2007 - 2020

Play Loose

Emotional, psychological and political responses to the virus vary. Does it make you double-down and cling to everything you already “knew” all along?

Writing in The Vulture Jerry Saltz writes (‘The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One’):

“We need to play loose, loving, generous, being as creative and as unafraid as possible, adapting to change as it comes and not falling back on old, outmoded, mean, or inapplicable dogmas. We all want to go the distance for what we love. That distance has begun. Things are bleak, but batons will be and are already being passed to generations who will emerge on the other side of this who will have the brilliant chance to build a whole new art world. How long the interregnum lasts, I do not know. But on the other side, the survivors will always have the knowledges of what they learned about themselves as the angel of death walked among us.”

There’s a tension between this approach, which seems instinctively right, and the need to draw on political traditions and knowledge.

Certainly the right is doubling-down.

As Laurie Penny notes (‘This Is Not the Apocalypse You Were Looking For’):

” … late capitalism has always been a death cult. The tiny-minded incompetents in charge cannot handle a problem that can’t be fixed simply by sacrificing poor, vulnerable, and otherwise expendable individuals. Faced with a crisis they can’t solve with violence, they dithered and whined and wasted time that can and will be counted in corpses. There has been no vision, because these men never imagined the future beyond the image of themselves on top of the human heap, cast in gold. For weeks, the speeches from podiums have suggested that a certain amount of brutal death is a reasonable price for other people to pay to protect the current financial system.”

Leadership in the west has not been uniformly awful.

But last week public health experts from the University of Minnesota dismissed the White House models America is being presented with out of hand and said we’re looking at more than a million deaths from COVID-19 before the end of the year.

As Raw Story reports: “This is chaos on a scale we have never seen before. Much of the chaos is the responsibility of Donald Trump in his role as president of the United States. He actively denied the size and severity of the threat and failed to provide leadership when it counted. This went on for months. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Trump was crowing about “reopening” the economy by Easter. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the disease,” he said only last week. “We’ve never closed down the country for the flu. So you say to yourself, what is this all about?”

Our poor beleagured (and now hospitalised) Prime Minister was also famously upbeat.

Johnson told the public on March 19 that in twelve weeks we could “turn the tide” on coronavirus and eventually “send it packing”.

But its not just the right that is caught in an ideological straightjacket. The left is guilty of it too. As carla bergman and Nick Montgomery describe in ‘Joyful Militancy’ there is a problem too of that they call “rigid radicalism”:

“A major force that has contributed to rigid radicalism is rigid ideology, and its tendency to generate certainties and fixed answers that close off the potential for experimentation. Alongside the Marxist critique of capitalist ideology was an aspiration to replace it with a revolutionary anti-capitalist ideology. It was thought that revolution required a unified consciousness among proletarians: they needed to be taught that it was in their interests to overthrow capitalism. The revolutionary vanguard was tasked with developing and disseminating this ideology, and with everything in life subordinated to the goal of revolution, everyone and everything could be treated instrumentally, as a means to the seizure of state power and the end of capitalism.”

This doesn’t mean throw away political knowledge, it just means that your old set of assumptions might not be fit for purpose any more.

This is a crisis like never before and our response should be characterised by: a focus on what’s actually important; an openness to seeing opportunity and collaboration, even with unlikely characters; an ethic of kindness and solidarity; a putting away of needless feuds and as Saltz has it: “play loose, loving, generous, being as creative and as unafraid as possible.”

Admittedly this is not easy. In fear and anxiety we find myself reverting to old comfort zones – whether they be ideological or domestic. But this isn’t helpful in the present crisis.

 

 

Comments (7)

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  1. A. McNeil says:

    Changing email attempt…..

  2. Daniel Raphael says:

    I do wonder who, specifically, you had/have in mind when you wrote “It was thought that revolution required a unified consciousness among proletarians: they needed to be taught that it was in their interests to overthrow capitalism” and so on. It strongly suggests caricature, but knowing how fluent a writer you are, Mike, my guess is you had/have a likely plausible example, with specifics, in mind. The problem I have with it isn’t that what you wrote doesn’t fit any reality I know–I’ve been guilty of this sort of thing, in my own life (naturally, long ago and I’ve learned better, etc.) –but that it has a sort of “radioactive” effect on any sort of Marxist pedagogy.

    I’m currently reading The Great Refusal: Herbert Marcuse and Contemporary Social Movements, which is a series of essays that address various dimensions of consciousness, the seeming bifurcation of extant behavior vs the oppressiveness of “objective conditions,” etc. The key question of consciousness runs as the proverbial red thread throughout, as of course it must if you’re relating to Marcuse’s thinking. What I think we must *not* do is dispense with the idea of intellectuals as valid and necessary…and it is–pace your own intention in what you wrote–a very short and familiar step from despising the “vanguard” pretensions of whoever is talking down to the workers, to people who generally know stuff the rest of us don’t and probably got it from books, etc. So, again, without a more specifically targeted example, I offer caution about the “dissing” of understanding that some have and others don’t, and the sometimes fumbling attempts to share it with those who do not.

    I’ll add one extract from Lauren Langman’s essay in this book, From Great Refusals to Wars of Position: Marcuse, Gramsci, and Social Mobilization. She quotes Chris Hedges, someone I greatly esteem. Let his words close this comment:

    No revolt can succeed without professional revolutionists…[who] live outside the formal structures of society. They are financially insecure….They dedicate their lives to fomenting radical change. They do not invest energy in appealing to power to reform. They are prepared to break the law. They, more than others, recognize the fragility of the structures of authority. They are embraced by a vision that makes compromise impossible. Revolution is their full-time occupation. And no revolution is possible without them….Largely unseen by the wider society, they have severed themselves from the formal structures of power. They have formed collectives and nascent organizations dedicated to overthrowing the corporate state….All revolutionary upheavals are built by these entities.

    1. Paul McMillan says:

      Correct but all ‘revolutanaries’ (of either the left or right) have always required major upheaval (war, great recessions) in order for them to succeed otherwise they’d just spend their life in bedsits dreaming and reading Marx or Mein Kampf.

    2. Hi Daniel
      that quote wasn’t me it was me quoting carla bergman and Nick Montgomery in ‘Joyful Militancy’.

      Your right though I am seeing that from specific people/projects and recognise the sort of “rigid radicalism” they describe. Its the Marxist equivalent of biblical fundamentalism, sacred texts are poured over for the literal truth.

      1. Daniel Raphael says:

        Okies. I assumed when you quoted them, they were speaking for you…not an unreasonable assumption, but in this case you are wanting to have some kind of distance, as witness your pointing out that it is quotation.

        We are going to have revolution, but whether we make it or it is made, is the question. The time(s) of incremental paint-the-chairs-aboard-the-Titanic are passed.

  3. Kevin Hattie says:

    “It was thought that revolution required a unified consciousness among proletarians: they needed to be taught that it was in their interests to overthrow capitalism. The revolutionary vanguard was tasked with developing and disseminating this ideology, and with everything in life subordinated to the goal of revolution, everyone and everything could be treated instrumentally, as a means to the seizure of state power and the end of capitalism.”

    This excerpt hits upon something that has definitely troubled me as I attempt to educate myself politically. I think one of the best discussions I have come across on this issue was in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. If I remember (and understood) correctly, Freire thought that education shouldn’t be about the teacher having answers that he/she deposits in the student, as though they were vessels to be filled with knowledge. Rather, the educational process should be ‘problem-posing’ where a genuine dialogue is opened up and both teacher and student explore solutions together. It’s obviously much more complex than I’ve described, but the book certainly got me thinking a lot about how to engage with people who might not have had the same opportunities I’ve had to read up on stuff.

    1. Ian S says:

      That book was my thought too, and I completely recommend it to anyone who is interested. It describes different types of education, as indicated above. The type we have here (and elsewhere in the world, not just here) does not help people to think for themselves.

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