What is the point in writing light or funny stuff when the world is so darn horrid? And not just funny stuff, why write anything? Or create anything? Or do anything not germane to The Struggle.
Well, here’s the thing. There’s always a struggle. We have two major wars raging right now, affecting everyone’s mood and sanity and the lives and deaths of thousands. We have the climate crisis. We have a cost of living crisis. We have a totalitarian attack on trans people and other increasingly at-threat minorities, the fallout of which impacts every last one of us, not merely the targets of the fascists’ ire. We have deep attacks on quality of life. Already the media eye has glumly moved on from the crises of Brexit and the Trump years, few of which are satisfactorily resolved and remain smouldering like that Springfield tyre fire. Permacrisis Naomi Klein and others have called it since last year. Or to quote what Stewart Lee believes is the first joke, “the poor will always be with us.” Jesus, the lad himself, was ordering one last fling to celebrate his pending crucifixion when a do-gooder apostle suggested they donate the shindig money instead to the poor. “The poor,” Jesus quipped, “will always be with us.” As well as being an early joke, it’s an early identification of permacrisis.
The trouble, as the King of Kings apparently had the foresight to know, of acting against permacrisis is that you’re always on the back foot. I salute the work of those in Greenpeace who go out in dinghies to jimmy the system. I applaud the work of angels who, also afloat, pluck refugees from the soup. I’m grateful for those in Israel who devote their privilege to the tireless campaign for peace and an end to the madness. They’re doing what they have to do and they’re doing the right thing. They’re heroes. But they’re also in a state of unending triage. They’re a kind of casualty themselves. Imagine what those people could do if there was no malevolent pollutant to protest, no desperate to save, no bombs and rape in the war zone. Imagine what could be done with that energy and goodwill and brainpower in a time of lasting peace. Imagine what could be done if, instead of having to take out the Space Invaders one by one, we could find a space behind one of those oh-so-fragile little bunkers to create. Imagine what we could do if those noble jimmiers and campaigners and rescuers could afford to be on the front foot instead of the back. Think of the pleasures they could enjoy for themselves and create for others. Think of what they might build.
“But I get tremendous satisfaction from my job as a nurse,” you might protest. Yes, yes. And I’m grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But I don’t think you’re saying that viruses and injury and abuse and infirmity are good things because they allow you to Do Good. Are you? Of course you’re not. I’m just asking that we don’t stop thinking of a world beyond chaos and death and hunger. And that we–some of us, those who are free and able to do so–get on with making that world.
When I see injustice, I’m always tempted to write about it. That’s honestly my first instinct. I want to write a column, fire off a tweet, write a letter to my MP. The idea is to appeal for sanity in the world, to join the chorus instead of vanish into silence, to help prevent further mistakes, to draw attention to systemic injustice instead of personal vendetta. Sometimes the lure is so hard to resist that I actually do these things. But imagine if I didn’t have to. Imagine if I could put that mental energy and time and finger wrigglings into writing a novel instead or a funny column or a sitcom or a film. Something of less consequence. Something about nothing. That’s what we should all be free to do. The world would be better off for it, not in the “we stopped a bad thing” way but in a “we created a good thing” way. The real victory in Europe wasn’t in wrestling Germany to its knees but in creating the post-War welfare state and the wave of midcentury art that would result from it all. This should be the aim of any socialism: not to pick up after totalitarianism or capitalism or even to stop them per se, but to create and live out the alternatives in real time. It should also be the aim of any society: not to wage exhausting battle with our idiot governments but to build the alternatives, right now, in the streets, in the fields, in workshops, in homes, in art, in people.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, I suspect (though I do not know) that our leaders are aware of this. While we’re picking up after their corrupt and incompetent mess making, we’re not doing anything outrageous that might lead to–or, better, is an example of–true emancipation. When we’re not making art–a good thing to do inherently but also in terms of exponential increase of joy it can bring in the long term–we’re not a problem to them. It’s better in their view to keep us struggling, better to keep us grappling with impossible paperwork and asking for medicine for a third time and demanding that the libraries we paid for aren’t shuttered and closed. While we’re talking about Brexit, we’re not campaigning for socialism. (Brexit killed Corbyn. Admittedly, it killed a bunch of their guys too, but they have veritable factories devoted to the production their guys while we only had the ball for a brief and shining moment.) And we’re not beautifying our world instead of working for them.
So that’s what permacrisis is. Or at least what it has done. Whether by design or by happenstance, it has gubbed up the channels. It has a way of making sure We The People never accomplish anything worthwhile. It’s all about the back foot.
The only way to combat this–in my opinion and don’t mind me–is to stay on the front foot for as long as you can. Instead of despairing and reducing your lot in life to picking up after the malevolent cretins in industry and in our governments (now practically one and the same) by dwelling on what seems immediately “relevant,” create art. Create, if you must, through despair and guilt and shellshock, art that strikes at the heart of these crises. But the greatest thing to do (IMHO!) is to create art that is nothing to do with crisis at all.
Create witty, funny, joyful, pretty, beautiful, happy art. Instead of reacting eternally to the Bad, push onwards into the Good. So few people are doing it, fewer still with the knowledge of its importance. Push on, on, on. Wear bright colours in times of darkness. Make sweet music, paint the ceiling. Truly, it’s time to put on makeup, it’s time to light the lights. To create something other than a response to crisis is not to support crisis or to ignore it. There’s no contradiction in hating the Bad while putting your energy into creating the Good. Why piss around with pawns and defence when you can get your bishops and knights out into the endgame? The endgame, it’s easy to forget, is a world of peace and freedom and flourishing. Make it.