Tuesday, 27 October 2020

A wee Dublin utopia...

A propos of nothing very much other than the need to push back against the sea of grim and stupid that sometimes threatens to overwhelm us...

Six months back, people thinking about a radical future for Ireland asked participants to come up with visions of what their local community could be in a better world. I was just digging through old emails and thought this might be worth a share. It's not great utopian writing - there was, em, rather a lot going on in April 2020!

Fundamentally I wound up agreeing with Marx's critique of the “cookbooks of the future” – or rather feeling that there isn't that much interesting you can say about how free people might choose to organise themselves except for “differently”, and hopefully “reasonably well and creatively”.

And having spent many years in alternative projects of one form or another, there isn’t quite the same leap of joy at the thought of more self-organised activity any more – it is just life, minus the unnecessarily stupid, selfish, aggressive and badly-managed bits. But then there are quite a lot of those to lose, and they do make a difference...

Anyway, here you go. Comments (and livelier utopias) very welcome!



What Dublin could be like in a better future, some time from now:

We don’t live our lives under the shadow of an enormous canopy of financial trading, IFIs, MNCs, shareholders, banks, CEOs, managers and all the rest of it… People own and run their workplaces together. It’s a big learning curve for a lot of people brought up in more top-down societies, but the “democratic natives” have been doing it since childhood, and have learned the skills to get on with each other’s very different ways of being and talking, skills, comfort zones etc.

In Dublin, owners, landlords and managers are now looked on with something of the same suspicion that beggars, addicts and the unemployed used to be met with. People take pride in workplaces that are genuinely “theirs” – and in finding ways of including both those who were previously excluded and those who are learning how to work with others as equals for the first time.

Part of what’s made this possible is a huge shift away from “bullshit jobs” and pointless industries. Averting climate breakdown meant directly confronting a series of powerful industries – fossil fuel, airlines, meat production in particular – and the broader drive to growth for its own sake. Farming, craft, art, education, science, health, travel and so on still happen but in radically different ways. Advertising, banking, accountancy, fossil fuels, much of construction and most of the car industry, and a million other activities … don’t.

Transport has become much more collective, and has slowed down again. A lot more energy goes into design and engineering, working out ways of doing things that aren’t massively destructive, and mining the debris of previous generations’ junk. Agribusiness has collapsed, while fishing and meat production have shrunk massively. A lot more food is produced locally, and much less processed food is eaten. Slowly, natural processes are taking back land that was once given over to monocultures or industrial uses; many communities have taken on turning brownfield sites into spaces for ecological rebirth.

Many people move through several different focusses in the course of their life – as some people always did: often something showy and high-energy as young people, something more geared towards immediate production and the everyday if they become parents, and something more reflective or creative in later life. There are still practical benefits, as well as other people’s respect, to be had from doing things well, but most people find their retirement from full-time activity is a lot less habit-bound and constrained.

States have mostly withered away, once sharp class divides no longer need to be policed. Most people spend a chunk of their time in meetings, helping to organise the bit of the world they’re most interested in – a neighbourhood, the postal system, their workplace, the Internet, their local port, nearby mountains – but people are firmly discouraged from spending too much time in administration. To the surprise only of a few, this way of running things is at least as effective as the old managerialism driven by people’s career aspirations and desire to say the right things to those above them.

A few people have decided to retreat into religious communities where everyone agrees to operate by the rules of a church, or play at being capitalists, or dress up as Proper States. So long as they don’t try and impose this on other people – and people are free to leave – others normally let them at it. If they go too far down the route of punishing unbelievers, running armies or letting people starve, neighbouring communities usually step in to disrupt the game.

Borders, passports and citizenship are now historical memories, as vague as the Iron Curtain for most people today, and in a world that is no longer structured by artificial scarcity race and ethnicity no longer provide the same grounds for attempts to exclude others from workplaces or social support. Learning how to live with difference has been a real challenge, and is seen as part of what makes a competent, mature adult. While much of the world has always been multilingual, people in countries like Ireland are learning how to add a bit of a few extra languages for different purposes, and not making too much of a big deal of it. There are still challenges of many kinds, but people no longer nod their heads along with anti-traveller or anti-immigrant racism.

Societies and communities look after people in a range of ways, without too much blame. Many people struggle through no fault of their own – traumatic experiences, disabilities, a workplace that collapsed – while others are dealing with things like alcoholism, the desire to tell other people what to do, or toxic masculinity. There isn’t as sharp a divide between social workers and family / neighbourhood care: the people who are helping an individual or a family talk to each other about what they’re finding works and doesn’t work.

Education is no longer about getting a Good Job, showing off how bright you are or telling people what they’re supposed to think. “Banking education”, in which teachers’ job is to deliver a curriculum to empty minds, has faded and teachers, parents and students together agree how to run a particular school. Educational debate has broadened from compulsory Irish and religious control of schools being the only issue - to a point where ordinary citizens happily chat about the differences between Waldorf and Sudbury schools, Freirean and critical strategies for education.

Exams have gone (except as elaborate versions of online quizzes for fun), and people are encouraged to take their own routes through education. There’s a lot more variety, now that technical education isn’t looked down on and nobody does subjects just because they have to: active outdoors education, craft and farming, play and politics all come to life. And most people are able to think and learn much more effectively, because most study has to start later in life.

Parenting and childcare have become much higher-status activities. There is a lot less rhetoric about loving children - and a lot more practical love for actual children. The big economic changes along with the greater focus on human needs rather than more abstract notions of money-making and formal power have helped feminists and LGBTQIA+ people shift gender relations and how people handle sexuality to much more adult forms. Sexual violence is now condemned in private as well as in public, and boys and men who are found to have engaged in it are looked down on by other men.

But the most important part of all this flowering is that it is about freeing up human beings. Capitalism and states, patriarchy and racism, ecological destruction and robotic institutions, constrain and deform human behaviour. Break these up – and the constellations of interests and ideologies that support them – and all you’re really doing is free human beings up to be creative in how they go about meeting their needs together. So how people do things in Dublin isn’t a particularly fixed way of doing things, and not the only one on the planet or even the island. Free societies geared around learning and creativity keep on changing, and different places decide to handle things in different ways – while being very interested in some of each other’s more dramatic experiments. 

... of course, the gap between here and there is precisely social movements and popular struggle, the "independent historical action" of large numbers of human beings that is needed to break up all those things that get in the way of living together well. And that is a much bigger challenge altogether. Still, we can dream.