politics of the hap

A is for Alternative
March 28, 2011, 3:03 pm
Filed under: Resistance | Tags: , , , ,

It was all a dream.. or so it seems as the walls are scrubbed clean, the windows boarded up and the shattered glass swept away. But it was real and was always real in our minds and hearts, but on a bright Spring Saturday the extraordinary occurred. The streets became a site of unpredictability, of fear, of joy, of spirit, of humanity in its varying shades.

The letter A was emblazoned across the defaced buildings, the storefronts and the smashed ATMs. A for Alternative. But what else does this A symbolise?

The inevitable onslaught of criticism and sensational media portrayals has emerged yet as ever it is easy to criticize from a distance posting comments on online newspaper sites and blogs (the irony of making my comments on this blog duly noted). This art of whinging and complaining has been perfected by many in this country but it is important not to discount the courage involved in taking Action. As hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of London in an endless stream, representing a variety of groups, travelling from across the country, swarms of people all drawn to the same spot, it was a genuinely unique sight to witness in this time of complacency and lacklustre.

Apathy reigns as people contently sit back and avoid getting their hands dirty, smothered in the cotton wool they have become accustomed to, blindly believing the BBC news coverage and judging from their soapboxes. The imperfect violence and well-informed direct intiatives of UK Uncut mingle and are confused, becoming easy targets for the right-wing and also for the apathetic masses who whether by fear or lack of imagination remain determinely on the fence paralyzed to act.

This is no longer the time to remain silent and pessimistic, believing that nothing can ever change. The Apathy expressed reveals an astounding inability to consider possibilities outside the systems and structures which currently shape our lives. Anarchy is banded about in “news” reports as an insult. Questioning the requirement of government and attacking their stranglehold on our lives and freedom has for many become incomprehensible, the docility and blind acceptance has become endemic, as people roll over let things happen to them.

But most people on the march, and even those involved in the ‘violence’ were not anarchists. These were simply people wanting to be heard, people pushed to the edge. They were not simply lazy teenagers, the losers of society, benefit spongers with a desire to instigate trouble, they were people of all ages, backgrounds, who work hard and with little rewards. And even if they were – then who’s fault is that? These ‘anarchists’ kicking in ATMs are products of this society – why does this not force reflection on the way this country organized and the numerous obstacles that the majority of people face, rather than the continuing repressing and containing through punitive measures.

But how long can this Anger be contained? And when will it spread to those comfortable majority who criticise from their sofas in front of the TV? The rhetoric of happiness and well-being, the quick-fix measures of consumption and the misplaced belief of meritocracy assist the smothering of these people’s imaginations, and they cling to the illusion of an England that never existed and cling to the status quo, to the monotony of their jobs and sameness and predictability it provides.

This fear has happily satiated the masses and history has shown the useful tool this is. The media further work to demonize the ‘anarchists’ and delineate the difference between the peaceful (lawful) and the violent (criminal). These categories only serve to separate people from each other rather than allow the realization we are all fighting for the same ideas and come together.

It is the fear of what else could be that keeps people inactive and apathetic. The only alternative at the moment is Ambiguity. This Ambiguity is crucial. As protesters occupied Fortnum and Masons, scrawling Tory Scum on its brick walls and crowds cheered from below, this Ambiguity was realising itself as the normality of London was upturned This new form of occupying spaces with which we are so familiar is not necessarily a superior way. As people ran through Piccadilly it was messy and at times incoherent. But it was a cry for the possibility of acting, for fighting for freedom for the first time, for showing in however blatant a way, with the only tools that people possessed, that alternative ways of existing were possible.

As the numerous critics question – ‘What is the alternative?’. Currently actions have been taken that have destabilized the normative assumptions, that have built Awareness, encouraged politicization of many previously silent people. Yet Answers to such a complex, globally expansive and entangled Anger are not simple.

There is a need to broaden ambitions beyond demanding reversing changes within the same structures and look toward attacking the whole rationale that governs the world that in the name of democracy has produced such limits to freewill.

The aim should not be to solving or remedying but further destabilizing the taken-for-granted, producing further ambiguity in daily life, of asking questions with more Aspiration, questions that ask ‘What life is worth living?’ and not merely settle for a continuation of a life we used to know. This is a movement directed not toward the creation of Answers but the stimulus of questions.

In this process we strive to discover and embrace the final and most significant A – A is for feeling Alive.

Diagramming freedom
March 25, 2011, 10:55 am
Filed under: Resistance | Tags: , , , ,

An inspiring post by John Hutnyk in The Paper encapsulating the sentiments of a politics of the hap by outlining a radical alternative to:

‘…the current bland waking nightmare of now – the continuous drip-feed of non- informative news coverage, the fake choices, spray-on TV tans, and our false participation in plastic democracyTM…’

and what this could look like:

‘…Yes to running wild in the streets – we can sit down afterwards and work out how to do it all differently, again and again, that too can be fun. We just have to ask what is required to win a life like this, and more? What politics? What organization? What movement? More than a mere ‘like’ or ‘retweet’, or a one-day dawdle. Diagram this.’

And in the Editorial of The Paper (http://wearethepaper.org/):

‘We follow rules, we obey laws, we adhere to social codes. At other moments we disobey the law, we break and bend the rules, we act outside of norms. In order to know when to obey and when to dissent and how to do these things together, we need to talk about our fears and about the things that scare us, the things that keep us apart and paralyse our ability to act. The intention is not to dwell in the comforts of fear, but instead to see what alliances and ideas emerge when we politicise the experience of fear. It is from here that we can confront fear with disobedience.’

It is not only about realizing fears, it is certainly not about smothering them over with some false comforts (Western conceptions of Buddhist thought, mindfulness, free hugs -http://www.guerrillahugs.com/ – and the like), but politicizing them. Whether disobedience (counter strategies) are the solution is uncertain, but what is clear is that they are the only means from which to begin. Yet we can never be ignorant to remind ourselves that merely countering the system with tools and ideas and language created by the system will ultimately fail as we remain within the limited confines of double-bind thinking.

Diagramming freedom; what tools are required, what shape will it mutate in and out of, how far will it reach…

Read it here.

Farewell early 20s, farewell academia?
March 14, 2011, 10:30 am
Filed under: Academe, PhD chat | Tags: , , , ,

In the aftermath of my 26th birthday, I feel an ever more present and pressing demand that I should start acting in ways more appropriate to belonging to the 25-35 age bracket. I have been wondering, should I adopt more mature music tastes? (i.e. less Kylie), should I finally learn how to drive, and should I really find childish Iphone apps so amusing (e.g. hours spent playing with fat/bald/freak/ginger booth)?

Thing is though, I still feel like a big child most of the time, and yet it seems the people around me are all getting younger, rubbing their 21st birthday celebrations in my face (and more upsettingly these people see me as old).

Turning 26 I sense a gulf between what I presumed I would be/feel at 26 (based on others expectations) and how I actually feel and act now as a 26 year old. This disjuncture I feel, is one of the great deceptions of adults to our former child selves, that while we may imitate some adult like posturings we remain on the whole little different from when we were ten years old. Thus in turn fostering the illusion that there is an identifiable evolution from childhood to adulthood, after which you should know how to drive, understand about taxes and only listen to blah ‘credible’ indie music.

Yet I feel I have merely devolved, with adolescence and my early 20s being a diversion into experimenting with dumb ideas and making wrong choices with the wrong people, and simply returning back to my 12 year old self.

There is one profound difference in being an adult though which is the both terrifying and joyous realisation that while as a child you simply did as you were told, as an adult you actually have some authority over your own life and your own choices. This can be a tough responsibility to handle as evidenced on a daily basis as I wander through Goldsmiths campus and survey my fellow students, who with their unkempt hair, ridiculous clothing, diet of microwave meals, (and don’t get me started on hygiene habits) appear unable to make decisions over even the very basic of tasks.

However there are also more fundamental questions that one has to tackle, particularly when life starts to go a little awry. As a child if bad things happen to you, you endure it, because you have no choice or power to control events. Yet I found this sense of powerlessness lingered as I entered into my adult years.

That was until last week when I had a moment of clarity in my Cosmopolitan haze in which I admitted that all my discomfort and melancholic temperament could possibly be a result of forcing myself down a path that was not right for me. I then began to wonder, is there not another way to live? A life more full of hap, and less full of drudge? And further I realised that this life, this freedom, was accessible only through myself, if I wanted my life to change I simply had to learn to make choices.

This realisation also came after reading this which propelled me to question whether I really wanted to continue pursuing a career in academia. I no longer felt I was cut out for the competitiveness, the long arduous hours, the fact you have to study for so long with an ever decreasing chance of obtaining any form of job; and the very real fear of being 35 and still without a permanent university post. I looked at my future and I saw suffocating dismalness and worsening dress sense and bad hair choices (which unfortunately appears to happen to all female academics).

Voicing my concerns has meant I have recieved a mixture of genuinely good advice and well meaning but ultimately unhelpful suggestions. Some suggestions have been that I should simply endure it, that this is simply part of the process, as if my expectations were too high. But is it really preposterous to propose the idea of perhaps you know, being able to enjoy what you are doing?

I also found people asking me “Well what would you do?” – almost as though people in academia cannot imagine a world that exists outside their own. The self-involved bubble of academia had previously been a welcome cushion from the harshness and mundanity of the ‘real’ world, but I had begun to find the world of academia just as harsh and mundane as the world ‘outside’.

The truth was I didn’t really have a reply to “Well what would you do?” because in leaving I didn’t feel like ‘doing’ anything at all. “I just want a simple life” I told my supervisor, and she looked at me with I believe genuine empathy, but also perhaps a little pity for my childish naivety.

Academia had given me so much, it has made me who I am, it has been in my life since 19, and now I was asking – is this it? What would I be without it?, what would I mean, what would life mean, and what would become of me?? My academic achievements are so integral to me as a person, take those away and I actually haven’t achieved much at all. So considering leaving would involve a re-evaluation not only of what I would do with my time but something far more fundamental to my sense of self.

As the years pass I also recognize there are some things I will never achieve. This is not always a negative but it certainly involves a sense of loss, as you have to let go of some of your childish longings and hopes. Ageing becomes a continual process of losing, a grieving of the time and possibilities that will never be.

And so I am left with no delusions of transformation, of finally blossoming, of spouting the false rhetoric of ‘life-changing’ narratives (re Eat, Pray, Love), but the underwhelming acceptance of the banal and appallingly ordinary contingencies of this life I am living through.

This is not as gloomy a picture as it sounds for what is left is the challenge: the challenge of living within a politics of the hap. What form will this take? I have no idea.

But surprisingly, I feel optimistic because this time, I choose freedom.

*ALSO THIS WEEK* I attended a fantastic lecture by my academic hero Nikolas Rose, and my belief and faith in academia was once again rekindled.

What lies beyond..?
March 4, 2011, 11:03 am
Filed under: Mental health, Recovery | Tags: , , , ,

What Lies Beyond by Brian Auer © 2008

I have a habit it would seem of proposing elaborate ideals whilst remaining incapable of adopting them in my own life. Last week I concluded with the following suggestion:

But if we live within our fears rather than attack them what other ways of being can we discover?

A question I believe in wholeheartedly. But on reflection how precisely does one live within their fears? Particularly when we live in a culture in which fear is regarded as a characteristic of the weak. To be defeated by ones fears is to give up. Fears must be faced, challenged and if we do not that is our choice.

To live within fears is an alternative to the instant erasure of fears by whatever means whether it is CBT or medication or some form of addiction. To live within fears, the idea I was hinting toward, is an exploration of fears. An exploration of its dimensions that does not seek only for its cause, but begins to unravels the multiple dimensions, ambiguity, the irrationality of fear that has no simple causality, no simple road to recovery.

But in this exploration we are left blind. No language in which to comprehend an illogical outburst of emotion, no rationality that will settle uncontrollable nerves. To live within our fears is not to attempt to counter the irrational with reason, but to embrace the irrational and understand it on its own terms. This is a markedly different approach, for it will involve delving in a great deal of meaninglessness. We are predisposed in many respects to understand and interpret what appears meaningless, which can enable us to feel we can conquer and control things. This makes us feel better, makes us feel significant. But how can we, as I suggested, embrace meaninglessness?

A hideous realization dawned on me as I considered what I would learn if I navigated through my own fears. I had perhaps optimistically hoped this would lead to freedom, or something closer to freedom. And yet I was suddenly struck by the paralyzing idea that what if by living within my fears I uncover only that there was not freedom, but nothing? I wondered whether the walls my fears created was to protect not my access to freedom, but the nothingness – the meaninglessness – that lay beyond. I wondered whether my irrational fears were just a sign I had reached my limits and despite my hopes for further progress, beyond this point only the nothingness of my personality existed.

In defence of exploring fears I questioned what do we lose?, what do we lose by the enforced requirement to overcome, attack and destroy our fears?

I think we risk losing a depth to our experiences, we lose the richness, the vibrancy, the beauty. And yet the avoidance of, or the smothering over of the uncomfortable means we also miss the pain, the mundanity, the continuing sense of inadequacy, the meaninglessness of it all.

Essentially if we explore our fears, attempt to live within them, we risk losing meaning. Or at least the meaning we possessed before. And if we do not either reclaim our original meaning or construct a new one we remain in this limbo of the incomprehensible.

And so now I ask is it worth it?

Is not contentment better than happiness after all? Is predictable sameness not better than the highs and lows? Is it not better to remain resilient and not come undone over and over again? Is not this half-existence better than the risk of ending up with nothing?

What really lies beyond, and do I have the courage to find out?

*IN OTHER NEWS: Howard Davies has resigned from the LSE, which has allowed me to feel less bad about the fact I called him a bellend a few weeks ago. His resignation has highlighted the ties LSE has/had with Libya, and the exchange of money and involvement of LSE and other university academics with North African politics. This is coming as a surprise to many people, yet for those within academia, I am sure most are aware of the fact of these numerous ‘donations’ and how academia is very much entwined with business and government.

Watching the documentary ‘Inside Job’ again reiterates the close relationship between academia and big business and of course there are many objectionable things about not only Howard Davies involvement but the extent to which such dealings take place (and I suspect that penetrate far and wide). Though is not the concept of clean money perhaps a bit naive? Some people are simply greedy, even academics that for some reason are depicted as objective or outside politics which is simply ridiculous, especially economists and politics professors. And lets not forget, academia with all its research assessment exercises, its competitveness, and struggle to obtain funding for research projects is a tough environment to work in, and if you have some rich overseas friends, regardless of their political orientations (which yes is quite a clumsy description for members of a corrupt, oppressive dictatorship), those with less ‘moral’ standing may give in to the allure.

I wonder therefore whether in some cases the means justify the ends? Some of the money donated from Saif Gaddafi for example funded a North African research programme. This does not appear a necessarily evil pursuit, but a productive and beneficial investment. More money surely went into creating the new academic building and the high tech lecture theatres, within which great lectures are given by great speakers. Moreover LSE is an institution which is home to many great academics, ones that worked hard to get where there are. It is also a place that does not only take on wealthy students (though there are many) but accepts those from less privileged backgrounds, people that did their undergraduate degree in the very un-prestigous Derby for example.

However I am certainly not in support of this continual corruption and dodgy dealings within academia with a regime as horrific as Libya. What worries me is that if these donations become monitored to the point money ceases to come in, the ones that will again bear the brunt are students, via higher tuition fees, poor facilities and poor teaching.

The money has to come from somewhere and I sure don’t think it is going to come from our delightful government or from the tax payer. It is times like these I both feel concern for academia, an institution which I believe still upholds certain principles of integrity, but also a sense of disappointment. And these unsurprising revelations only compound my current questioning of whether this is a life I want to enter into, and reinforce my desire to escape academia perhaps forever. But more on that next time.