Service and Resilience (and having a fuck load more fun)

Service and Resilience (and having a fuck load more fun)
Image: Kazimir Malevich, Black Square ("It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins"), 1915, oil on linen.

On the day of the funeral of the Queen, I would like to write about these two values. The two words have come up many times over the past ten days in the media as national values which were embodied in the life of the Queen. We know of course that this is yet another malicious move by the Establishment to do its usual “do as I say not as I do” routine on the public. They can behave with appalling selfishness and greed while the rest of us need to work hard for them, and “do our bit”. However, insomuch as the Queen embodied these values, the reasons for it are more to do with the time of her youth in the 1940s, than anything to do with the monarchy itself. The Second World War was a now-forgotten time of extreme hardship when “doing your bit” was a matter of life and death. There was no time for selfishness. My parents were teenagers during the war and lived through the rationing and collective sacrifices of that time. There was never any waste in our household, I could not leave the table unless I had eaten everything on my plate. Their worldview was rooted in “doing the right thing for society”. They were embedded in a culture of service because that is all they had known.

Now, like just about everything else, the notions of service and resilience have been hollowed out - noted talking points, name-checked, virtue signalled. This is reflected as much on the Left as on the Right. What was called the radical left when I was growing up and into the 1980s was an eclectic bunch of exciting ideas about human-scale collectivism – co-operatives, mutual aid, and social anarchism where the focus was not on the self but on serving an inspiring egalitarian vision of community. I learnt such ideas from old mid-century anarchists and socialists like Colin Ward (who I met), George Herbert Mead, and Eric Fromm (check them out). They would have been sickened by how the term “radical left” has been appropriated by the bourgeois puritans of the elite universities – obsessed with the constructed vulnerabilities of the individualised and atomised self. This is a completely reactionary inversion of the old radical ideas of resilience coming through service in a collective struggle for justice. I have spoken about this in other posts: the greatest undermining of the Left has not been from the opposition of the Right but from this insidious and perverse transformation of notions of ecstatic and fearless transgressive action into the moralising of individual behaviour and opinion. Collective action that creates real power – meaning civil resistance – was replaced by mind-numbingly ineffectual marches and rallies, and social media “messaging”. This new “radical left” became the primary means through which the neo-liberal hegemony emasculated effective resistance.

However, all this is changing and will change beyond recognition in the next decade. The key significance of Extinction Rebellion was as much about the rediscovery of democratic collective confrontation with the regime, as it was about the coming of ecological collapse. Of course, the two go together. It lost its battle with the radical left as the guilt-tripping assaults forced its networks to revert to virtue signalling, nasal gazing, and performative protest for fear of “causing harm”. But the war is going to be won. A key reason for the success of Insulate Britain, which then developed into Just Stop Oil, is the way the new paradigm of “resilience through service” has been maintained by the core group which proactively promotes this new culture. Not perfectly of course – not by any means – but it is a good case study of how collective energies can be effectively organised when leadership enables us to escape from the cynical self-serving narcissism of conventional “activism”, rooted in the now collapsing neo-liberal era.

A New Collectivism is now structurally inevitable: on the level of national policy (note the massive state support on energy bills), on the level of political organisation, as in the case of JSO, and on the level of individual values – a shift in focus from “what I can get” to what “what I can give”. This is the rapidly emerging social reality as we face the ever greater social stresses of climate breakdown, and the hubris of the billionaire elites.

The present generation of young people (at least those in the middle class) will be the last generation to be captured by the dismal miseries of individualist bourgeois morality. Those of us who are over fifty and remember the collective cultures of this country before they were smashed by Thatcherism must challenge and support young people as they transition to the new world of service and resilience. The fetishization of youth has been a disaster (“you can’t tell them what to do”). They need tough love engagement to learn a collective culture that will enable them to weather the storms coming down the line, and fingers crossed, navigate a humanised and socialised journey through them.

They will also have a fuck load more fun.

To contact civil resistance groups around the world:

The Climate Situation
is F*cked

Help me to get with the job of sorting it out.