Part one: Trust
In 2014 I went to a payday lender in my neighborhood to borrow $750 to pay rent and buy groceries. It took me 2 years and $1600 to pay that debt. I did not ask a friend for the money I needed because I could not accept that anyone I trusted would want to help me, or that they could afford to help me. I didn’t know when or how I would be able to pay back the loan, and I wouldn’t want anyone to have to share my precarity with me. I also didn’t know whom I could explain my situation to without feeling ashamed. I didn’t want to undergo a negotiation that could expose my private economic failure, or to invite someone else to expose their private financial status to me. Instead, I went to a storefront debtshop I knew was hideously exploitative and extortionate and asked a stranger for money from behind thick glass. These days, I could do it over an app without seeing another human being, assuming that I could afford my phone bill. As more people fall below the poverty line or live in a state of constant economic emergency, “fringe” financial service companies have developed a multitude of easy and anonymous systems to offer fast loans through impersonal systems that sanitize exchange. This level of automation may reduce a feeling of shame for needing financial help, but it also eliminates the potential for experiencing care or practicing negotiation. There are a million ways to get quick money without feeling like a burden on any one. In an age where we are taught we can’t trust anyone but ourself, and when asking another to trust us is deeply uncomfortable, the quality of social bonds, and even our ability to imagine and create those social bonds corrodes. This doesn’t just happen in the debt industry, but across a world reshaped by capitalism as we’re constantly told to trust corporations and politicians we know are ripping us off just so we don’t have to learn to trust ourselves and one another. I have identified three of the toxic lessons experiences like these teach us that we need to unlearn if we are going to build a post-capitalist future.
Three toxic lessons to unlearn
Bad support, which is usually given by corporations but also sometimes by austerity-minded governments, begins when you’re led to believe that you are receiving some kind of help that will allow you to thrive, but then this ‘help’ reveals itself to take more than it ever gives. Often and obviously this comes in the form of extortionate debt, a life line that’s actually a noose, but it can come in other forms too: a dream job that turns into a nightmare, etc. The worst part of this lesson is that it trains us to expect bad support or unexpected punishment when we are most in need, so we may start to avoid seeking any kind of support and believe in self reliance which is impossible for a cooperative species. Worse still, we may reproduce this pattern when we are asked for support, because it is all we know: we become bad support for others. This may happen because we fear our support for others will be bad and so we never learn to offer it. Or when we offer support, we’re so scared of making a mistake that we overdo it and exhaust ourselves, or offer non-transformative support that maintains the status quo.
The atrophy of the sharing muscle
If we can only receive help from corporations or institutions, we lose the skills and practices involved in asking for and offering help from people in our community. Having relationships where our central resources are carefully shared is fundamentally intuitive to humans, a cooperative species. Like language these practices are far from innate. They take energy, time, and practice. Central resources include housing, money, and our skilled labour. Sharing them requires lifelong practices of communication and negotiation. Unfortunately, since sharing is so devalued in this society, we are led to believe that it’s easy or automatic. But when we do not actively practice sharing our resources, we lose the muscles needed to do so, and we may even forget that this kind of hard core interdependence is possible or desirable. Indeed, it can seem like a threat. Attention and care are also central resources, and, while we all have the capacity to produce and receive them it’s not automatic and requires practice and structure.
If we don’t have experiences sharing resources, or sharing our stories of struggle in an unfair financial and social landscape, we may feel like we alone are failures: failienation. If we feel that our inability to thrive is our personal responsibility and that we alone have failed (instead of realizing that the systems of support have failed all of us), we may not want to share our story or ask for help because we assume that we would be a burden on other people (if we assume they are not feeling like failures themselves). This is a self-defeating defense mechanism and often manifests in everyday life as being anti-social or even incurious towards others. It’s vital to recognize that falienation also affects the fortunate. Say that you’ve worked out a way to survive well enough in this brutal financial landscape and your material needs are covered or exceeded. This can be alienating in part because your security comes largely from your ability to purchase what you need, rather than rely on others, and partly because you are living in a society where some people’s comfort comes at the expense of others. In a system where only some are permitted to thrive, we come to resent one another, in all directions, which maximizes distrust and makes it even harder to learn to share central resources.
Learning to trust ourselves again for the first time
The Hologram is a social technology to rebuild the social trust that has been dissolved by living in and with Capitalism. Decades of neoliberalism and austerity have taught us that our health is our personal responsibility. Most governments’ responses to the current pandemic have allowed whatever trust we had in them to look out for our welfare to melt like salt in hot water, and now we have to gargle with this stuff. Many people have lost their jobs and their ability to pay rent, and the state (in most cases) has done little to nothing to support them. The last crystals of trust in society have dissolved.
This is (always already!) the time to ask: How do we imagine our own care, before or during an emergency, within a set of completely unstable conditions?
The Hologram creates a space where it is possible to have repeated social experiences of commitment and attention from people who are doing so without economic motivation. It is a practice-ground where these invaluable experiences can be given and received, accepted and sanctioned. The assumption of The Hologram is that we can train ourselves to trust each other and to trust ourselves. We are in for the fight of our lives in the years to come to save the world from capitalism, but whatever post-capitalism we hope to build can’t be magicked into existence and will not be handed to us. To better be able to join the struggle for it, and to prepare to take our place within it as cooperative, interconnected animals, we need to practice new forms of trust. It is simple as an idea and much harder as a practice, because we have all been taught toxic lessons. So, experimenting with sharing hardcore resources, starting with time and energy, may feel uncomfortable or dangerous. It is only with repetition and persistence that we can “remember” or rebuild some of these skills that we had to shed to survive a hyper individualistic financial landscape. We believe this is a practice that anyone can participate in.
Questions for consideration
- Can we do this without experts?
- Can we do this without space?
- Can we do this without money?
- Can we do this without stability?
- Can we do this when we are all a little sick?
- Can we do this when we have been taught that we can only trust experts?
- Can we do this when we don’t even trust ourselves?
- On paper make a T chart. On the left side write a list of who you call when you are really stuck but need to make a decision.
- On the right side list all the people who come to you for the same reason.
- Which side has more people?
- What’s the difference between the people who you trust, and those who trust you?
- What would it take to help the people who need support to be able to become people who you could go to for support? Or, what would help your supporters become better at what they do for you? And, what would make you better at offering support?
- For each person, and in relationship to you, consider the following: a. Boundaries (positive and negative) b. Courage (yours and theirs) c. Skills (yours and theirs)
- Based on your considerations, circle the three people you might approach to be your triangle, if you were to be a hologram.
- Based on your considerations above, circle the three people whom you might learn from if they were a hologram and you were in their triangle.