Kathleen Lynch and Philip McKibbin
Wherever we look, we see distrust and violence. Oppression is everywhere: racism, sexism, ableism, and speciesism appear to be entrenched. And we have brought our planet to the very edge of climate catastrophe. Our social, political, and economic structures are not equal to the challenges before us – in fact, they are complicit in the injustices shaping our lives.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos last year, Oxfam presented its Time to Care report. It highlighted the stark polarisation in global wealth: the world’s 2,153 billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 billion people, and the 22 richest men in the world own more wealth than all of the women of Africa. It called on governments to build ‘a human economy’, one which is feminist, and which values care and solidarity above profit and wealth.
The Politics of Love, underpinned by an ethic of care, radically conceived, could move us toward social, species, and environmental justice. It does not simply propose an intervention; it imagines a reality beyond the deep-rooted structural injustices of today. We believe that politics needs to engage with principles of love, care, and solidarity, so that people can recognise the suffering of others and learn to feel as well as to know. Solidarity is what will enable us to make progress against the forces that are dividing us. It will allow us to realise the Politics of Love.
We have seen examples of solidarity in recent years. In Ireland, for example, there were marches and protests in all the major towns and cities against the privatisation of water during the austerity era. These culminated in a Right2Water campaign from 2014-2016, leading to a climbdown by government so that water remained in public ownership. And even more recently, in Aotearoa New Zealand, in a show of support for tangata whenua (the Indigenous people), tens of thousands of people – Māori and non-Māori – have demonstrated at Ihumātao, halting the planned development on culturally important Māori land.
What, exactly, is solidarity? Solidarity is a political principle that recognises our interdependence and reaffirms our mutuality. It also allows space for our differences. Solidarity represents a commitment: it aspires to enduring togetherness. It supplants values of self-interest and distrust with hope and possibility. It generates a different way of thinking in politics, beyond separateness, competition, colonisation, and aggrandisement.
Neoliberalism is the dominant ideology of our times, and it operates to undermine solidarity. It is premised on giving primacy to the market in the organisation not only of economic, but of political and social life, as well: the norms of the market provide the ethical framework for decision-making. It is allied with patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism. And it is careless. It represents us as atomised, selfish, and in competition with each other; as such, it is antithetical to relations of care. This is reflected in many public policies, including, for example, the failure to provide accessible, high-quality publicly-funded childcare and care for others who are vulnerable, especially in old age; the lack of affordable housing and public transport, which forces people into long hours of commuting at high cost to ourselves; and the growing rate of casualised and zero-hours contracts which cause anxiety and leave us (especially young people) unable to plan our personal lives, due to lack of income and housing security.
When we allow market values to dictate our present and decide our future, we risk abandoning the project of individual and collective responsibility and ‘depoliticising’ politics itself. A sort of fatalism emerges, where we learn to wait passively for a pre-ordained future, one that is ‘beyond our control’ – but this ignores the obvious fact that we are the makers of history, and that politics is in our hands. If people are to engage in politics, politics itself must speak to us as ethics: in ways, that is, that appeal to our relational and moral selves.
So, we must transcend neoliberalism. How can we do this? First, we must rethink our understanding of ourselves. The story that neoliberalism tells us about what we are like is untrue. We are highly interdependent, both individually and collectively. And we are able to give to others and contribute in many ways, not all of which are best understood in terms of labour, finance, or economics. In acknowledging our interrelatedness, we will reclaim and vivify politics. Second, we should affirm and uphold loving values, such as care, generosity, and gratitude – values which remind us that it is with and through others that life is meaningful. These values can guide action and inform policy, and they will help to ensure that the Politics of Love remains resilient. And third, we must repudiate the competition that undermines unity: we must replace the logic of possession and consumption with trust in love, care, and solidarity. This includes undoing competition between individuals, which sees us fixating on power, money, and status; but it also extends to market competition. The idea that for one of us to succeed, someone else must fail is false. We should celebrate and enable cooperation as a core principle of social, political, and economic organising. This process begins with educating our children in the theory and practice of cooperative principles.
Solidarity consists in action. It is not enough simply to feel and think, we must also act. What, then, might we do? When we engage in loving dialogue – listening to each other, as well as communicating honestly and respectfully – we demonstrate our commitment to one another, and to our common concerns. We should also seek out ways of connecting. In their essay ‘Disabling of the QTPoC Future’, in the book The Solidarity Struggle (2016), for example, Ngọc Loan Trần makes connections between queer and disabled people:
‘For me there is a commonality that exists for queers and disabled folks: there is no body that is truly fit for this ableist and capitalist system. There is no body that exists (and not due to ableism alone) that is fit, on a human level, to be perfect or enough. [It is important to acknowledge] that none of our bodies are enough within the state or systems of oppression. Disabled bodies, queer bodies, fat bodies, bodies or color, femme and feminized bodies face the violent forces that desire us to be able-bodied, heterosexual, skinny, white, and masculine…’
In making this connection, they suggest how we might make further connections – connections which will allow us to be together, and for each other, in all of our diversity. And we must show up for one another: we should recognise that others’ moral worth rests on the same foundation as our own and relate their struggles to those we experience.
Importantly, solidarity can extend beyond us as human beings. It involves ways of being that respect our connections to the natural world. We see this in the animal liberation movement, which affirms that we, too, are animals. It is also evident in Indigenous worldviews, which understand us as being part of nature. A Māori worldview, for example, conceives of people in terms of relationships, the most fundamental of which are to the natural world. Ways of being that are in solidarity with the natural world imagine us as integral to it, rather than above it, or separate from it. It is love which allows us to act on this understanding. When we realise that we are not the only ones threatened by climate change – when we understand that other animals, ecosystems, and the planet itself are also worthy of love, and that they are threatened, too – we will be in solidarity with the rest of nature. Then, we will be able to work with natural systems, in ways that are non-dominating, to avert climate catastrophe.
The Politics of Love reimagines our relationships. However, it also recognises that political resolutions to injustices require major structural and institutional changes, especially to the dominant neoliberal capitalist model of our time. Solidarity would see us democratising public and private institutions, creating secure non-exploitative forms of employment and wealth ownership, building nurturing welfare systems, fully resourcing caring love and solidarity work, collectivising natural resources, and regulating industries that threaten our health and environment – re-creating our world through collective action. These are changes from which all of humanity, as well as other species and the planet itself, will benefit.
Solidarity enables us to affirm the importance of that which seems separate to us. Significantly, it challenges the binary distinctions that divide us on grounds of race, nationality, religion, and gender – as well as those which hold ours to be the superior species, and which teach that we are distinct from nature rather than part of it. It urges us to recognise that we are all in this together. When we unite in solidarity, we will realise the Politics of Love.
Kathleen Lynch is a Professor in Education and Professor Emerita of Equality Studies at University College Dublin. She played a leading role in establishing the UCD Equality Studies Centre and the UCD School of Social Justice. She is lead author of Affective Equality: Love, Care and Injustice, and New Managerialism: Commercialisation, Carelessness and Gender. Her new book, Care and Capitalism, will be published in 2021 by Polity Press.
Philip McKibbin is a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, of Pākehā (NZ European) and Māori (Ngāi Tahu) descent. His book Love Notes: for a Politics of Love is published by Lantern. He co-organised ‘The Politics of Love: A Conference’ at All Souls College, Oxford. www.philip-mckibbin.com
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