I used to love the slogan ‘Be realistic: demand the impossible’. It speaks to the necessity (at least for the last few decades) of fundamental change in order to survive the consequences of capitalism’s onslaught on the earth and its children.
But somewhere along the line, disillusion and burnout taught me that ‘the impossible’ was, well… impossible and I switched to working on the ‘quite difficult’ instead. As time passed, I came to like the phrase ‘working with people where they’re at’ – it offered an explanation for previous lack of success as well as hope for creating political working relationships that could lead to some sort of change.
In my efforts to organise alongside new and different people, to work on issues that they already understand and that motivate them, I tried to consign the impossible to the world of art and youth and idealism.
Trouble is, I’d already taken the red pill. When you know that nothing short of ‘impossible’ change is necessary, everything else is like moving deckchairs around on the Titanic.
In the last few years, I have brought my impossibilist identity back into the daylight, but it is an embattled identity these days, having to be active on too many fronts:
- needing to spend time on unrelated income-earning activity
- struggling to stay motivated despite the knowledge that all is lost
- distracted by escapism and consumerism
- defending itself against the disbelief, disappointment and incomprehension of others
- being a lonely impossibilist, not yet cosseted and inspired by committed co-conspirators
- pulled every which way by other important and urgent things, none of which are impossible (and many of which seem to be running to stand still in the face of bureaucratic demands)
And so, one asks, predictably: ‘What is to be done?’
The answer is to come up with an impossible plan!
I have decided which impossible thing to attempt.
It will lay the groundwork for further impossible plans. It will require (office-based) heroism! It will require luck! It will require dogged persistence!
Most of all, it will require talking about it nearly all the time to enthuse people around me and create a group of fellow impossibilists – because the only thing that can achieve the impossible is a very large number of people.
When you have that, you are more than the sum of your parts: not just skills, but enthusiasm for skill-sharing; not just resources but many links to more resources; not just capacity to work, but joy in working together; not just collective experience, but a forum for exploring your collective analysis; and, crucially, you have more ears for hearing about opportunities and more capacity for grabbing them.
I should note at this point, that my idea of the (achievable) impossible has shrunk back quite considerably from my early dreams of an all-encompassing ecological revolution. But I still think it’s pretty ambitious.
I want to create a place where people give according to their ability and receive according to their need; where sharing lives creates surplus time for caring, playing, creating and engaging in the wider world; where different generations live together, learn from each other and look after each other; where most needs for food, shelter and fuel can be met from the surrounding area….
OMG, it’s a commune! For 100+ people! And I want to stay in West Yorkshire! With residential, agricultural and light industrial planning permission!
Impossible, you cry – well, to be fair, I think so too, but I’m gonna give it a shot. I’ve been to utopia and seen it in action – at Twin Oaks in Virginia (PN 2618–2619; 2622–2623) and at Can Tonal in Catalonia. I know it works at communes across Europe and I want it here.
Here’s my dream: not to have to worry about money, to be surrounded by friends, to get cooked for every day, to do a mixture of physical and mental work, outdoors and indoors, to create a resilient and ecological local economy, to be part of a strong community that can pull together in times of crisis and to live in beauty and honesty.
And, of course, to be the springboard for many more impossible things.