We talk a lot about radical change and why it’s needed. Sometimes, it’s useful to pause and consider what we really mean by radical change. While doing that, we need to think about how most people regard change and whether they see it as a positive thing in their lives or whether it’s something that’s done to them with no regard as to how they feel about it. The further up the food chain someone is, the more likely they are to embrace the notion of constant change – for those of us lower down the pecking order that would be the increasingly rapid and unpredictable changes that are being imposed upon us in order to benefit the elites who presume to rule over us.
For people further down the food chain and less able to exert meaningful control over their lives, being on the receiving end of rapid and unpredictable change will, understandably, lead to a longing for some sense of stability and predictability in their lives. That encompasses both economic and social change. It’s the impact of these changes, separately and combined with each other in a toxic downward spiral that I want to start the process of looking at in this piece.
Dispossession and the search for meaning
There has always been an element of change within human society. There have been periods of human history where the pace of change was manageable and evolved in an organic way. There have also been periods where ‘black swan’ events such as wars, invasions and plagues have led to dramatic and profound changes. However, over the last two hundred and fifty years, the pace of change was speeded up with the Industrial Revolution. Over the last thirty years, the rate of change has been massively accelerated with the onset of the introduction/imposition (delete according to preference) of information technology which now pervades every aspect of our lives, whether we want it or not.
Life on the land was far from perfect but there were compensations for that in the bonds of mutual support people had with each other alongside the celebrations and rituals that marked the passing of the seasons. Celebrations and rituals that came from a close association with nature. Celebrations and rituals, often with pre Christian roots, that gave people a sense of continuity and meaning in their lives. Celebrations and rituals that helped to form a genuine sense of community, even if that was in the face of hardship. Celebrations and rituals that were largely but not completely swept away by the Industrial Revolution and the mass entertainment that followed.
Mass entertainment that was to be consumed as a product in opposition to the folk, do it yourself entertainment that people used to create for themselves. Mass entertainment that acted as a distraction from the drudge and slog of industrial life. Mass entertainment that aimed to either pacify, or sate with sensationalism, rather than allow people to develop their own amusements that would allow them to bond with each other. While it may appear that mass entertainment has dumbed people down, you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to see that in one way or another, people have always been seeking ways of building a sense of community and identity with each other. Needless to say, a lot of the time, these efforts at building a sense of community and belonging have had to adapt to the culture of industrialism.
Football and the tribal sense of loyalty to club and community is one example of how people have adapted a form of mass entertainment to create a sense of belonging. Obviously, with the top clubs becoming global brands and the top echelons of the game being about money, the attempts to create a sense of belonging are being eroded. However, the lower down the leagues you go towards the grassroots to neighbourhood, small town and village clubs, the more that sense of community and belonging has not only survived but in fact, is thriving.
Even the seemingly over the top consumerism of Christmas has deeper roots going back before Christianity to our pagan past when there was a profound need to mark the passing of the shortest day of the year and welcome the gradual onset of the days getting longer. It was, and still is beneath the gloss of consumerism, about marking the passage of the seasons and getting together toward off the gloom of mid winter. No matter what the elites who rule over us do, these rituals and celebrations that tie us to the passing of the seasons and nature will always be with us in one form or another. That’s because they’re a part of what it means to be truly human. But, they’re under threat as never before…
The pace of change is rapidly accelerating and we’re entering a period where our humanity is being challenged like never before. Industrialism was the first, major shock of change to us. The decline of heavy industry and the destruction of the communities and bonds that had developed to soften the blows of slogging away in the factories and mines was another shock. Now, we’re in the period of the most profound shock of all – the age of information technology and for want of a better term, bio-hacking that is changing what it means to be human.
These changes have ushered in a heightened sense of uncertainty, precarity and a growing dread about what the future holds for us. The precarity in housing and employment (a.k.a. exploitation) renders the existence of a growing number of people down to little more than a daily battle for survival. A precarity that started with being thrown off the land at the start of the Industrial Revolution and is being accelerated on a daily basis by the technological ‘revolution’ we’re now being subjected to.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) which is the term that best describes the series of technological, economic, societal and cultural changes that are being imposed upon us. Not for the benefit of humanity as a whole but for those who presume to rule over us while concentrating more of the world’s wealth into their hands.
This has been the cause of many arguments and rifts but it stands repeating – crises such as Covid are intentionally being leveraged to accelerate the trends towards the 4IR. Merely saying that has brought accusations of being a conspiracy theorist down upon our heads. May we suggest that those hurling those accusations take a few steps back to reflect on what has happened to us since March 2020.
One example is the acceleration of the shift to a cashless society. At the start of the Covid crisis, many if not most shops didn’t want to handle physical cash because it was perceived as a vector of transmission of viruses. While some have moved back to accepting physical cash, there has been a marked shift towards people paying by card or by their phones. Forms of payment that unlike physical cash, allow every purchase and transaction to be monitored and tracked if so desired. If you think this is going to stop with cards and phones, think again. Using microchips implanted into the human body is now being seriously touted as a means of payment and conducting other transactions in the not too distant future.
Welcome to the matrix…not! A digital control grid that makes it increasingly difficult for anyone who is offline for any reason to be able to function in and navigate the modern world. This piece was written just after we had relocated down to near Bristol (August 2022). Events conspired so that at the time of writing, we were a good few days away from being reconnected to the Internet. Trying to do the necessary post move life administration without an Internet connection proved to be a nightmare, particularly after being kept on hold for up to an hour or more while trying to get connected to a human being at a utility company!
Life is being designed so you have to be online, in the matrix and as a consequence, constantly monitored and tracked, just in order to survive. The only other option available is to go completely off grid which in a country like the UK, is a challenging proposition to say the least.
Another disturbing aspect of the Covid lockdowns was the normalising of digital means of communication with each other as a substitute for real life, face to face contact. Even as more became known about how Covid was actually transmitted, who was really vulnerable and that maskless face to face contact could take place without much risk, the shift towards virtual means of communication seemed to stay with us.
The promotion of the Metaverse with the offer of living life in a virtual existence is another disturbing trend towards replacing real life human contact with a watered down, soulless by comparison digital substitute. Taking a few steps back from the Metaverse to the online text based exchanges we’ve become accustomed to over the last quarter of a century, even these lack the nuances of face to face contact where there’s a lot of non-verbal communication via facial expression. Think of how many debates that in real life would have ended with an acknowledgement of differences but online, lacking the nuances of non-verbal communication, have ended up in rows, blockings and cancellations.
That’s a lot of accelerated change taking place over an increasingly shorter time. A growing number of people are being left behind and as a result, excluded by these changes. We had a mercifully brief taste of that when we were offline for a couple of weeks and simply unable to undertake the life administration we had to do. For those who for whatever reason cannot get or afford a secure Internet connection, life is a nightmare. These changes to how society functions that throw an increasing number of people under the bus are casing a growing degree of alienation and anger. That’s before you take into account the number of societal and cultural changes a growing number of people feel they’re being subjected to without any say in the matter.
Societal and cultural norms have always evolved but generally at a pace that people can handle and adapt to. That means evolving at a pace that gives people the sense that it’s something they can go along with and have an active role in rather than feeling it’s something that’s being imposed upon them. It may arguably be a subjective impression but it certainly feels we’re in an era where the rate of societal and cultural change has accelerated to the point where many people feel they have no control over it. Not only that, it increasingly feels like it’s being imposed upon us regardless of whether we want to accept it or not. When things get to that point, inevitably there’s going to be a reaction and as we have seen, quite often, that reaction will be one that those who see themselves as progressive will not like. Here’s one example of how this plays out…
At the end of July 2022, a series of drag queen story readings were held at a number of libraries across Bristol – these events were aimed at children. We’ve spent most of our adult lives assuming that drag is adult entertainment. We have absolutely no problem with drag as a form of adult entertainment if that’s what people want. However, as grandparents, albeit that our two grandkids are definitely not old enough to attend a drag queen story reading, we’ll freely admit that the whole concept makes us feel decidedly uneasy, to say the least.
Some elements have tried to defend the drag queen story reading events as nothing more than a slightly risqué form of pantomime. We had a look at what the defenders of these events tried to pass off as pantomime and while it may be an admittedly subjective judgement, to our eyes, it looked like drag which in our view, is strictly adult entertainment. Our concerns and those of many others is that in an increasingly pornified culture, these events are leading to the sexualisation of children and removing innocence from their lives. Whether this is intentional or not is the subject of some fierce debate with those thinking this is intentional being branded as conspiracy theorists. It’s perfectly understandable that a fair few parents are at the least, very concerned about this development and at the most, absolutely livid.
The problem is that merely raising concerns about this gets you branded as ‘homophobic’, ‘transphobic’ and a ‘bigot’ amongst many other accusations. So as a consequence, many parents and grandparents feel that it’s best to keep their views to themselves. Rather than protest, they choose to keep their heads below the parapet. While doing so, they are baffled that no one describing themselves as progressive is listening to and acknowledging their genuine concerns and engaging in an honest discussion about the issues at stake. Instead of an open discussion, we get a culture of name calling and cancelling. The inevitable consequence of this is the creation of a political vacuum.
So, it came as no surprise to us when we heard that the likes of Patriotic Alternative and their ilk saw this vacuum, recognised the opportunity it potentially offered them and, cynically and self servingly, called a number of protests outside of these events. Inevitably, when the likes of Patriotic Alternative and their ilk turn out to picket and protest, there will be a Pavlovian response from Antifa and the like. As a consequence, a number of these protests were counter-protested by Antifa and others, thereby ratcheting up the tension in an already emotive situation.
A consequence of this is that anyone raising concerns about the potential harms to kids of these drag queen story reading events is now automatically branded as being in league with the likes of Patriotic Alternative and the like. Legitimate concerns are brushed aside and the accusations fly in the direction of anyone questioning the purpose of these events. Those defending these events and hurling the accusations are unwittingly creating more of a political vacuum for those with nefarious motives to exploit.
The above is just one example out of many showing how rapid and quite often baffling social changes are creating what can best be described as a culture shock. That’s a term that used to be applied to the experience of travelling to far off lands and suddenly being immersed in a completely different culture. It now applies to the growing number of people who don’t travel anywhere but feel that the society they live in is no longer recognisable.
Merely acknowledging this may be seen by some people as having a reactionary take on things. The word ‘reactionary’ has tended to be used as a another way of describing people set in their ways and with attitudes that may be considered to be bigoted. Maybe it’s time to reclaim the word ‘reactionary’ to describe what is a profound discomfort with rapid and sometimes baffling societal change that people feel they have no say in or control over. When people feel that change, societal, political or economic is being arbitrarily imposed upon them, inevitably there’s going to be a reaction.
The barriers to meaningful change
What has struck us about what was discussed in the previous section and other aspects of what some have described as the ‘culture wars’ is the tone deafness of the left and also, what sadly feels to us like too many anarchists as well. Anarchism is a broad church ranging from those such as Winter Oak who have a profound understanding of how humanity is still a part of nature and how we cannot transcend that all the way over to those who with their transgender activism, also seem to be willingly embracing a number of aspects of transhumanism.
As we tend more to the former interpretation of anarchism, to us it feels as though the tendency that seems to be accepting rather than challenging transhumanism is the one that’s holding sway at the moment. It’s a tendency that appears to have not learnt the lessons of the failures of imposed social upheaval by those identifying themselves as left wing. A tendency that’s so wrapped up in itself that it has become blind and deaf to the concerns of many ordinary people who want some degree of continuity and stability in their lives. It’s also a tendency that seemingly cannot join the dots to see the bigger picture.
Change has to happen because society cannot go on along its current trajectory. It’s not sustainable on a planet that has finite limits to its resources. It’s definitely not sustainable in terms of the impact rapid, unpredictable and uncontrollable change is having on our collective psyches. The problem is that as things stand, due to the ineptitude of the left and a fair few anarchists as well, when it comes to relating to the concerns of ordinary people, there’s a real chance that the impetus for change could become the preserve of the more reactionary elements in society.
The protests against the drag queen story reading events initiated by the likes of Patriotic Alternative is but one manifestation of this. The attempts, largely but not completely unsuccessful, by reactionary elements to latch onto the various currents opposing lockdowns,vaccine mandates and vaccine passports during the Covid crisis is another manifestation. The dismissal of people raising concerns about the possible harms to young kids of the drag queen story reading events as ‘bigots’, ‘homophobes’ and ‘transphobes’ is one example of a damaging tone deafness. The dismissal of those of us raising concerns about the adverse impacts of the Covid lockdowns as ‘conspiracy theorists’ is another example of an almost cult like tone deafness to the concerns of ordinary people.
Are these just the rantings of a bitter old activist cast aside by the ‘movement’? At some point that question will be raised… All I will say is that age gives you a bit of perspective, particularly when you have forty five years and counting years of activism in one form or another on the clock. During those forty five years and those preceding my life as an activist, I’ve seen a lot of change. Not all of it has been bad – there have thankfully been positive and much needed social changes. There have also been many negative ones that serve to divide us, isolate us, remove us further from nature, crush any vestige of spirituality and take us away from what it means to be truly human. All I can conclude is that we’re very much heading in the wrong direction and the time frame we have to reverse what’s being done to us is shrinking by the day.
As already stated, change has to happen. But it has to happen in a way that truly gives people control over their lives. Ultimately, that’s what people want – being able to control their lives alongside a sense of purpose and meaning. Three things which for many of us have become increasingly difficult if not impossible to realise. With regard to having a sense of purpose and a deeper feeling of meaning, that means acknowledging that a lot of us need some kind of spiritual dimension to our lives.
It also means trusting ordinary people to get on with building the society we want. What will hinder that are inward looking supposedly revolutionary groups who claim to have the answers but really want to impose their vision of an ‘ideal’ society on the rest of us. That sadly includes some anarchists as well. Some but not all anarchists as there are a fair number who refuse to subscribe to a rigid, exclusionary group think and who will deal with the complexity of reality as they find it.
Revolt is happening. It’s been happening since the imposition of the first lockdowns. It’s continuing with the farmers protests in the Netherlands against threats to shut a number of them down in the name of (supposedly) dealing with climate change. Protest and revolt are coming from places that many people describing themselves as progressive find uncomfortable because many aspects of what they see fail their rigid purity tests. Rather than engage with messy and complex realities, they prefer to seal themselves off in bubbles in the hope that one day, something will emerge that will meet their purity tests. Trust us, that will never happen! One of the most important lessons we’ve learnt over the last forty five years is that you have to meet people where they are and work with them to build change from there. There are enough signs that the hermetically sealed activists can be bypassed by those of us seeking genuine, meaningful and lasting change. It will happen…