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This Season, I’m Searching for the Sublime

A special kind of solidarity could change the world. And it doesn’t cost a thing.

Dorothy Woodend 20 Dec 2023The Tyee

Dorothy Woodend is the culture editor for The Tyee.

At this time of year when feelings of goodwill, generosity and kindness are supposed to take centre stage, it’s worth thinking about the things that one would most like to change. And since this is also a period when folks can make requests for things they would like, I ask you this: if you had to wish for one thing this holiday season, what would it be?

The usual suspects like world peace, greater environmental protections and a new season of Andor might come to mind. Personally, and I know this is a big one, I’d like to see the end of money. Or more precisely, the end of money over everything else.

It might seem a bit of an odd wish when the holidays are usually a time when people are encouraged to spend lavishly on gifts, food and decor. But the unending avalanche that is profit has wiped away the original spirit of the season and replaced it with an echoing, cavernous void.

Far greater thinkers and writers than I have been pondering our current state of economic wackiness. Astra Taylor’s astounding book The Age of Insecurity and the Massey Lectures (currently available for listening on CBC) have explicated the circumstances that created the present levels of inequality as well as the repercussions it has had on ordinary people. Suffice to say, it is grimness all the way. With bells on!

In a recent interview about Insecurity, Taylor hit the economic nail on the head when she said this: “This book is saying, ‘Well, there’s something universally fucked up about what’s going on.’”

Yep! Fucked up barely begins to cover it. In an age of unprecedented grift and greed, when even a trip to the grocery store can exceed what you hoped to spend for a special night out, the holidays can feel like a coup de grâce to the average person simply trying to survive.

There is almost nothing that big money can’t ruin. Empathy, mercy, justice: they all go sailing out the window when giant profit comes squeezing through the door. Whether it’s grocery store magnates, real estate developers or media conglomerates, the elevation of money over everything has wrought not only suffering, but something even worse: the end of democracy itself.

Don’t be so melodramatic, you might say. Things aren’t that bad. Well, then I invite you to look at the current state of the media industry.

As legacy media continue to come apart at the seams, there have been layoffs at the CBC, as well as the shedding and shredding of reporters and their beats across North America. Even the venerable New Yorker magazine has been letting people go.

The logic, I suppose, is that with fewer folk working, a few more dollars can be gained by those at the very top. But the uber-wealthy already have so much money they don’t even know what to do with it anymore. Fly to Mars, build another planet, create the world’s ugliest car. Money drives people mad, and if you need any further proof of this, simply take a look at the multibillionaires, the Bezos-Musk-Kochs. Yikes, there’s a wildebeest from hell.

Without intrepid reporters hounding those in power and ferreting out stories that make a difference, things can quickly go from bad to extremely worse. As the Washington Post’s motto so gravely intones, “Democracy dies in darkness.” And the powers that be are doing their best not only to turn out the lights, but to control the electrical grid itself.

It's an interesting thought experiment to think about what the world might look like without money being the be-all and end-all of all things. I’m certain that since the very invention of the stuff, people have been dreaming about its end. Without a financial measuring stick or lens by which to assess or determine value, would something else simply take its place? Would humans in their competitive fashion simply find another metric to assign social currency? Would it come down to whoever has the most freckles or body hair? Probably.

But what happens when people simply can’t continue any longer? How to keep on keeping on? The answer, as Astra Taylor asserts, “might just be hiding in plain sight.” In a word: solidarity. But not quite in the way the term has been used traditionally.

The term she uses, borrowed from Christopher Hayes, is “sublime solidarity.” Which feels strangely fitting in this seasonal moment when more spiritual matters are supposed to take precedence.

In a 2019 essay for the New Republic, Taylor expounded upon this concept:

A solidarity aiming at transformational change — the horizon toward which solidarity must now, of necessity, be directed — demands we not just recognize and sympathize with the plight of others but also join them as equals, reaching across differences without erasing them. Solidarity in its sublime form shatters the boundaries of identity, connecting us to others even when we are not the same.

It can be a method of forming and affirming social and political relationships across difference, uniting people around not just common interests, but common economic interests. Solidarity isn’t a feeling or affect, a fuzzy sense of connection or unity; nor is it a pre-existing bond within an established and stable group, a kind of tribalism. Unlike identity, solidarity is not something you have, it is something you do — a set of actions taken toward a common goal. Inasmuch as it is something experienced, it is not a given but must be generated; it must be made, not found.

Solidarity both produces community and is rooted in it, and is thus simultaneously a means and an end. Solidarity is the practice of helping people realize that they — that is to say, we — are all in this together.

So, instead of the survival mode of hiding out in hygge isolation, perhaps it’s time to venture out into the wider world. Put the big stuff on your holiday list, like peace on Earth, an end to profiteering, a new housing strategy, goodwill towards all people — except for Donald Trump and his ilk. Seriously, bring on Krampus for those folks.

Santa is already in a red suit. Can he bring us a new brand of socialism, gift-wrapped with a big shiny bow of collective action? He’s not a creation of the Coca-Cola advertising execs, after all, but an ancient idea, tied to the rhythms of the planet itself.

Now that the planetary limits have been breached, and Mother Earth is about to give us a big old lump of coal, which we humans will promptly light on fire, things are about to get interesting. By which I mean either catastrophic, or better? But maybe something else could enter the picture. Another way, a different path to go down? The notion keeps me awake at 3 a.m.

The free gifts of wind, water and sunshine that no one owns can be used to power up this strange thing we call civilization. As COP28 dwindles into the distance, the collective sense that a season of change is here cannot be ignored.

So, Santa, or whoever is out there making a list and fact-checking the crap out of that thing, can you please give the gift of a new paradigm, not a pair of dimes?

In all seriousness, things have to change. And not just pocket change. OK, this time, I’m being straight. I’d like nothing under the tree this year, except for a little less horror and a bit more hope. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.  [Tyee]

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