The idea that we are in competition with each other for resources is perhaps the most corrosive myth we’ve created. It damages our society like nothing else. The idea that we must beat someone to that house, a job, a lover or friendship is horrific. It reinforces and recreates the hierarchies that cause the contest in the first place. Over the last few days I’ve been frustrated to see examples of this selfishness playing out in different ways on the national stage, not to detail the increasing threat of nuclear war on the international one. The contest for resources in international relations is ridiculous. The game of who might wipe out large sections of humanity is played with buttons which may or may not get pressed. Entire countries facing an existential threat due to their own leaders.
Closer to home though it’s been reported that victims of the Grenfell tower have been able to enjoy days out. Kids have been given time at the seaside, trips on boats and a chance to do something nice, away from the shadow of their shelled out former home. Who knows what horrors these kids keep in the darkest parts of their minds after what they’ve been through? The idea that anyone would think anything other than empathy, sympathy and love for the victims of Grenfell is hard to stomach. However there have been reports in the press that people have been so jealous and annoyed about the freebies being handed out that they’ve posted negative comments online, suggesting they deserve similar treatment. This idea that everyone should get exactly the same for things to be fair is perhaps a backlash against the drive for equality but it shows how sad things have got.
There’s another group in the news recently that have shown empathy for their community (of a sort). Unfortunately the Bearded Broz showed empathy by breaking a strike, clearing up rubbish that the council couldn’t because of a bin strike. Strip away the context of the strike and their antics could be seen as anarchy in action. Instead what we see is a group of working class people siding with the bosses and harming their community as a result. People will enjoy the cleaner streets but when they have a battle to fight at work it will be that little bit harder. Critics will say the bin workers should get another job if they don’t like the conditions they have now. Once again we are led to believe that competing with one another will get the best results.
Co-operation and mutual aid seem like distant ideals, part of a utopia, at times. Only a few weeks ago the world was marveling at how the community at Grenfell and from further afield rallied round in the absence of government action. The BBC recently showed the film The Accidental Anarchist about former diplomat Carne Ross and his conversion to anarchism. The ideas of co-operation and mutual aid sing out of this film and are shown in real life examples.
The battle for empathy, solidarity, co-operation and mutual aid is on. It is a battle that can be won. Anarchism can be a lived experience, one that can draw others in. We need to call out the scabs who destroy our chances of fairness at work but we need to explain why their actions are wrong, particularly when they may feel they are doing a good deed. We need to support victims of every injustice. In solidarity we say an injury to one is an injury to all; we feel the pain of those who suffer and we set out to not just end the suffering but to move things onto a better footing.
Finally, we need to replace competition with feelings of joy for the happiness of others. Envy and jealousy are bound to come along occasionally but we should remember that we aren’t really in competition, except with the ruling class. There can be enough homes, wealth, power, love, sex for everyone. We should not just promote empathy and solidarity when things go wrong for people; just as important is feeling happiness towards people when they feel good or life gets just that little more bearable.
Pic: Catholic Church/CC