Learning Thirty: What I have Understood About Dissent (nothing)


So the day before yesterday I  moved into my fourth decade. I went to a museum, cooked soggy rice, drank wine whilst watching a film that made me confront my lack of genuine creativity and originality,  and had a series of ill conceived and more or less suppressed conniptions. Pretty much the same as any other day.

But I sort of feel on some level I should mark the occasion. By telling you, the reader, what I feel I’ve learnt.

Because Thirty feels like a big birthday. I know so because that chauvinist,  pappy, knobfest  Mates, did a whole episode on it. And also because it seems like the age when I can no longer confidently and strictly call myself ‘a young person’. I’m young-ish, but effectively closer to midlife crisis age, than teenage rebellion.

Though the daily rumblings of my brainiac pretend otherwise. I’m rediscovering T-Rex, baggy t-shirts and buttkiss ‘check it out!’ comedic irony… but not in the exalted fashion of someone new to the territory, but with the steely fever of an irredeemable nostalgic, desperately clinging onto something that vaguely looks like the past. In multiple senses. (I wasn’t alive when Mark Bolan was. It might surprise you to know. And no he was not transgender, he was just a dood what liked to wear glitter and fancy pants.)

But the desperation to be ‘young again’ – fully – is made more woolly, as I exist in the full knowledge that the past wasn’t that great anyway, and being young  proper was mostly awkward, painful, humiliating and dispiriting, and suffused with foolishly candid encounters, poor taste, philosophical and political ignorance, and terrible sex.

Nonetheless, I’ll hark back all the same. And as I cycle forcefully towards forty, no doubt I’ll rediscover my desire to be a punk goddess, and start a two chord one woman band… utilizing the limitless layering qualities of the digital age. An age designed to convince reams of the hopeless to believe they have shot at carving out a distinguished bit of the zeitgeist. If there even is a zeitgeist anymore, or have the hipsters ruined that concept for us? Probably. Fuck them and there cereal cafes and their anarchopolism and their pointed ‘randomosity’.

And, worse, much worse, their version of feminism;an exhaustive and confused mash up between libertarian and authoritarian attitudes and a rabid refusal to engage thoughtfully in any of feminism’s herstorical tenets. But I am a part of it, a part of it, a whimsical part of it all the same.

I digress. Back to being a punk goddess.

Though it would be perfectly seemly to arrange my astounding musical outfit around my own fine self, it might be incumbent upon me to rope in the collective. Perhaps  the bassoon mastery of some proper grown up mate’s  short suffering, nerd teen. She’ll say, “Rae’s a sad, silly sort…she’s woefully unsuccessful personally, occupationally and spiritually…can you just help her out a bit with her ‘band’ on Saturdays?” And my sister, doodles, who did use to play the piano but has given that up in favour of her aside in thigh slapping, foot tapping, and making herrraaannnnng noises at passing cars.

But why though? Why harrumph myself into feigned punk goddess territory?

The problem is, is that me and everyone, want to have something to contribute to our culture and our politics, but never in the licking stamps, writing letters, hauling banners kind of a way. The zeitgeist, if it is anything, is the fear of anonymity. The desire to cultivate a brand that is knowable and reachable and definable and ripe for analysis. You know how many famous people there are these days? And you know how few  you actually know? And you know how neurotic that is?

But its also sinister, because our psychologies are being smashed out of a capacity for effective change. What actually gets us somewhere is tertiary to how shit makes us feel. Check out that Woman’s March. What did they want? What were they protesting? What were they angry with? Was it Trump, or what he represented? Why did they wear pink hats? Pink hats is not politics. Seemingly they were angry that the popular vote winner, Hillary Clinton, did not make the first female president. But there again, a lot of the diffuse and often contradictory aims that the march represented, were issues with her too.

There are two problems.

It seems to me that these political confusions are down to a lack of differentiation between philosophical concepts. A confusion between conservatism and fascism, between liberal free market politics and social liberalism and most bizarre of all between left wingism and a form of ‘queer politics’ which has nothing whatsoever to do with socialist economics. An uncertainty about whether or not feminism is a political philosophy that has its own tenets and its own nature, or is  just a by word for ‘wanting better stuff for women’. And the drunken abstractism is made even more flailing by the fact that we don’t even know who women are anymore, and outside of a small cabal of self appointed appointers (the nose ring and purple hair brigade) we are not even really allowed to discuss it. It reminds me rather of that episode in Black Books, where the landlord shifts the walls of Fran’s apartment to make way for a new flat, and simply pretends he has not done it. Its easier that way isn’t it? The only thing that seems to collectivise what we call progressives, is the belief in their agitation against the right wing enemy. But the right wing enemy isn’t even cohesive; its neoliberalism, its conservatism, its the fascio…and these people are not the same people, and they don’t want the same things. However the idea of the right wing enemy is useful, because anyone who does not fit the shifting purportedly progressive aims can go in the right wing bin. You critical of prostitution? Ring wing bin. You believe prisons should be demarcated by sex and not self identification? Right wing bin. You don’t want to be cat called on the street? Prude, in the right wing bin. Progressive versus the right is a mutable and increasingly hard to define set of pointless skirmishes, designed to shore up the sense of power and worth of its internet spokes people; Owen Jones on the one side, Milo on the other. Its internecine, means nothing and benefits no-one, but the people who already have power.

The other problem, is that we aren’t willing to take any political risks. Naomi Wolf is right in saying that legal protesting is not effective. The boundaries within which we are allowed to operate are getting smaller, and many of our public spaces are being sold off. Corporate interests close in on us, make us impotent, mollify us, and yet we doff our caps and we huddle back.

The suffragettes had a specific goal. And they were willing to entertain the idea of making themselves serious social pariahs in order to get what they wanted.  Not the kind of “..ooo errr aren’t I a confronting spectacle with my perfectly made up face and my zebra print hair cut??”

Look, I am not advocating violence by any stretch of the imagination, but unless we specify our aims and unless we are willing to truly sacrifice what comforts we have in obtaining them, we’ll get no where. The corporate state knows we currently have our hands tied behind our backs. It does not fear us.

And I’m as guilty as anyone. If guilt is even the right word. I’m not fearless, I have nothing spectacular to contribute, I’m not willing to risk what little I have, I want some vague measure of comfort in my life. I think radical thoughts, but conduct no radical actions. One time I stamped on some shirts in Primarni. It was my protest against the textiles industry. Then I just started shopping in charity shops. It was a political affront that is still discussed to this day. By me.

Another time I joined the students socialists at University in a protest against an Anne Widdecombe one woman show at the Exeter Corn Exchange. Because she was against abortion. At the time she was no longer an MP, barely got any TV time and was not listened too outside of a small subculture of pale blue shirt wearing, purple faced, lamb quaffing conservatives. The protest was like a bunch of kids stamping on a crisp packet.

So at thirty I have come to terms with the fact that I am not a radical just on precipice of catapulting myself into some kind of beret wearing resistance. I’m just going to mulch through life as a thwarted dissident, trying not to hurt anyone. Licking stamps. Signing petitions, headed to the ballot box. Picking fair trade coffee. Trying to not eat meat. Trying to set a vague example. Being thoughtful. Learning, reading. Waiting for some stirring leaders with the verve and intelligence to drag us out of the morass of decadent hipster cynicism.

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And in the meantime…Punk Goddess. Whose with me?


5 thoughts on “Learning Thirty: What I have Understood About Dissent (nothing)

  1. Hell, eat meat if you want to – best in England. But you are doing amazing work to bring about change. Being in my 30’s was the beginning of becoming free and fully human for me. It is very young, so see it as beginning. You can only go forward xx

    Liked by 2 people

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