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Occupy The Cold Equations #2

Friday 28th October, a dark day, humid blustery breeze but no drop in temperature; threatening rain.

Campaigning season is on us again, but this year, since Gabriel is home and it's his room getting the treatment, I'm relegated to the DIY bench, to be brought on for the last half hour, so to speak, to gloss the woodwork, my traditional forte. Wednesday afternoon about 4, Peter comes rushing upstairs to my eyrie, Gwyneth, Gwyneth there's a hawk! I grabbed my binoculars but no, that's not necessary, she's right there, under my nose, on the bathroom roof below my window. A sparrowhawk, ashy brown wings spread, clutching a headless collared dove. Glares up at us, one fiery orange eye, and sweeps away to the apple tree in No 24's garden, to enjoy her meal in peace. Female because of her size, obviously, and an older woman too, because a sparrowhawk's irises start off clear yellow, they only turn that orangey amber with age.

The sparrowhawks live in King Death's Garden (Victorian cemetery across the Lewes Rd), in the tall trees.

Raptors live to be quite an age, but that bird could live and die, I thought, without ever meeting the moving edge of the Mass Extinction in which the whole world is currently plunged. It's a piecemeal edge, different rates and positions everywhere, but though it has certainly reached the UK, collared doves aren't likely to vanish. Along with woodpigeons they are thriving, on the increase in winter crops and intensive farming. Nor is she likely to be inconvenienced even if the tree-loss, which threatens several of our major species, "goes postal". Me, I miss the hedgehog (in drastic decline) a lot. And you know how I feel about frogs. And I envied her, but I can't let go of my fear of the future. The fear of what I will live to see, what my son will live to see...

& so to Occupy. There's a notorious vintage sci-fi story called "The Cold Equations". Read all about it in Richard Harter's article, but to cut a long essay short it involves a space freighter, a pilot, and a stowaway. The stowaway is unaware that she is literally too much for the system to bear. She has to go out of the airlock, or the freighter will inevitably founder, destroying pilot, stowaway and a valuable humanitarian* cargo together... Some have called this famous tale a covert troll-fest, catering to the portion of the sf audience that delights in any "scientific" excuse to imagine a pretty girl going splat. Others have denounced the practical failures of system involved. What a way to run a space freight company! What idiots! I wouldn't like to be the colonists, relying on such margin-shaving b*****ds for their medical support... But the system in The Cold Equations, with or without added splatter-porn, is not failing. The system is Capitalism, doing what it is designed to do. The Capitalist model of wealth creation requires a mass of people who get ejected out of the airlock, periodically. That's how they serve the cause, and this is something devout Capitalists must learn to accept with equanimity.

Its awfully, it's grossly unfair, but it works fine, because Capitalism also creates, inevitably, a nomenklatura, an interested class of people who are not wealthy, but who are wealthy enough, and who form a buffer state.

(I can't get my head around the equanimity of a wealthy UK director who can accept a 50% payrise, in the same year as 1.6 million children in the UK are already living in severe poverty. But I suppose it's no different from being an Evangelical Christian and accepting that everyone outside your church is going to burn in hell).

The Occupy movement has the weakness that it's a protest movement of the middle-classes. It gets its mass support from other middle-class people who are terrified to find themselves on the brink of that short walk in a hard vacuum, besides having a decent compassion for the masses already out there in the cold dark. Their form of demonstration elegantly (in the mathematical sense, not referring to the configuration of their tents) provides a living illustration of just how hard it is to live in a camp. To live cleanly, packed close together without sanitation, to keep warm without housing, to avoid criminality without law enforcement; to eat frugally and sustainably without access to a kitchen. & this alone is good reason to admire and praise them, unconditionally. But what if the machine can be made to work "properly"? What if comfort can be restored to the interested classes of Europe, and prosperity in the future can be promised, however speciously, to all the 6.99% billions and the 20 billions to come? How many of the protestors, up in arms against bankers and bonuses, would still be demanding "something new"?

The present economic crisis looks bad, but it's fixable. I know it can be done. Fossil fuels can still be extracted; there are mighty volumes of natural gas, even if the oil is running a little low. There are vast swathes of forest and wilderness that can still be cleared for agribusiness, and irrigated by desalination (I suppose). The oceans can be killed stone dead. And this is what will happen, and this is what must happen, even if it's fracking suicidal (as our lovely Energy Secretary* recently confessed, in a bizarre moment of clarity)...if the wealthy are to protect themselves, and the middle classes are to be given enough of a "share of the wealth" to shut them up again. But it's not what I'm looking for.

I don't want to share the wealth. I want the wealthy to share my frugal sufficiency. I don't want my Capitalist (second class) rights restored. I want those "rights" withdrawn from circulation. I don't want the right to a cheap flight to Barcelona for the weekend, a trip to Disneyland Florida, or a fortnight's holiday in the Maldives. I don't want a new gadget and a new car every six months, I don't want cheap petrol, or cheap energy of any kind, and I want to pay a fair price for my food and clothing. I will trade all these goodies, and more, for a future I can look forward to without dread and grief. I mean it. I'm trying to live it. Not because I think my pathetic, partial drop in the ocean can do any good, but simply because it makes me feel better.

Anyway. I thought the idea of Occupying Paternoster Square was bold and dangerous. The police in my country, especially the Met, are not safe to deal with. They know what their masters really want from them. The alternative of Occupying St Paul's churchyard seemed a bit namby-pamby, but I was wrong. I underestimated the Anglican church's devotion to Mammon. And what next?

I don't know, but I do know that a non-violent, non-sectarian Movement that makes people who were in despair feel better can be a very powerful force for positive change. (In a f****d up, partial and temporary way, nb. Success is dangerous). So here's hoping.

*the humanitarian cargo element in "The Cold Equations" has always set my teeth on edge. So transparent, so creepy.

** “Cutting carbon is not a luxury to be ditched when the going gets tough. It is essential to the survival of mankind as a species. The science is ever more clear. Cutting carbon is also a vital part of our recovery from the deepest recession since 1929. Then we had David Lloyd George’s Yellow Book: now we have Green Growth.” Chris Huhne's Lib Dem conference speech September 2011

Went to see We Need To Talk About Kevin on Sunday, convinced into it by Gabriel. Very impressed. Brilliant, inspired economy of film-making. Only remembered afterwards that this was the Lynne Ramsey who made Morven Caller, must be a decade ago now. Which struck me and Peter at the time as a rare true picture of a world, already passing away, which we had shared; in our cautious fashion.

I never thought of reading the book. What mass audience-makers admire in a novel (sensationalism, basically, and sentiment) only occasionally coincides what I want from a book & I thought that old "massacre in the gym" scenario wanted a documentary treatment. But now I'm curious, and I think I will.


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