Warriors in Woolworths

Call me old fashioned but I like my rebels to look like rebels. Think – Mikhail Bakunin, “born not under an ordinary star, but under a comet” (Herzen). Thick, long, wild hair entangled on the winds of escape, a beard that could conceal a ten-pin orb, eyes so enraged they could light the fuse, the devil-may-care aura that their life was but a mere iron filing in the smelting of the clenched fist of the struggle. That is, scary. Rebellion is, after all, scary. For he and his fellows “the story is the deed” – so they did stuff, because for Mikey “idealism is the despot of thought”.

Yet without doubt 2014 is set to be the peak year of the ridiculous self-parody I shall generically term the “intrarebel”. Bracket in the self-appointed mavericks, misfits mavens, black swans, lone wolves, red foxes and mysterons. Self-parody because the agitant willingly working for improvement and change within the firewall has been with us since, well, when the firewall was really a wall, made out of breeze-block. Or wood. Or wattle and daub. Or dung.

The intrarebel only actually exists in a world of mind-enhancing techno-fantasy. Freshly photoshopped in thoughtful off-centre pose, slight smile but not enough to trivialise the spell, blemishes sensitively airbrushed, they have interesting names like Chabaline or Merz or Anno, and job titles out of an Alice in Wonderland roadtrip around Paraguay, like Stargazer or Millennial Engagement Advocate or Guardian of Social Capital. They use a highly restricted codified vocabulary in which words like collaboration, sustainability, serendipity and responsibility are fully interchangeable, meaning they don’t need to think about what they are saying when giving a TEDx talk, that everyone de facto loves as unconditionally as their first born. Even the members of this growing movement (you only have to sign up online) approaching pensionable age are actually millenials, gently steamed in a sanitised enclave to preserve their aura of springwater innocence. There are a wealth of shared resources available to the vanguard – to mark them out from their unfortunate colleagues and justify the freely-given look of warm pity at the 7am Monday morning sales meeting – all marked down on Amazon to 99p for the set. You just have to know where to look.

As the popular management movie the Incredibles said, when everyone is Super – then no-one will be. In the corporate, organisational world we have mainstreamed rebellion, candy-coated it, normalised it, removed all qualifying criteria, destroyed its meaning. Many at all levels within corporations or large organisations want and strive for better, try to improve the lot of their colleagues and themselves, to contribute to their organisation’s advancement and success, to make them more socially aware. That’s not rebellion, its just good citizenship.

Bakunin took part in the Czech revolt of 1848 and for his troubles was extradited to Russia, imprisoned in the notorious Peter-Paul fortress until 1857, then exiled to Siberia from where he later escaped. He had given up the life of a noble (his family owned a modest 500 serfs) for his convictions. The fuse in his expression was formed in hardship, determination, struggle and unwavering belief and commitment.

In his own words – “anyone who makes plans for after the revolution is a reactionary”.

THAT’S rebellion.

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