Fascism and Self Care 2
(Continued from the previous post.)
I chat to Woodstock a little in the morning – more than the night before. She understands how I feel now and has spent the previous evening with her friend who had described just how depressed I had looked on election day at our domestic co-working space. I forget now if I had been planning to go to that office – a room at her friend's place she organised when I was in Belgium on my way back from Britain to Prague by train – but she then rang to say that her grandfather had died in the West of the country, in Mariánská Lázně where her father had grown up, and that her father would be swinging by at ten-ish when he would need a hand moving a load of bottles of wine to the cellar. Her father, a hotel manager, bought a wineyard in Moravia a couple of years back. I work there periodically for bed and board and it's possible they will be moving me there with a tractor and a typewriter once there is a place to live. There is an irony or two in there somewhere since her father fancies himself as an enlightened monarch and, liberal constitutionalism being presently thoroughgoingly broken, I am increasingly becoming something of an anarchist, but we have by now bonded over beer he has paid for and I have earned through my own graft, and the older I get, the more the West coast Irish blood in my veins makes itself felt and all this makes a kind of sense. Still, autistic, temperamental, and an irascibly impractical creative type, the smallest interruptions in my day can throw me, breaking the flow that comes when I get my day right. Still, part of the reason I need an office and a short commute perhaps three days a week is because the days I work at home can see me kick around not showering and barely moving from the futon in the living room or the easy chair in the kitchen and on this day in particular, a day my worst fears of the last three intensive years, but indeed a day that summed up the fears I had had for Britain and the world at various intensities for ten and twenty years (on September 11th, 2001, I was about to enter my last year as a politics student and I had had my eyes opened about politics to an unusual degree around the time I started at secondary school) and it seemed an effort to change out of my fleecy penguin pyjama bottoms and the long grungy yellow plaid shirt I had bought in Utrecht some months back with burns from cigarette ash and the like.
Keybase where, for the moment, I work on a Creative Commons publishing platform using Flask, has a record of that still-groggy morning. I must have put on a sourdough ferment the night before and, though my memories of this part of the day are a little vague, the chat record I have, beginning at 8:19 when Woodstock got to work (she has the application on her Android phone, I have it on an iPod Touch and my laptop) are clearly linked to the kitchen and I can picture myself writing some of the responses stood by the easy chair where the iPod Touch was on charge.
“[Dave] from [Claire] is also depressed and totally furious”, she wrote soon after getting in. Claire asked her about me first thing. Dave is or has been a journalist, though he's not working in that field now – he's doing marketing. In his case this is in part because he lives in Prague and I have not met him and don't know the particulars but it is germane to the moral collapse of Western civilisation that we have successfully defunded journalism and closed it off to all but a tiny class of people at the same time as we have slipped down a Blaenau Ffestiniog-style quarry moonscape scree slope where the publishers that matter, those that define what people think, are mining the id of the collective consciousness in order to throw up everything that prompts in human beings a visceral reaction in what is often simplistically referred to as the “reptillian brain” (our publishing systems and engagement-led filters have ensured that this descends at times into defeatist neurobabble relating to lobsters). Anyway, he is politically engaged and relatively informed.
I had been reading Mastodon the night before and the Scots I follow were as much an exception to the despair being expressed elsewhere as they had been during the English riots of 2011; one guy who lives up in the highlands and posts about independence from time to time was reacting to the results as they came in overnight and, though I only caught up at some point on Friday when the scale of Labour's collapse was evident, he was, as a supporter of Scottish independence understandably pleased as even the austerity-indifferent Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, was ousted by an SNP candidate in East Dunbartonshire (you'll see no tears from me on this point). Dave had lived with Claire up in Scotland somewhere and I had assumed him to be Scottish. And so, at 8:20, I wrote*:
He's got the SNP at least. Scotland has a semi-viable way out of this mess.
Which is possibly true, though it will be a tall order for Scotland firstly to navigate independence and then also not to succumb to at least some of the cybernetic feudalism, insecurity, and aggro that will be only accelerating with Johnson et al's plans South of the border.
I continued with some of the themes I had handled over the last few years:
England is looking at fifty years of pain – and the regions have already suffered for decades.
But since the tories prop up Orban and other “illiberal democracies” of the V4, this is huge for Europe and the Czech Republic. Britain has gone with Putin. Horrific.
It means nothing less than a species of British fascism having gone mainstream. At the same time as the same is true in America. With China very strong, very powerful and influential here, helping with Russia to divide Europe (we are here in the Chinese bit) while using surveillance to suppress dissent.
It is catastrophic for freedom in Britain for certain but also marks a point in the declining fortunes of liberalism and democracy worldwide.
I am also essentially now stateless as I doubt I could ever return but feel increasingly out of place and unwanted here.
And the payoff:
I am going to graft. Anti-fascism will define me. It cannot be another way. It is what I am here for.
I believe in freedom. I believe in humanism.
I hate these people.
When we say Tory scum, we mean it.
They are not capable of fellow feeling for humanity. Fuck everything they stand for.
I could go on, and, elsewhere, I likely will. The thing about all of this was that it was not a surprise. Additionally, and though life had always got in the way, I had been consistently working hard to understand precisely what was going on for years, and to try to do something to confront and counterbalance the trends I had fingered as being the most dangerous. Naturally, this had left me as marginal and as broke as the many and varied circumstances that had permitted me to see half of what was going on in the first place, but since much of the work I have had to do in my life has involved taking myself apart and putting myself together again in order to confront emerging situations when I have little enough in the way of energy and resources to rely upon, I can surprise myself, and others, when the chips are down.
I'm baking bread and preparing for the launch.
Sourdough and Automat Svět
The fact is that anybody who thought the Labour Party was going to get Britain out of the mess it's been in doesn't have the tools or the capacity or the courage to confront quite the depths of the mess it has got itself into, still less the geo-political context. It would be akin to thinking an Instagram Revolution on Letná accompanied by a Google Docs petition and Facebook mobilisation is going to help the Czech Republic J-turn back to its rightful place in a largely mis-imagined “West”. To hope against hope for a spell, ok, but when literally nothing had been done in Britain to address the vulnerabilities discovered in its electoral systems from abuse by sociopathically unscrupulous data-resourced millionaires, when Jezza has been living in the 70s, occasionally writing blurb copy for anti-semitic history books, and when, frankly, he has not had the moral courage to go with his instincts and against right thinking opinion and overtly echo, say, Yanis Varoufakis' broadly social democratic / socialist criticism of the European Union, then “the duty of hope” of Barrack Obama and Guardian centrist columnists is nothing but a resolution to be bootlessly naive and then paralysingly crushed. I had to open my laptop that morning and check the results, just the same as I had had to sleep the night before, and then I had had to close it again, within a minute or two. And now I had to get my shit together and get back to work; work I had to believe in.
Baking with its rhythms and its sensorial input had done a lot to help me settle over the last few months, and, once I had switched from broadly traditional Irish-style soda breads to breads with a short ferment, to those, more recently, with a long ferment, had helped to ground me. Though on the day of the election I had beenn out of control and out of shape in the evening, I had put a mix on. Currently, this tends to involve making a mix of water, sourdough starter, spalt and rye flour, and oats, letting it foam up a little overnight, and then mixing in more flour, salt, some seeds, and, depending on the kind of bread I'm after, the timeframe, and the strength of the starter, some bicarbinate of soda, working it into a dough, and placing it in an oiled bowl to rise. Time was I might not have been able to do this without an audiobook or a podcast. Over the last few months, the clutter and noise of my mind has died down and, despite the formica and the plastic of the kitchen, I let my thoughts flow with little interaction as I am doing some of this; it's a kind of meditative state.
Shaving can be much the same. It must have been past nine o'clock now and, with the enforced rest of Christmas fast approaching (something I experience every year like a racing car driver must experience the imposition of a number of laps with the safety car), I am desperate to get some work done. But I am in my penguin fleece pyjama bottoms and the “second hand” day-glo yellow plaid shirt from Utrecht that has thrice now died half of our laundry, and so I lather up, shave, get showered and dressed, and finally settle at the futon where I write this now.
Now until a few months ago, I was sabotaging myself with a lot of negativity, with the imposter syndrome of internalised hostility and doubt from two decades of trying to make one's way in the world while being neuro-atypical. More recently, I have been making headway. Still, I have chosen a field and a project purely because I believe it to be the right thing to do; I have chosen, perhaps foolishly but more probably with a certain temperamental inevitability, to cleave to the maxim attributed to Aaron Swartz in the film The Internet's Own Boy “What is the most important thing I could be working on in the world right now, and if you are not working on that, why aren't you?” My answer to this question is idiosyncratic, now doubt, but in the last few months, I have been doing it, and over the last few years I was laying down the foundations. Indeed, there are times – many of them in the three months I was back in the UK over the summer, periodically looking over manuscripts I wrote as a seventeen year old on an Imperial typewriter – where it seems like I have been working towards something for the past twenty-odd years. Whatever anybody may think of any of this, I have, as a rank amateur, been putting together a web application where I am hoping I may someday soon host and publish my own writing, printable zines, and variously remixable “content”. It is ambitious and high-concept, drawing from literary magazines, punk zines, and Czechoslovakian samizdat, and the likelihood of it ever making me a living in a society grown used to the convenience of axiomatically evil monopolies and culture and content you pay with with your soul, leaving your wallet intact, is next to none, but for the first time in my life these months, I feel – when I get my head and my routines straight – that I am doing what I should be doing. And so I sit down, and though it's heard to get into either the writing or the coding when I will soon be disturbed by my bereaved father-in-law, I hone in on the one thing I can do in the time allotted.
He is expected at ten and, being on the spectrum, I struggle to settle, but, looking over my git history – a record of “commits”, composite versions of the software project, I see that at 10:18 and 10:22, I made commits, breaking up some of the changes I have recently made into comprehensible chunks and describing them. A friend of Woodstock, a guy who plays in and writes songs for her band, has a company working in IT security and last month, he set up a server and gave me the credentials to freely administer it. This gave me the confidence and the solid community foundation to rethink the publishing project I have been working on since I went to the Logan CIJ Symposium in Berlin in 2016. In that time I have done a great deal of work and, though I have been battling again with my mind and self-belief, something I go through, and most often lose as I reach the last stretch of any given campaign, I have been winning that battle and doing the work I need to do both in the technical field and with my writing. It is just that I have been doing the work of a team of ten or twenty and burning my self out as a result. Doing a couple of commits, categorising and systematising the work I had been doing, was precisely what I needed at that time. And then the telephone rang and I went down to wait for my father-in-law, prepare the half-remembered Czech phrases of consolation I learned when the husband of a Ukrainian cleaner and dinner lady passed away some years ago, deploy them in a manner that would connote respect, and then accept a delivery of maybe thirteen boxes of the various wines I helped gather and process back in the autumn of last year.
Having done so I take a walk with a pipe I bought some days before. Which is another story. And the thing is here that, though this day was simple enough – perhaps it could not have been simpler – the story of how I made it so takes on themes that are so far from the high-carb snack culture we are living in that I will find it impossible to write that simple blog post that could go out into the world over the networks and default habits of thinking and living we have created over the last couple of decades as I have been growing up. It is the story about how I have been living my life, and the kind of choices I have been making, and the kind of habits I have been nourishing to give myself space to think and to live and express myself, and, since my mind works so very differently to that of the defaults the world has been optimising for, I have reason to fear I will lose most of you, whoever you may be, just at the point that I find my theme. But then, if we have to get out of this mess and the clamour of its tens of thousands of manifestations, we have to go deeper, to the root of it all, and that is not something we are going to find in a tweet or a headline-driven news article, or a daily or even a weekly column. To give myself space to think meaningfully, I have had to close off my firewall to many of the interactions and the inputs we have been filling our days with for fifteen years. On to some of that in the next post.
* The lines in italic are translated from Czech. I change from English to Czech throughout the exchange, as is typical in conversations with Woodstock. We will often speak to each other for long periods, each of us using a different language, and not necessarily our own.