the soft kettle
What we experience when we try to push against things is a flabby absorptivity. Everyone, from the government to business to the media, soft kettles us; we soft kettle ourselves.
Hard kettling is the sadistically ironic punishment of people who felt trapped enough to demonstrate in the first place; it says, “If you complain that you are restrained by our wonderful democracy here, we will only restrain you more & harder. That will teach you.” It makes material the soft boundaries by which the demonstrator has already been traumatised.
Soft kettling is really quite hard to fight. It comes from the left (or what’s left of it) as well as from the right and centre. Writers like Benjamin Barber sold a core message which went, essentially: “Things are fucked but when we say that we must be careful not to offend anybody, or actually catch their attention.” Any pushing anyone does now is always going to be described, by someone in the soft kettle walls, as a “thoughtless”, “juvenile” or “irresponsible” step.
That’s the beauty of the guilt & confusion they make you feel as they encourage you to stand here, day after day, for the rest of your life, ringed by legal, fiscal, moral & media instruments, crushed up against the next person, who’s as desperate for a piss–as desperate for a life–as you.
You have to get out of the soft kettle before you can do anything at all, even speak about this stuff.
Neocons, neoliberals, Reaganites & Thatcherites stole the concept of radicalism and attached it to their own retrospective program. That enabled them to call actual radicalism “backward-looking”. They think they got away with this linguistic theft & accompanying concept-shift, & until now, they did.
One of the strongest parts of the soft kettle wall is the whispering neoliberal voice, “Don’t you know that the world has changed ? Don’t you know that change is always final and after it nothing can change again, so that if you don’t live in the new world you can only revert to the bad old ways ? Do you really want that ? Is that what you really want ? The bad old ways ?”
As if the thirty-year attempt to get revenge on the New Deal & reinstate the labour practices of the 1920s wasn’t in itself a return to some genuinely bad old ways.
By describing any action (except the action of willingly standing in a hard kettle for eight hours then being allowed to go home) as a kind of violence, they swaddle the possibility of change.
But nothing is ever fixed. Care enough, push hard enough, laugh hard enough, get your arse in gear, & you can cause as much further change as you want. Cultural kettling, soft kettling–along with the odd bit of hard kettling when necessary–is designed to make sure you never understand that.