Solidarity and Solitude

I am becoming disillusioned with the notion of solidarity. Oh, I'm not becoming disillusioned with solidarity as a good thing - I'm becoming disillusioned with people's attitudes to solidarity.

You might think that I'm just one of those cranks who needs to complain about something because I don't have a job - actually, a lot of people do. You might think that I'm making things up, or maybe that I've completely misunderstood the notion of solidarity. Who knows? You could be right; for me, solidarity has always been a bit of a fuzzy concept as I learnt its meaning from context and from being in solidarity with others, not from a dictionary or from reading weighty tomes.

As far as I understand it, solidarity involves supporting people through their struggles thanks to having responsibilities or interests in common, and seems to support me on this one. It takes some empathy, some kind of conscience and about 5 minutes of your time - so I thought it would be relatively common, especially amongst people who claim to be working for what's good and right and among people who struggle. After all, they should know what it's like - right?, not quite. I was far too naive in my beliefs and I expected solidarity where there was none. I expected people to support each other, to help each other, to reach out to others in difficulty.

What did I find instead? I found a lot of people who talked about solidarity; that much I can say for certain. I can say for certain, too, that some of those people stood in solidarity with those who need it. I'll be generous and say that chances are a lot of them did - chances are, too, that a lot of what they did went unseen, not because they deliberately chose not to publicise their actions but because often, directly helping people is not a very public matter. A lot of good is done out of the way of prying eyes, and while that's fair it also skews this lazy, cynical student's anecdata.

However, I saw a lot of people talk about solidarity and then...well, saying that they didn't follow up on their talk would be a bit of an understatement. They fought, they quarrelled, they spewed divisive and damaging propaganda, and in general, they did pretty much the opposite of everything that's considered to be solidarity.

In short, they were normal people, with normal petty quibbles and normal spite. I've got little against them for that alone (well, apart from the propaganda - we need much less of that in the world). I suppose what I do have against them is disappointment: they praised one of the most high-flown values to the skies and then failed to practise what they preach. Now, everyone slips up from time to time - but living your life in a way where you try to stand in solidarity with others and to help people and living your life in a way where that's not your primary aim are two different things. I know, because I've lived both ways at different times.

Sometimes I think that people are too caught up in pushing their ideas to try doing anything else.

So what do we have, if not solidarity? Possibly the closest thing I've found is this: we hate X and these people also hate X, so let's support them! I personally am pragmatic enough to agree with this in most cases: I will work with most people who don't harm others or try to restrict what consenting adults can do in their private lives. The problem comes when you decide to support or politely overlook little matters like killing people. After all, a little collateral damage is regrettable, but sometimes it's needed to advance the cause...right?



I would disagree with that on the grounds that killing people and thus causing more suffering is wrong. Actually, I would do more than disagree: I would think that you were completely and utterly wrong and seriously question your ethics. However, a lot of people disagree with me and will end up overlooking this collateral damage in the name of an ideal so high it is apparently worth contradicting itself for. (I'd like to think that people struggle with this issue before deciding to support murderers, and I'd wager that a lot of them do. I still disagree with them, though. Also, the "Murrika did it so we shouldn't be singled out" argument is not particularly ingenious or even relevant; supporting death is wrong regardless of whether you're the President of the United States or a keyboard warrior hiding in your mother's basement.) In short, we have unthinking hatred in place of the unconditional love and support that we need - all of us.

We also have a giant hole where solidarity should be. I see a lot of people working - no, working is the wrong term. I see a lot of people slaving, struggling, giving their lives up in the hope that they might make the world a better place. It can be nearly soul-destroying: you sit there feeling like you haven't done enough as yet more people die, as cruelty and exploitation march steadily on. (To anyone telling me that getting a job will show me what real trauma is, that only makes me respect people who work full-time and try and change the world even more. It also makes me hope that my death from stress will be a swift and gentle one.) We don't just need solidarity there - we need solidarity everywhere, for all that pains and troubles people.

At times like that, no prizes for guessing what we all need: a support network, of the kind that I used to rant about a lot on Twitter before I went back to school and stopped having anything to say because I was too tired and it was too obvious. An informal support network takes precisely 5 minutes to set up, if that, because it consists of people who care. Caring for others doesn't cost a damn thing in terms of time, money or energy.

So why no support network? Why are we letting people destroy themselves instead of reaching out? I'm not a psychologist or a sociologist, so I can't give you a qualified answer here.

That answer falls to you.