the right wing media have been telling this country that only the right wing people are electable and only the right wing approach to economics is viable and acceptable. We’ve been painfully short of alternative stories. Yet in spite of the media barrage, Jeremy Corbyn is in.

It looks like his first challenge is going to be to sort out a party in which there are people who have no idea what the world ‘Labour’ might pertain to. We know this because a bunch of them just abstained from an important vote on worker’s rights. The majority of us either work for a living, or are, due to circumstances beyond our control, unable to do so (age being one of those factors). And yet we’ve been persuaded, and the political elite have persuaded themselves, that the right way to run a country is to squeeze the majority for the benefit of the few.

There are a lot of us. We the people who do not have our own jets, cannot afford to buy the time of politicians, do not have a media empire to put forth our views. We are the majority. To the tune of about 99%. What the right wing has cunningly done is set us up against each other, encouraging those who are working to hate those who are not working, those who have some to be afraid of those who have less. We of the 99% have more in common than not, and although we suffer to varying degrees in this system, most of us are not benefiting from it much. It’s difficult to see how this works when your daily news feed preaches a very different story.

I’m not a Labour supporter, but I like Jeremy Corbyn. I like him because he talks of solidarity, of working together and taking care of each other. He uses words like ‘decency’ and clearly knows what those words mean. He talks about people, shared humanity, common need. Rather than encouraging people to be afraid of each other, his words are about encouraging people to help each other. Culturally, this is a whole other thing.

I’m tired of the politics of fear. I’m tired of this constant flow of propaganda that tells us to cling tightly to what we have while looking around nervously in case someone wants to take it from us. It should be a matter of shame to have an excess when others are suffering. We need to stop obsessing about who ‘deserves’ help because this is designed to reinforce the idea that most people who are in trouble don’t deserve help. We need to look at who needs help, and then help them. We have the resources, we need the political will. Now at least we have a different set of stories in the mix and some political will. It’s a start.

I very much doubt I’ll be voting Labour any time soon, because I’m a committed member of the Green Party. What I will be doing though, is taking every opportunity to stand up for a different kind of world. Hope not hate. Help not resentment. Solidarity. Compassion. Working together to make things better for all of us. I believe we can do a good deal better than we are at the moment. I believe there are better ways of living, and after Jeremy Corbyn’s win at the weekend, I am cheered to realise that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who feel much the same way. Their party politics are neither here nor there. What matters is the culture shift, changing the political agenda, and challenging the toxic right wing stories of fear and institutionalised mean-spiritedness that we have at the moment.


Revolutions in thinking

I’m currently reading about the early fossil hunters – Mary Anning et al, and the huge shift in consciousness they caused. Until the 1800s, the Christian west had understood creation as perfect and unchanging. Awareness of extinct dinosaurs, mammoths and so forth brought into question the whole story. Why would God make things and then not keep them? A perfect God could not make imperfect creatures and have to give up on them! A perfect God would know exactly what he was doing from the start! Why would God make things and allow them to become extinct? It made no sense.

Taking on the implications of the past – that the Earth is older than the Bible suggests, that extinction happens, that things are created imperfectly and can change, that there is evolution, rocked the Victorian world. More than a hundred years on and there are still people who prefer any explanation for fossils but the most logical one. Everything we once thought we knew, was wrong. We went round similar cultural upheaval dealing with the idea that it isn’t a flat Earth, and the sun does not go around the Earth. We killed people as heretics over that, I believe. We struggled with recognising that people are people, no matter their skin colour and that we all evolved from ape-like ancestors.

It is worth looking at how in the past, we resisted new thinking. We fought against feminism and women getting the vote, insisting for decades that women are too silly to handle anything much. As with the folk who haven’t got to grips with evolution, sexism and racism still hold sway in some minds. Often the same minds. Every good idea, every moment of progress has been accompanied by fervent denial, ridicule of the new stuff, through to actually murdering people for daring to disagree. The first guy to translate the Bible into English died for that. We’re so frightened of having our old stories challenges that we kill to protect them rather than accept change, or new insight. That’s not a glowing endorsement of us as a species.

So we’ve spent decades adamant that climate change science isn’t real, and isn’t happening. We’re still having the same maddening debates about equality and tolerance on all fronts and there are still people who think God put the dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith. Assuming we get our acts together and face up to the challenges of our times – climate change, pollution, poverty, resource allocation, our whole relationship with the natural world… Assuming we get that right and there are future humans who can look back, they will no doubt line us up with all the other idiots of history who refused to read the writing on the wall, and who preferred death to changing the story. The only difference between us and our reactionary ancestors, is that this time if we get it wrong, there may be no one in the future to look back at us in bemusement and wonder how on earth we failed to grasp the blindingly obvious.


Questions of worth

We live in a culture that values people based on their economic power. It is not the value of how that money was earned, or how it is deployed, but the money itself. This is how we are able to entirely respect people whose wealth came to them by chance – via inheritance, by gambling, by using money to make money out of other people’s money. To make a fortune from share dividends is perfectly socially acceptable. Never mind that the pressure to create dividends pushes down wages and quality in order to cream off a layer, and undermines scope for re-investment. Never mind that the desire to make money at all costs is trashing the planet.
If we valued people in terms of the actual contribution they make to society, we might be able to look at whether the massively rich are as useful as they claim to be. We are told that affluence trickles down (I see Smaug on his pile of gold jealously watching the one coin bounce away). We are told that the wealthy create jobs and affluence for others. Only if we stop assuming this to be a truth and start looking at it will we be able to see whether or not its the case, but I have my suspicions. The gap between richest and poorest is growing all the time. If wealthy people were good for us all, surely we should all be gaining materially at about the same pace, not seeing a widening gap?
Money, as economist Molly Scott Cato has been pointing out a lot recently, is a social contract. It is about trust, and the means to move resources around in a community. Money exists to get things done, and can be very useful indeed in this regard. We can use it to measure how much we value something, and it saves having to get the right number of chickens when you fancy a new rug. Money as an expression of exchange can be a great social enabler on many levels.
On those terms, valuing a person in relation to their money makes sense. They are worth what the people around will pay for the things they make or the things they do. Money could therefore be expected to flow towards a person who is really useful and highly valued. However, what we’ve been able to do as a culture, is manufacture scarcity. When things are hard to get, exclusive, or rare, their value goes up. The person who can control the flow of resources can therefore create extra wealth. Not by adding more value to the world, but by artificially pushing up the cost. Keeping land vacant can be a way of pushing up land prices to make more money off it, for example.
We have the resources to feed, clothe, educate and power everyone, modestly. However, that doesn’t allow a minority to stockpile wealth. The desire for wealth has broken the trust-contract that money was created to represent. We don’t move things around fairly, and we push up the prices to make profits, and squeeze down wages, and that is having the effect of starving cash flows in our economies. We need to look very hard at our system that allows people to make money by moving money about, rather than by doing something useful. If we valued what people contribute a bit more, and valued their bank balances a bit less, we might have a cultural revolution on our hands, quietly and with no bloodshed.

Laundry for the revolution

If we take the solution of moving back to hand-washing as the greener solution, what happens? We use less water, less electricity and we have to use milder chemicals or we trash our hands. That’s a step down in terms of environmental impact. I’ve been doing this for a while. There are three of us, and none of us has continence issues, which makes it viable.

I was laundering this morning, thinking about how much time it takes. If I had some busy, well paid, high powered job it would be tempting to hire someone else to do the scrubbing for me. Someone less busy whose time is worth less money than mine. This is the great British solution to energy and work – servants. Take away the labour saving devices, and paying someone else to do it for you is the next logical step. Actually that’s not very comfortable.

Once you start paying people to be substitute washing machines, you’re going to start thinking of them as an underclass. These are the folk destined for drudgery, for the work that is beneath you. Thus we create our untouchables. The most essential work is often the least well paid and the least respected. Where would we be without waste collectors and toilet cleaners? What assumptions do we hold about the people who end up with those jobs?

Historically there’s been a lot of gender politics here, too. Laundry has been women’s work. It is women’s quality of life and freedom of time that has been most affected by labour saving devices in the home. It is still the case that women do the bulk of the domestic work, even where both partners also have employed jobs. Take away the washing machines, and there’s every reason to think this trend would continue, forcing women back into unpaid, time consuming, exhausting work.

Turning the clock back is not the answer to any of our modern issues. There is simply too great a risk that you bring back the ills that went alongside the previous solution, rather than making actual progress. In the case of laundry, the attendant ills are gender disparity and class divide. That’s a hefty risk to run with the issue of who is sorting out the underwear.

The way forward has to be about getting smarter, more efficient, more joined up in our thinking. I want a washing machine. I want it powered by a static bicycle. Currently people drive to gyms in order to use static bikes where nothing is done with that energy. I want places were static bikes sit next to washing machines and spin driers. Slow pedalling for the less athletic, while your hyper-fit gym bunnies run the spin driers. More fun and efficient than scrubbing by hand, no underclass and no gender divisions.

But for now I’ve got some wringing out to do.

 

(Anyone worried that I am living in a patriarchal scenario that means I get an unfair share of the domestics, I should mention that Tom does all the toilet and cat litter related stuff, it is an entirely workable trade-off!)