I’ve always struggled with the concept of solidarity. It was something left wing people said to each other and I wasn’t really sure why. Recently I saw a news story which if I recall correctly, was about an anti-NHS privatisation group rocking up to a pro-Palestine rally to show ‘solidarity’. I might have misremembered but there is any combination of activist groups we could interchange there.
I took to Twitter in my confusion… What if I were pro-Palestinian AND thought some market driven reforms in the NHS were a good thing? What if I was staunchly anti private-sector involvement in healthcare but sympathised with the Israeli position? How is it my representatives in one cause get to put my borrowed weight behind another I don’t support?
A leftie friend deigned to explain and told me “it is best to think of it as collective underdoggery’.
That makes sense, I guess. I can see something noble in that, a bunch of workers from one factory sacrificing pay and striking in solidarity with those from another. Collective sacrifice made with the knowledge that reciprocation is likely and positive results possible. But you can’t just phone it in can you? Surely you need to do something?
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre I wrote a case for expressing solidarity with the magazine. This did not simply mean adding the hashtag de jour after a tweet, I was specifically calling for the reprinting of any artefacts of expression which had provoked threats in order to dilute the risk. This is surely actual solidarity, taking some of the burden, widening the target, saying ‘if you are coming for them you may as well come for me too.’
Unfortunately many out there claimed ‘Je Suis Charlie’ but baulked at the only action of solidarity that mattered. For example, the New Statesmen showed their support to Charlie Hebdo by publishing all their most offensive covers with the exception of the ones that actually got them killed. This is morally worse than silence, it is cashing in on a popular movement, scoring the social points of expressing solidarity and being on side but skipping the actual work.
Tonight I was reminded of how meaningless the word ‘solidarity’ can be when I read the following tweet:
This is a man offering solidarity to those who were ‘triggered’ (I am pretty sure that’s some variety of being offended) by hearing something in a debate at a university. I imagine him pressing his fist against his temple when sending that. Is this gentleman offering to unite with them and become triggered himself? Will he offer to share their sleepless nights and excess anxiety? If not, what is he actually doing beyond expressing a modicum of sympathy? Now I don’t wish to pick on him and he is no doubt a thoroughly decent person etc. but nevertheless, his tweet got me to thinking.
Christopher Hitchens said:
If you don’t want to sound like the Pope, who apologises for everything and for nothing, then your apology should cost you something.
Well I suggest the same should be true for expressions of solidarity. It should cost you something. Because otherwise it too easily seems to be aiding the expresser and their image more than the recipient. And then what’s that about? You look good marching through Paris holding a candle and looking solemn and it is nice to show support. But unless you are taking some risk from the shoulders of others, unless you are doing your bit to ensure the likes of Charlie Hebdo are not walking point for the whole of society, you can’t really call it ‘solidarity’.
Update: As you can see in the comments below, the tweet from the person named ‘Chris’ was in fact not from a chap.