Despite being subject to clear confirmation bias, I can’t help but notice a restless desire among both young and old to do something that is not this thing.
I simply no longer want to play the game. I want to retain the advances of society, like medical care and library books, but I don’t want to be compelled to carry out 40 hours a week of meaningless work. Or even 20 or 10 hours a week. People like myself and others like me strive to find work that does satisfy a sense of meaning, or that helps others. These jobs are typically exactly the professions nobody wants to see disappear; in local government, healthcare or charity. But with state cuts being at the level they are, these sectors are shrinking and the work is punishing on the mental health of the employees. I could only take it for 8 years, and even that was part time. The cost of having meaningful work seemed to be my sanity. I loved my job so much I was willing to sacrifice it for a while, but I just couldn’t keep it up.
The tyranny of meaningless work is a necessity largely because of the cost of occupying a home with heat and running water. Rent and utilities (you notice I don’t include food) made up 60-70% of my salary while I was working, and even though I worked part time I earned more than double the minimum wage per hour.
One option for myself and people like me is squatting, within which circles I have experienced and witnessed a high level of mental health and self worth. Freed from the necessity of rent, people who squat have more time to devote to their own projects, for many this includes formal education, formal and informal paid work, volunteering, expansive artistic projects and political activism. More than this they are mentally freed from the shackles of demoralising or demeaning work over which they have no control. Within this scene I have met restless, highly motivated and highly talented individuals who have forsaken capitalist life because it does not fulfil them, but who have little else but political activism upon which to turn their not inconsiderable talents. Is this really the best way to structure our society? Everyone who squats chooses this life as preferable to the ‘rat race’ despite major hardships such as unstable living conditions, lack of heat, water and electricity and sometimes even food. Considering the level of happiness I have observed, they are right to choose this life. But why should they have to?
Recently, residential squatting was made illegal. This is a significant ideological move on behalf of the people currently in power, because it closes down one of the major options for citizens who do not want to play the game. There is no malice in their actions, they wish no-one else harm or degradation of their daily lives. They do not take anything out of the system unfairly, since they have previously paid taxes, are unable to claim benefits and potentially require less medical attention than any other group for whom we provide free health care (which includes foreign nationals who do not pay tax in the UK). In my experience squatters are leaders in re-use and recycling of materials, from food wast to furniture to grey water. They also put in many hours per week to contributing to their community, from growing food to washing up.
Who is that said the level of ideological security of a social system can be seen in its treatment of people who do not want to be inside of it?
There is growing evidence that we all want to escape from the systems that do not work. Transformational festivals are a growing global phenomenon that sees many thousands of people assembling in spaces to listen to music, dance and commune with each other. The locations are typically deep in a natural environment such as lakes, forests or deserts. Artistic expression is a strong theme of these festivals with high levels of attendee participation – the festival is created by everyone for everyone because we are aching for a sense of community and connectedness with each other and the natural world.
When I was at such a festival, (Boom in Portugal) I had an uncontrollable urge to cry “I feel human!” I had not felt this way in my own living memory. When did my humanity (feeling of being human) leave me? I had not previously felt a distinct lack of human feeling and yet here was this surge of joy that could only be expressed in one way: I feel human.
Something is terribly wrong and my hopes of changing it wax and wane.
The idea of winter solstice, 2012 heralding the beginning of change for human life is an intoxicating one. But no serious, rational person could entertain such thoughts as an arbitrary date for some magical reason affecting the course of human life. Perhaps, though, that is exactly the point. We valourise rationality and seriousness but our society does not behave as if it believes in them. Perhaps light-hearted irrationality is exactly what we need at the moment, since all other paths lead to insanity or death, while the ones that are don’t are systematically closed to us.
I don’t mean anyone any harm, I just don’t want to play any more.