Friday Night Notes

Whether following a trend or not, myself and another colleague had encouraged a student to let her angst out today, via the medium of blogging, in order to help her process what has happened this week on the international political spectrum.  And so like student, like colleague, I thought it might be an idea to do the same.

I have had this blog for nearly six years now, but not often specifically written anything for it, having always perhaps been a little shy about informally writing and sharing my mind and personal thoughts online.  My mind, can be, a treacherous place and little would I expect others to wish to wander there, whether intentionally or not.  I have normally used the form of image to express how I feel, perhaps for the majority representing some form of code of which only I can decipher.  But there have been so many instances, occurrences, earth-shattering moments this year, that I feel, well, what the heck really, I’m past the point of caring what people think, and I need to let some things out.

The first thing I would like to say, and this would probably make some old friends laugh to hear me say this, given my tendency to apologise very often – is that I am very sorry.  I feel today as though never before (and having been aware constantly throughout my adult life) that myself as a privileged person from the West, from the UK no less, and white, can never, ever, fully understand the pain, nor recount, nor repair, the violence of the past, to the people who we used and dispossessed through the ruthless frontier expropriation of colonialism, capitalism, money, greed, in the name of the British Empire.  I am so sorry that as a British lecturer I can stand in front of my class today, of students from all over the world (mostly Canadian as our university recruits heavily there, given funnily enough they too have a common law education system), and whatever I say I will never be able to put right and fully understand the hurt and anguish these young people are experiencing right now, given the repercussions of Trump as President Elect this week, redoubled by the vehemence of Brexit not long before.

I feel as never before an imposter in my own self, as if I have finally realised what a trojan horse my own position and contrived views on the world can be, even with the very best of intentions, but just that they will always be nuanced with this heavy load of privilege.  What seems like years ago now, I took the most wonderful opportunity to learn at Warwick Law School (again, a huge privilege), researching on law from the perspective of those of the South (I cringe at the  language of North-South as it reasserts these violent binaries).  I became aware of the great debt of history owed on behalf of where I come from, the UK, to the world it took from.  Not long after then I learnt that even the doctrine and discourse of human rights that I had been so enamoured with as a way of countering this past, was a Western product and imposition.  I remember feeling at that time very confused, as I started researching (wait for it, as a result of my position) at Birkbeck School of Law.  There I learnt the full force of critical legal theory, where at once my heart broke, and then crankily revved up again in a newly energised determinism.

I look back at those times and feel as those moments of break down are just occurring on a continuum at the moment, where the hard fact is that not are you changing things, but perpetuating and bolstering up the very things that you have been seeking to try and alter. And that you have always done this, it is no new thing.  You can’t overthrow capitalism and start again, because  you can’t undo the hurt that came before.  The Western proletariat checked out long ago and are not the ones alone to resolve all this – it is those who have been treated unjustly around the world, as a result of the colonialists’ avaricious desires for capital, that of anyone, who need to be compensated, minute by minute, and are the people of the future.

I feel as though my recent writing on protest and property is obsolete right now (and this is not trying to relate to my work, just really, it is), as I relied on this ridiculous notion of there being a collective who, cared, focusing specifically on the West, without really relating this beyond the UK example.  I didn’t take in to account that if you loop people into the madhouse of media-infused capitalism, that they need things, they believe that they have some form of suprematist identity, and that they must protect this.  Of course they will just repeat this at a national level, as they become more and more maddened by their addiction to their external reality.  This is now historically, replicated by Brexit and Trump.  It is very hard to imagine right now a sane democratic vote, given the accelerated state of neoliberal capitalism today, and how each one of us are its very pawns, no matter where we are from, reproducing the empty signifier of individual property through referenda, to social media, to the rolling drama of real-time elections, as we sell our souls through the votes we do or do not cast.

Maybe I am saying these things as I feel as though I just don’t do enough to help others who are being directly affected by our striating geopolitics.  In fact, I definitely don’t do enough.  A lot of the time when I have sought to help others it comes with the added value of having your name attached to that something that you have done – if there is anything that I would like to fundamentally change, ironically as I write this blog, in my name, is just not do that any more.  Academia is all about accolade and ownership, myself as someone who has succombed to these very capitalist precepts over the years and feeling these nasty feelings most acutely through publishing work.  I turn to the silent foot soldiers of health and charity workers, volunteers here and abroad, who do things for others, who help people beyond words, race, stereotype, rhetoric or showmanship, without telling anyone else about it, and I honour their honesty and ethics.

I am also acutely aware that I have always written from a critical legal stance, lest outwardly from a particular vantage.  My father, was (and amazingly still is) the most bravest of men (to me, I can’t account for all the others).  Despite his position as an army officer of a different era and different generation, I always felt he was courteous and respectful of people from other places, from those places where he was stationed, having travelled with the forces and encountered the Other of the Empire.  I trusted that he empirically knew everyone around the world had their common human denominators, felt their hearts beat in their chest, their earth move in joy and their tears fall in sadness.  I know that may sound a contradiction in terms, given he was an occupying force in their lands, but I feel if he were a gentleman of this time, he would surely be writing similar blogs such as this.  This does not forgive the reality of the past, but it was my dad’s worldliness, combined with my mum’s empathy with others, and my rebellious desire to counter my father’s military background, that remains the strongest compass in my life today.  I always felt very allied to the genuine and unassuming force of my parents, and took this power as an inspiration to this day.  The women of my family are steeped in proud generations of Shropshire Welsh matriarchs, and yet in spite (and maybe because of) their strength, when I was younger I did not understand feminism.  Now, obviously, I have learnt a number of things over the years, not least through my own personal experience in the academic workplace, of the continued oppression of women, and the multiple oppression felt by women of colour, gay women, women with disabilities, and now see this as a growing pain come real of my feminism of the radical persuasion.

My father, to this very day, sleeps (I hope most of the time), and at times cries but sometimes smiles, in his nursing home back up in Chester, where he has been for nearly three years since his dementia became medically too difficult for my mother to care for.

My mother is equally to me the strong and beautiful lady who can stand on her own two feet, can cross any man, or anyone in her path, and put them right.  She has always told me, as her father told her, to ‘play the game’, be strong but fair, how she had to do this back in the Sixties, continues to do this today as she goes in to her later time in life, and how I must repeat her too.  I see how I write as an expression of both my mum, my dad, and me, and how, as a lovely colleague reassured and reminded me recently through Haraway, that your work will always be situated, whether overtly or not, no matter what gender, race, class – which brings me full circle back to my apology, for never being able to fully give recompense for how others may be feeling at this juncture in politics, and the planet.

Why I am writing this is really a form of catharsis and honesty, as I have felt an implosion of sadness and hopelessness since the EU Referendum, where I fell to my knees on a number of occasions and no longer knew what the point of my job was any more, or life at all really.  My belief, even if at the very least, that holding authority to account, that seeking to speak and write about this and critique the violence of law overall (whether from a given particular perspective or not) must be a good thing, just fell through my hands like sand on those heady, emotional days as the UK made its bleak statement back in June.  And then Trump, and then now.

Having moved through the fug of despair, I tried to console my student today, that time heals and makes things feel more bearable, and that feeling negatively consumed by what is happening in politics at the moment, only brings you to one very difficult and unhelpful (for you and any others) place.  It has certainly helped me in recent months to be ‘in the now’, as Eckert Tolle would say, where past wrongs and future hurts don’t exist.  A coping strategy that can be as nihilist as the other, but nevertheless, it can make you keep working, keeping fighting, and most importantly not closing the loop, but keeping learning.  You are never a full picture, never a finished story – and these days in politics, are not finished either.  Again, I say that from my place as the British academic and not the Tier 4 student we have to meet regularly to ensure compliance with the UK Border Agency, so she is not deported back to her country of origin.

I haven’t done much this year, no protest other than write about protest, I even found the strikes too institutional and replicative of the system so participated at a minimum.  On a personal note, and particularly this past year, I have been limited by the consequences of a congenital heart block.  Those consequences being a number of operations over many years, the implantation of a pacemaker at age 11 and what I understand now to be a massive jolt of energy in my early teens to add to my newly burgeoning adolescent feelings catapulting me through a work hard/play hard twenties, a PhD, and out the other side in 2o13 to the reality of lecturedom and an ever so slightly worn out and over used electro-cardiac device (called Fred).  My dear family knows this story only too well, those close to me will know about this, although friends a few years ago would have not known as it was functioning perfectly then, but recent years it has become a little dodgy, like an old car, and the whole system now needs replacing.  This operation takes place in just over a week.  This is only two days after my mum is to have a biopsy.  These times, particularly this time, makes me aware of the sanctity of life, the mind-bending debt I owe to the NHS (and the kind of politics that supports pre-paid healthcare) for keeping me going for so long, as well as looking after my family, and the hope I have that both mum and I will come out of these next few weeks ok (I have a sneaky suspicion we will be just fine).

I don’t know what lies ahead, but all I want to say is I want to be there for others and do the very best I can, from my heart (both electronic and common garden electric); to always remember my situatedness and the situatedness of others and act in accordance; understand and be grateful for my position of privilege and use it to resist, help, and teach the other side of law to the next generation; to look after my family and friends; to always keep learning; to try and take the most benevolent outcome in every situation no matter how difficult; and to quietly help the world work towards a place where a quantum leap of ethical change may be able to occur, despite all right now (am posting this equally to remind any reader as to remind myself).

Lucy, 11 November 2016

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