‘F’ stands for Feudalism, Fascism and Fossil Fuels
RIP almost 1,500 human beings so far in the Pakistan floods. Each of these people a beloved of someone. Each of these people mattering as much as anyone.
“We have waged war on nature and nature is striking back in a devastating way. Today in Pakistan, tomorrow in any of your countries” Antonio Guterres
We are doing nothing to end a system profiting the empathy-shorn rich, and devastating all.
Each life matters.
It matters no less because it was lost in wealth or lost to flooding.
I get that the death of someone in public life is in a sense a death shared, a reminder of all our mortality. We can see in someone who has lived healthily to old age echoes of our own relations who have, or haven’t, lived so long. We can feel empathy.
I get that Elizabeth Windsor was born in the same year as my mother, that her life has spanned a period that took in the war against fascism, the post-war decolonial and welfare state push for equality and fairness, and then the ever more rapid descent into a pre-great depression kind of world where corporations act like gangsters, and gangsters seem to rule the world.
I get that those who are deeply touched by her death want to grieve, and I am happy for them to do so. I don’t get the imposition of the obligation to grieve on everyone else, as if we should grieve to order.
Elizabeth Windsor’s life matters, as does everyone’s. Elizabeth’s life matters no more and no less than my mother’s dearest friend who died a few weeks ago.
I don’t expect my mother’s dearest friend to be grieved by those who don’t know her, nor I to grieve the death of someone I don’t know – unless it is to grieve for a life not well lived, or a life brought to an unjust end.
Surely it is better to let each family and friend mourn their loved one, and feel their grief so it can transmute? Surely it’s better not to have to perform for others or impose on others?
Because what is that imposition? What is this performance?
Why are those close to the person who has died not given the space to feel their feelings and develop their humanity?
Why the outpouring of stories that suggest Elizabeth was actually a human being, and could be warm and friendly? Why are these stories told as if it is surprising?
Do stories of ordinary human kindness by a reigning monarch seem miraculous because they are against the grain of a role (and a system) that rewards numbness, rather than nurtures empathy? Against the grain of how her life was actually lived?
I can grieve for my mother’s dearest friend, I can celebrate her, because I knew her all my life and was meeting with her to the last weeks of her life. But to be asked to grieve for another woman of similar age who I have never met is strange.
It feels like there is something else going on.
These people who rule us, who take a vastly disproportionate share of our common wealth (making so many other people homeless and destitute in the process) – am I supposed to salute and grieve them, rather than challenge the system that makes them rich and others poor?
When we seek for signs of humanity in those who rule us, is this a way of trying to treat them as having equal worth, despite the devastating harm a system of exceptional wealth is wrecking on us all? And wrecking especially and immediately on those on the front line of wealth-induced poverty, war, discrimination and climate change?
We all die. We all live. Those are the two reassurances.
And whatever our beliefs about an afterlife, there is a certainty that our bodies nurture the soil, our atoms return to the cycle, the cycle continues.
Or there has been that certainty, until now.
Now there is huge uncertainty, anxiety, depression, amongst the young:
Climate scientist Dr Joëlle Gergis writes that
“Close to half of the young people they interviewed said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning. Three-quarters feel the future is frightening, with over half believing that “humanity is doomed”. Many fear that the things they value the most will be destroyed. Close to two-thirds of young people feel like their government is failing them and betraying future generations. They confessed that significant emotional distress sometimes affected their ability to function. The top three words used to describe their response were “sad”, “afraid” and “anxious”, with about 40% of people reporting feeling despair, grief or depressed.”
And such feelings are hardly surprising. I was in tears on Saturday reading a moving article – ‘Watching the world burn’ – on climate change that includes this blunt assessment:
“Beyond a certain threshold – and no one knows exactly where that is – the planet itself will significantly boost warming and release large stores of carbon that will overwhelm our already belaboured efforts to slow and eventually stop human emissions. In the meantime, we are rapidly destroying Earth’s life-support systems. Oceans, forests and soils are straining to maintain the steady-state conditions that have made this such a hospitable place for our species over the last 11,000 years, and could abruptly change course and race toward a new “hothouse” equilibrium as has happened in the past, warn the big-picture scientists.”
So, surely we need to focus on loving and living in the present, and on how to end an inhumane system hell-bent on destroying humanity’s life/ death cycle?
How do we turn away from the displacement this system invites us to get lost in? Displacement that also shores up emotional adherence to the same system that is destroying us all?
Do our real problems – and the possibility of finding a path out – get eclipsed by this kind of mega-media celebrity event? Is that what these events are for? Not necessarily deliberately, not necessarily consciously, but actually, obviously, definitely.
And I’m not criticising anyone whose life’s pathway means they interact with real people in these places. I am grateful for those – and I have met many – who play roles in the establishment but do so in a way where they are trying their best to secure humane outcomes for others.
But when it comes to this far more fundamental struggle, do we have any power or are we powerless?
Do we feel powerless when we dare to look at the enormity of the devastation?
Do we feel less powerless when we do that, and also know we have choices and could choose differently (instead of letting our claimed powerlessness excuse our inaction)?
Such events as this monarchistic frenzy carry all the emotions of sport (and I know that well, because I can enjoy sport as much as the next person) but this mass spectacle’s effect (intended or otherwise) seems to be to stop those with power from feeling the devastation the system is wrecking (a system they are persuaded they are benefiting from).
It also stops those who are being wrecked from speaking out and demanding, or – better – making, the changes needed. Instead, as Connor Beaton pointed out: “It is never the right time to speak about abolishing the monarchy, it’s always offensive, it’s always disgraceful” to raise such issues.
These events can confuse into silence or apathy. They can lead us to live vicariously rather than actually, allowing us to project all sorts of feeling towards distant others that we have not let ourselves feel towards those closest to us, while doing the emotional labour of investing in and shoring up this traumatising system.
There is so little space for democracy as our media gets gobbled up by a few billionaires who want no change except in the direction of their profits.
We vote every few years under their ever-increasing control of the narrative, but apart from that we have very little experience of democracy – of treating each other as equal participants in decision making. The economic sphere is almost totally an autocracy, and even schools – however caring the individual teacher – are designed in a way such that we get used to having to have one person in charge to make it safe, and no wonder the playground is then chaotic and dangerous because we learn nothing of negotiating as equals with others.
No wonder Sweden is now tipping towards the far right. No wonder people turn towards demagogues like Trump or Modi or Putin or Johnson – persuaded that an autocratic ruler might deliver what our ‘democratic’ rulers have failed to deliver in a system that has perpetuated the wealth of a few at everyone else’s expense.
If the liberal/ democratic/ left governments are always too timid to take on the corporations, and if we are too timid to retake liberal/ democratic/ left parties, then they just end up with good intentions but the same evil outcomes, and those suffering are persuaded by the autocratic-owned press to instead back the autocrats.
And of course, what always happens is the autocrats make things a million times worse, and steal so much more wealth.
In the UK’s billionaire-backed-Brexit, in the covid period public money has been poured into inept conservative-connected companies, and now the new UK government’s energy minister (a climate denier, Jacob Reece Mogg), under cover of other media events, tears up their election promises and aims to extract every last ounce of oil from the North Sea, pouring oil on the fire that rages in the basement where most folk live and struggle. (Is he hoping he is dead before the fire reaches the palatial top floor where he lives? It will reach him all the quicker if we let him make this happen.)
Here in the UK, energy bills soar so much higher than elsewhere such as in Germany (which is far more dependent on Russian gas than we are) while the big fossil fuel corporations receive billions from taxpayers to fund the price guarantee rate. As Martin Lewis (or ‘Money Saving Expert’) says:
“It’s expensive and will add billions to government debt. The guarantee’s big benefit is it reduces everyone’s future costs – yet that’s also its problem, as it’s not targeted at those who need it most. Plus, it means those with the biggest bills (often the wealthiest) gain the most.”
The guarantee is a guarantee to fossil fuel companies that the difference between what they want to charge the companies delivering fuel to our homes, and the amount these billionaire fossil fuel suppliers can charge will be paid by the rest of us from ‘government money’ to the fossil fuel lobby as the government repays its election backers.
The poor become destitute, and the ‘just about managing’ become poor.
Instead of pouring more oil and gas into leak drafty homes, the same billions in subsidy we are paying fossil fuel companies could have been used to insulate all homes in the country – as Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion have been calling for – so that energy bills would be way lower, carbon emissions would be way lower, and – of course – profits and dividends for fossil fuel corporations, and the amount of money they can use to buy off politicians, would be way lower.
The senior civil servant in the Treasury – a very conservative figure – has been sacked because he doesn’t utterly tow the delusional government line. This is the most recent in a long series of moves to close down independence that intensified when Murdoch was encouraged by Thatcher to take over a lion’s share of the press, continued when Blair’s government oversaw the sacking of the then BBC director general – Greg Dyke – for allowing questioning of Blair’s (untrue) “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” claim, and has continued a pace since.
Maybe there was a 25–year post-World-War-II period when there was a better balance of power, and greater equality. Maybe this was a result of an insistence on more equality by those who fought and defeated fascism, and in that defeating demonstrated that society could side with the people rather than the corporate and aristocratic powers who flirted with or were fascists.
Fascism is slipping back into the space where democracy is being squeezed out.
Maybe it is slipping back in because we are not showing the courage our parents showed in fighting fascism before. And no wonder, no one wants to fight fascism. No one wants to go to war. Anybody with any sense just wants to keep their heads down and live a good caring life and not get tangled in all the power nonsense.
You only fight a war when you have no choice.
Perhaps we can now see that we have no choice.
Perhaps we can now see that we should have chosen to fight this war way earlier.
We can also see that this is a war we can only win if we are unwaveringly honest about how caught we all are in this traumatising system, and are unwaveringly insistent that everyone – even the billionaires – are welcome to recover their humanity. The cost of that recovery being to relinquish the power and wealth that numbs, and to recognise and restore the well-being of all, and so enable us to become available to relationships of empathy, honesty and mutual care.
Chile was utterly traumatised for 40 years after the fascist overthrow of Allende, and the cruel violence, torture and disappearances that followed.
They finally managed to rebel against that past when school kids jumped the turnstiles in Santiago, refusing to pay the increased fares on the underground, sparking resistance and rebellion and peoples assemblies, leading to a constitutional assembly that put forward a transformational constitution, that was then shot down earlier this month in a referendum where the autocrats poured their billions into disinformation.
Chile showed – just as the Arab Spring and so many other places have shown – that people can rise against this traumatising dehumanising ‘profit’-driven system. A system where inheritance drives inequality, and where a supposed ‘meritocratic democracy’ masks iron inequalities. But unless we are organising to shake off this system from so many Lilliputian directions at the same time, they can always move their resources around to crush any flowering of hope.
Maybe we need to get agile, need to get human, need to ensure that the way we approach such a flowering is delightful and rejuvenating and truth-telling, if we are to stand a chance of ensuring success (meaning life) for all.
Maybe the strategies for doing this have to be nuanced.
Maybe there are subtleties in each moment of such a flowering.
There is likely to be an upsurge in coldness, illness, deaths and public fury as the winter approaches. There is the need to come together to insist on replacing a system that is taking us all to our deaths. At the same time, there is a need to bring the centre ground with us, not by making what we are saying more timid, so it is more acceptable, but making it more inspiring and welcoming. There are moments when we need to be able to move swiftly to welcome the ‘mainstream’ (the well-meaning but status quo-leaning) folk to join us.
If you have read this far then you may be interested in joining those of us in ‘Grassroots to Global’ for an online ‘Reworlding’ event on Saturday 1st October where we’ll be hearing from those who are seeking to use assemblies to transform their/ our worlds. We’ll be hearing from those in:
- East Africa – where people from 10 communities across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are coming together to challenge the colonial conservation approach that is destroying their ways of life (12.30-14.30 BST).
- Chile – where a social outburst led to a constitutional process from street assemblies to a Constitutional Assembly whose new hope-filled constitution was rejected in September’s ‘referendum of disinformation’ (15.00-17.00 BST).
- Scotland – where we experienced the strength of citizens and the weakness of what citizens were allowed to consider in government-run citizens assemblies, and where we are asking whether we can use local assembly processes to bring communities together across different emergencies, possibly towards a citizen-led national assembly in 2024 (17.30-19.30 BST).
Register here: https://www.globalassembly.net/reworlding-2022