The Revolution May or May Not Be Televised

ungbo Eredo in Nigeria are the remains of an ancient moat,
Dug 1000 years ago
20 metres wide, 70 down,
Round the remains of an ancient town
That’s 400 square miles around
400 square miles around
Please, please don’t believe me,
It was a documentary on BBC!
But we ain’t studyin’ history,
Too busy watching MTV
And MTV said wear platinum,
Now everybody wanna go and wear platinum,
And MTV said pop magnums,
Now everybody wanna go and pop magnums
If MTV said drink prune juice
You would start hearing that in tunes soon,
‘Hey! Today I wore my Cartier,
Is it now more important what I got to say?’
Oh and I drive a Mercedes by the way
So everybody listen to what I got to say
Huh, does that make you all happy?
Ahh but shit my head’s still nappy
Think for myself, still some mad at me
But on the mic ain’t not one bad as me
All of this here’s good for the rhymes
Put us in the same place at the same time
And it’s clear to everybody that I’m out of my mind
Some of these guys are runnin’ out of their rhymes
Clear to everybody that has got ears
I’m the guy that they just might fear
They wanna get near but they can’t have a peer
Ah dear I’m hard liquor you’re just like beer
Front on the kid for another five years
Come to my shows and some cry tears
It mean that much to em’, it’s a movement!
I don’t speak for myself but a unit,
Black, white, man, woman, anyone that respects truth we put in
Dudes are like dinner with no puddin’
Yeah you’re sweet but no substance puddin’
You could never ever be with a level on
Our songs get out played out there in Lebanon
We speak for the people properly
Not for the old fat guys in offices
And the girls love him, it ain’t fair
He can’t even be bothered to comb his hair
Anyway that’s enough kissin’ my own arse
Back to the more important task of being so shower
I got half the hood screaming “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER”
And I ain’t saying that will change rap
But I do know this for a fact
Right now there’s a yout’ on your block
With his hands on his balls, face screwed up
Swear he don’t care, don’t give a fuck
That he won’t let nobody caught his block
But the words go in
Open your shackles
Because once that’s happened there’s no going back
Once you start to see what is really happening
Who the enemy you should be attackin’ is
Stuck on the block, READ, READ!
Sittin’ in the box, READ, READ!
Don’t let them say what you can achieve
Cos when people are enslaved
One of the first things they do is stop them reading.
Cos’ it is well understood that intelligent people will take their freedom
Cos’ if we knew our power we would understand that we can’t be held down
If we knew our power, we would not elevate not one of these clowns
If we knew our power, we wouldn’t get arrogant when we get two pennies
If we knew our power, we would see what everybody sees, that we’re rich already!

Recently I listened to these lyrics from Akala’s “Fire in the Booth” realising that this young artist has his finger on the problems of self-empowerment today in the UK. But then these problems of poverty, communal and individual empowerment, and political action are commonly seen in countries where the welfare state is seemingly “functional”. I remember my first months living in Canada shocked by the sheer numbers of teenagers and twenty-somethings living off state welfare, a scene almost impossible to witness in the United States. Canada and the UK share an embarrassing heritage of keeping people addicted to state welfare which ensures a hermetically sealed class system which keeps the poor suckling at the tit of the state, maintains the impossibility of self-empowerment for these people while likewise ensuring the wealth of the upper classes of society. The elephant in the room during these LSX Occupation is dual: it is not only the dearth of corruption by the elite of this country, but it is also that of the poor who are left in an impossible situation with no alternatives: to continue in the dependency model which will ensure their perpetual impoverishment or to starve to death with no other structures being put forth. Today is the day to protest tuition fees in this country where prior to 1998 tuition did not exist, yet the student protests in November resulted in the typical traffic shutdown, the predictable police intimidation, the targeting of protestors wearing masks and a general populace who watched this all from their televisions. People complain about the dangers posed by Gordon Brown’s government but complaining seems to be what people do best. The more and more the NHS and education are under attack the biggest changes I notice are that the tents at St. Paul’s slightly shift position. People are keen to attack unidirectionally the lack of Vodafone’s taxpaying this year (a reasonable lament of course), but few are apt to analyse their own habits which keep the likes of these massive corporations in business.

This is a piece about personal transparency and self-help, if you will pardon this expression. One of the ironies about self-help books is that I often find the readers of these books the reasons why such books were made. Last year I knew a woman who read serially Living in the Now who did nothing but plan her Christmas holidays (each year obligatorily in the same place) in advance, who was transfixed with the idea of only repeating her childhood through rigid rules and planning. Recently I knew another person who read a book entitled Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You? only to learn that in fact she was very much another person who was not only intractably linked to the idea she maintained in her head of who she was (and the reality is always somewhere else), but who also imposed that others give up not just parts of themselves but pretty much their lives in the service of this person’s search for her own self. So I can fairly say that in my experience self-helps books often serve to alleviate the full force of oppression that many people do bring into society and interpersonal relationships by allowing them to project onto the outside world their neuroses. Is this such a rare manifestation, that of denial? I think life has shown me heretofore that indeed rare is the individual who can honestly speak her flaws, reveal her true nature not just as she sees it but as her actions demonstrate. So I offer this article as a piece of self-help for those who have difficulty with transparency and who might mistake me for their therapist.

In recent months I have had several individuals have crises in my presence. I don’t know if they feel comfortable acting out or if I am just that kind of character that looks like I can bounce back from certain behavioural manifestations. At first I was troubled that these individuals chose me as their point of “revelation”, but then I came to the realisation that this tour de force performance is part of a ethno-psychoanalytic manifestation that perhaps needs the audience to witness. As anthropologist I fit perfectly into their notion of the spectator and thusly I witnessed some crises of conscience surrounding not only the recent events of Occupy Wall Street and LSX, but these individuals’ inability to, as Jean Paul Sartre would say, “live in good faith”.

Here are some recent incidents a Weltschmerz, a word I co-opt and yet pervert from Jean-Paul, late 18th and early 19th century German novelist who coined this term to delineate the pain that one experiences when the physical and the mental realities of the mind are not met.

Person 1 flipped out after the so-called “riots” (I prefer the word manifestation) in North London this summer when any sort of analysis thereof was posited in discussion. Any critique of the situation that turned towards a need to rethink the social welfare state was met with, “But I grew up in council housing,” as if anyone were suggesting to dismantle council housing. To the contrary, many people interjected the need to create more housing–especially for those who are single and have the hardest time making ends meet. But with Person 1  all discussions related to a need to rethink social dependency on the stae or how to live independently of the Sainsbury’s and Tescos of the world resulted in expressions of hopelessness and anger directed at anyone who would dare suggest there are alternatives.  I reminded my interlocutor there are ways to resist political and economic hegemony and it is up to the people to enact these changes: stop buying at these shops, begin eating ethically (whole foods) and cooking, eat out only at independently run restaurants/café, buy ethically made and second-hand clothes, ride a bicycle, get an allotment to grow one’s food, get involved with alternative markets (ie. the People’s Supermarket), stop buying junk, stop giving into holiday gift buying, and I went on to name ways in which this person could change her habits in order to inform and even corrode certain modalities within the structure of capitalism. Indeed if we all make changes in our habits these super corporations will have less and less to profit. It is that simple. Yet Person 1 deferred to parents with children saying it was harder for them to live ethically and pretty much every idea that would involve her changing her own behaviour was eschewed in favour of yet another reason why this is just “difficult”. In response to this I gave numerous examples of spaces that do exist for parents to exchange and give away baby clothes for free, that the child benefits in the UK certainly make this process of buying ethically easier.   I gave gave numerous examples as to how processed or preprepared food–even when sold in a health food store–simply costs more than making food from whole foods. But for Person 1 this only led to her growing angry to the point of insults insisting nothing could be done.

When I criticised the fact that many of my friends in their 20s and 30s are facing homelessness in London as their salaries just over ₤20,000 prohibit them from council housing and yet they can barely afford to survive in the city, Person 2 just shrugged her shoulders and said minimum wage should be higher. Conceding that of course this is part of the problem but another part of the problem is an institutional focus on people who reproduce in lieu of accommodating all people with housing needs in a fair and ordered manner, citing that two of my friends were told that if they had a child or were homosexual the council could then help them. Person 2 grew viscerally angry by my critique of the social housing situation in London claiming that I was advocating for a Tory like erasure of social services, something that I simply do not advocate. When I rephrased and made clear that what I notice in London especially is that housing privileges and unemployment benefits are focussed on those with children such that adults who are childless are often struggling to survive in London.  I stated that it did not seem fair that so many people are elided by a system whilst they pass their twenties, thirties and beyond living in conditions that–were they to have child–would be considered unacceptable.  I also pointed out many abuses of social services.  I mentioned a discussion with some women who raised their children in Camden who told me of their struggles to raise their children as these women worked full-time whilst their neighbours made more money by not working (telling these women that they were “fools” to work instead of living on the dole) and I referred to a solicitor I know in Brixton who lives in council housing despite the fact that her finances have changed (since becoming a solicitor) and yet she pays practically no rent. I critiqued the social welfare state in its current state because it is clear that in London if you have a job and no children you will struggle to survive while conversely those with children have traditionally received more benefits in the form of housing and other financial offerings. Person 2 said, “I don’t care who abuses the system” saying that the problem was merely that of large corporations and that the state should take care of everyone regardless of their abuses of the system. Then later in the brunch in discussing her own business, she told me how she had a large business with many full-time employees. She had problems with them (ie. not showing up for work, lateness, etc) and so she got rid of everyone and is now using free-lance staff. I was puzzled by this champagne socialism–on the one hand Person 2 viewed the state as a structure which ought to look out for the needs of all, not verify every few years that the benefits are still needed, and allow people to claim benefits regardless of need, yet in her own business model, she adopted a quite capitalistic approach: by using free-lancers these individuals would only be paid for the work they performed, for the time they worked. There are no sick days, no tardiness in Person 2′s socialist state, yet this very same person was quick to be enraged when I suggested that we cannot simply ignore many in the Tory Party who claim that entitlement is a social problem amongst those individuals who are able-bodied and yet claim benefits, the many youth who simply claim there are no jobs whilst daily the many Spanish, Italian and Polish immigrants mostly with university education are finding employment, albeit at a Pret A Manger or Tescos. There is a crisis of consciousness in the UK and it is not just coming from the upper class.

Person 3 is a retired teacher of sorts. I say retired because I cannot imagine stopping work in my forties to return back home to buy properties to rent out in order not to work. I met Person 3 while filming at St Paul’s about six weeks ago. Recently this person and I were walking down the High Street and he mentioned how everyone was a slave. I turned to him and asked what he meant–”You know wage slave”. I said I did not find “slave” and “wage slave” interchangeable nominations and that I found it offensive–I have known slaves in my lifetime and people working on the High Street are hardly slaves. Now to put this discussion into context we must step back several hours where this man had been complaining non-stop about how he wants to leave the UK, how he was oppressed by “the system” and how he had no choices. I did a double-take as this man represents one of the wealthier people I know. He owns about one million pounds in property, has not worked for money in fifteen years, lives off earnings from his renters and in many respects represents a huge chunk of the housing crisis in the UK. Yet he claimed to live “outside society”, he wanted me to see him as some sort of rebel, anti-capitalist and non-conformist when all of his actions were nothing but conformist, capitalist and given his rhetoric, deeply hypocritical. I told him my honest answer to his questions–and he insisted on discussing this for about six hours straight. Nothing I said satisfied him as he claimed he needed me to “respect” his choices. I reminded him that I was neither his priest nor therapist and it sounded like he needed to come to terms with his need for respect, and more so he needed to untangle the hypocrisies that years of living as a capitalist with the rhetoric of a Marxist had created. His actions and words were clearly antithetical and he came to me in his moment of need for approval and he could not see that having bought property to rent for his salary is one of the oldest capitalist practices in existence. I made it clear that I did not judge his making money in this way, but clearly he was not going to coerce me into agreeing with him that this armchair socialist was doing anything differently than Vodafone which did not pay £6 billion in taxes last year. Certainly the numbers are vastly divergent but the ethos is the same: “thinking about number one”. I suggested this man that instead of running off to a Buddhist retreat in China, that he work within his community to help the elderly, the handicapped or any disenfranchised. He repeated that he was not part of society as he handpicked that which he liked about capitalism (the money) and that which he disliked about it (the social problems). I was witnessing a want-to-be Buddhist in the throes of a crise de conscience and my role seemed to be that of the secular “priest”, a role I certainly refused.

These are three different conversations taking place over the past months which share one common thread:  my interlocutors’ actions diametrically opposed their words.  This sort of crisis is not uncommon in late capitalist societies wherein we can buy a pair of trainers and in our minds we are engaging in a zen-like experience or wherein buying a holiday card invokes the rhetoric of helping starving children in another “third world” country. Certainly there are better ways of being conscious consumers and even–dare I say–mechanisms for avoiding most types of consumerism.  These and other discussions at the site of the LSX demonstrations fused together much of the entitlement I felt from many people in this country–an entitlement melded very closely with an inability to critique the self.   As much as I can advocate for Vodafone to pay its taxes, I cannot in good faith do this whilst people show up at St Paul’s with Sainsbury’s bags in hand or whilst people refuse to contribute to the work that needs to be done on site (many a protestor has reported to me how many of those in Tent City do not help out in any way with the chores of sanitation, kitchen and other maintenance duties).  I also find it difficult to hold a serious discussion with people in and around the manifestation at St Paul’s Cathedral when the majority hold as equally a monolithic view of the world as many of the so-called elite whom they criticise. The answers to our socio-economic problems lie not in turning on its head all social order and blame but rather in creating dialogues that can establish a direction by which each and every one of us can in our quotidian lives make changes.

There must be a point when this social collaboration against capitalism begins to take form and meaning and whereby this form and meaning is not only that of political and social rhetoric but that of action. More pointedly, this action must be taken on by all and not by the few tireless workers who keep up the facade whiles the other urinate on the steps of St Paul’s discarding their beer cans for others to clear up. Like charity, revolution begins at home and I encourage all to reflect upon their habits as consumers and as activists. We can change the way our society functions if we become that changing catalyst and if we begin to acknowledge that we cannot advocate for social housing and then whilst we occupy a council flat buy it as an ex-council property.  We need to look at our own hypocrisies and understand that if we undertake the posture of a landlord we must think how to be an ethical landlord and charge a fair rent rather than hike the rent 60% for Olympic tourism renters tossing out four adults on their arses.  We need to understand that we cannot insist that the state take care of its own and then run our businesses as if we are Donald Trump and our employees our “apprentices”.  There is a clear disconnect happening in and around the LSX Occupation and I am deeply troubled.  I find myself wanting to disassociate myself from this occupation because it is no longer an occupation–it is indeed a postmodern installation piece on alternative sites.  Person 3 loved that you could get free meals and coffee in the tents at St Paul’s but he has never spent a night freezing under the rain.  Person 2 loves to defend social welfare states and has not participated in one march for tuition remission in this country.  Person 1 loves to affiliate herself with her roots as a product of council flats, but her own mother purchased the very flat which will now be denied to others in need, like my friends facing imminent homelessness.

So I think it is time that we spend this holiday season giving to ourselves in the form of a social meditation and here are a few suggestions:

1. Stop all purchases at chain operations like Sainsbury’s, Pret A Manger, most every shop on Oxford Street;
2. Boycott holiday gift shopping–if you really want to celebrate the holidays write a poem, sing a song, dance a dance, and for many in this somatically problematic period of our history lose weight;
3. Volunteer on a weekly basis throughout the year (not just at Christmastime) with a local organisation or take it upon yourself to cook for that elderly neighbour;
4. Attend the Occupy LSX General Assembly meetings and become active or state clearly at the General Assembly why you will not take part;
5. Grow your own food in your backyard or work on getting an allotment in the Spring 2012;
6. Start reading more than the free newspapers you pick up at the tube station and use the Internet to inform yourselves about the world’s event; and
7. Think of ways you can personally become politically active aside from your consumerist input and take action to changing your enmeshment in the current system of capital.

And my top suggestions to those at Occupy LSX:

1. Get a spokesperson: this figure is not a leader but is someone who can cogently represent the movement’s desires and progress. The current resistance to hierarchy within Occupy LSX is making political action and even communication impossible.
2. Rework your thoughts on hierarchy because thinking about taking a shower is not the same as taking a shower. If you think too much about it, you will begin to smell sooner or later. In my attempts to get action moving forward in the occupation, I have come to realize that this movement is failing as a movement of political praxis. I think LSX is useful as an installation piece of sorts where people are reminded, as they walk by the tents, the power of action (if only they had the time from their Christmas shopping); but as it is evident today, this is not a movement that will go anywhere because there is an obstinate refusal to put down a political agenda that is clear, accessible or even realizable in terms of a collective praxis form of individual change and legal challenges;
3. Think of ways that we can collectively make changes on individual and community levels beginning with a certain dependence on social welfare instead of a model that might work towards social empowerment. I have met more people whose ideas of revolution are lying at the end of a bottle or spliff rather than a book or focus group meeting that intends to prescribe political change. We need to understand now that thought and action must form the centre of our resistance to any homogenising force in our society rather than platitudes stuck to the ends of our tongue as a residue of some Internet conspiracy film we saw and off quote. Most urgently, we need to understand why so many people did not wish to join the opposition to LSX for it too simple an answer that “they” are too busy being slaves. There is a genuine feeling that this movement has failed to include the concerns of those who say “there is no clear agenda.”. That many feel disenfranchised with the current social economy is undeniable but so too are many even more uncertain of attaching their time and efforts to a movement whose ethos reflects a desire to make seen and known the social unrest but which offers no concrete solutions;
4. Rethink your notions of consensus and inform yourselves of the realpolitik behind such attempts to think something to death as we witness the death of a non-movement. Jurgen Habermas theory of communicative action is that of “clarifying the presuppositions of the rationality of processes of reaching understanding, which may be presumed to be universal because they are unavoidable.” [1] Indeed Habermas struggles to find a political platform in which rational processes can be clarified and unified within an intersubjective sphere, the social: “The communicative rationality recalls older ideas of logos, inasmuch as it brings along with it the connotations of a noncoercively unifying, consensus-building force of a discourse in which the participants overcome their at first subjectively based views in favor of a rationally motivated agreement.” [2] Likewise, Habermas undertakes the task of seeing humans as democratic beings where he states that “a contested norm cannot meet with the consent of the participants in a practical discourse unless . . . all affected can freely [zwanglos] accept the consequences and the side effects that the general observance of a controversial norm can be expected to have for the satisfaction of the interests of each individual.” [3] So we have the platform for a dialogue in which everyone of all sorts of educational, class and experiential backgrounds can take part. Yet this discussion does not need to linger for months despite that Habermas fears this discourse could be threatened by rationalisation. Hence he places experience as a major force in this dialogue of consensus. Yet, Habermas does not stop at a massive chat-fest where people come together to discuss circularly whereby discussions do not end or realise themselves in action. Indeed Habermas does give into the notion of a “better argument”: “Argumentation insures that all concerned in principle take part, freely and equally, in a cooperative search for truth, where nothing coerces anyone except the force of the better argument.” [4] There are if not better arguments in Occupy LSX, there are certainly immediately more sound arguments that might begin with the decision to write a Manifesto whose number one demand of the government will be that no figure in public office shall be worth nor earn more than the national median salary.
5. Read and watch something other than Zeitgeist–I want to shoot myself in the head with every person at Occupy LSX who cites mindlessly from this book or film. It is one item of knowledge and to go on about how “one day, man, there will be no currency…we won’t have to work…one day machines will do everything” you simply remind me of a bad Mel Gibson film (is there a good one?). As I remind everyone who tells me that people don’t like work, this is patently untrue be they cattle farmers in Fayoum, Egypt or bicycle mechanics in Ferrara, Italy. Certainly most people I have met in my life do indeed love their work. I suggest these individuals critical of working need to get out and work themselves or change jobs rather than insist on a pseudo-political wet dream that work is always necessarily oppressive and that we will be one day complacent to play video games all day on a screen the state buys for us because we fuckin’ hate it and it will provide us with everything… man! /div>

And while they are at it, get a library card.

[1] Jürgen Habermas, “Questions and Counterquestions,” in Richard J. Bernstein, ed., Habermas and Modernity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), p. 196.
[2] ibid, p. 315.
[3] Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, pp. 120-121.
[4] ibid, p. 198.