Many people reading English and American books while coming of age in the early 1970s, found that Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a classic of travel, philosophy and homage to the motorcycle, influenced them greatly. Even if they didn’t ride or maintain motorcycles. Even if they didn’t travel far or study the philosophies of the Eastern and the Western worlds.
Pirsig described his book as an inquiry into values. He detailed how important ‘care’ was in all aspects of life, including in the maintenance of second-hand motorcycles.
I remembered the previous owner had said a mechanic had told him the plate was hard to get on. That was why. The shop manual had warned about this, but like the others he was probably in too much of a hurry or he didn’t care.
Pirsig focussed on the word ‘quality’ as a key with which to unlock a path to the good life, lived fairly and justly. This focus on words is an example of a poet’s aphorism, as written by Seamus Heaney.
If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.
Now, almost fifty years after Pirsig’s classic was first published, another book picks up the opportunity for change offered by one word: Care. It is not a lyrical book like Pirsig’s, but a direct assertion of a political philosophy, forthrightly named The Care Manifesto.
It is written by a group of academics, who came together in 2017 as a reading and discussion group. They are based in England. They work in various universities, in the fields of sociology, consumer studies, media studies and American studies. They decry carelessness, citing the pandemic as an occasion of negligence and waste.
The first page slams government choices
to waste billions on military hardware against distant or non-existent threats and to funnel money to the already rich.
The writers apply the word ‘care’ to the challenges of politics, kinships, communities, states, economics and climate. They write short, well-structured chapters, only very occasionally slipping into academic jargon. The language is clear and the arguments are cogent.
Writing in The Guardian, members of the Care Collective made bold assertions about ‘care’:
This very old word is newly fashionable, and with some unexpected twists.
They use it to as the foundation of a politics of interdependence:
We are never outside the social, we are not the autonomous individuals some fantasise themselves to be. There is only interdependence in human existence, as we lean towards and upon each other, as well as on all that sustains the world we inhabit.
In this Age of Pandemics, it is useful to have a manifesto to open our thoughts to possibilities of coping and improvement that might become real in the world, even in the hackneyed sense of creating the ‘new normal’.
Welcome and affirming though this manifesto is, implementing it will require an undoing of current power structures, a re-description of the word ‘power’ itself and a construction of a more just and fair world, with Care at the root of it all.
Not a problem. It’s with us and ahead of us. Seamus Heaney said it:
The way we are living, timorous or bold, will have been our life.
The Care Manifesto by the Care Collective? Highly recommended.
The Care Manifesto – the politics of interdependence; book; The Care Collective;Verso; London, 2020
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; book; Robert M. Pirsig; Vintage Classics; London, 1991
Seamus Heaney quotes: