“It Will Make Us Whole Like Nothing Else Can” Bad Breeding Write For Clash

Chris Dodd on late era capitalism, mental health, and the need for unity...

Bad Breeding are a band on a mission.

Easily one of the most inspired hardcore forces in the country right now, their catalogue is one long plea for solidarity.

New album 'Human Capital' is out on July 8th, and it's an inspired blast of energy, an anti-authoritarian plea for common solidarity.

Slicing through the tabloid-fuelled culture wars, 'Human Capital' pushes back against the basic truths that impede upon our essential freedoms.

New single 'Prescription' has just gone online, a ferocious and deeply inspired blast of righteous punk.

Taking down the crooked Conservative meritocracy, Bad Breeding attack the theme with ruthless ferocity.

Bad Breeding’s long-time collaborator Jake Farrell penned a full essay for Clash on the themes that run through the band's work, titled Atoms. Frontman Chris Dodd introduces it for us.  

Lyrically I wrote ‘Prescription’ as a response to all the fatalism of echoed narratives in postmodernism, those old laboured tropes of no future. It’s something I find myself consuming all too often. It feels like we’re entrenched in this position where “art” is peddled either as a financially lucrative cultural identity or a badge of moralistic gesturing.

So much of this stuff feels prescriptive and I wanted to write something about how our continual fascination with stunted movements of the past has allowed the same repetitive ideas to be sold back to us over and over again, until you can’t envisage an alternative beyond them. Instead we find ourselves pitted against one another in divisional culture wars that only serve to strengthen the position of those who hold power.

Putting together the Atoms essay was a way of documenting a lot of conversations Jake and I have been having for years. It builds on a lot of the lyrical themes discussed on the record and serves as a natural extension of a piece called Ghosts that he wrote for a fundraising project we did together back in 2021. The primary focus of the essay was to look at the impact of atomisation and rampant individualism – key facets of modern capital – on our collective health.

An increased focus on our mental wellbeing and the welcome de-stigmatisation of this issue has often provoked the response you might expect from a society obsessed with the individual – one relentlessly focused on the products, services and actions you can buy into to make yourself better. It's telling that the response to so much strife is not to band together in the face of our punishing collective experiences and find solidarity – the market has instead, like water finding level, spotted yet another opportunity to drive people apart, into their niches to solipsistically focus on themselves, atomising an already fractured society further.

– Chris Dodd

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In late 2019 a Twitter post went viral claiming to document a conversation between two friends. One was asking the other for help with an emotional problem.

It prompted a conversation about how to “deal with” these requests and culminated in the person who had received the request sharing a template that could be used by their followers if they ever found themselves in the same position. It read:

“Hey! I’m so glad you reached out. I’m actually at capacity / helping someone else who’s in crisis / dealing with some personal stuff right now, and I don’t think I can hold appropriate space for you. Could we connect [later date or time] instead / Do you have someone else you could reach out to?”

Initially there were approving noises about the template from wellness cranks and self-actualisation freaks. It gained traction as another weapon in the armoury of “self care” — a measured approach to salving the trauma of modern life and “making space for yourself.” It quickly became ubiquitous online, gathering twenty thousand likes and was quote-tweeted over three thousand times with smug, elitist sanctimony.

What all of these reactions ignored was that it was completely demented. How could such a grotesque and bizarre interpretation of human relationships be lauded so widely? How could something so deeply odd resonate with so many?

Eventually it was given the treatment it deserved and ridiculed in thousands of memes. But that first reaction, and that it existed at all, spoke with clarity to the continued degradation of our relationships under capitalism.

Here was an idea that internalised the logic of the market to everything, to time, to “emotional labour,” to the “transaction” of offering support, so fully that it had actually assumed the role of a company, morphing seamlessly into the language of customer service — processing somebody’s cry for help like a ticket on a customer service interface, triaging their pain like a call centre worker in the global south.  

It’s a journey we are invited to go on everyday — to place ourselves at the centre of everything and to ask of every interaction: what does this achieve for me? How does this help me attain the mirage of fulfilment? How does this secure me against the buffeting, uncontrollable forces of capital?

The function of this self-obsession is two fold; the first task is to cut us off from one another and to promote the idea that only the management and prioritisation of the self can lead to contentment and security — when it is actually the opposite that is true.  

We are marooned on our islands of self-obsession by cultural forces that emphasise our differences, keeping us apart and suspicious of one another. It feels as though in recent years, especially during the immediate onslaught of austerity following the 2008 financial crisis, that the idea of community itself was under attack.

Solidarity was positioned as a weakness for naive mugs on a national scale. The most vulnerable in society were cast as grifters on the make, with the noble taxpayer footing the bill for their laziness. This was evident in the way that the government tasked private companies to complete spurious “assessments” in order for people to receive or continue receiving Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowances (ESA). These leeching companies, fat on our money and named incomprehensibly with made-up Latin-sounding words as though they were a team on an episode of The Apprentice, deployed vast armies of investigators to expose a class of lying scroungers that didn’t exist — they made people who used wheelchairs crawl up stairs, questioned when people had “caught” Downs Syndrome and asked suicidal men and women “why they hadn’t killed themselves yet.”

These actions contributed to a wider mood and sense that there was no responsibility to anyone other than yourself. The companies involved in the privatised benefits enforcement system were witchfinder generals acting as the outriders of a government trying to rewrite a fundamental value — that a crucial part of life is to serve and care for those that need the most help.

This atmosphere has long been translated politically into explicit public policy which attacks the institutions and organisations working people utilise to protect themselves. Though we think of efforts to weaken and complicate the mechanisms of unions as a Thatcherite concern, or a task that is historically complete, legislation as recent as the 2016 Trade Union Act serves as a signifier of the prolonged war against working people organising together for better conditions.

Under that act the farcical situation can occur whereby it is illegal for a union to call a strike even with a huge mandate from its membership due to a number of voting abstentions that would not be able to affect the final result anyway. This act erodes democracy and undermines the value and utility of participating in collective action.

The impulse behind these purposeful attacks by the ruling class is their fear. There is little point in cutting out the knees of something that could not initiate change anyway. That is why the ideology of separation is driven so relentlessly and desire to create loving communities is suppressed and hammered wherever possible. Practically the weakness of unions and the lack of control on capital means banal but sad facts for working people.  

Even for those in work the promise of modernity is in fact a bleak reality. Wages stagnate whilst people experience savage rises to the cost of living — meaning leisure and comfort get hit to account for basic necessity. Children move away from their parents in the face of exorbitant rent and house prices, grandparents work themselves to the bone and don’t participate in the ultimate fulfilment of looking after their grandchildren. These are the sunlit uplands that modern capital, with all of its frictionless innovation and disruption, has brought us to. A place where we are poorer, wearier and alone.

The second function of atomisation is that in this state it is easier to foist saleable ideas on us — self care, self love and general solipsism come ready-made with accessories, things to buy and chase to show how much you value the self, how much you are willing to invest in the business of You.

This way of thinking also shifts the responsibility of recovery from crisis or maintenance of our mental health back on to the individual — we are fed the lie that our suffering and pain is singular, personal and abstract from our shared material experiences as working people and can therefore be solved as such.

As the Danish critic Mikkel Krause Frantzen writes though: “depression has a set of causes and a concrete context that transcend any diagnostic manual, as well as the neoliberal ideology of focusing on subjects, not structures; personal responsibilities, not collective ones; chemistry, not capital.” In other words, the crisis that we face is not one just between our ears but one that is caused by the world around us — that is as he puts it “saturated by politics and by the economy.”

Modern understanding does not allow for this to be true and instead posits that the problem is one of perception, or as the late therapist David Smail put it, that the individual “can change the world you are in the last analysis responsible for, so that it [can] no longer cause you distress” with what he calls “magical voluntarism.”

Whilst talking therapies have their place and are valuable we cannot remedy this entire situation by turning inward — individualism cannot save us. They are an addition to a life lived with an emphasis on mutual support and availability to others – not a substitute for it.

Our lives are not to be managed like we are each a plucky start-up, not to be measured in the emotional profit and loss that we can extract from our relationships and those around us. We don’t need to invest time and energy on capital projects of the self on some doomed, linear journey to self actualisation.

These are truly counter-productive measures. Any fulfilment that is available is to be found in love of and service to others, of our communities. Giving of yourself, not preserving or saving yourself from the world, is the way to find purpose and hope.

Every instinct in our body is primed to put ourselves first by the world we live in and sacrifice is by definition hard. Our muscles of solidarity have atrophied — withered away along with the big stories our societies used to tell themselves about the purpose of living.

But there are still opportunities to exercise them again. We see examples of it all around us as people gather to place themselves between bailiffs and an eviction, give small, regular amounts of money to feed hungry people in their towns or use their time to tutor students who can’t afford the advantages of their peers.

Perhaps the only benefit of the pandemic period is to prove that immense collective strength still exists in our communities. With governments ideologically incapable of providing the necessary solutions to the problems posed by COVID-19 they funnelled money directly to capital schemes rather than people, who of course committed fraud on a massive scale, and cut the already paltry uplift to Universal Credit remorselessly and too soon in the face of suffering and protest. Yet throughout the pandemic it was the people who had the answers. Aware of this power and fearful of the possibilities and pathways forward that it can illuminate, the forces of capital will continue to do whatever they can to obfuscate that truth and implement whatever tactics are required to create division through needless, distracting culture wars centring on identity.  

It may be trite to say “we can all do more” — but it’s true. We can. And we are actively dissuaded from believing in solidarity and altruism by the ruling classes and the system of late capitalism that we live under every day. The road ahead, given the ensuing climate breakdown and the lingering possibility of another economic crash, will be more treacherous than that already behind us. As resources dwindle and ecological changes bite, the desire of the wealthiest to preserve what they have hoarded will solidify and likely be enforced by violent methods. Action and support will take more courage and effort not less; more dedication and organisation — more sacrifice — as anything worth doing should.

Hopefully we will look back with disbelief at a time when it was acceptable to broadcast to the world that we are at capacity. Until that state is reached we at least have the opportunity, for the time being, to go looking for meaningful ways of knitting our society and ourselves together again. It will be hard and will require putting community before self. It will require us to love one another unashamedly. To extend forgiveness where we have been taught it is right to offer sneering judgement and condemnation. The difficulty of it will be the mark of its value. It will make us whole like nothing else can. It’s this opportunity that makes sacrifice the most meaningful thing of all.

 – Jake Farrell

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‘Human Capital’ out July 8th via One Little Independent Records.

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