Freedom, in Scotland and elsewhere, isn’t something that is given by governments or other authorities. It’s something that’s practiced. And not just in social movements or halls of power. It’s part of everyday life.
This month I respond to Davie Park’s comment on last month’s column:
Having only a tenuous grip on the idea(s) of anarchism / anarcho-syndicalism, it seems to me that the fundamental problem is that, whilst the capitalist system wouldn’t be undermined by even many thousands of people living an anarchist lifestyle, anarchism could be completely undermined by even just a few people whose primary motive is profit and personal enrichment.
Also, unrealistic as they may be, the dreams of the freedoms that huge personal wealth can bring sustains many of us in hard times. Nearly all of us play the game of ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ Asking people to give up on these dreams will be one tough job.
Thank you taking the time to share your thoughts! These are great questions which I’m sure many Bella Caledonia readers can relate to.
For many people on the Left, there is a belief in a capitalist system that should be smashed, undermined or at least reformed. And those who believe that capitalism is good and necessary are talking about how it has to change in order to maintain growth.
I’m coming from a different perspective from either of those. I want to question the belief that there is a capitalist system. Of course, there is a pattern of relationships characterised by belief in the legitimacy of debt, individualism, infinite growth and social inequality. We could call that pattern a system and say that it exists. We could then either support it, fight against it or try to reform it. But remember, the ‘it’ is an abstraction, an idea, a way of seeing things. It’s not the truth.
So I don’t invite people to be anarchic in order to undermine capitalism. I’m not overly worried about that particular fantasy. I invite a certain vitality that comes out of stillness, a love that comes from peace, an equality that comes from a recognition that we are all part of the same life. I welcome this into every relationship, with ourselves, our work, our intimate relationships, our economics, our politics, our ecology, with life itself.
And is this love really powerless in the face of ‘capitalism’? I don’t think so. Just look what happens when people get together and support each other, refusing to do what they think they are supposed to do and actually listening to what is right for them in that moment, listening to each other. We can be too quick to give credit to abstract forces (states, corporations) instead of noticing the ways in which people all the time are demonstrating that there are other ways to relate. Yes, control and greed happen. But there is so much more to life.
Is this really so fragile that it could be undermined by greed? Again, I don’t think so. In my experience, greed is fragile and love fundamental. Sure, people might create a beautifully anarchic event or community which does not last forever. Does love need to last forever in order to be real? We might well grieve the loss of particular spaces, particular relationships; that isn’t the same as undermining anarchy, or love, itself.
Nor do I ask people to give up their dreams of personal wealth. I have those fantasies. What would I do if I won the lottery? I don’t know. I do know that I would still face many of the same fears, anxieties and challenges that I do now. I’ve moved up and down the class system a bit in my life and see that money makes some things easier, but it certainly doesn’t bring the freedom it’s advertised to bring. I also notice that when I have selfish thoughts — how can I get ahead, how can I be ok, how can I experience pleasure? — well, I end up suffering all the more. My body and mind grow tight, clinging to desire. I miss seeing the vitality inherent in life. But when I see that I’m already ok, whatever I’m experiencing, there is a lightness, an openness, a joy in simply being alive. Like this, it’s much easier to connect with others, to cooperate, to sustain something very different from individualism.
So when you say the dreams of private wealth sustain people, I wonder. Perhaps the dreams distract them. I suspect what really sustains people is the warmth of human kindness. Don’t give up your dreams, but do question them. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the authority of your own experience. Are dreams of wealth really sustaining you? What is? Find that which sustains you and those around you and nurture it. You can call that process anarchism if you want. I don’t mind. The label isn’t important. The experience is what matters.
The official economy isn’t working that well for most of us. Rather than worry about that too much, let’s focus on what does work for us. Yes, our alternatives might not work out as we plan. Some of them may be destroyed by people caught up in selfishness. So part of our practice of developing alternatives, of making them sustainable as well as sustaining, is learning to notice selfishness in ourselves and letting it go. Again and again and again. Another part is inviting other people to notice for themselves to what extent a profit-centred existence works for them and for others. I don’t think it really serves anyone, even the chief executives of banks. But telling someone that won’t work — we all have to experience it for ourselves. I know for me, it’s very much an on going learning process.
Each of us can only ever start where we are at.