New Year’s Resolutions are a waste of time, so here are mine.
1. Use the internet less.
The internet isn’t just a bottomless well of procrastination excuses. It changes how you treat people. We act as if words on a page (or on a screen) are the most vital building blocks of human communication — and to be fair, we’d struggle to do much without them. But on their own, they’re extremely limited.
Trying to discuss or debate using words alone — without the millions of tiny nuances you can convey with tone of voice, hand gestures, facial expressions and so on — is like using a sledgehammer when what you really need is a scalpel. All brute force, no finesse.
It’s why people are so unrelentingly foul to each other on the internet. On Twitter, on Facebook, on the comment section of the Daily Mail, you’re not engaging with a fully-rounded human being — someone you can empathise with and come to understand, even if you ardently hate everything they say. You’re responding to a few lines of snarky text and a postage stamp-sized profile picture. And that means you dehumanise the people you’re talking to — and they dehumanise you. You’re colder, angrier, nastier than you would ever be in a face-to-face encounter. And they’re colder, angrier and nastier right back.
I say all this as if I’m a jaded comment-slinger finally packing it in after one too many shoot-outs on the Guardian website. Which isn’t the case at all. I don’t think internet debate works, for all the reasons listed above.
But I’m still starting to feel the creeping dehumanisation that comes when more and more of your interaction comes through a computer screen. Sometimes I catch myself treating someone I’ve only interacted with electronically with less respect, less kindness and less consideration than I’d afford someone on the street. And so, in 2018, I want to significantly reduce and strictly limit the amount of time I spend on the internet.
2. Travel more (within reason)
Up until now, I’ve been very against travelling. I don’t fly. I don’t drive a car. I move around the country as little as possible. This is mostly because of the environment. I want my role in obliterating the ecosystem to be as small and insignificant as I can make it.
But last month I went to Oxford (you can read about it in too much detail here), which was the first time in six months I’d left my bit of South West England for anything other than work, and found it fascinating. I didn’t like a lot of what I saw, but I learned new things about society, and it reminded me of things I once knew about it that I’d forgotten.
It’s led me to the conclusion I need to do that kind of relatively local, fact-finding, bus-and-train travelling more. I’m never going to have the time and the resources to go full-blown Wigan pier, unfortunately. But if I want to fully understand the predicament civilisation is in, and what if anything we can do about it, I think I need to get out more.
Oxford was sociologically interesting. I’m going to try and go back there during the University term time, and see what I can learn from that. I also think, as much as I dislike the place, I need to go back to London. I briefly dipped in and out with work before Christmas, passing both Grenfell Tower and Canary Wharf. In so many ways, that place seems to typify the excesses and injustices of our age — as well as generate the most spirited backlash against them — so I think I’m overdue a long, brooding look-around.
3. Be useful
The general election result took virtually everyone by surprise. Including me. I thought we’d be crushed, and that the whole thing would be a long, costly, annoying distraction from what we should actually be doing — organising on the ground to bring about social change outside the usual parliamentary channels. Which shows how much I know.
When I saw how well Corbyn had done, I immediately decided I had to get much more involved in Labour. And I did. I went to lots of long, boring meetings, took copious minutes, wrote leaflet copy, manned stalls, sold wristbands, put up gazebos and took them down again, and probably did a lot else I’ve forgotten.
But back then it felt like another election might be weeks away. There a was a real sense that, with one last heave, at a moment in the very near future, we could actually get a radical Labour government.
I now think the Tories will cling on until 2019 at least. Brexit might force them into an election eventually, but it’ll be in years, not months. And my enthusiasm has undoubtedly dimmed as a result. Without that galvanising urgency, the pettiness and dysfunctionality that put me off small-town party politics in the first-place has been getting harder and harder to ignore, and as time’s gone on, I’ve started to drift away a bit.
But that’s bad. We’re still living through the best chance socialism’s had in my lifetime — and may ever have in my lifetime. And so, in 2018, I want to dust myself off and get back on the Labour Party horse.
At the same time, I’m going to be a lot more selective with my involvement. I’m not going to go to meetings just for the sake of going to meetings any more. Before I do anything Labour-wise, I’m going to ask myself “how is this useful?” — how does it help people, or bring us closer to socialism?
Based on the assumption that quite a lot of Labour stuff won’t meet either of those objectives, I want to get involved in other things, too. Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of talking about my values system, but nowhere near enough acting on it. Another big aim for 2018 is getting myself involved in something that helps vulnerable people — an addiction charity, a homelessness charity, a food bank, something like that.
4. Possibly write less
Halfway through 2017, I realised the game was up. I couldn’t delude myself any longer. I wasn’t a blogger. I probably never had been. Virtually no-one read anything I wrote – and that had been the case for years.
Really, blogging was an excuse not to get out and do politics in the real world. If I felt angry about something, I didn’t go and campaign about it — I wrote a blog post about it. One that about four people glanced at, and one might have read from start to finish.
That realisation has definitely changed how I approach writing on the internet. I now accept it’s basically a hobby. It’s not all that different to how some office workers come home and hand-craft wooden tables as a wholesome leisure pursuit. I get satisfaction from it — from the process of writing and refining the posts themselves, but also from expressing myself and my views. The result is a sort of political diary — one that I put online for old times’ sake as much as anything.
But I still probably spend too much time on it. It’s taken me all day (the last day of my Christmas break) to write a post on New Year’s Resolutions that no-one is going to read except me. Some might argue I’m a bit obsessed. Whether I am or not, there are definitely more useful and enjoyable ways I could’ve spent the last few hours of 2017.
I know myself well enough to know I will never stop writing. And of all my Resolutions, this is probably the one I’m least likely to stick to (if I manage to stick to any of them). But I think I need to limit the amount of life I plough into this weird little project. One post a month, perhaps. Two at most. We’ll see. Happy New Year. See you on the other side.