All work and no play
For a few seconds it was almost fun last week hanging out on the moral high ground. As the profound depths of UK corruption get exposed in pithy tweets and the wonderful world of #mylittlecrony infographics, it was almost a relief to know that our worst fears are actually true.
When I returned to live in the UK in 2007 I didn’t know what to make of my country where Boris was just a funny posh fool and Jacob Rees Mogg admired for his old school debating skills. I remember the first time that I heard the words “health-and-safety-gone-mad” said with a straight face, like a brick in my stomach I saw code for “lets-see-how-much-they-can-be-jollied-into-betraying-their-hard-won-rights-to-decent-work”.
From the outside 2007 looked like the beginnings of fascism, and since at that time long before the Brexit vote saying such things guaranteed unemployability, I learned to swallow my fears. I found a place in the world of work on the pragmatic basis that if you’re going to play the game, play it well. Find a progressive group, in what remains of the public sphere, treat people well and try not to be a beast.
Last week I hit a point where my neat connection to reality started to tear from the layers of corruption and cronyism that had been revealed. Like the scene in The Shining when you realise that the book Jonny has been typing is made up of a single maddening mantra, an alternative horrible reality revealed itself. Agreeably I was tired out from another week of zoom n’ doom but I couldn’t stop staring at the horror of what has been revealed.
All work and no play does indeed make Jack a dull boy.
I want to tell you about my most unlikely friend. Fabian is a Zimbabwean man from Matabele Land, who I worked with in the unions on organising and education programmes across the African region. Fabian had been trained in the armed struggle, and was exiled in South Africa where he became an organiser for the National Union of Mineworkers. He was an active communist and his disarming rural charm won him friends in the senior ANC leadership. Fabian and I shared an ideological perspective and I think we were both surprised that we also made each other laugh. Last time we spoke he reminded me that I had promised to come to his funeral which would be fun because they would slaughter 12 of his many cows.
Fabian is known as the last honest man in Zimbabwe. The first time I met him he told me that he had to stop going to the gym because women kept throwing themselves at him and I thought, I think quite understandably, that he was a man with burdened with self-delusion. But as time passed I learned to trust his unorthodox view of the transactional nature of life and came to believe that his experience of being irresistible to women was just his experience and quite potentially a statement of fact. Fabian was not frightened of appearing mad to say things that he believed to be true.
One thing he understood as a Zimbabwean is how a civil society can be corroded by the cronyism of a few. The tragedy of Zimbabwe was that the corruption of the political system was the contamination of a whole society. That once the only way to survive is to break the law, manipulate the facts to survive professionally or politically and walk on by when people are picked off for speaking up we are all corrupted and silenced. Too scared to make a fuss. Too compromised to take the moral high ground. Too broke to lose what we just-about have. That this happened in Zimbabwe should be no comfort at all to those of us hiding out in the public sphere or having to rely on Universal Credit.
For the first time in decades my political intuition is paralysed by the realisation that I do not understand how the world is now turning, who is grinding the organ and why. When the social parameters are so unclear moral outrage is just noise as we stay calm and carry on.
There’s an awful silence that has overtaken many of us who are dependent on a wage, or welfare or care. Like Danny hiding from his mad dad in the kitchen cupboard, we are rightly unsure whether to keep our heads down or ruuuuuuuuuuuuun. But into the maze we must go now that the comfort of business as usual has been shattered.
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