Precarious Life

Following my recent posts on the coming war with Iran, there’s a thoughtful post on the UK Guardian by David Hirst, a long-time correspondent in the Middle East. It explains some of the consequences of the US failure in Iraq, and underscores how volatile the coming months and years will be, regardless of the twists and turns of the US occupation and ensuing withdrawal…

I finally visited Jonathan and Emily last night at the Magic Funk Palace, and had a lovely dinner followed by that ultimate San Francisco treat, an outdoor hot tub! Yowza! Talking over dinner, we skated over to “Precarity” and the numerous related themes that are percolating rather more intensely in Europe than in North America, but are slowly rising to the surface here too. I got my copy of Mute Vol. 2#1, and an email to join the Mute community, where these issues get a lot of play. The new issue is called “Underneath the Knowledge Commons” and the editorial “When America Sneezes” is a good place to start discovering the ‘strange loops’ that link us across the planet in a fight over what’s left of the Commons.

Coincidentally I’m brushing up on my 1934 General Strike history by reading David Selvin’s A Terrible Anger, in which he describes the “shape-up” that preceded the emergence of the union-controlled hiring hall that was achieved after the Big Strike. Longshoremen would work a continuous 18 hours followed by days without work, eat steaks one day and go hungry the next three. Talk about precariousness!

That underscores the difficulty of the concept, its all-encompassing vagueness. Because people around the world, especially in the Global South, have always been living precariously. Over a billion people are near starvation, and clean water, basic infrastructure, power, transit and communications are all generally unavailable to around 40-50% of the world’s population.

The fact that a lot of us empire-dwelling, affluent, immaterial laborers are waking up to our precarious state, and that precariousness is a spreading reality for all the former self-imagined “middle class” and “upper middle class” folks, is important to note. But it smacks of the navel-gazing narcissism that cripples our capacities for empathy and solidarity that “we” think we’re somehow in new territory. It’s normal for most people, throughout most of history, to be dangerously precarious in terms of survival and well-being.

Beyond that dire form of precariousness, there’s the everyday uncertainty of love, relationships, family, community. How we take care of each other, whether we can–or want to–maintain commitments that span years or lifetimes, how we grow trust and continuity and passion and love… more precariousness, eh? I am still enduring the end of my relationship with Mona, who is moving out in a couple of days to start her new life, which will also mark the start of mine. I’m finally through the serious grief and ready to embrace whatever comes next. Plenty of love and community still comforting me, and many interesting projects on my near-term and medium-term agendas.

I finished Haruki Murakami’s “South of the Border, West of the Sun” last night. Like all his writing, it’s incredibly haunting and touches my deep emotional core. In this story he describes a man at middle age who has a happy, successful life with wife, children and thriving business, but is haunted by a girl he knew at age 12, his one and only true love. She reappears as a gorgeous, mysterious visitor to his bar, their relationship reconnects, and he is ready to abandon his entire life for her. But he doesn’t. It’s a bittersweet tale, full of psychological depth and growth, and resonated strongly with my own experiences of making difficult relationship choices, decisions that don’t always correspond to anyone’s expectations (least of all, one’s own!). This time I’m on the receiving end, or was, but the pain is subsiding, replaced with some kind of anticipatory excitement. Something good is coming, maybe sooner, maybe later, but life is not boring! And living at this particularly bizarre and dangerous and scary and hopeful and unpredictable moment in history (well, I guess maybe all moments in history *could* be described that way!), really heightens my desire to take it all in, to be in the moment, in the stream of life, breathing, laughing, crying, loving…

ok, enough sappiness! back to sardonic disdain and ironic distance already!…

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