In Brett Scott’s blog post, The War on Informality (genius, as usual), he talks about his impressions of London after some time away, how it’s becoming more and more difficult to escape surveillance capitalism, and how it’s seeping into every area of Londoners’ lives. Having left London two years ago myself, it was depressingly familiar – but I know it’s the same in any big city now, anywhere in the world. There’s a blanket of ‘corporate inauthenticity’ over everything.
“the latest theme tune of London’s corporate takeover rises into my consciousness. It’s an incessant beeping sound. Beep. Beep. Beep. It’s the sound of people tapping their cards or phones on contactless payments terminals, in Pret, in the Tube, on the bus, in Sainsbury’s, everywhere. It’s the sound of a message being sent by the smart-chip on their card via the merchant’s bank to Visa’s fortress data-centres to their bank’s data-centres and back. It’s also the sound of Visa, Mastercard and the banking sector getting richer. More generally, it’s the sound of us being processed by a system that wants to accelerate its production and consumption lines.”– Brett Scott
I grew up in a working-class town, lived in the hippie world (in intentional communities) for 20 years, then moved to live in middle-class London. I’d lived in London for a couple of years in my early twenties – in Camden, which had a rebellious, counterculture feel. It felt as though something could be built there, or in places like it, that could grow to challenge the dominant corporate culture. But now it’s sterile – an expensive, counterculture theme park. Rough areas of London become ‘bohemian’, then middle-class and corporate, then insanely expensive and dull. It’s a pattern that has been repeated from Clapham and Islington to Camden and Notting Hill – and continues until the entire city is a bland, dreary and corporate, with all rebelliousness wrung out of it. I’ve heard it called the ‘Zurichification’ (hyper-gentrification) of cities. And there’s very little opposition to this creeping hyper-gentrification, because most people are either:
- in a corporate career, or a corporate facilitating role – in advertising, PR, media, medicine, education, law, civil service etc. and don’t want to rock the boat.
- private landlords, and don’t want to rock the boat.
- in corporate drone work, paying extortionate rents to private landlords, and can’t rock the boat.
- immigrants doing the jobs that the corporate drones will end up doing if they’re not compliant (driving, building, cleaning, nannying, street-sweeping etc.), and can’t rock the boat.
- homeless, and can’t rock the boat.
Conversations tend to be diversionary – about holidays, extensions, self-serving or virtue-signalling takes on current affairs or party politics. There’s some faux-revolutionary talk, which involves distinctly non-revolutionary voting, demos, petitions, boycotts etc. And Brett talks about start-ups with ‘revolutionary’ advertising, when they know full well that their aim is to sell out to a corporation at some point.
“London increasingly operates as a series of optimised production (and consumption) lines presided over by authorities, corporations and technology. People cram off the Tube to cram into Pret for coffee to cram into work, before cramming into the self-service checkouts at Tesco for lunch. You’ll never see the bosses or shareholders of the production lines, but you will see a series of CCTV cameras, touch-screens, QR codes and employees, with the latter increasingly subordinated to the technology.”– Brett Scott
This state of affairs is about as damaging as it’s possible to get – to nature, to democracy, to community, to people’s well-being. So what could be authentically ‘revolutionary’? What could represent pushback against Uber, Pret, Visa, Mastercard, Tesco, E-on, Thames Water, O2, etc? It’s very difficult to reject those things if there’s no alternative to allow you to obtain the essentials of life. Certainly not voting, or any form of ‘uprising’, or demonstrations and protests, which just ping off the corporate behemoth, without the majority shareholders knowing they’ve even happened.
I believe that the authentic revolutionary approach will be the commons economy, and that it will start outside the big cities, where community has been destroyed, and where people are too busy building or servicing the corporate system, and don’t want to damage their career / status; or just don’t have the time or the resources. Having said that, we’re still talking with people in London about starting commons groups, and Liverpool is in line for a big credit clearing scheme next year, that can be replicated in other big cities, and reduce dependence on bank-issued money and payment systems, with their associated data harvesting and surveillance. But I think the most fertile ground for building the commons will be smaller towns with stronger communities and easier access to land for local food, energy, water and natural sewage services.
Happy 2024 – bring on a commons world, before it’s too late.
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