“Pretty much every great worthwhile achievement in human history, every discovery or accomplishment that’s improved our lives, has been based on cooperation and mutual aid; even now, most of us spend more of our money on our friends and families than on ourselves; while likely as not there will always be competitive people in the world, there’s no reason why society has to be based on encouraging such behavior, let alone making people compete over the basic necessities of life. That only serves the interests of people in power, who want us to live in fear of one another. That’s why anarchists call for a society based not only on free association but mutual aid. The fact is that most children grow up believing in anarchist morality, and then gradually have to realize that the adult world doesn’t really work that way. That’s why so many become rebellious, or alienated, even suicidal as adolescents, and finally, resigned and bitter as adults; their only solace, often, being the ability to raise children of their own and pretend to them that the world is fair. But what if we really could start to build a world which really was at least founded on principles of justice? Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift to one’s children one could possibly give?”David Graeber, Are You An Anarchist?
“The reason why people can actually do so little with their free time is that the truncation of their imagination deprives them of the faculty which made the state of freedom pleasurable in the first place. People have been refused freedom, and its value belittled, for such a long time that now people no longer like it. They need the shallow entertainment, by means of which cultural conservatism patronizes and humiliates them, in order to summon up the strength for work, which is required of them under the arrangement of society which cultural conservatism defends. This is one good reason why people have remained chained to their work, and to a system which trains them for work, long after that system has ceased to require their labour.”Theodore Adorno
“The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.”Ursula K. Le Guin
“… in media-rich human-built environments, my capacity to direct my attention in keeping with my purposes is often at odds with features of the environment that want to command my attention in keeping with purposes that are not my own. It is the difference between feeling challenged to rise to an occasion that ultimately yields an experience of competence and satisfaction, and feeling assaulted by an environment explicitly designed to thwart and exploit me.
Attention and attending are etymologically related to the Latin word attendere, which suggested among other things the idea of “stretching toward” something. I like this way of thinking about attention, not as a possession in limited supply, theoretically quantifiable, and ready to be exploited, but rather as a capacity to actively engage the world—to stretch ourselves toward it, to reach for it, to care for it, indeed, to tend it.
Right now, I’m inclined to put it this way: our dominant technologies excel at exploiting our attention while simultaneously eroding our capacity to attend to the world.”L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society, ‘Attending to the World’
“There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle. To be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.”Tony Benn, Socialist
“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.”T.S. Eliot, Poet
“Never confuse a single failure with a final defeat.”F. Scott Fitzgerald, Novelist
- Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher: Only 81 pages but an eye-opener. Is common sense re: the economy and your place in it really common sense or have you been taught to think that way?
- Deep Work, Cal Newport: In our current time, with so many opportunities for distraction, shallow thinking and shallow work can prevail, but we can go against the stream and, with work, reclaim our focus.
- Tribe, Sebastian Junger: According to Junger (and the research he cites), in times of war and hardship the rates of suicide and depression in a given country dropped, but in ‘peacetime’ rose again. Why is that? Junger also explores (to use one example) how early settlers in America, who were captured by Native American tribes and were ‘rescued’, ran away to rejoin their supposed ‘captors’. What did these tribes have that were so alluring compared to ‘civilised’ society?
- Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It, Oliver Burkeman: The gist? The average human lifespan is four thousand weeks and there is always more to do than what can be done, especially in a capitalist society, so embrace your limits (even though society doesn’t want you to). In the long run you’ll feel better.
In his book 12 Rules for Life Jordan Peterson introduces his fourth rule (‘Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Who Someone Else is Today’):
It was easier for people to be good at something when more of us lived in small, rural communities. Someone could be homecoming queen. Someone else could be spelling-bee champion, Math whiz or basketball star. There were only one or two mechanics and a couple of teachers. In each of their domains, these local heroes had the opportunity to enjoy the serotonin-fuelled confidence of the victor […] If you’re one in a million now, but originated in modern New York, there’s twenty of you – and most of us now live in cities. What’s more, we have become digitally connected to the entire seven billion. Our hierarchies of accomplishment are now dizzyingly vertical.
No matter how good you are at something, or how you rank your accomplishments, there is someone out there who makes you look incompetent.
I think, generally speaking, a writer’s confidence is easily shaken. A dry day where the writing drips out of me even after hours of work can sow doubt in my mind that I may never again write fluently but I don’t often doubt myself as a writer when I see other writers getting published. I feel there’s plenty of room for everyone (or at least plenty of opportunity) and besides, despite how well they’re marketed, some books on the market are awful.
I think it’s easy to despair over one’s art when we live in a predominantly Capitalist society that seems to only value art in the context of the market. If I don’t have a book selling on the shelves is my writing worth less than someone else’s? My head says “maybe” but my heart says “no”.
The late poet Mary Oliver once said “The idea must drive the words. When the words drive the idea, it’s all floss and gloss, elaboration, air bubbles, dross, pomp, frump, strumpeting.”
When I think of words driving absent ideas, when I think of dishonesty and pretence, politicians come to mind. Not all politicians are dishonest but there are times when those in power conceal information from the media and, by extension, us. Everything a politician says is scrutinised by the media because it’s the media’s job in a free country to hold those who govern us accountable (although no newspaper is without political bias) so politicians take care not to say anything that might jeopardise their careers. Instead we get the party lines we can all see through and any credibility they had goes out the window.
We like people to mean what they say and say what they mean.