Love Life (November)
‘Love Life’ is Bella’s Agony Aunt column… because the personal is political and the ‘state we’re in’ is complicated. See here for more background.
I’ve been reading your column from the beginning and I still don’t get it. How does a relationship advice column help Scotland to become a free nation? We’re not just talking about helping ‘everyone live a little more freely, equally and lovingly’ here, we’re talking about independence. This is a political question, not just a personal problem.
Confused in Kirkaldy
Thank you for writing in. That’s a great question! My short answer is, it depends what you mean by freedom and independence.
Notice that numerous other former colonies of the Empire have gained formal independence. They have not necessarily become the bastions of freedom and equality which we might dream of. Indeed, some of them seem to have learned to imitate the confused notion at the root of Empire: that a good life comes from controlling others. Claim territory, extract wealth, defend borders. ‘Cause life, supposedly, is a competition: survival of the fittest. Formal independence doesn’t guarantee that Scotland will be a free nation. Unless we’re careful, it could become yet another nation that inhibits freedom.
I reckon Darwin’s theory got a bit twisted here in order to justify Empire. I think he meant that which fits well in the ecosystem survives. For Scotland to be a free nation which survives, it needs to fit into the world’s ecology. It also needs to be made up of parts which fit well together. Like nature does.
Do you know what a fractal is? It’s a pattern that looks pretty much the same whether you focus in zoom out. It’s also how natural systems self-organise. The curve of a beach, the branching of a tree, the forks of a river, or any other patterns in a healthy landscape look similar at different levels of detail. In a fractal, the parts fit well together.
The same applies to politics: the fine detail of everyday relationships looks similar to the bigger tapestry of national and international politics. War, for example, is not just in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s in Scotland, too. It’s in the ways people relate to each other, trying to be the fittest, the strongest, the richest, the most intelligent, the one who is right. This is individualism, not freedom.
Freedom, in my experience, is learning to live well together, to fit together. It’s not a war, or a state of control. It’s a loving relationship. A free Scotland might be a fractal democracy, made up of loving relationships at every level of detail, in every institution. This cannot be the simple product of an event, like formal independence, but an ongoing process in our everyday lives. And there’s no need to wait for someone else to do it. We’re all capable of love.
You might think this sounds idealistic. My point is precisely that it’s not about an idea of politics, it’s about the direct experience of relating to ourselves, to each other, to the land, to life itself. Whether dealing with a bureaucracy or a lover, we all appreciate being listened to. And there is something deeply satisfying in listening to others. As Bakunin put it, “[humans suffer] a nostalgia for which there is no remedy upon Earth except as is to be found in the enlightenment of the spirit — some ability to have a perceptive rather than an exploitative relationship with [their] fellow creatures.”
Don’t take my word for it, or Bakunin’s. Experiment for yourself. Listen to the authority of your own experience. How do you feel when you’re competing with others or trying to be right? Do you notice a certain tightness in your body and your mind? (I sure do!) And how do you feel when you’re offering your attention or your assistance to others, not because you want appreciation or reward, but simply because you sense there is a need?