At the Poachers Arms: what to do about governments

The legendary Poachers Arms is a pub which is always open, can be found just round the corner from anywhere, and where the regular patrons make no pretence at being respectable citizens.

On a Tuesday night of plummeting temperatures I came upon it on the corner of two narrow streets in Bloomsbury. Rain was blowing around the streets in cold gusts, threatening to freeze in mid-air but for now still flooding the gutters. The lights behind the timber-framed casement windows had never looked so welcoming. I entered to the glorious smell of roast pork belly. Thomas, the oldest barman in the world, served me a pint of Slipshod and shouted through to the kitchen for a plate of food.

I sat at a table beside a middle-aged man reading a paper and young couple, the woman wearing an office shirt, loose tie and trilby hat.

“It’s disgraceful!” said the man as I sat, looking up from his paper. “The government!”

“They usually are,” I said, taking a sip of Slipshod. “What do you suggest?”

He shrugged. “It doesn’t seem to matter who you vote for. They’re all at it.”

“Do you think you would be any different?” I said.

“I’d do a bloody sight better than those worthless twats!” he said. “Course,” he added, “I probably don’t have the tact.”

“I don’t think anyone would be better,” said the woman with the trilby hat. “I think it’s the conviction that you would do better that is part of the trouble.”

“So it’s better to leave them to it?” grunted the man.

My plate of roast pork belly arrived, borne by the ancient Thomas. “Can’t leave them to it,” he said. There is nothing wrong with his hearing even if his joints aren’t what they used to be. He slapped the plate down in front of me. “I’ve been around a while. They’re all mad, the politicians. Mad as hares.”

“I don’t think we need them,” said the woman as Thomas departed. “I think we can create new ways of doing things ourselves. I don’t want to run the government.”

I got busy with the food as the newspaper reader and the be-hatted woman sparred.

“So,” said the man. “You think we should just leave them to it.”

“No,” said the woman. “You don’t have to pay attention to the government to do something about it. If you create new ways of doing things it challenges the power of those in charge.”

“Takes bullets to challenge that lot,” said the man. He picked up his paper as though that were the end of the conversation.

“It might, in the end,” said the woman. “But I don’t think that should be the first resort.”

“Wasn’t suggesting it should be.” The man looked annoyed at the misrepresentation of his position.

“Thing is,” said the boyfriend of the woman in the hat. “I think the structures of government and economics that exist now will corrupt anyone. The trick is to get power away from them.”

“How?” said the older man, putting his paper down again. “Who should have the power?”

I swallowed a mouthful of pork, gravy and potatoes. “Perhaps you need actual democratic structures that are different from those that exist now,” I said, wanting to be helpful. “And you pull power towards those structures.”

“You’d still end up cock-waving at each other,” said trilby hat.

“Then maybe you need to reshape the existing structures,” I said, piling apple sauce onto a forkful of pork. “You don’t choose between the state or not-the-state. You change the nature of the state. But you still need other forms of organising to do that.”

“What, a party?” said trilby hat suspiciously.

“No, no,” I said. “It would only betray you. Something less hierarchical. And not one organisation. Many overlapping forms of organising aimed at undermining the usual form of organising a government.”

“Isn’t that what I said?” said the woman.

“Nope,” said newspaper man, butting in again. “You said you should ignore the government. Doesn’t seem like such a good idea to me. God knows what they’d get up to.”

The woman in the hat looked between the two of us. “Okay, if I did say we should ignore the government I didn’t mean it. I don’t trust the fuckers.”

Her boyfriend nodded as though thinking about something for the first time. “So maybe we do need organisation. Not like parties or anything. Just channels for attempts to distribute power better.”

I raised my glass of Slipshod. “Here’s to multiple channels for our rage. Home-made gutters for the rain of dissent.”

The newspaper reader grunted and nodded toward the window. “It’d better be warmer than this, that’s all I can say.”

“That’s up to you,” said trilby hat to him with an overly sweet smile. “You’ll be the rain.”

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