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The emotional commons - Walker takes up his place in the scheme of things

Updated: Jan 6, 2019

It’s taken me months to get to this blog piece . . just too many plates spinning - mostly in the arena of 1 Making, with activity in the Robin Murray book collective, (though this isn’t yet reflected in the pages online here in FoP RoP). But back in September I started to develop a significant fifth thread, and it’s time to draw attention to it . . it’s the thread 5 Walking.

This is fundamental to the sense that I have today, of libertarian socialist politics, and to the FoP RoP project. A new economy - a ‘living economy’ - is central . . 1 Making the use-value economy. Organising peer-to-peer commons is, I’m sure, the way to do this . . 2 Commoning. Platforms and other tech stuff are pivotal tools . . 3 Platforming - and it does seem to me that the movement for P2P-commons is what today picks up the threads of the 70s radical-professional, ‘conviviality’ politics of my baby-boomer generation: 4 History. But the central motivation that underlies FoP RoP is not concern with economy, or activist formation, or tools and technological paradigms, but with the living of the life of the activist.

Living the life - in and out of workplaces but always, in this emotional, feeling, impulsive, motivated body - of this particular person . .

It’s plain that my own activist life across almost 50 years has been driven not by ‘politics’ or ‘values’ in the kind of way that people usually mean these, nor by enduring ‘goals’ or commitments or a sustained sense of identity, and not even by committed relationships or role models or ‘belonging’ in any community, but by the contingent and unceasing challenges and necessities of living the life - in and out of workplaces but always, in this emotional, feeling, impulsive, motivated body - of this particular person: melancholic, organic-intellectual, professional-managerial. #Emotion and temperament (mine and others’) have fundamentally shaped the political and occupational landscape and trajectory, and offered (or denied) the means or scope. Emotion, affect and the challenges of living without drowning or being swept away in emotional tides also have been close to the centre of my theorising, since Living Thinkwork (1980) opened up the theme of ‘time and emotion study’ alongside issues of preconceptualisation in ‘late capitalism’, the professional-managerial class as a field of organising and the politicised labour process of design-of-work and design-of-design (see Location - Explorations of power and landscapes of design). Emotion is difficult, forceful stuff, and probably the hardest part of FoP RoP to find language for; but absolutely political, inescapably (I would say) an activist’s concern.

At the time of LTW, feminism - and Left-libertarian politics generally - was clear that the personal is political, but it never was so clear how the ‘personal’, the emotional and the biographical were to be analytically addressed and practically handled in the day-by-day construction of a life in and out of workplaces, which is at the same time a self-conscious and strategic socialist politics. Over all these years there has been lots of attention in the communities I inhabit, to #forms (of economy, of technology) and #formations (in popular culture, in economic and political organisations, in fields of work, in Left movements) but there even yet is little disciplined attention given to the #forces of emotional tides and currents in driving and giving shape and tendency to forms and formations; and to the actual living, day-on-day, year-on-year, choice-on-choice, of an activist life . .

  • - . . adopting directions and priorities, places to stand and dig, entering alliances and identifying enemies, making balances of means and ends, structures of feeling, ideologies and hegemonic forms or formations and prefigurative practices.

The thread 5 Walking is where I mean to set out work-in-progress in this crucial area. I wanted to say ‘inescapable area’ but the sad fact seems to be that most ‘politics’ - and almost by definition almost all ‘economics’ - turns the other way and acts as if there were no problem here; as if the emotional basis of activism and commitment, labour and affiliation, can somehow be taken for granted - like "the skills, knowledge and creativity of ordinary working people", as one 80s populist stance had it - and it’s simply a matter of doing the labour, in the ‘right’ places. Technics, more or less, with the heart of 'an ordinary working person' - Brexit voter, rustbelt voter, religious fundamentalist, Instagrammer, whatever - assumed somehow to be in the right place. I really don't think this will do.

‘Walking’ derives from ‘Walker’ - a persona of this activist which developed lateish in life, as emotional forces and currents, and the emotional institutions underlying his work and relationships, became too fierce to ignore. He fell off the speeding train of career and commitments and found there was nothing that could be done except set out on foot and close to the ground, across the landscape of affect that made hard work of each day and every relationship, community or commitment of his melancholic life . . mapping its terrain in-here and out-there, noting and blazing trails, discovering places of subsistence and assistance, earthmoving and cultivating.

The Gulf Streams and El Ninos and jetstreams of this oceanic-atmospheric domain are where the activist, wittingly or otherwise, goes to work. It would be a good idea if we had some kind of theory of this kind of practice.

The important thing to say of this venture is that it turns out that this is not just the need of the melancholic (for survival in the often-hostile, dismissive terrain of majority ‘realists’ who ‘just get on with it’). It is in fact the labour of truly addressing what goes on in-here in any person, across all persons, in constituting life and work, powers and commitments, of many differing kinds of people and their many differing kinds of seeing and affiliating and constructing, in a #pluriverse of politics: progressive and populist, oriented to livelihood and to intellect, associationist-socialist and anarcho-federal, anti-patriarchal and anti-supremacist; redneck and white-collar and black skinned and blue-collar and weather tanned and Maks-Faktored; etcetera etcetera. There are so many kinds of lives. They rise and fall, and make headway or fall back, in emotional currents; and the historical and evolutionary Gulf Streams and El Ninos and jetstreams of this oceanic-atmospheric domain are where the activist, wittingly or otherwise, goes to work. It would be a good idea if we had some kind of theory of this kind of practice. But this is not easily come by, and there is hardly a political tradition that gives it time and attention.

This is work in progress. 5 Walking has manifest gaps, and material which is avowedly rough-cut first draft . . but better have it available here in common sight for common consideration, than sitting in a notebook waiting for the perfecting hand and fully developed insight. The work is too important to be embarrassed at its awkwardnesses . . somebody has to be doing it and showing how - as it happens - it is being done; that it is at least doable, if not yet done well. It is the historic labour of altering the #RoP of the human heart-mind, no less, in the visioning and cultivating and unleashing - in all persons, in all times - of liberation: an end of #suffering. We can innovate (or entrench) all the economic forms we like. We can organise in the most radical (or regressive) cultural formations and propagate the most ‘revolutionary’ (or ‘obvious’) theories and stories. But if we don’t attend to ways of skilful and wise cultivating of #altered attention and intention - re-landscaping the individual and collective heart-mind (#sankhara, citta), attending to ‘the #moraleconomy of the crowd’, architecting alternative ’#structures_of_feeling’ - these edifices will collapse and erode, under the gravity and incessant inner weather of . . sloth and greed, disdain and desperate Othering, territory and enclosure, unbounded accumulation and propertarian extraction, obfuscation and obsession, memes and narrowcast media bubbles, obviousness and ‘what we’ve always done’, mediocrity and capitulation, overwork and laziness, hubris and cowardice, demagoguery and Madison Avenue, the Fordist consumption engine, psyops and pork-barrel vote-mongering . . etcetera. Etcetera.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Of course this is enormous. Of course, this is work of the hardest kind. But without such persistent, rigorously engaged orientation to the roots of intention and vision - of turning-towards and turning-away - and without persistently, rigorously embodying alternative RoPs in the evolving forces of the heart-mind in our formations, movements and everyday practices, it’s not Left-libertarian. It’s hardly even change . . just churn. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Watch this space. See how, as it gets assembled, the stuff in 5 Walking informs 2 Commoning - the pattern-language project . .

  • Action in the third (in-here) sphere of living and making §3 Surfing the tides of affect (the forces of skilful or crass intention and attention) - liberating & moderating access and contribution to the in-here institutions of the emotional commons . .

  • . . in its relations with action in the first (material) sphere §1 Weaving the everyday fabric of material provision and dependency (the well- or poorly-supported global use-value economy) - liberating & moderating access and contribution to commoned provisions for living and wellbeing of people and planet . .

  • . . and in the second (cultural) sphere §2 Choreographing the dance of knowing (the rich or impoverished historical ecology of labour powers) - liberating & moderating access and contribution to commoned culture.

Time for Walker to earn his keep, melancholy bastard that he is - but socialist and liberation-seeking, through and through.

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