Tuesday, August 3

After the blockade, what Britain needs most are moments of collective joy | James greig

WWe may not be close to a post-pandemic society, but at least we are entering a post-closure. The challenge we now face is how to deal with the enormous loss of life that we have collectively experienced, how to even begin to overcome something that has been traumatic for many. Many people have proposed some kind of formalized collective mourning, perhaps a permanent national memorial or a day of remembrance. But if we need a collective mourning process (and I think we do), we also need collective joy: a national memorial service, followed by a raucous wake.

Collective joy, whether in the form of carnivals, festivals, protests, nightclubs or Scottish football fans singing “you’re just shit Rabbie Burns“In an involuntary statue of William Shakespeare, he addresses a deep human need. It has the power to break isolation and make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Despite this, it is not a prominent feature of modern life. What little there is is often expensive and exclusive – think of the steel fences that enclose music festivals with tickets of £ 100 a day. In the pre-industrial era, on the other hand, there was a holiday, carnival, or festival almost every week. According to historian EP Thompson, “These occasions were, in an important sense, what men and women lived for.”

The difficulty is that over the past year, mass gatherings have been understandably linked with anxieties about hygiene and illness. As evidence grows that outdoor gatherings are not a significant factor in transmission, and more people are vaccinated, the argument for its ban is weakening. But a certain censorship still hangs in the air. This cultural mood extends beyond people who sit at home at their computers and poke fun at others who amuse themselves with their friends as “antisocial.”

Earlier this year, in just one example of an avalanche of repression of antisocial behaviorPrimrose Hill Park in London was closed for the night to discourage “loud and disruptive parties.” This move was reportedly endorsed by Labor leader Keir Starmer, which is entirely appropriate given the recent rumors his party has been making about “antisocial behavior”, along with its commitment to highlighting social plagues such as teenagers hanging around the streets. Even the “kill the bill” movement, which is targeting a proposed law that will restrict protests, meaning much more is at stake, is fundamentally a battle over what people have the right to do on the streets .

Any attempt to control public space will never be applied fairly – for some people, simply existing in public is considered an antisocial act. This really is nothing new – elites have long feared the rogue mob. Today, these age-old impulses filter through the prism of Covid security and give a sheen of legitimacy that they often don’t deserve. Our task now is to figure out how to disentangle reasonable public health concerns from reactionary hostility to public gatherings. If we don’t, the Covid spectrum will continue to be used as a pretext to limit the possibilities for collective joy, long after this is needed, just when we need it most.

As much as I would like to imagine that all my favorite leisure activities are de facto politically useful, mass revelry is not always an act of resistance. But the fact that it brings pleasure and meaning to people’s lives makes it a worthwhile enough end in itself. And although it is not entirely correct to say that collective joy it is rebel, it is true that joy is an important part of political protest. Almost every rally I have been to, no matter how serious the issue at hand, has featured chants, chants and a powerful feeling of camaraderie. The fact that a protest can be a fun day is important, because there is no better cure for despair than marching through a city with thousands of people who care about the same injustices as you. “Sometimes”, writes Lynne Segal in her book Radical happiness, “the strength we get from moments of joyful solidarity lasts a long time.”

The possibility of collective joy is something worth striving for, which does not mean that attempts to achieve it will always be perfect. The last weekend Let’s save our scene took thousands of people to the streets of London to defend the future of club culture and the nightlife industry. Journalist Ed Gillett reported that, “It felt awkward and undercooked in places … [with] flimsy ethical justifications for just wanting to be ripped apart, but [it was] undeniably powerful and resonant despite that. “A better example might be London trans pride, which also took place last weekend, and saw thousands of members of a highly oppressed minority group take to the streets in a spirit of defiant celebration. In an event like this, the dichotomy between “protest” and “party” loses its meaning. The ability to experience joy in the face of such hostility is itself an act of courage.

While the language of antisocial behavior often serves as a pretext for draconian police, that doesn’t mean such a thing doesn’t exist. Nobody wants selfish neighbors to have all-night parties in the name of a knee-high pandemic. But living in a society requires giving and receiving. We have to make a space for collective joy, for fun, for things that may seem “antisocial”, but are actually the most social we really are. In the coming years we will have to fight to regain public space, and I believe that civil disobedience, in the form of simply showing up and not asking for permission, will have a role to play.


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