Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Don't be a dick...

Saturday 7th November

I awoke to Anna's cat, Heathcliff, purring on my lap. I'm sure that, when she was naming him, she could have had no idea of the heartbreak he would cause her, nor of the amount of time she would ultimately spend roaming the streets of Pimlico late at night with her hand cupped to her mouth begging her dark and detached feline to come home.

I had always considered myself more of a dog than a cat person and it's interesting that almost everyone has a leaning towards one or the other. Not many that love both equally and even fewer that say, actually, I'm more of a gerbil person. Maybe it's because they seem to represent a variety of human emotions that are seemingly disparate; the dog is loyal, unquestioning and sometimes makes a lot of noise for no apparent reason. It is also useful; a worker and protector. The cat is more aloof, thoughtful, independent - a lone hunter. It, too, has a staggering capacity for intimacy and affection, but always on its own terms. As Heathcliffe flirted across my lap, I sleepily thought that perhaps I'm becoming more of a cat person. But then, maybe not, maybe it's just a dodgy metaphor and, as both beasts have a capacity for love, we should love them equally and take the best lessons from both. Or get a gerbil.

After a brief stop off and freshen up at Leicester Square I was making my way down Parliament Hill to volunteer for War on Want at the Alternative G20 Conference in Westminster Central Hall. I was held up on the way by a rememberance parade and it struck me, as it always does on such occasions, that perhaps a military parade is not necessarily the best way to commemorate peace; that many people are, almost unconsciously, celebrating victory in war, rather than the end of war. Certainly, these ceremonies seemed to have more validity when we weren’t actually fighting a war (two wars? The same war?) and, as a child, I could believe that we never would again.

But it's most un-British to express such sentiment, so engrained on our collective psyche is this annual celebration. Every single November there's a story about some half-staved oik nicking money from a Poppy Appeal box and every single year we react to it in the same way we would someone pissing in a font or raping a grandma. Even the Weather was wearing a poppy this year - a special graphic had been commissioned so the map didn't look unpatriotic; it is a map of Great Britain after all. I found myself a white poppy with 'Peace' written in the middle so that no-one could mistake my intentions.

If the G20 conference was the hottest ticket of the year, the Alternative G20 seemed to still have seats available, and plenty of them. When I arrived outside it took me a while to find the hall because there was no signage, no-one handing out flyers, no nothing; if you didn't already know what was going on inside the Central Methodist Hall that afternoon you never would. One of the speakers, Deborah Doane of the World Development Movement, in the final session summed up pretty well why we need to do better than this lacklustre live show, this tame trumpeting, when she said we have to stop viewing the Left as an alternative. If we believe in it, it should be the only way.

So why isn't it? Well one reason could be that the Left is more considered and looks to include everyone in its solutions. This is, necessarily, a slower process. In my experience those of the left tend to be more intellectual and the more thought that has gone into a problem the more solutions there will be for it, which can cause divisions. In comparison the Right can be more dynamic because it has one handy answer for every question; sell it. Wash your hands of the problem, privatise it and let the Market sort it out. It's a simple solution but one which is fundamentally flawed; in the realm of global economics one size does not fit all. As John Maynard Keynes put it, 'Capitalism rests on the astounding assumption that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of deeds for the greatest good.'

This led to thoughts of collectivism and autonomy. The two are generally considered to be irreconcilable but I’ve been shown a third way which proves it needn’t be the case. Each one of us was born free and will fight harder than we realise to remain so; ultimately, no-one likes to feel bound. It is no surprise that independence is a highly prized commodity in our world. And yet, a chap could get pretty lonely as an individual; he needs people around him, family, friends, and yes, even society. He needs to feel connected and to be able to make connections.

The Oubliette seems to be a pretty good model for this. We are a group, a collective even, but we are, at the same time, a collection of individuals, all of who are able to express themselves, and all of whom treasure that freedom and exercise it constantly and with vigour. When I first moved in I naively asked if there were any rules and, I’m paraphrasing but, the answer was essentially, don’t be a dick. Do anything you want to do as long as it doesn’t impinge on other people’s pleasure or harm the over-arching aims of The Oubliette. Think for yourself, but be thoughtful. In the words of William Saroyan, ‘be the inferior to no-one, nor of any one be the superior. In the end, we have no choice but to be together, millennia of evolution wills it so, logic dictates that light work will be made by many hands; we’ve just got to get a bit more practice at it...

Have a look here for the best definition of Anarchism I’ve come across. It seems they’re cuddlier than we ever gave them credit for...


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