• Rowan Fortune

Heat and Despair

If we are to survive the crisis we that face, we need more than just survival for its own sake.


Pointless gadgets are a guilty pleasure of mine, but my most recent acquisition—a so-called smart bottle—is turning out to be unexpectedly invaluable. It monitors, via a phone app, the amount of water I drink throughout the day. And it has helped me to correct a long-term bad habit of under hydrating. This has been even more important as the UK (yet again) is experiencing record breaking temperatures.


The Met Office has reported dizzying levels of heat, up to 29.5C with highs of 33C potentially imminently on the way in some places. At some future point, there is apparently a 30% chance of the current hottest day recorded of 38.7C (in July 2018) being exceeded, potentially going up to 40C (with 10% odds)! Serious water restrictions may come into place for the first time since the mid-70s and health warnings have been given.


As indicated, the problem is that these temperatures are not normal to the UK. And while many want to celebrate the opportunity to sun bathe and bask, the unexpected heat will cost lives and cause great suffering. As a multiple sclerosis sufferer, it means struggling with constant fatigue and burnout, brain fog and pains coursing my limbs, but as a socialist it is arguably far more troubling. It is a daily reminder of the stakes at play: the world is on fire, and the arsonists are in power.


As I write these words I am parked in front of a fan, although unfortunately a doctor’s visit will soon force me to brave the outdoors. Because it is so uncharacteristic of the weather of Britain, our homes and facilities are ill designed and equipped. The elderly, sick and disabled are consistently the first and foremost to suffer.


NHS waiting times, including waits in accident and emergency (as I recently discovered in a nine plus hour stint) are horrendously long. This is in part true because of our Conservative government’s chronic underfunding of services and reckless (if not deliberate) mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic. What we are seeing is the interaction of crises.


The financial crisis of capitalism is one of profitability, observes Andrew Kliman in his seminal The Failure of Capitalist Production. It is a threat that has been brewing since the 70s when it was delayed by the class war tactics of neoliberalism. This problem has hit at a time when capital would need its fullest resources to offer a sufficient response to the ecological crisis it has embedded into its mode of production, as Andreas Malm eloquently argues in his book Fossil Capital. The result is a retreat of the imperialist core into rampant nationalism, which Markus Wissen and Ulrich Brand diagnose in The Imperialist Mode of Living.

Capitalism and its political manifestations, for all its technical wonders (from smart bottles to the very capacity to understand the climate at such a sophisticated level), cannot answer the despair that is palpable in the rippling air around us. Despair is itself, then, the fourth part of our myriad crisis. For the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch hope is no mere emotion, but the foundation of human consciousness, an outward directedness that makes our flourishing possible. Limits to hope result in maladaptation at fundamental levels, an inability to even think coherently that is so evidently on display in the wave of reactionary politics.


Given the extremity of the catastrophe about us, what is the response of our political class? To embroil itself in an internal Tory Party culture war over which Conservative MP is the most transphobic, with the winner getting to be Prime Minister. As I outlined in my report on Trans Pride London this year, most candidates are vying for who can best strip us of the few rights and dignities currently afforded. This is no mere distraction; the forces of creeping fascism see an opportunity in a moribund society on the brink of ruination, an opportunity to enact the cruelty that becomes the lifeblood of the hopeless, the atomised monsters of a failing system of social organisation.


Where, then, can we find hope? Currently, I am stumped. What we need is clear enough: mass struggle, a great rejuvenation, the end of the abstract systems of capital’s domination. But the means by which we get from here to there are not at all apparent. Finding hope, finding its merest potential, is itself the great problem of our moment. Without an answer to the crisis of belief, of organisation, of vision, there is no remedy to the fire that engulfs us all. Every person who cares should devote themselves to this undertaking, and do so with others.


Otherwise, all that we have left is to burn while we judiciously monitor our water intake on phone apps.

 

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