The Forest At The End Of The Year

“there are gods who do not care how this order ends, only that it does.”

A year-in-review from Rhyd Wildermuth

In the Catholic Liturgical calendar, 31 December is the feast of St. Sylvester. According to church historians, it was Sylvester (whose name means ‘wooded’ or ‘wild’) to whom the emperor Constantine announced his conversion to Christianity and to whom he gave the authority of the new political-religious order.

Yet as in much else of the political-religious order which we ‘moderns’ have inherited, there is the hint of older Pagan festivals lingering behind the history. In much of the Western world, New Year’s Eve is a night of raucous debauchery and celebration (and is named after Sylvester in Germanic lands), evocative more of the Saturnalian roots of Christ’s Mass than our vapid, domestic/consumerist celebrations around wrapped presents and gaudy trees. Yet even that tree recalls the older form as well, an evergreen brought into a home, the forest celebrated within the civilized.

Like many ancient saints, fantastic and magical acts are attributed to Pope Sylvester. Sylvester is said to have summoned the ghostly remembrance of the sunken Atlantis on behalf of the virgin Mary who cried tears of pearl for its lost memory; the island of Maderia celebrates the re-appearance of Atlantis each year on this day. And Sylvester is also said to have raised two Pagan magicians from the dead who then gave him their blessing. Their bodies had lain at the feet of a Dragon they had attempted to kill; Sylvester killed the dragon for them, and brought them to life apparently without attempting to convert them.

In Sylvester, perhaps we see fragments of ancient forest gods, or an entire order of the feral grieving for what was lost as a new order is founded. That old order breaks through in the human revelry, the bacchanalian celebrations on frigid urban streets marking another turn of the new order’s calendar with a feral warning: the forests are still here, the wild cannot be denied, and every order must eventually die.

The Last Hours of Empire

The year has been 2017, the next numbered 2018. On this turn of Silvester, we might wonder whether the upward count of numbers goes the wrong direction, that like the countdown marking the next year’s beginning we are ourselves counting-down.

We can certainly count-down the species alive on the earth, or the amount of arable land remaining after erosion and development, or the oil reserves of the planet, land still inhabited by forest, cities still with breathable air. And we can deduct from a pool of what once seemed unlimited hours the amount of time remaining to reduce carbon output to keep human life possible on the earth.

But just as easily, we might name and number the remaining days of the capitalist order itself, crumbling under the weight of its own destruction, buried under its own trash, hobbled and enraged by the crises which it itself has created.

The one accounting seems pessimistic, the other optimistic. Yet both are part of the same order whose days of plenty are numbered. We cannot have hope without despair, nor creation without destruction, nor joy without sorrow.

For Americans, certainly Trump seemed a sign that the old order is broken. His opponent professed all the correct articles of faith: equality, social justice, experience, jobs, goodness, military power. He on the other hand seemed dredged from liquid remaining at the bottom of a trash-can: populist, crass, anti-global, misogynist, inexperienced.

Yet he leads the Empire and its religious-political order now, and Americans have been confronted with uncomfortable questions long-unasked. Liberal Democracy no longer appears to work, the ‘barbarians’ of anarchy and fascism both wreak havoc within the gates, and while some still hope for a return of some shining queen that might restore faith to the faithless, most now understand there is no ‘back’ to which we can return.

Brexit, too, has heralded the end of the old order of polite capitalism. The project of the European Union falters upon the United Kingdom’s exit and other internal revolts, held together only by the willingness of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to do everything the banks ask of them and ignore the populist rage outside their palaces.

Catalonia’s bid for independence, perhaps more than any other act in Europe, showed to the world the weakness of the capitalist order, even more so as Spanish police smashed in the faces of elderly Catalan women for daring to cast a ballot.

Instability again reigns in South America as well. Consider the near-collapse of Venezeula, engineered in part by OPEC’s over-production of oil, in another part by American government interference, and in many parts the failure of the Venezeulan government to build the Bolivarian working-class which Chavez promised. Or consider how the 9th largest economy in the world, Brazil, is currently in free-fall and has not paid pensioners and some government employees in months.

Meanwhile China, which has spent billions of dollars already in investment to prepare for (but not stop) global climate change, has increased its financial alliances in Africa and Asia, re-orienting the centers of power away from the Atlantic consensus, with Russia skillfully playing all sides of political tensions and increasing their own influence within Europe.

The Broken Covenants

These are not mere shifts in an endless geo-political game. Every government has seen the climate and resource crises affecting the entire world and is jockeying for position for its final round, just as the rich and corporations have been investing heavily in security systems, resource grabs, and crisis management so they might avoid the guillotines.

While all this looks to be signs of a coming collapse of the current order of Empire, we must not kid ourselves. That order has been crumbling for much longer; just as a cancer might spread through a body long before any symptoms arise, these changes have been happening for decades.  Empire isn’t starting to collapse; we’re just finally noticing.

We should welcome every bit of this, while grieving every death and sorrow this collapse will cause. Millions will die of starvation as droughts, floods, disease, and soil-depletion cause famines. Many more will die from the wars those famines cause, because hungry people do not sit idly by waiting for better harvests whilst others hoard what’s left.

We should welcome every bit of this as we welcome the end of the year and hope against hope the next will somehow be better.

Myths abound regarding St. Sylvester’s concourse with the ancient Pagan world and its spirits. Unlike later popes such as Boniface, the establishment of the new order he created was said to have been wrought through contracts and agreements with the old powers, much like Solomon is said to have bound demons to build his temple or Irish High Kings were said to make agreements with the gods of the land.

The brilliant film-maker Guillermo Del Toro uses a fictionalized version of these folk-tales in his remake of Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark, attributing to the forest pope a contract with bone-eating goblins: Sylvester allowed them only take the teeth of children, and only upon payment of silver coin, and thus they became tooth-fairies, not bone-goblins.

Such contracts abound in the founding stories of almost every political order, and we would do well to look at what particular contracts founded ours. Because the fairies want our bone and flesh again: fires consuming vast forests, floods drowning cities, the earth shaking around sites of hydraulic fracturing. In more Pagan times we might have seen these as signs the gods had withdrawn their consent from our rulers and know what else it meant: when those old contracts were broken and the gods of nature made known their displeasure, the people sharpened their blades, led their rulers to bogs or trees, and ended the corrupt order to restore right relationship with the land.

Are we not now in such a time? Can we not see the beginnings of such blade-sharpenings in the movements of sovereignty both of nations and people? The uprisings of Blacks against the police which slaughter them, the marches of women against power, the resistance of indigenous peoples to more extraction and exploitation of their land. Terribly, even the rising fascist tides are signs of those broken contracts, for there are gods who do not care how this order ends, only that it does.

It is the feast of St. Sylvester, the holy woodland, the sacred wild. May the feral awaken into you this night, may the forests live again within you, may what has been denied surge throughout the world.

Here’s to the end of this order, and to a new accounting of our days and a new recounting of our place within the world.


Gods&Radicals Essays in Review

The following were the ten most-read essays published on Gods&Radicals in 2017, comprising together over 150,000 views of our site.

Read This Post Before Patheos Deletes It, by John Halstead.

This essay by John Halstead detailed the abusive contract Patheos Pagan (a Christian-owned company) forced upon its Pagan writers as well as the severe anti-worker tactics of its managing editor, Jason Mankey. It first appeared on Patheos Pagan…and then they deleted it.

Catharsis is Counter-Revolutionary, by Sophia Burns

“Catharsis politics isn’t just unhelpful. It’s actively destructive.” Sophia Burns is one of Gods&Radicals’ three most-read authors, and this year three of the top-ten articles were by Sophia. In this essay, she argues against the American leftist tendency to favor feel-good acts of political expression and instead insists we must favor physical reclamations of power.

Anarchists Failed Philando Castile And They Have Failed Black Americans, by Dr. Bones

Every the fire-brand, unflinchingly probing deep into the clogged bowels of American Anarchism, Dr. Bones attacks the same feel-good political expressions and ‘angels-on-a-pin’ navel-gazing of leftists as Sophia Burns, but with a few more swear words. In this essay, Dr. Bones reminds us that discussions about the cultural appropriation of burritos can never stop Black people from getting shot by police.

The Mystic Shaping Russia’s Future and Bringing Back The Dark Ages, by Dr. Bones

What if I told you there was a wizard determining the foreign policy of a nation of 143 million people? That his stated goals were the re-establishment of a caste-based system spanning the breadth of the largest landmass on Earth?” Bones tackles the political-religious theories of Alexsandr Dugin

Front Groups Kill The Revolution, by Sophia Burns

Sophia Burns unravels the matter of sectarianism and front groups endemic within leftist organizing and prescribes a platform of radical honesty and pluralism.

British Paganism is Dying. Why? by Jonathan Woolley

Druid Jonathan Woolley (winner of OBOD 2017 Mt. Haemus award) examines the collapsing state of British Paganism and concludes that Capitalism is killing it.

Woke Nationalism and White Purity, by Rhyd Wildermuth

“Social justice obsession with a fundamentalist view of cultural appropriation is a white-knuckled grasp on the dying construct of Whiteness.” The managing editor of Gods&Radicals teases out the essentialism inherent within American social justice and how it is strengthening white nationalism.

The World Has Already Ended and YOU MAY DIE, by Dr. Bones

“The ‘we can stop this from happening’ part of the story is over. It’s already happened.”

Why Suffer For Social Justice?, by Sophia Burns

“You don’t get justice with the politics of guilt. You get it with the politics of solidarity. Freedom doesn’t come from shame. It comes from treating an injury to one as an injury to all (because for the working class, it objectively is).”

Against Liberals, by Rhyd Wildermuth

“Insofar as Liberals have set themselves up cynically as the party of the oppressed while building up the power of the state and protecting the interests of capitalism, Leftists in the United States can now build actual anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist movements.”

Editor’s Picks

The following are articles by authors who didn’t make it into the top ten list but were nevertheless the editor’s favorites, in no particular order.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


Support our work at this link. And thanks!

 

 

 

How To Stop A Flood

(In memory of Seb Barnett)

It was a long day at work, a long week. You were so tired this morning you left your phone at home, too, so there was nothing to help distract you from how much you hate your job.

But it’s Friday, and you’re done for the week. You can breathe a little, maybe even go have a drink with friends.

You arrive home. You climb the steps to your apartment building. Some days, those two flights to your apartment seem daunting. Today’s one of those days.

You hear the old couple on the first floor fighting about something through their door. They’re always fighting, sometimes so much you have to crank your music up really loud to drown them out. It’s gonna be one of those days, too.

When you get to your apartment though, you see the door’s been left partially open.  “Dammit,” you mutter. You’ve asked your roommates repeatedly to not do thatit makes you feel unsafe. They should respect that. You don’t want to yell at them, but... fuck.

When you push the door open you see the flood. Water’s everywhere, literally pouring in streams from the ceiling over everything.

You moan as you look at your bedroom: Your mattress is soaked, your computer is sitting in a lake on your desk, all your favorite books on their shelves are bloated with wet pages. And then you rememberyou left your phone plugged in by your bed, and there it is, sitting in a puddle of water.

You grab it, pick it up, and water spills out from its case.

Now you’re shouting profanities.  You survey the rest of the damage and start crying. You can’t help yourselfit’s all so much. You run to the living room to look at the painting your friend did for you last year. It’s warped, destroyed. You cry again… they committed suicide a few months ago, that was the last thing you had from them.

You search the rest of the apartment quicklythe same damage in the other rooms, your roommates’ bedrooms just as flooded.

It’s all so much, too much.

You want to sit down, hold your head in your hands and weep. But there’s nowhere dry to sityour couch is sopping wet and water is still pouring from the ceiling above it.

Coming to your senses, staring at the ceiling, you realise the water’s probably still running upstairs. You bolt out your door, tear up the stairwell with rage and pound on your upstairs’ neighbour’s door.

He opens it as you stand there, water flowing over your feet.

“Your apartment’s flooding” you shout at him.

He nods, then hands you a wet dishtowel.  “Yeah. Want to help us mop it up?”

One of your roommates is already inside with him. She looks at you, exasperated, holding a sponge and a bucket. “It’s so awful!” she says, her voice shaking, tears streaming from her eyes. “Everything’s ruined.”

You look at the sponge in her hand, and the thin dishtowel in his hand and shake your head. “Don’t you have a mop?” you ask, exasperated.

He shakes his head. “Couldn’t be bothered. Those are expensive.”

You resist the urge to punch him for being so dense, and then run back downstairs to your own apartment. You try not to look at all the damage, try to resist the urge to scream again. You grab your mop, a bucket, and a few already-soaked towels from the bathroom, and just as you are about to go back upstairs, your other roommate arrives home.

“It’s coming from upstairs,” you tell her. You hand her a towel, and start to walk past her before she stops you.

“We need to clean this first,” she says.

“What? Nowe have to stop the water from coming in.”

“This is more urgent,” she says. “My girlfriend’s coming over tonight. We can clean this first and then stop the water coming in later.”

“Are you serious?” you say, and then see her face. She’s in shock, just as you were. She’s not thinking clearly. And she’s already gone into her bedroom and is trying to sop up water with the wet towels.

You try again. “We need to stop the water coming in first.”

She acts like she didn’t hear you. You say it one more time.

“We can’t just ignore all this water,” she finally says. “And I’m not helping that guy upstairshe’s an asshole” and then shuts her door, leaving you in the hallway with the mop bucket.

She’s right. The guy’s awful. But you shake your head and run back upstairs anyway. The door’s open, and you enter to find both your roommate and your neighbor arguing and not cleaning up the water. She’s decided now is the time to talk about how loud he is when he has sex; he counters that she’s too sensitive and then starts complaining about the noise from her birthday party last month.

For a moment, you want to knock both of their heads together until you noticethere’s water pouring from the ceiling in this apartment, too.

“Shut up, you two” you shout. “The water’s coming from upstairs!”

“Stop changing the subject,” your neighbor says. “Your parties really get out of hand. I’m not racist, but I think it’s because of your loud Asian friend.”

You don’t even bother trying to calm your roommate’s reaction. In fact, you kinda hope she kicks him in the balls. But still

“Look,” you say. “You’re a shithead. But we have to stop the water upstairs.”

“Whatyou’re on his side now?” your roommate says, throwing her sponge at you.

“Fuck!” you scream at them both, and run out.

You climb the stairs more slowly this timethe adrenaline has left your system, you feel exhausted. And you really don’t want to deal with this anymore.

You knock on the door anyway.

No one answers, so you knock again. You can hear running water, but no other sounds, no sloshing footsteps across carpet, nothing.

“There’s… there’s a flood,” you stutter, knocking again.

The door finally opens, and the rich dude who lives there looks at you. You look at him and see he’s dry, and there’s no water on his floors.

“Our apartments are flooding” you tell him.

He nods, gives you a condescending look. “That’s what you’re all shouting about, huh?”

“It’s coming from your apartment.”

He shrugs his shoulders. “Oh, yeah. A pipe burst in my bathroom last night. But it’s only flooding into the wall, so it’s no big deal.” He actually smiles at you when he says this.

“You have to turn off the water” you shout. “You’re flooding the entire building.”

“No I don’t. But I’ll sell you my mop if you need it.”

“What?” You scream, starting to push past him.

He pushed you back, hard. “You poor people think you can just get stuff for free.”

“I said turn off the water now, or I’ll make you.”

He looks behind you and smiles. You can hear what he hears echoing up from the other apartmentsthe sounds of your roommate and neighbor fighting. Beyond them you hear your other roommate crying, wringing out a wet towel, and you can even hear the old people on the first floor shouting.

“You and what army?” he laughs, pushing you out the door, slamming it in your face.

The world is flooding.

Literally: Oceans are rising, land is disappearing, islands, villages, towns and cities are drowning. Climate change caused by human economic activity is killing people, causing wars, and slaughtering species. Governments and the rich have begun investing in special security measures for the coming chaos capitalism has caused, while international climate change agreements still pretend minor changes to the way we distribute resources and pollute the earth will fix things.

We humansthe only ones who can actually stop what’s happeningare staring at a nightmare scenario. Everything is going to shit: food shortages, resource wars, increasing poverty, heat waves, super storms. Cities choked with toxic fumes, massive deforestation, spreading deserts.

But we humans can’t stop it until the tap is turned off, and no one can do that alone.

Just as in the flooded apartment, stopping the source of water won’t replace the ruined books or furniture or anything else it destroyedending capitalism alone won’t fix the world. Turning off that tapstopping capitalism’s relentless destructionisn’t going to undo any of that damage, just as overthrowing capitalism won’t magically stop racism, sexism, colonialism, or any other oppression under which we suffer.

Every single one of those things is a problem. Every single oppression, every single injustice, every single crisisthese things certainly matter. But none of these things can be resolved until the arrogant assholes above us, the rich, the politicians, all those who make sure the destruction continues, are dealt with first.

Sometimes when we talk about fighting capitalism, people ask how we intend to stop racism and misogyny, transphobia and oppression of the disabled. Sometimes they even suggest those things are more important because they are more urgent. Sometimes people insist that any revolutionary movement must do all of those things at once, or it isn’t revolutionary.

We can do all of those things. We should do all of those things. We must do all of those things.

But only one of those things has the power to affect every single person, destroy every life and make every person suffer. White and Black, First Nation and Asian, European and African, male and female, trans and cis, abled and disabledeach suffers under this thing.

It also affects the rest of the living world, the non-human beings upon which we rely for our very ability to survive. Mass extinction events, poisoned streams and lakes and oceans, soil that can no longer sustain life let alone food production, all the damage done by this one thing.

That thing is Capitalism.

By Capitalism though I don’t mean a nebulous, undefined system. I mean the Capitalists, the living humans with names and addresses who make sure this damage happens because that’s how they make their money. I mean the corporations who rip apart the earth to get at coal and petroleum to sell back to us, who tear down forests and poison rivers because it makes them money. And I mean the politicians who make sure no one challenges them, and the police and military paid to shoot anyone who wants this to stop.

That’s not a lot of people, actually. But they have all the wealth and all the guns and all the media at their disposal. We only have us, our bodies, our creativity, our desire. And there are billions of us.

We are myriad, and they are few. But we forget this, forget the power we have. We forget this when we believe what they tell us, when we accept their narrative, when we let them terrify us.

We also forget this when we decide they are not the primary problem. We forget this when we decide people in the middle of the chain between us and them are actually the problem instead. We forget this when we insist fighting one group in the same situation is more important because they don’t have it as bad as we do. We forget this when we decide the imperfect people around us are too imperfect to fight alongside.

Revolution will not save the world. The overthrow of capitalism won’t solve every problem in front of us. There will still be idiots and oppressive jerks, there will still be violence against women and disabled people, there will still be racists and transphobes.

But what there won’t be is Capitalism.

There won’t be a system that lets some people have everything and forces the rest of us to fight amongst ourselves for what’s left. There won’t be a system making sure the earth is destroyed so a small handful of people can live like kings and queens.

We can have this, but never will if we insist that other problems are more important.  We can have this, but never will if we wait for perfect allies who never oppress anyone. And we can have this, but never will if we don’t do something soon.

The world is flooding, and we know why.

Let’s stop it.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


Support our work at this link. And thanks!

 

White Purity and ‘Woke’ Nationalism

Social justice obsession with a fundamentalist view of cultural appropriation is a white-knuckled grasp on the dying construct of Whiteness, insisting that symbols and people and cultures are closed, divinely-created systems, and that races and cultures should never be allowed mix.

From Rhyd Wildermuth

Three Tales of Red Laces

1.

The old woman hit my leg with her cane. Hard.

I was strolling through the Turkish market along the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg, Berlin a decade ago. My partner and I were holding hands, getting drunk on the smells and sounds of the market. It was summer, everything felt luscious, the mundane world I’d known so far from that moment that the rap on my leg felt almost unreal.

“Ich hoffe das ist nicht nur Quatsch.

I stopped, looked at her. She was old but energetic, flexible enough to bend down and grab my ankle with a strong grip. My German was almost good enough to understand what she’d said, but that didn’t make what she was doing seem any more sensible.

I turned to my boyfriend, panicked and helpless. “What’s going on and why is she grabbing me?”

He looked at me, looked at her, and then shrugged. “She wants to make sure your boot laces aren’t just nonsense.”

I looked at her again, sheepishly. “Nein…” I sputtered. Ich bin…Links.”

The old woman hit my leg with her cane again, releasing my ankle. “Gut,” she barked, smiled, and then told me to tie my boots better.

2.

A few years later, I was back in Berlin again, this time with a different partner. It was Friday night, and we were getting ready to go to a club called Laboratory. For the uninitiated, Laboratory (formerly “Laboratory Faustus”) is a massive club located in the basement of a former coal power plant. The rest of the building houses Berlin’s most famous techno club, Berghain, but…we weren’t going to dance.

Watching me get ready, with a wry smile our host asked me if I needed a different pair of boot laces.

Naive me, so new and innocent in the world (I was 30), shrugged. “Why? Red’s not okay?”

He and my boyfriend both laughed at me. “I did not know you like fisting, but okay.”

“Wait–” I sputtered. “Red laces mean you’re a leftist.”

“Ja, on the street. But not in a sex club,” my German friend answered. “But all I have are yellow, so tonight you will be a piss pig.”

3.

Last week in the bourgeois hipster enclave of Portland, Oregon, in the United States, “activists” recently became outraged at a Dr. Martens advertisement bearing hidden “racist” meanings. The advert in question features a pair of black boots with red&yellow plaid laces.  According to “local anti-hate group activists,” the image of the boots are racist because, as the Southern Poverty Law Center informs us, red laces signify that the person is a fascist who has ‘shed blood’ for whiteness.

It is probably quite fair to say that those activists (or the very small minority of fascists who might wear red laces) don’t have any gay male friends, and have never met a European leftist.

Symbol & Sign

The fact that a basic symbol such as red boot laces can mean multiple things seems rather obvious. In fact, the very nature of a symbol allows it to contain multiple meanings, and those meanings can sometimes operate differently to people simultaneously experiencing the same symbol. A swastika on the foot of the Buddha or in Hopi art likely won’t mean the same thing to a holocaust survivor, for instance.

This isn’t just true of symbols, but also of words. In fact, playing with the tendency of humans to forget that a word can have multiple meanings is the core mechanism of most humor, especially in puns and other forms of word play. So, too, in literature, especially in poetry. In poetry, the various shades of meaning (connotations) of a word are what allows the poet to say much in very little, while the ‘double entendre’ in literature and drama plays specifically off the varying meanings of words, as seen in this line from T. H White’s The Once And Future King:

Gawaine and Gareth took turns with the fat ass, one of them whacking it while the other rode bareback

Most of us tend to grip towards one meaning of a symbol to the exclusion of all others, especially if we have little or no experience with other contexts for it. So unless you’re gay or familiar with gay sex jargon, you might not know that ‘bareback’ means sex without a condom. If you have not read much older literature you might have forgotten that ‘ass’ was a common word for donkey.

Sometimes we have trouble accepting the multiple meanings of a word or symbol. And sometimes, some of us insist that the word or symbol only has one meaning. This insistence, that a symbol only has one “true” meaning, is one of the core mechanisms of Christian Fundamentalism in the United States. It started with the command that the words of the Bible must be taken literally, rather than opened to dangerous ‘liberal’ interpretation. So when the authors of Genesis (God Himself, supposedly) stated that the world was created in six days, that’s literally what happened.

So it’s then quite amusing that ‘literally’ does not just mean ‘literal,’ but it also now means ‘figurative.’ I had the opportunity to witness an angry exchange by actual (literal!) fascists about a dictionary’s inclusion of that opposite definition (those are called ‘contranyms,’ by the way). “Cultural Marxists are ruining English,” one said. “They want to make women and men into their opposites and do the same for words.”

I interjected with a handful of older contranyms they’d probably forgotten:

I hope we can all literally weather the attempts of cultural marxists to literally weather away the meaning of our words. They’re literally cleaving the meaning from the words, when we know they should literally cleave together. They’re using these tactics as a literal screen for their attempts to literally screen out any of us who know that words only have one meaning.

Unfortunately, this sort of fundamentalist thinking about words and symbols is not limited to Christians or the far right. In fact, it has become one of the core doctrines in a lot of liberal ‘social justice’ thought, and not just when it comes to red boot laces.

Cultural Property

To see this, let’s look at the term “cultural appropriation.” In its most common social justice usage, it’s come to mean theft (usually by white people) of indigenous, Black, or foreign spiritual or cultural forms. Having dreadlocks, native headdresses (like war bonnets), or calling yourself a shaman while also being white are all examples of its popular meaning, and in some cases eating ‘non-white’ food or becoming part of a ‘non-white’ religious tradition are also considered cultural appropriation.

The term cultural appropriation didn’t originally mean this, however, and only began to mean what it does now because of the explosion of internet social justice culture.

To uncover the original meaning, we need only to look at the word ‘appropriation.’ To appropriate something is literally to turn it into property somehow, and also to prevent others from using it. So, for example, when a government or a corporation takes common land or resources away from the public and makes it their own, they’ve appropriated it. Or when a museum takes indigenous cultural artifacts away from the people (including skeletons) and puts them in a museum, they’ve appropriated those cultural items.

Interestingly, when the term cultural appropriation was first used, it referred to something completely different: the way that poor and oppressed peoples took from the dominant culture in order to create vibrant subcultures. As Shuja Haidar explains:

It may come as some surprise on both sides of the battlefield, but the Left has not always understood “cultural appropriation” as a form of oppression. This connotation of the term has become ubiquitous in today’s social media-driven political climate. But when it first came into use, “cultural appropriation” denoted very nearly the opposite of its contemporary meaning.

The idea preceded the term, as a product of the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. For thinkers like Stuart Hall, cultural appropriation described the way subcultures were created… But the precedents ran deeper. Indian food in England, Negro spirituals in America, bathhouses in 19th-century France — these were all contexts in which members of what we might now call “marginalized groups” used elements of a dominant culture in altered forms, generating their own communities that could hide in plain sight.

Without understanding or even acknowledging the other meanings of cultural appropriation (and specifically the word appropriation), all the arguments about what is ‘appropriative’ become fundamentalist. Basically, a white person doing, saying, wearing, eating, or believing anything that could be said to have belonged to peoples and cultures who are not white is cultural appropriation.

This might be the dominant way of understanding cultural appropriation, but it isn’t the only way. The term itself contains the key to a larger concept, that of turning things into property. When a corporation sells native headdresses, dream catchers, or African-indigenous art, they have turned cultural and spiritual forms into products for profit. This is the very same thing the capitalists do to land and natural resources like water or trees. When a person tries to sell people spiritual teachings or services that aren’t actually sold by the cultures that came up with them, they’ve turned something available for free into something you must pay for.

Similarly, most people who use the term ‘cultural appropriation’ are likewise unfamiliar with the meaning of the word ‘appropriation’ outside of American social justice jargon. It’s a great shame, because just like the social justice activists who saw the Dr. Marten advertisement and screamed ‘racist,’ without knowing that appropriation has a much larger meaning they fall into fundamentalist thinking. They miss out on a crucial understanding of what the entire term meant when it was first employed, as well as lacking the knowledge to understand precisely what is happening in cultural appropriation.

When a cultural or spiritual form is appropriated, it is literally turned into property. A company that sells native head-dresses has turned a cultural tradition into a product that can be bought and sold. The war bonnet in its original cultural context was not something that was bought and sold–it was made for specific purposes, gifted by the community to someone. Appropriating it, then, is turning something that was never a product into a product to be sold for a capitalists’s benefit.

So when the term cultural appropriation is used to refer to people who are not of African descent who have dreadlocks, or people who are not of Indian descent who revere Hindu deities, the original meaning of cultural appropriation is completely lost. There is no property involved in those examples: no one actually owns gods or hairstyles, at least until the capitalists find a way to steal them and sell them back to us.

White Purity & Woke Nationalism

So why do social justice activists insist that white people shouldn’t adopt the cultural and spiritual forms of people who are not white?

In some cases, there is a more complicated injustice as play. Take the example of dreadlocks. In the United States, Blacks were (and often still are) severely oppressed for wearing them. So whites to wear them in a culture that calls Blacks who wear them ‘dirty’ is absolutely obnoxious, and can seem cruel (even if whites who wear them have never discriminated against Blacks with dreads).

This same obnoxious turn occurs elsewhere. For instance, in many cities and towns within the United States, laws were passed in the last century forbidding gardens and urban farming. These laws specifically targeted immigrants who raised their own food in their yards, and made it very difficult for them to survive. In many of those exact same places, it has been white middle-class people (particularly women) who have gotten those laws overturned so that they can have urban chicken coops and gardens of their own.

Some have called that second example cultural appropriation. Similar to this, some social justice activists have stated that white people shouldn’t eat collard greens because they are traditional African-American food (though they were actually introduced to them by the British, who got them from the Greeks). And here’s where we can start to understand what is really wrong with the social justice view of culture appropriation: it’s white separatism.

In a podcast with Alkistic Dimech and Peter Grey, Gordon White used the term “Woke Nationalism” to describe this particular kind of purity politics. “It’s the ‘nothing on the plate can touch’ idea” he said, adding that it was not much different from white nationalism.

He’s right. White Nationalists build their fascist ideology around notions of purity and separation. Whites and Blacks should never mix, never love each other (and definitely never have children together). Whites must be kept separated from other bloodlines and other cultures, must keep their culture distinct and pure. Whites must not do non-white things, adopt non-white customs or modes of dress or beliefs.

This is unfortunately the same logic of the social justice fundamentalist view of cultural appropriation. But while a White Nationalist claims that doing non-white things is tainting the race, the social justice activist claims that doing non-white things is theft. The end result is the same: a pure, untainted, culturally-distinct white race. White Nationalism and Woke Nationalism want the same thing, just for different reasons.

When they look to cultural forms and ethnic groups with a fundamentalist perspective, social justice activists repeat the same racism of white nationalists. Whites must only do ‘white’ things, whether that is the fascist desire to purify the white race or the liberal command to avoid ‘cultural appropriation.’ Social justice obsession with white purity becomes indeed a sort of ‘woke’ nationalism, a white-knuckled grasp on the dying construct of Whiteness, insisting that symbols and people and cultures are closed, divinely-created systems, and that races and cultures should never be allowed mix.

Both make the same two mistakes: there is no such thing as a white race, and cultures have never been pure.

Ending the White Race

Whiteness isn’t actually a tribal or cultural form (no one was “white” 500 years ago) and thus there is no such thing as ‘white ancestry.’ Caucasian isn’t a tribal or cultural term either–it was invented by a race theorist at the end of the 18th century.

Whiteness is a very recent idea, and comes from the complete erasure of ancestral and cultural histories. To be ‘white’ is to no longer have a cultural history; in order to become fully white, European immigrants (especially from places still not fully considered white in Europe, like Ireland, Poland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) needed to forsake their specific cultural and ethnic backgrounds. By doing so, they gained access to white skin-privilege in the United States and Canada and became assimilated into ‘whiteness.’ All their history, their beliefs, traditions, modes of dress and food and their languages were bleached out of them, but in return they gained a new settler-colonial identity which granted them a little more access to wealth and security.

We need to go a little farther here, though, because there is actually no such thing as ‘ancestrally-French’ or ‘ancestrally-German.’ Neither of those places actually existed three hundred years ago. Instead, one might have been ancestrally-Breton or ancestrally-Bavarian. Go back a little further and those ancestral connections existed on the level of village or countryside, not ethnic people-groups.

Even more fascinating, however, is that there were no pure or pristine cultures back then, either.

People moved, and moved a lot. They traded, they inter-married, their cultural and religious forms becoming mixed in precisely the way that terrifies both social justice activists and white nationalists. Vikings “culturally appropriated” by making clothing with Islamic verse on them. Celts “culturally appropriated” Egyptian and Greek deities in what is now London, 2000 years ago. Sephardic Jews and Moorish Muslims and Iberian pagans mixed their cultures and languages fluidly in Al Andalus. Semitic Phoenicians traded as far up to Cornwall, littering the Atlantic coasts of Europe with their artifacts.

Cultural exchange is not only an ancient thing, but it is unavoidable. When peoples come into contact with each other, they trade, they talk, they borrow, they teach and mimic each other. Likewise, racial purity is impossible–people have an odd tendency to want to sleep with each other, regardless of where they’re from.

That both social justice activists and white nationalists have trouble understanding this comes from the very same mechanism by which social justice activists saw red boot laces on an advertisement and screamed ‘racism.’  Both are certain that ‘whiteness’ means something, and both insist that whites cannot be anything else but what they’ve decided they are.

To get out of this mess isn’t easy, but it’s possible.

First, we must release our fundamentalist death grip on symbols and meaning, and especially our white-knuckled grasp on ‘whiteness.’ To do so, we’ll need to look at our past with a different perspective, rejecting the fundamentalist narratives of both white nationalism and ‘woke’ nationalism.

Because though whites have lost their ancestral connection, European spiritual and cultural forms didn’t just disappear because Americans forgot them. Here where I now live in Bretagne, spiritual and magical traditions still exist–there’s no need for anyone here to hire a plastic shaman or join an online witch course to learn about Ankou, the Korrigan, or any of the other spirits and gods of their land–they can just ask their grandparents. The same is true in many parts of Europe, especially in non-urban areas.

Reconnecting to cultural and ancestral traditions will require giving up something, though. Because whiteness is not just built upon the erasure of ethnic and cultural history, but also upon the lie that whites are enlightened, progressive, and ‘modern’ while all the rest of the world (now and in the past) was primitive, unenlightened, superstitious, and stupid.

Here, again, liberal social justice ideas actually get in the way of dismantling whiteness by painting the current regime of rights and technology as more enlightened than anything that existed before. Whiteness itself is founded upon this idea, the certainty that we know the true meaning of things. That the order of the world that came about with whiteness is the best one, that all other ways of being are wrong. In this way, even people who are not white but who hold on to this lie are making sure whiteness never ends.

And finally, we must talk about cultural appropriation in a way that actually fights those who are turning what belongs to everyone into property. The pharmaceutical companies and petty capitalists that patent ancient medicines, the universities that steal indigenous artifacts for ‘research,’ the media conglomerates who sell us fictive versions of our own history, all the plastic shamans and spiritual teachers who sell us knowledge that was once free, and anyone who would try to police our cultural, spiritual, and social expressions, be they white nationalists or ‘woke’ nationalists–they are the ones stealing meaning from the world.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


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Reacting to Reactions to Reactions: a review of Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies

While social justice activists have gotten quite good at shaming those with subtly different views from their own, all their internet crusades combined will never match what the alt-right has shown that it can do–and is more than willing to do–to its chosen enemies.

From Rhyd Wildermuth, a review of Kill All Normies, by Angela Nagle


The other morning, just before starting my morning tea, I looked at my phone. I once made a practice of not looking at my phone for the first hour after waking, but I’ve let that habit slip because my lover often sends me texts in the morning, and I miss him a lot. He lives in Ireland, we don’t see each other often enough–those messages kinda get me through, you know?

So groggy, before tea, I looked at my phone, and saw I had a message from someone I didn’t know:

I’m the editor of an anti-capitalist website and publisher. I get hate mail all the time, and I generally have a rather thick skin. But for some reason, this message was harder to deal with than the ten or so others I get a week. That same day I’d also gotten accused of being the ‘real’ fascist by someone who themselves actually is one, a ‘mansplaining’ message about how I obviously don’t understand capitalism, and some others I really don’t want to recount here.

Precisely why it bothered me, though, wasn’t clear until the next day when I was engaged with a commenter whose last message to me ended with this:

“This is the clearest indication of what a trans antagonistic POS you are and completely unable to take responsibility for the harm that you cause. Really, you’re nothing but a spiritual bypassing fuck.”

In case anyone is tempted to ask the social justice version of “but what was she wearing?” suggesting I may have deserved that statement, I’ll briefly explain myself. The latter was in a post where I’d criticised Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist (TERF) ideology, saying it didn’t belong in Anarchist thought. And I’ve some history of being attacked by TERFs: photos and misquotes of me have been used by actual trans-hating people to attack me as a ‘threat to women.’ I and the other co-founder of Gods&Radicals were both attacked last year for our anti-TERF stances (she got the worst of it, getting banned from Facebook by a notorious TERF lawyer). Previously I have also been threatened with a libel suit for revealing how someone tried to prevent myself and other writers at another site from writing anything critical of anti-trans ideology.

So perhaps ‘trans antagonistic POS’ is not precisely accurate.

Getting harassed from people on both sides of an argument is always a bit perplexing. I now get as much hate mail from would-be fascists as I do from the social justice ‘left,’ and by the time I saw that last comment I had reached what felt like critical mass. There’s only so much online ire that one can comfortably digest before you just feel over-full, nauseated, and sort of done with it all.

But these last two statements rattled me deeply, and not just because I try very hard to be supportive of trans folk and also not to be an “oppressive reductionist mansplaining misogynist.” What shook me about them (besides the fact they both came from people I do not know, one anonymously), was that I recognised the attacks from somewhere.

Last year, we published a piece that cast light upon the influence of the New/Alt-Right within Paganism. For months afterwards my inbox was full of threatening emails attacking my character, calling me a fascist, a racist (against whites), a “Marxist Demagogue,” a liar, a misogynist (because I’d criticized a woman who called for the return of a ‘conservative monarchy,’) and many more things. I also lost my writing position at a Pagan site, someone bought URL’s of my name and created an attack site against me, and I still haven’t fully lived down rumors that I have collaborated with the government and the FBI.

Going back and reading some of those messages I began to understand precisely why I recognized these newer attacks. They follow the same form, the same logic, despite having different moral content. On the one hand I’m a cultural marxist feminist out to harm anyone who I don’t agree with, and on the other hand I’m a ‘mansplaining misogynist’ and ‘trans antagonistic POS’ who causes harm to strangers.

Online Markets of Virtue

No doubt most will feel a little uncomfortable drawing equivalency between alt-right types and social justice warriors. One wants fascism, the other wants tolerance, and I generally agree with that assessment. But undoubtedly, they use the same tactics, and the question remains: why do they act the same way? Published this summer, Irish author Angela Nagle’s recent book, Kill All Normies, comes closer to the answer to that question than many will find comfortable.

Kill All Normies is first and foremost a cultural history of the alt-right and of internet political culture in general, focusing primarily on the last five years.  Yet its fiercest criticisms have come not from the far-right, but from the social justice ‘left,’ because like any good historian, Nagle refuses to narrate the social and cultural forces which birthed the alt-right in terms of good and evil, guilty and innocent, or righteous and barbaric.

Nagle opens her book with a discussion of an event few reading this could possibly have missed: the first explosively viral internet phenomenon, Kony 2012. If perhaps you were living in a forest and were not one of the 100 million people to have seen it, Kony 2010 was a short film produced by Jason Russell for a Christian children’s ministry to drum up support for a campaign to catch or kill the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.

Seemingly overnight, everyone with an internet connection knew about the video. And then, not long after, everyone with an internet connection knew about another one, too:

Angela Nagle correctly sees this event as a significant shift in mediated cultural and political consciousness. Suddenly, millions of people knew about a social injustice in Africa about which few had previously cared. Similarly, all those people also learned that the immense cultural and social capital accumulated by a single person could be completely wiped out just as suddenly, and by the very same mechanism by which they accumulated it.

Like the markets of capital, internet social markets giveth and taketh away, and we are now all subject to invisible hands clicking ‘like’ or ‘retweet.’

This point, unfortunately, is an only minor thread of her rather profound book. She weaves it in and out of her primary narrative deftly, and it is more than enough to stitch the entire book together, but readers unfamiliar with the applications of Marxist thought to social phenomena can be forgiven for overlooking it. However, no such leniency should be granted some of the critical reviewers of her work, who rely instead upon the very same dogmatic social justice tropes which Nagle criticises.

Because Kill All Normies isn’t just about the alt-right, but also about the social justice left. In fact, the story of the rise of Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos and the social pogroms they employ against women and oppressed people cannot be told without examining the mechanisms of those crusades themselves. But to do so, those mechanism have to be looked at without their aesthetic-moral content, and that leads to some very uncomfortable questions for the new breed of online social justice advocates who have arisen from internet culture.

We are unaccustomed to viewing violent tactics from a materialist standpoint, temporarily suspending our feelings and personal allegiances to look at the act itself. A case in point would be the complete failure of the American left to regard Obama’s war tactics (and particularly the use of drone assassinations) with the same scrutiny with which they viewed Bush’s employment of those tactics. Obviously, we generally liked Obama–he was charismatic, POC, and somewhat ‘on our side,’ so we were happy to overlook his expansions of the security state and extra-judicial slaughter of American ‘enemies.’

That same inconsistency occurs when we regard other political tactics. When an alt-right troll publishes the personal information about a feminist activist (doxxing) causing her to lose her job, have to leave her home, and fear for her life, we are certainly right to see that as a violent tactic. However, when the same doxxing occurs to people in attendance at the public fascist rallies which have swept through the United States recently, our criticism falls silent. If anything, collecting and publishing the names, phone numbers, employers, and home addresses of alt-right members became a celebrated social justice cause itself.

Tumblr-Liberalism, Virtue Scarcity, and the Employment of Shame

To view the tactics as-themselves. without their moral/aesthetic content (who the target is, why it felt justified, who was using it), doesn’t necessarily lead to moral equivalency. When I receive harassing emails from TERF’s or social justice ‘leftists,’ I do not then automatically see them as ‘just as bad’ as the threats I receive from white nationalists. From such a vantage, however, I am able to note that the weapons are the same, similar to how  the gun in the hands of a domestic abuse victim and the gun in the hands of a bank robber are both guns. If one decides that doxxing is ‘bad’ in the hands of 4chan trolls but ‘good’ in the hands of social justice activists, we can no longer say doxxing itself has any moral content.

So to note that the tactics employed by social justice activists and by the alt-right are the same then begs a more important question: how did they both become so common?

Nagle’s book answers this very well by presenting a cultural history of online communities, tracing the growth of ideas and narratives through both 4chan and its social justice (and let’s not forget–porn) twin, Tumblr.  Particularly of note for her is the explosion of new gender identities birthed in the alembic of Tumblr’s virtue-market, paralleling 4chan and the ‘manosphere’s’ obsession with misogyny.

While gender non-conformism is nothing new, and has certainly been ever more mainstream since the beginning of the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement, this is part of the creation of an online quasi-political culture that has had a huge and unexpected level of influence. Other similar niche online subcultures in this milieu, which were always given by the emerging online right as evidence of Western decline, also include adults who identify as babies and able-bodied people who identify as disabled people to such an extent that they seek medical assistance in blinding, amputating or otherwise injuring themselves to become the disabled person they identify as.

You may question the motivations of the right’s fixation on these relatively niche subcultures, but the liberal fixation on relatively niche sections of the new online right that emerged from small online subcultures is similar in scale – that is, the influence of Tumblr on shaping strange new political sensibilities is probably equally important to what emerged from rightist chan culture.

As she points out, not conforming to the gender binary is hardly a new thing. What is new is how we talk about gender variations, how we argue about them, and what sort of recognition they require. While sites like Tumblr (founded only ten years ago) are not the only place people have discussed new ideas about gender, there is an extra capitalist mechanism at play which mediates those discussions.

That mechanism? Attention, distributed through the accumulation and appropriation of virtue.

At the beginning of the last decade, if I wanted to express my gender in a way that did not fit in with the dominant modes in my community, the amount of work I would have to do in order to convince people would be quite extensive. I might have personal friends who were supportive, might even be able to meet people who felt in similar ways, but merely saying that I was an “ambigender Otherkin” wouldn’t really get me far. Through Tumblr we are now able to find hundreds of people around the world who feel exactly the same way, or read our account and ‘discover’ that they, too, are also an Otherkin ambigender.

Upon discovery of kindred Otherkin ambigenders, a sense of community is created around which each person with similar experiences can share their joy and sorrow and especially their struggles against a world that doesn’t embrace, understand, or (likely most painful of all) has never heard about Otherkin ambigenders (!!!). From such communities can then arise political narratives which explain the oppression that one might experience when others refuse to acknowledge your identity.

Demands for better recognition, for protection, and collective actions against those who erase or dismiss your existence are now much easier to organise through such mediums, so much so that Tumblr can be said to have significantly contributed to the liberation of ambigender Otherkin.

Whether you as a reader find such discussions a bit ridiculous or truly liberatory, a more important question arises. How, then, do we judge the oppression of peoples? What moral frameworks should we use to prioritize in whom we will invest our limited political attention and energies? Is the struggle for disability recognition, the protection of women’s access to contraception and abortion, liberating Black men from the prisons, and bathroom access for trans people all equal to the needs of the Otherkin ambigender community? And can an intersectional social justice framework hashed out through social media by means of listicles on Everyday Feminism and Teen Vogue really help us answer that question?

Rather than answering that question in any meaningful way, Tumblr-Liberalism (Nagle’s description, and apt one) has provided us instead with a playbook to get attention for our cause, to get our concerns heard. To do so, we must accumulate virtue through a highly-ritualized social process invoking the demonic spirits of ‘shame’ and ‘privilege’ to coerce others into action on behalf of each individual cause.  And when virtue is too equally distributed and its ‘buying power’ lessened by inflation, we must then appropriate the virtue of others by showing them no longer worthy of it (the social justice ‘call out’).

This playbook works because very few of us want to appear like assholes, and invoking virtue is a way to make others feel like they have wronged someone and should make amends. So if while reading my explanation of the oppressions faced by Otherkin you smirked or rolled your eyes, you just engaged in Otherkin-shaming. You showed your privilege as someone who is not Otherkin. And no–it’s not up to ambigender Otherkin to educate you on their oppression. And because you likely do not want to be a bad person, or at least do not want to appear as a bad person, such accusations may shame you into being more willing to listen to the concerns of ambigender Otherkin, help them raise awareness, ‘call-in’ your friends whose actions are obviously antagonistic micro-aggressions against ambigender Otherkin, etc..

Nagle asserts that virtue is the core capital of social media interactions. I want to appear virtuous, to appear as if I care about people (because I do). So I express things which show my virtue on the internet, and that grants me virtue capital. But when I do something un-virtuous, I can lose that very quickly as others seize the opportunity to accumulate the virtue I have forfeited by saying something ‘oppressive’ on-line. And even if I have not said something oppressive, it can be enough for virtue competitors to convince others that I have by changing the rules on what is oppressive or not, redefining oppression in a way that benefits the virtue competitor.

Rejecting the cumbersome and solipsistic nature of these closed systems of virtue has given great strength to the alt-right. The popularity of charismatic figures like Milo Yiannopoulos derives precisely from his boldly-stated rejections of the economies of virtue. But what the alt-right (especially 4chan denizens) do to political enemies (particularly women) operates on the very same mechanism. Women have had to flee their homes and people have actually killed themselves because of the social media campaigns against them, but whereas with Tumblr-liberalism the stakes are your social status, with the alt-right it is that and also your physical safety.

Shame is the core weapon in both political tendencies, the goal in both cases to ‘ruin’ the transgressor, and though the consequences of such ruin are different, the processes are so similar that we cannot help but wonder why they got that way.

This is another place where Angela Nagle’s book feels a little too short. One wishes it were not just a cultural history but a psycho-analytical study unraveling why both the alt-right and social justice left act like schoolyard bullies, the latter banishing transgressors from the popular group and the former kicking them in the shins and stealing their lunch money.

Misogynist Masculinists and Anti-male Feminists

To attempt such an analysis, however, would make the book even more uncomfortable, because underlying the two tendencies is the unspoken matter of gender-difference itself. The “manosphere,” 4chan and all other related subcultural/political milieu are overwhelmingly male, while their victims are primarily female. On the other hand, while Tumblr users are only slightly more often female than male, the social justice left sees maleness to be the most oppressive of the hundreds of genders existing on Tumblr.

While it may seem too simplistic or reductive to re-insert the gender binary here as a political tool, Nagle comes to the same conclusion as I previously outlined in my series on Jack Donovan (someone she briefly mentions in her book).  That is, the anti-feminist “Manosphere” cannot be talked about without also speaking to the flaws in feminist thought to which they react.

This crop of forum dwelling-obsessives would be horrified to learn that the original men’s movement grew out of and alongside the feminist movement and the sexual liberation movement as a critique of rigid traditional sex roles, according to masculinities scholar Michael Kimmel. Men’s liberation later grew apart from the feminist movement as second-wave feminism became increasingly antagonistic towards men, criticizing men as a whole in its rhetoric around rape and domestic violence. Splits and tendencies developed as the question of men’s experience of their societal role took different thinkers and factions in radically different directions. It was by the 90s that the men’s movement became primarily focused on institutions in which men were excluded or discriminated against. [emphasis mine]

“Criticizing men as a whole” is basically essentialism, ascribing to all men traits and behaviors which oppress women, and it is this which actually opens up territory for the very oppression feminism attempts to fight. To quote my essay on Donovan:

Jean Baudrillard expanded Walter Benjamin’s work on aesthetics by noting how, now that we only have reproduction of art, we now also only have reproduction of politics. The ‘real’ we imagine is always a copy, a simulation of the real. Those copies and simulations become how we determine what is real, affecting our behaviour and the construction of our identities.

Whereas once the aesthetic was the visual representation of a way of being, the aesthetic is now our only blueprint. We do not know what it is like to be masculine except by the representation of the masculine, anymore than we know what it is to be anti-modern without representations of the anti-modern.

More dangerous, however, is that the negatives of images reproduce themselves as well. The aesthetic of hyper-masculinity from which Donovan and Waggener build their politics is produced from the negative space of liberal feminist critiques which reduce men to enemy, alpha-oppressor, toxic, and dangerous.

It will not seem surprising that it is on this point which Nagle has received the most ire from social justice/leftist critics, who have accused her variously of blaming feminists, trans people, and social justice advocates for being worse than the alt-right. But on the contrary, if there is anywhere that Nagle could be accused of moralizing, it’s in her accounts of what the alt-right has done to women. Her history of the harassment of women during “Gamer Gate” is harrowing and she spares no details, and particularly her criticisms of Milo and the “manosphere” are everything but gentle or sympathetic

Kill All Normies is just as much an indictment of the social justice left as it is a warning about the alt-right, but it is not completely without flaws. Much attention already has been given to one particular aspect of the book, so much so that I was told to read the book was to side with the enemy. “She hates trans people,” I was informed, because of her sympathetic discussion of the incidents surrounding Germaine Greer and her rejection of no-platform tactics.

These aspects deserve further attention. Germaine Greer is a feminist thinker in the United Kingdom who has been no-platformed by trans-activists for her public rejection (15 years ago) of trans identity. Her feminism is indeed trans-exclusive, and while Nagle makes clear she herself supports trans issues, her sympathetic treatment of Greer has led some to claim the opposite.

First, the entire section in question:

These dynamics, which began in subcultural obscurity online, later spilled over into the campus wars over free speech, trigger warnings, the Western canon and safe spaces. Trigger warnings had to be issued in order to avoid the unexpectedly high number of young women who had never gone to war claiming to have post-traumatic stress disorder. They claimed to be ‘triggered’ by mention of anything distressing, a claim with no scientific basis and including everything from great works of classical literature to expressions of pretty mainstream non-liberal opinion, like the idea that there are only two genders.

At the height of all this Germaine Greer was announced to speak at Cardiff University about ‘Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’. The women’s officer at Cardiff University Students’ Union, Rachael Melhuish, decided that Greer’s presence would be ‘harmful’. In her petition calling for the event’s cancellation, she claimed:

Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether… Universities should prioritise the voices of the most vulnerable on their campuses, not invite speakers who seek to further marginalise them. We urge Cardiff University to cancel this event.

The petition was signed by over 2,000 people and Greer was transformed overnight from a leading veteran figure who worked for her entire life for the cause of women’s liberation to a forbidden and toxic TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist), whose name was dragged through the dirt. As far as this new generation of campus feminists was concerned, Greer may as well have been on the far right. Greer had not published any comment about transgenderism for over 15 years, which was ‘not my issue’, she later told Newsnight. In response to the controversy, Cardiff University’s vice-chancellor pandered to those attacking Greer, saying: ‘discriminatory comments of any kind’ and how it ‘work(s) hard to provide a positive and welcoming space for LGBT+ people’.

Not satisfied with the attacks on Greer thus far, online activist Payton Quinn, identifying as ‘non binary’ and a ‘trans feminist activist and all round ethereal being’ penned an angry public letter suggesting Greer’s actions were criminal in an article titled ‘Entitled to Free Speech But Not Above the Law’.

Greer’s feminism undoubtedly falls into what most would describe as Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism, and though it is not up to me to decide whether Greer deserves a platform to speak, Greer’s no-platforming seem neither the social justice victory trans activists believe it to be, nor does it seems nearly the great loss which Angela Nagle suggests.

Nagle’s reason for bringing Germaine Greer up at all is not to defend her brand of trans-exclusive feminism, but rather to elucidate how no-platforming and Tumblr-liberalism has led to the left having no coherent intellectual discourse against the alt-right. Few theorists or intellectuals can accumulate enough virtue capital to withstand the friendly-fire long enough to iterate a coherent political and cultural ideology that can weaken the alt-right’s position. But here she makes a rare intellectual error herself, because Greer’s feminism is precisely the sort that hobbles the efforts to cultivate  something that can oppose the core brilliance of alt-right fascism.

Greer’s feminism is actually not much different from the feminism we see in Tumblr-liberalism; both heavily rely on the notion that men are the alpha-oppressors of women, and merely differ on whether trans women are part of that oppressor class or part of the sacred oppressed. For a TERF, the answer is the former: male socialization and/or the possession of a penis at some point in ones life makes you part of the privileged male oppressor class no matter what surgery or life experiences might make you feel otherwise. But the social justice position on trans women (they are no longer men, maybe never were men, are just as oppressed and even more so than women) is no more radical. It keeps the same basic article of faith (men are bad) and only disagrees with TERF ideology on whether or not maleness can ever be mediated.

While both sides resort to harassment, no-platforming, doxxing, and even direct violence against each other, the alt-right continues to build support from men (who are after all the alpha-oppressors with no chance ever of undoing their patriarchal male privilege, so why not embrace it?). No one on the left could possibly articulate a way out of that anti-masculinist deadlock–to even question such articles of faith is to risk all your virtue capital, if you are even listened to at all. And so while social justice activists have gotten quite good at shaming those with subtly different views from their own, all their internet crusades combined will never match what the alt-right has shown that it can–and is more than willing–to do to its chosen enemies.

At the end of Kill All Normies, Nagle ends with an understandably bitter indictment of the feminist social justice left after the death of Mark Fisher:

During the period examined in this book, Mark Fisher stood out as one of the few voices not on the right who had spoken out against the anti-intellectual, unhinged culture of group hysteria that gripped the cultural left in the years preceding the reactive rise of the new far right online. In January 2017, when news broke that Fisher had committed suicide, those in the same online milieu that had slandered and smeared him for years responded as you might expect—by gloating.

Stavvers (aka Another Angry Woman), an influential Twitter figure among what the alt-right call SJWs, had already written ‘Vampires Castle’ sarcastically down as her Twitter location and responded to the news of his death by tweeting: ‘Just because Mark Fisher is dead, doesn’t make him right about “sour-faced identitarians”. If only left misogyny would die with him,’ with the follow-up: ‘*dons vampire cape, flies off into the night*,’ This response is a fairly typical example of precisely the sour-faced identitarians who undoubtedly drove so many young people to the right during these vicious culture wars. The left’s best critic of this disease of the left had just died and dancing on his grave was a woman who once blogged about baking bread using her own vaginal yeast as a feminist act.

While a tragic tale, reading it made me feel a little less alone. While I am hardly excited about the onslaught of anonymous messages from TERFs calling me a “oppressive reductionist mansplaining misogynist,” or angry comments from trans people calling me a “spiritual bypassing fuck” that this review will elicit, the very fact that Angela Nagle wrote this book at all gives me hope.

Perhaps this will all change soon. Perhaps enough people will read her book and decide to opt-out of the 4chan/Tumblr outrage machine, holding the line against the absurdity with thoughtful critique and actual organizing. Because the people who actually benefit from the call outs and doxxing and harrassment are neither the victims nor the perpetrators themselves. It’s the capitalist machines profiting from every click and retweet, every social justice crusade and manosphere pogrom–not us.


 

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a spiritual bypassing fuck an anarchist, bard, and  co-founder of Gods&Radicals, as well as its managing editor. His work can be also be found at his blog, Paganarch. And you can also call him out for his micro-aggressions against ambigender Otherkin support him on Patreon.


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Catalunya and the Coming Flood

Gods&Radicals has started our fundraiser for next year. See the link at the end of this essay for more information.


Catalonia has opened a flood-gate. Whether or not they succeed, the rushing waters cannot be held back.

From Rhyd Wildermuth

 

He’d sent his favorite painting to his friend in Paris, a friend who’d managed to hide his anti-fascist politics long enough to keep his position in an archive as Nazi bootsteps echoed through the streets of France. He bid auf wiedersehen to his hosts in Marseilles, especially his close friend Hannah Arendt, stuffed the loose leaves of his final manuscript into a valise, and traveled to the small town of Cerbère, at the tip of the southwesternmost part of mainland France.

The Gestapo had direct orders to apprehend him. So, too, did the Stalinists.  There was no where else for him to run but here.

He’d gotten a visa, arranged by an American poet friend. But the Nazis would not let a Jew leave France through any port, and his only hope was to flee by boat from Portugal. To get there, though, he would have to travel through Fascist Spain, and to get into Spain he had only one hope: Catalonia.

Only a year before, Catalonia had been free, the last bastion of anarchist and leftist resistance in Europe as fascism swept through the continent. Many Catalonians still remembered, still resisted, including the former mayor of the town of Portbou, just on the other side of the Pyrenees from Cerbère. The mayor had helped resistance fighters to the fascist Franco regime flee in France, and now he would help the Jewish Marxist philosopher, Walter Benjamin, flee the fascists in France towards safety.

I wish this story ended well.

I wish I could tell you a happy tale of how Benjamin, exhausted and harried, arrived finally at a port in Lisbon and from there sailed from European fascism forever. But he arrived in Portbou one day too late; Franco had just issued a decree that any Jews in Spain without Spanish citizenship should be immediately deported to France, and he was put under house arrest by the Guardia Civil.

Even the still-burning heart of resistance in Catalonia could not save him against the full weight of the Spanish government. But rather than face the gas chambers of Germany, he injected himself with a lethal dose of morphine, the last entry in his journal quoting Kafka:

“There is plenty of hope. But not for us.”

Last year I, along with my best friend who’d been haunted for months with dreams of the dead philosopher, followed the rocky and steep trail Walter Benjamin took across the Pyrenees from Cerbère to Portbou. The path leads ever upward, winding its way through outposts of cork oak and vast oceans of wildflowers, with the blue-green of the Mediterranean always at your back until you reach the dizzying top. But as you descend the Catalonian side, the entire land seems to change around you, massive cactus and scrubby bushes your primary companion. By the time you reach Portbou, you are in a different world completely though barely a few miles as a crow might fly from where you started.

Neither of us ever really quite understood why we made that trek. It was her first mountain climb, my first in years. The whole trip had been one of anxiety–uncertainty why we were there in the first place, confusion about the path, panic about our insufficient plans and the mere handful of coins we’d had between us during the journey. We’d run out of water before we got to the top, arrived exhausted and hurried in Portbou, realizing we had just enough money to take a train out but barely enough time to catch it, and neither of us speak Spanish or Catalan.

Why did we make that trip? Why cross a mountain just to spend brief minutes in the small town where our favorite philosopher died? And why did we feel so much dread that day and the days afterward, fearing something was coming we were supposed to prepare for?

Watching what is happening in Catalonia and the rest of the world now, I suspect I know a bit more of those answers.

“Catalonia is Not Spain”

By now you’ve probably heard about it all. Earlier this month, a vote was held in the semi-autonomous region for independence. The Spanish government declared it illegal and sent out the Guardia Civil (whose insignia is still a fasces) to seize ballot boxes and beat up old women who’d cast their vote. And then, on the 27th of October, at 3:35 pm local time, the Catalonian leaders followed the direction of the voters and declared independence.

In just 24 hours, the conservative Spanish government had moved to depose the independence leaders, had seized control over local police and emergency services, threatened parliamentarians with treason, taken over the public broadcasting services in Catalonia and installed their own leaders over the region.

And as of the writing of this essay, Spain has jailed 9 of the elected leaders of the Catalonian government who partook in the independence move. They are charged with treason and sedition, eight of them without possibility of bail, and must together pay 6.7 million Euros to cover the Spanish government’s ‘court costs’ or have all their possessions seized.

Worse from the government is promised.

But while the Spanish government attempts to punish Catalunya for its desire to be independent of the nation-state of Spain, it is not the only one showing disapproval. Large corporations are threatening to leave Barcelona or have already done so, the same process of “Capital flight” which has brought many a populist and leftist government in the global south to its knees.

And the leaders of the ‘free world’ have made clear which side they are on, and it’s not the people of Catalonia:

  • The United States under Donald Trump issued a statement through the State Department vowing to support “the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united.”
  • Theresa May, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, was even harsher, stating Britain “does not and will not” recognise Catalonia as an independent entity.
  • Emmanuel Macron, the pro-capitalist leader of France, stated: “There is a rule of law in Spain with constitutional rules. Mariano Rajoy wants these rules to be respected and he has my full support.”
  • From Angela Merkel’s government spokesman: “The German government does not recognise such a declaration of independence.”
  • From Turkey, whose leader Erdogan has violently put down Kurdish attempts at independence (including ordering the beating of American supporters of the Kurds): “Turkey will continue to support Spain’s territorial integrity, constitution and political integrity.”
  • And from the president of the European Union, Donald Tusk: “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor.”

As of the writing of this essay, the only European government to be somewhat supportive of Catalonia has been the Scottish Parliament, who were blocked from efforts to join the European Union independent of Britain after Brexit by the Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy himself. Belgium, currently ruled by a coalition which includes separatists, made a less supportive statement but has tweeted out instructions to Catalonians on how to seek asylum within Belgium in the likely event of Spanish political repression. The deposed president of Catalonia fled there already with 8 other Catalonian independence ministers.

And what about Russia? In multiple statements since the initial referendum, Vladimir Putin has made clear Catalonia “is Spain’s internal business and must be resolved within Spanish law and on the basis of democratic traditions,” though certainly seems eager to capitalize on the European Union’s double-standards regarding support for independence movements.

That so much condemnation has quickly come from the leaders of the “free world” should give anyone dismissive of Catalonia’s independence bid pause. When Donald Trump, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Erdoğan all agree Catalonia must remain part of Spain, something else is probably going on here.

That ‘something else’ is much bigger than Catalonia itself. If anything, Catalunya’s desire for self-governance threatens the entire capitalist world order.

The Identity Politics of the Nation

To understand the threat Catalunya presents not just to Spain but to capitalism itself, we need to look at the concept of the nation-state and its relationship to capitalism. But before that, we need to unravel precisely what a Nation is and how it is used to control people.

First, we must remember: most of the modern nation-states in existence are relatively new.  For instance, what we know of as Italy was birthed in 1871; Germany came fully into existence that same year. France as a nation-state was born in 1792, a little after the United States (1776). But even still it is not quite correct to look at any of these nations as being quite so old: the United States has only existed in its current territorial form since 1959 and didn’t fully control the land which is now the 48 contiguous states until 1912. Germany in its current form has only been around 1990 (after re-unification); France is in its 5th incarnation as a Republic (1958), and several European nation-states in existence 30 years ago no longer exist, including Yugoslavia (died 1990) and Czechoslovakia (died 1993), birthing new nations from their ashes.

So the nation-state is hardly an eternal form. They come, they go, they form and re-form, but before the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, they cannot be said to have existed at all. What came before were less organized systems of governments (usually kingdoms) attempting to exert control over land and very diverse people through direct force.

The nation-state significantly changed the world, and not just because it created borders and all the modern methods of state violence (police, bureaucracy, etc.).  More than anything, it changed the way people saw themselves, slowly replacing their local identifications with National identity.  For instance, before the birth of the French republic in 1792, there was no real sense of what it meant to be French (and anyway at that point, no more than half of “the French” actually spoke “French”).  Only through long decades of war and government repression of differences did the idea of being French actually take hold in France, and even still some (including Bretons and Corsicans) refuse to call themselves “French.”

The Nation-State, then, is not just a new political construct, but a new way of arranging people and defining their meaning and identity. This identity creates what Benedict Anderson called “imagined communities,” constructed connections between people who will never meet each other but see themselves as part of the same Nation.

In the United States, “American” may not mean the same thing to people on the far left or the far right, to a poor Black woman or an upper class white male, but it’s incredibly rare (except among First Nations peoples) to find anyone who actually refuses to allow themselves to be called an American. That shared national identity binds people who hate each other, binds oppressors and oppressed people together, around a shared sense of membership in the social construct called the Nation.

That definition in places like the United States appears fixed and unquestionable, but in the European nations from which the ancestors of white Americans came, national identity is not monolithic. France, for instance, has at least five other competing national identities within its European territory: Alsatian, Breton, Basque, Corsican,  and Occitanie. Add to this the colonized outremer departments such as Martinique and Guyane and you have many, many more non-French identities.

These identities are not just regional; a Corsican who tells you they are Corsican is not just telling you they live in Corse, they are telling you they do not live in France. Here where I live in Bretagne, it is the same: friends and strangers often vehemently correct me when I say I live in “France.” For them, France is an occupying force, an identity pushed upon them and one they are fully justified in rejecting as they please.

The United Kingdom has a similar internal division: for some Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, and Northern Irish folk, “British” is not just an identity they refuse to be defined with, but it is an enclosure and erasure of their cultural and ethnic identity.

One Nation Under the God-State

For the rulers of Nation-States like France and the United Kingdom, national identity is the primary means by which they are able to get the people they govern to not just identify with each other, but identify with the rulers themselves. The French leader Emmanuel Macron, for example, is the President of the French people. If the people Macron tries to rule do not see themselves as French, the laws he and his government create and enforce cannot adequately control people without using overt violence.

Similarly, Theresa May is the British Prime Minister: if the people in Scotland see themselves no longer British, the only way her government can control what the Scottish do is by direct force. Governments lose their appearance of legitimacy (and much of their power) when the people they are supposed to represent no longer identify as part of the imagined community they were elected to lead.

If you are a reader who considers themselves American, imagine how different your relationship to the United States government (and especially Trump) might be if you did not see yourself as an American. Say, for instance, that your parents were Irish and you see yourself more Irish than you do American, and you were living in an area where most of the people you knew spoke Irish and also didn’t see themselves as American. Your perception of the legitimacy of the United States would radically change.

There are already examples of this alternate identification in the United States. Some First Nations people refuse the label of American and point out that the United States is an occupation on their land, a settler-colonist government which is fully illegitimate. Also, some Black and Pan-African thinkers likewise identify more with Blackness or Africanness than with “American,” though these movements do not (by no fault of their own) have the same ongoing ancestral connection to land that First Nations peoples do and thus often have to reconstruct cultural identity.

From here, it should be easy to understand that what is happening in Catalonia is not some aberration in the history of humanity. And also it should be easy to understand why powerful Nation-States attempt to inculcate a singular constructed identity. But another objection is often raised against regional independence movements, particularly by liberals and some anarchists.

That objection? That Catalonia’s desire for independence is “nationalist,” and nationalism is fascist.

Fascist Nationalism vs. Autonomous Movements

Currently sweeping through Europe and the United States are far-right identitarian movements invoking cultural, ethnic, and racial ‘purity’ to fuel their desire for political power and a future without immigrants, Muslims, and anyone else besides themselves. In the United States, for instance, the so-called “alt-right” has marched openly carrying torches and chanting anti-semitic and anti-Black slogans. In Europe, groups like Bloc Identitaire, PEGIDA, Golden Dawn, Alternativ fur Deutschland, Front National, and others associated with the New Right/Nouvelle Droit have staged rallies, attacked refugees and anarchists, and even gained many seats in parliaments.

Besides their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish rhetoric, these groups have another thing in common: they argue for European states built around ethnic/racial/cultural identity. In this way, they may seem not much different from the movement in Catalonia (or Bretagne, or other places) but for one crucial difference: exclusion. For, while the European far-right tries to redefine the nation along identitarian lines, they also think those nations should only be composed of those identities.

That is, fascist nationalism is primarily exclusionary. On the other hand, the Catalonian independence movement has not said “Catalonia only for Catalonians.” In fact, part of the political platform of an independent Catalonia was the immediate granting of citizenship to immigrants of any ancestry who already had resident status.

More so, fascist nationalist groups have had a horrible time gaining support from independence and autonomous movements. The Front National headed by Marine Le Pen, for instance, did worse in Bretagne during the elections than in more culturally-assimilated (“French”) regions in France, while the far-left/communist candidate, Jean-Luc Melechon, did better in Bretagne than elsewhere.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to Americans unfamiliar with Spanish history, in Catalonia the far-right anti-immigrant/fascist groups are supporting Spanish national unity, not Catalonian independence. There are both historical and ideological reasons for the fascists to take Spain’s side: Spain was ruled by a fascist dictator from 1939 until 1975 (the longest fascist government in history). Spain wasn’t ‘liberated’ from fascism, either–Franco only left power because he died, and the successive ‘democratic’ governments since then never fully (or even partially) purged the fascist sympathisers from their ranks.

Ideologically, though, fascism has much more in common with (and much more to gain from) the Nation-State (and national identity) than it ever would from independence movements. Fascism is at its core both nationalist and statist: none of the far-right movements in Europe are calling for the abolishment of the State or the breaking up of States into distinct cultural regions. Instead, they demand stronger States which exclude, punish, and make war against people who are not like them.

Catalonia has no such plaform, nor does the other independence movement with which I am most familiar, the Breton nationalist movement (mostly made up of communists and anarchists anyway).

So we see here that Catalonia’s independence is both a threat to fascist identitiarian movements as well as the governments of liberal democratic states like the U.S., U.K, France, and Germany. And here’s where our discussion of nationalism finally leads us to the collusion of the Capital and the Nation-State, and why what Catalonia is doing threatens the entire order.

Capitalists and the Nation State: Symbiotic Parasites

There are two things which govern the mutual relationship between Capitalism and the Nation-State. The first is the Capitalist’s desire to gain wealth, avoid risk, and protect their investment. The second is the Nation-State’s need for political stability and wealth in the form of tax-income. These two imperatives function in tandem and make both the Nation-State and the Capitalist mutually parasitic on each other, and thus natural allies.

The first should seem self-evident: investors, corporations, and banks do not like losing money and do everything in their power not to do so.

Economic and long-term investment forecasts aren’t used by the rich the way that the average person uses a weather report. For us, whether it rains next week won’t change much of our lives–we may not plan that trip to the beach with friends or the outdoor barbecue, but unless we are farmers, we don’t significantly change our behavior. For the rich, however, the stability or volatility of a market determines whether or not they are going to keep investments or move them to another market.

Those decisions based on volatility or stability don’t just affect the wealth of the investors, of course. They also determine whether or not people keep their jobs, get to borrow money for houses, or even get to survive at all. So when an investor decides that a market is too risky and decides to move their money elsewhere, that economic chaos can cause political chaos too. Capitalists need to protect their investments (property, primarily) during such times, and also need to protect themselves from political actions from the poor they’ve harmed (riots, assassinations, worker-takeovers, etc.).

A Nation-State is the perfect entity to provide these things for the rich. Through its ability to control markets by laws, policing, and military actions, the Nation-State can guarantee to the capitalist a stable economic climate. Also through its police, judicial, and military powers, the Nation-State can punish people who react violently to decisions by Capitalists to move investments, cut wages, destroy neighborhoods (gentrification), or even outright steal from people.

On the other hand, the Nation-State needs taxes in order to function. Taxes on income and commerce are an easy and difficult-to-oppose means for the State to gain wealth, and thus the economic activity generated by capitalists directly benefits the Nation-State. The more economic activity, the more tax revenue–thus the hyper-consumerism that banks and corporations encourage becomes an addictive drug for the state.

Subsistence farmers or people who only work enough to survive and make most of their own goods cannot produce enough tax revenue for a government to fund massive military campaigns or even run a modern state. Likewise, if a citizenry becomes self-sufficient and self-governing, they rely on the state much less and even begin to oppose it. On the other hand, economically hyper-active citizenry often tend to associate their wealth with the leaders of nation-state itself and become more loyal to it (the way President Bill Clinton or Prime Minister Tony Blair were credited with their respective nation’s economic growth, for instance).

What happens when a Nation-State deviates from this mutual relationship, though?

One need only look at what happened to Argentina and other South American nations who elected leftist or left-leaning governments and platforms to find out. When Argentina in 2001 announced they would no longer pay back debt forced upon them by the International Monetary Fund, capitalists punished the people severely through a process called “Capital flight.” Basically, banks, corporations and large investors quickly pulled their money out of local economies all at once, leading to banks running out of money, millions of people suddenly losing jobs and access to credit, and entire cities suddenly going bankrupt.

So although the relationship between the Nation-State and the Capitalists is mutually-parasitic, the Capitalists are able to do much more damage to the other than the Nation-State can, unless the Nation-State itself seizes the wealth and property of the capitalists (which occurs only during communist take-overs of the State).

The Gates Are Open

Now, back to Catalonia. As I mentioned in the beginning of this essay, Capital flight occurred immediately when the Catalonians voted for independence. Hundreds of Spanish corporations left or moved their headquarters, because to stay meant too much risk. Also, the Catalonian independence movement was heavily influenced by far-left politics, further suggesting to the capitalists that they might not get nearly the same profits in the region as they currently do under the conservative and neo-liberal Spanish government.

So both the Capitalists and the Spanish government have punished Catalonia for their desire to determine their own future. And here’s where a floodgate just opened that threatens to drown the entire capitalist world: we all just saw them do that.

Liberal Democracy (the system that the US, United Kingdom, and almost every European nation uses) has been able to function so well and fight off leftist and independence movements for so long because it veils the Nation-State’s collusion with the Capitalists better than any other system. It promises freedom and democracy to its people, but in Spain it literally beat up old women who’d just voted for autonomy and imprisoned democratically-elected Catalonian leaders.

It also claims to be opposed to fascism, but in Catalonia the conservative Spanish government and the “socialist” minority party are doing exactly what the fascists want. Likewise, the widespread condemnation of Catalonia’s independence from the leaders of every other large Liberal Democratic nation have also revealed themselves to be against democracy and in agreement with the fascist movements in their own countries.

The entire world just watched this happen, especially every other independence movement. We have all watched what the Nation-State and the Capitalists will do together to stop anyone who tries to determine their own future. The Scots saw this, as did the Welsh. The Bretons saw this, as did the Basque and the Corsicans.

So, too, did everyone who was under the illusion that the Nation-State is inviolable and eternal, that governments can protect us from the capitalists and that capitalism was not invested in the authoritarianism of the Nation-State. They now know their governments and capitalist class are all ultimately on the same side as the fascists.

Catalonia has opened a flood-gate. Whether or not they succeed, the rushing waters cannot be held back.

What comes next in the world is uncertain. Which groups inspired by what Catalonia has done will try next? Which groups will succeed? And what beautiful alliances will begin to form between all these apparently disparate movements across the world? Will we see Bretons and Scots and the Basque meeting together with First Nations people, co-ordinating mutual aid and international solidarity between their movements?

Or will we see the fascists seize this moment, using the panic of the governments of the world to manifest their dreams of homogenous, exclusive, authoritarian Nation States?

I don’t know. When I think on Walter Benjamin’s last journal entry in Catalonia before he killed himself, that quote from Kafka, I imagine those who’ve put their hope in this first full attack on Spain seeing a glimpse of all the future movements that will arise.

If Catalonia fails, they too may find themselves penning those same words: “There is plenty of hope, but not for us.”


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


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Letter from Catalonia

Gods&Radicals is pleased to host this communique from a comrade in Catalonia. [Any errors are due to editorial translation]

There’s a lot of talking about Catalonia these days; a country that, not so long ago, few would have been able to place on a map.

Now this will be a long writing, for the Catalan struggle has been going on for quite a long time.

Catalonia is a small territory, but nevertheless has its own language, culture and traditions. A heritage that has been way too often threatened by Spanish authoritarianism.

Spain is a country that has had a deep legacy of fascism, that these days had resurfaced and awakened. It may be odd, that, while acknowledging it, many have not fully realized it until now. Fascists are not a minority in Spain, though in many cases it’s a kind of disguised and sweetened fascism, one that only shows its true face in anger and rage when the unity of the empire was at stake.

That would be why we are seeing such a huge amount of Spaniards these days who are justifying the riot Police strikes that left almost 900 injured.

Now, would you for a second be able to imagine the German Nazi party having a voice and a vote in the process of writing the German democratic Constitution after WWII? Unthinkable?

Well, that’s precisely what happened in Spain.

In Spain, over a million people went to pay homage to Franco when he passed, forming long queues to salute his dead body in a final tribute effort. In Spain, the ruling party is the heir of Francoist Association “Alianza Popular”, which barely changed its name to “Partido Popular.” The largest Spanish monument, ordered by Franco and built by slaved Republican prisoners, is still standing.

Valle de los Caídos, built by enslaved Republicans on Franco’s orders

This is the Spain that is now willing, quite literally, to crush the Catalan Revolution, yet it is also the very same Spain that caused it.

Now it’s worth noting that the Catalan people have historically been, who knows if because of their geographic location, remarkably open minded and defenders of freedom, so much that even on 1719, De Vayrach was writing about them:

“Their active and whimsical condition (that from the Catalans) leads them to being so zealous of their freedom that, in order to keep it, they do insolently disregard all law, being those divine or human”.

So much, that even with a centre-right ruling party, they passed laws in order to protect basics rights of all citizens, challenging the market laws. Unfortunately those laws have been void under the name of the Constitution.

The Spanish Constitution doesn’t seem to like equal rights for men and women; doesn’t like that helpless people have their water, electricity and gas supplies warranted, nor that they can keep their homes; doesn’t like the people to be entitled to decide via referendums; doesn’t like that nuclear energy pays for the risk it generates; doesn’t like fracking or torturing bulls being banned.

The will of the Catalan people is not to the taste of reactionary Spain, and the Constitutional Court has become the arm the structural Francoism uses in order to repress it, even disregarding separation of powers when necessary.

And so it has been, that without even realizing it, with their repression they managed only to increase the angriness of the Catalans, and with it, the number of independence supporters. Should a self-determination have been held a decade ago, no to independence would have probably wo,. Nowadays, those in favour of the status quo are, in worst case scenario, barely 35%. Mind you, ten years ago not even the party now promoting the referendum was pro-independence; they had to become so due to the popular pressure for that.

We even reached the point where anarchists not only went to vote, but they did so in favour of a new country. Unthinkable, isn’t it? Well maybe not, because what the Spanish government has achieved in doing, by systematically trampling on us, is to turn struggle for national rights into one for civil rights.

I was not myself able to understand how the Spanish government could possibly behave the way they did. I was looking for some kind of rational reasons and background to their strategy.

And I was wrong.

That’s something I eventually understood on October 1st, when I realized they attacked with specific ferocity and rage the polling stations where Catalan government members where expected to cast their vote, even if they knew that would never escape the eyes of the world. The cause for that behaviour is to be found in an attitude, a way of being, not in reasoning but simply in despotism. They want the Catalan people to be submissive and on their knees. Humiliated. Defeated.

Should they have any knowledge of history, they would have been aware that these people are the very same who, in the XVIII century, used to swear loyalty to their kings with this particular formulae:

We who are worthy as Thy, we swore in front of Thy who are not better than us, that together we are worth more than Thy, and that we accept Thy as King and Sovereign provided that Thy respect our laws and freedoms, but otherwise, NOT.

And as NOT came to be, so insurrection was born. A joking, peaceful and tolerant insurrection, but with an indisputable will. A revolt from virtually the entire Catalan society, that united fire-fighters, teachers, elders, youth, stevedores, anarchists, administration and civil society, parties, athenaeums and associations… all kinds of people aiming for one goal only. The people getting their government to obey.

From its organization to its compulsory defence, the Referendum included people of all origins and social conditions. Ballot boxes were dropped in France and hidden by private citizens in a completely clandestine way. Following a plan from which none of the people taking part were entirely aware of all the information. Avoiding use of telematics. In many cases not even the closest relatives of those people knew what they were up to.

All this, in order to avoid the State intelligence to intercept the ballots. And the ballots reached the polling stations without one being intercepted.

People’s ingenuity presented us with hilarious pictures of civil disobedience. Ballot boxes hidden, during Spanish Police raids, on roofs, graveyard tombs, or hanging from threes. In Campins, a single access village, citizens blocked it by turning down a few pine trees after Police entered the town. They had to leave on ungraded roads and ended up lost in the hills, until at 5 a.m. the following morning the “mossos d’esquadra” (Catalan Police), came to their rescue. Still in another town, they counted the votes in church, during the holy mass, so that it went unnoticed by the Police.

Sadly though, it wasn’t all fun. Spanish Police forced their way into the polling stations charging against anyone or anything in their path. They used tear gas, they tried to run over people with their armored vans, they dragged our grandmothers on the floor, they threw voters onto a man being taken care of after a heart attack… All this against peacefully resisting people.

They injured almost 900 of them. Caused over 300.000€ wreckage, smashing glasses, doors, furniture and all sorts of equipment, mostly without any reason to justify it, if there could ever be any. Anyone willing to go in depth into it can find hundreds of images with a quick search.

It could well be that Catalans should not feel that special, as those are probably aspects which are common to all popular revolts, it’s just that technology nowadays allow us to record and share them. However, watching the people organizing themselves in order to challenge the State is a picture worth praising. And remembering.

Remember, yes, and do not forget that many of the people now taking part in this revolution are the very same who endorsed or took part in repression to reclamation movements in Catalonia not so long ago. People who justified using Police in full riot gear, and brute force, in order to stop the protests. That Catalan media who now show themselves to be surprised and incensed by the Spanish media manipulation, did act in a very similar way on a number of occasions in the past. It might be that for many of them, what we are seeing these days led to some inner change and that it has taken them to the left-minded path, but it’s also certain that many were just dragged away by the tide, and as soon as things get back to normal they will quickly forget the times when they used to shout “the street will always be ours” and “Police tortures and murders”. That’s why those of us who have always been in the anti-establishment struggle, are having mixed feelings these days.

But amid all this mess of feelings and emotions for us Catalans, particularly for those of a libertarian mind, there is a clear certainty leading our path.

This revolution is to be triumphant, for if it wasn’t, the message for all world leaders, and all those having any ambitions to become one, would be that no matter how strong and just the will of the people might be, it can be bent with force and deception. And that is why the struggle for Catalan people’s self-determination must be that of all people fighting for freedom, no matter where they come from.

From Catalunya, we beg you have our story told, and let it be known, helping us wherever and whenever you can; for only the people can save the people!


 

Paganism™

We are pitted against an industrial industry which fabricates our dreams for us and insinuates them through our culture and our language. How can we dream when our vocabulary of symbols has only the nuance of newspeak? These are spectres of desire and though marked for sale, remain unattainable.
–Peter Grey, Apocalyptic Witchcraft

“But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.”

–Jean Baudrillard, Simulation and Simulacra

ONE: CIRCLES FOR THE STONE

Fast past villages with both English and Welsh names he drove us. She sat between us. I tried on her hat. It amused me. It amused them.

And then we were there, the top of an ancient high hill still wet from recent rains. We walked, speaking. I missed some of the threads of our conversation, distracted by the distant vistas. Eyes constantly drawn north: Gwynedd, Snowdonia, over which dark clouds gathered. The wind echoed a promise reminded, an oath I gave in one of those valleys.

In the remnants of a cromlech we stood, its stones worn down near nothing by wind and rain. From the centre to the tallest a line formed, extended towards those mountains. It felt important, that stone, that direction, a prehistoric compass directing the eyes to a place wherein something older than stones breathed and waited.

By the “offerings” arrayed at its base, others had thought the stone important, too. Baubles, pink plastic fairies, bracelets, a few slivers of quartz, the coins of empire.

“Neopagan trash,” my guide said, sweeping the offerings up in his hands. His eyes burned with something deeper than disgust, and something older. He flung them from the circle with a deft, calm rage. My eyes followed their flight through the air, then met his, then quickly turned away.

“They leave this shit everywhere,” he said.

Something about the innocence, or really the pinkness, of the proffered plastic fairy moved me. I imagined some child leaving it, or one of those addled-but-loveable Goddess-type women who are always telling you “we are all-one.” Misguided and naive, but their gesture of offering felt at least benign, harmless.

I said so.

I think I said, “There’s hope in their search for something authentic. They just don’t know what to do yet.”

My companions did not answer. They did not need to. As the words spilled out of me, the unbidden image of low-wage Chinese women stamping pink plastic into the form of cartoon-style fairies answered my objection.

TWO: DO WE DARE?

“People lose the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. They also begin to engage with the fantasy without realizing what it really is. They seek happiness and fulfilment through the simulacra of reality… and avoid the contact/interaction with the real world.”

Jean Baudrillard

A little more than five years ago I stood in an open field, staring into an abyssal sea of stars circling about me, speaking aloud the answer to a question.

Do you dare?

“Yes,” I said, losing the ground below me. “I dare.”

I cried. My mind shattered. I slept, I didn’t sleep. The smell of earth choked me, the stars above my tent screamed distant songs, wheeling as I tried to cling to the wheeling planet upon which I supposedly belonged.

I say five years ago; it might have been forty, the length of my life thus far. I stopped being able to count after that; calendars make no sense any longer, the procession of hours no longer relevant. Only season after season repeating means anything, but even then I cannot clutch to their movement like I once could. Time itself changed, or my place within it. I changed: broken, reforged, broken again, remade, remade, remade.

Before all this I was a chef and a social worker, a partner to a man, a citizen of a city, a denizen of a home. Before all this, Pagan was an identity, like ‘gay’ or ‘gamer.’ Paganism was something I liked, a shared interest, an aesthetic. After this, it became the only way I knew how to describe why I slept among stones, sat long nights on fallen trees in cold wet forests. Why I stood shirtless in winter upon a rock as dragon fire shone through a drop of rain falling from a branch, knelt in circles of crow feathers, bled upon an ashen blade, knocked on shields, lay down across rivers, pulled the beards of giants and fucked in moon-silver shadow of antler and branch.

Paganism is the word I’ve used to explain why I have sat at council with dead hooded men around fires, flew past a guardian into the blood of an enemy and there clotted those hidden streams, turned great edged wheels to grind down the mind of a dangerous fool, stood upon hills watching how some worlds end, why I stole glimpses of toads impaled on pencils and turned that sorcerer’s malice into his catastrophic downfall. It is the shorthand for why I have awakened a forest and watched smiling as strangers brought in their gods, ran barefoot through nettles alongside a river of blood, been summoned by children to a tomb across an ocean, argued with the angry hearts of mountains, learned to walk invisible through city streets, and spoken the names that plants call themselves.

But for all the wisdom I’ve since gathered from bodied and unfleshed teachers guiding me through thick bramble or dark forest, I still didn’t know why I called any of this Pagan.

THREE: PAGANISM™

Every word is an utterance for the inexpressible, but once uttered can become the thing itself.

To name yourself happy is to leave the moment happiness is meant to describe. Every mystic knows the moment words are found for the vision, the vision is over.

The land and stars which initiated me into the Other scream of a thing for which Paganism is mere translation. Like all sounds given to the pre-literate, pre-vocal thing-ness below what we call things, its expression can ossify in our mind, wall us from its world. So to name what I have lived and seen and been these last five years “Pagan” has been in some way to betray it.

Yet words waken. A call to arms, a shouted warning to watch out; “I love you” whispered in the trembling of night, “I’m sorry: she’s dead” from the lips of a doctor, “fuck you” and “help me”: these open gates to new existences even as they close others.

Were it only up to the poets and mystics, the word Pagan would always evoke, always call us outward. Were it only up to me, Pagan would be the sound I make to initiate desire into others, a beckoning into realms of vision and connection.

But it is never up to the poet or the mystic.

Like land that has become property, work that has become labor, and art that has become commodity, Paganism has been enclosed. Paganism is now mostly product, sign without signification, representation without represented. You can go to Pagan conferences, listen to Pagan music, buy Pagan products made by Pagan artisans in Pagan shops. You can read Pagan blogs written by Pagan writers published by Pagan publishers. You can apply Pagan like a label upon any thing you do or say or think, investing by every action and transaction into a Global Brand through which the “Pagan” capitalists draw dividends.

By calling all that I have seen and learned, all that I have written and created, and all that I have known as truth “Pagan,” I have inadvertently fed into this branding, improved its market reputation, and helped increase the profits of those for whom Paganism is a thing that can be sold, not become.

Yet under all this are still my experiences which cannot be sold, the moments of the Other inexpressible, for which I have no other word except Pagan.

The Pagan of the hotel dress-up convention or the pink plastic fairies littering ancient stone exists. We can point to such things, such brandings and say—here! Here is a Pagan thing. We cannot do the same for the trees at which I stared at as I first began to type this, trees beyond which lie the last remnants of the great Celyddon once covering much of Yns Prydein. That cannot be bought. That cannot be branded.

The Witchcraft of the glossy books or online-teachers can be regarded with certainty: this here is “witchcraft.” Not true, however, for the moments which I know as witchcraft. A few days ago on the Isle of Skye, encountering my accidental initiator ‘by chance’ upon a street corner just after thinking his name, both of us six thousand miles from where we last lived—that is the Witchcraft I know.

But it is not a thing I can show to you, nor is it a thing I can sell.

A refrain of a song never before sung yet we already, somehow, know the words. An echo from a past we have not yet lived, dreams which speak truth by measures for which we will never find metric. The reflection of sky in water which displays an additional dimension of perception in which we can not move except in dream: all these things I call Pagan, all these things are my witchcraft. All these things cannot be bought.

Witchcraft and Magic and Paganism exist. But they cannot be found through the very means by which we lost them.

FOUR: “THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH”

Perhaps because they refuse to shake off their Protestant culture, American Pagans are fond of speaking of the “big tent,” under which all the many of “us” gather: Heathens, Polytheists, Occultists, Wiccans, Reclaiming witches and Feri witches, Unitarian-Universalists and solitary practitioners, all crowded under a massive canvas  painted blue with white stars like some hokey wizard’s hat or, closer to the truth, a U.S. flag without the red- and white- stripes.

The “big tent” is supposed to be about inclusion or some rot, but since it’s the same phrase the Democratic Party has used to justify why anti-capitalists, environmentalists, and pro-corporate war-mongers should all be in the same political gathering, there’s likely something else happening here. Perhaps what they’ve always meant isn’t ‘tent’ at all, but corral, wall, or internment camp.

Because ultimately, the “big tent” benefits only the vendors of pink plastic fairies, the sleek white gaywitches with their laughable invocations to “The Dark Goddess,” the dottering old racist uncles hailing the ‘folk’ in Alt-Right rallies, the altars photographed and filtered in devotion to the #instawitch hashtag. It does not benefit you, but instead the right-wing Christian corporation that runs a Pagan blog site, the ‘community news’ organisation constantly skewing capitalist, nationalist, and ever-so-libertarian, and all the pay-to-pray traditions eager for your money and attention.

The ‘big tent’ isn’t a shelter, it’s a Market. Within the tent, Paganism isn’t a belief or a culture but an interest, spirituality just another thing for you to buy in a world that already has too much shit anyway.

But the story of how Paganism became a product is not just the story of opportunistic women and men seeking profit. It is the story of disenchantment itself. It is the story of displacement and colonization, the wakened horror from which spawned Empire and Nation, Race and Identity. More than anything it is the story of our divorce from land and ourselves, a sickness for which Paganism is sold not as cure but placebo for a necrotic wound we really ought to get checked out.

People seek Paganism to find magic or gods or authentic ways of being and meaning. But the magic and gods have never been gone: they are only buried deep below the asphalt over which they drive, the concrete upon which they walk, the steel and cement in which they live. The gods of rivers are buried beneath the cities, poisoned; we wipe our asses with the corpses of forest gods. The magic of human will and sense is psychologized, medicalized: “aberrant” perceptions of the myriad are disciplined or drugged out of us, then sold back to us on spiritual retreats.

The search for authentic meaning and ways of being which draws people to Paganism springs from a rejection of what else is on offer, a malaise of what is available to us by mundane, Modern means: 40-hour work weeks, concrete housing blocks, relentlessly mediated life in which too many of us only see breath-taking views of forests or communal celebrations on screens. Those depictionspixelated, fed and filtered through Instagram feeds; or used as mere backdrop for mythic television series like Vikings or Game Of Thronesserve not to draw us closer to what we seek, but push us even more distant from the world we have lost.

FIVE: MAGIC IS EVERYTHING BUT WHAT YOU CAN BUY

“And so art is everywhere, since artifice is at the very heart of reality. And so art is dead, not only because its critical transcendence is gone, but because reality itself, entirely impregnated by an aesthetic which is inseparable from its own structure, has been confused with its own image. Reality no longer has the time to take on the appearance of reality. It no longer even surpasses fiction: it captures every dream even before it takes on the appearance of a dream.”

Jean Baudrillard

We search for the authentic in the only place it cannot be found. We seek the gods and spirits not in the land around us but in empty symbols, poorly-written books and “mystery traditions” led by leaders for whom their unwitting initiates are their only way of getting laid.

We scroll endlessly through blogs promising to teach us how do magic, purchase special oils and candles to stave off the terror of modern life and maybe make us not feel so lonely. When none of that works, we try again, and again, forgetting that magic has nothing to do with what you buy or which online-tradition gave you a certificate of completion.

Magic has nothing to do with the teachers of magic, the vending tables at the con’s or the Etsy shop, none of which are much different from the pink plastic fairy left at the base of a stone.

Magic is you.

It has always been you, you and the world around you. Magic is the breathing forests, the scream of owl and raven as you wander alone through darkness. Magic is in the stars above and the stars you see after your eyes close, the wind from distant mountains and the loamy breath of the grave.

Magic is the stone, and it is also the circle, and especially in all the forgotten wisdom with which ancients living millennia before anyone called themselves ‘Pagan’ raised them.

Magic is what it has always meant to be human, before the makers of the pink plastic fairies and the ringmasters of the Big Tent set up shop.

Magic, connection to the earth, the experience of the Otherthese things the merchants of Paganism™ cannot sell us, and the fact that they try is proof they have never experienced those things themselves.

Let them be honest. We are all only selling books and candles, art and skills. Let these things be judged on those qualities, without the false promises and dishonest marketing.

And let us all be honest: The real magic is the world the capitalists have been selling off from under our feet, the real connection is our reclamation of the earth, and the real Paganism is resistance to all commodification of what it means to be human.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is the managing editor and co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He trucks with Welsh gods and lives in Bretagne, or Dublin, or old Scottish port cities, or pretty much anywhere he feels like it. He’s a theorist, punk, nomad, anarchist, and all kinds of other stuff.

You can follow him on Facebook or Instagram, read his primary blog here, read his true sex stories here, and if you really like him you can support him on Patreon.


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Globalisation and the American Religion

 

In a recent series on Operation Werewolf, Jack Donovan, and the Wolves of Vinland, I noted how much of the ideological and mythic territory from which they operate once belonged to leftist and post-colonial movements. Anti-globalisation, for instance, is now no longer to be found within American antifascist and leftist politics except in some fringes (which are constantly under suspicion for being crypto-fascists). Instead, in the last few years we have seen the New Right, Alt-Right, Republicans and Fascists include anti-globalisation in their political analysis.

Trump, for instance, promised to end many of the international trade agreements against which the WTO protesters fought 17 years ago. These trade agreements have done just as much damage (if not much more) to poorer nations as they have wrought upon American workers, yet the 2016 election pitted a right-wing demagogue against a liberal candidate who advocated for even more of these agreements.

Trump hasn’t actually done what he promised to do (of course), but that should not surprise us. The globalisation of capital is always good for the American capitalist, and both he and Hillary Clinton made their commitment to capital relentlessly clear even before the election.

What should interest us more, however, is why anti-globalisation is no longer a political critique on the American “Left,” despite the fact that elsewhere (especially in the global south), rage against the damage caused by globalisation still fuels massive protests and mass movements.

There Is No “Us” in “America”

There are a few aspects of this question that are not precisely easy to unravel for an American audience, especially for readers who have not spent any significant time outside the United States. Whether by poverty, preference, or provincialism, there’s a good chance that many reading this have not lived in another country for several months, or have not had exposure to communities and thinkers outside of America. Thus, many have not had to undergo the (rather painful but enlightening) process of understanding how exceptionalist, isolated, and Nationalist the politics, morals, and people of the United States are.

Merely going to a grocery store in another country can begin that uncomfortable initiation. What is available, and the prices for which they are available, and how many competing brands of each are available usually cause quite a shock. In America you can buy fifty types of fake coffee creamer, seven brands of the same cereal, or forty types of sliced bread, but if you don’t have much money you won’t be buying local vegetables or meat (if local food is even available).

In much of Europe it is quite the opposite: usually only one or two brands of the same item, much of the bread made locally (often in-store) and seasonal vegetables all grown relatively close, and everything priced at shockingly low prices.

Such a confrontation challenges a deeply-held (and invisible) myth under which Americans–even many anti-capitalist Americans–unconsciously operate: that whatever else it is, America is a land of abundance. Encountering more abundance, and more readily-affordable abundance, in a tiny store outside the US begins a process which eventually leads you to see the shape of American exceptionalism. The traveler or expatriate soon begins to see that the ideological framework of Americanism has been invisible to them their entire life, and that what makes you “American” is much more complex than what you suspected.

A case in point. I have always been an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-American. As such, I’d arrogantly believed I’d done a lot of work to dismantle my American-ness, until a German friend asked me why, as an anarchist, I still insisted on saying “we” when referring to America.

I had been speaking about American history and the way that the US government had arrested anarchists during World War I, and I said something like, “We still arrest anarchists in America.”

“Why do you keep saying we?” she asked. “You don’t do that. The US government does.”

That is, I had been unconsciously identifying myself with the US government, taking collective responsibility for their actions, and never noticed.

Such identification with America, disciplined and trained into Americans from birth, is quite invisible until you encounter someone from a different culture, in a different land, who notes how odd such a thing is. Saying “we” when speaking about America is not just a mere quirk, howeverit is a re-enforced allegiance to a mythic national construction in which each American is expected to hold both responsibility and benefit from the collective nightmare of America.

Such allegiance and identification informs American politics on both the left and the right. On the left, it leads to notions of collective responsibility and guilt (for foreign wars or for slavery) as well as a compulsion to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with the United States, rather than destroy it. On the right, the collective responsibility and guilt exists as well (particularly in questions of moral character), but it more obviously functions as a bludgeon of social cohesion during times of war or crisis (the nationalism after 9/11, or the “Make America Great Again” slogan of Donald Trump). In all cases, it creates an exceptionalism born of an ‘us’ in contrast to a nebulous ‘them’ (or many ‘thems’), be they victims of US policy or enemies of the US.

Nationalist Citizens of A Global Empire

Our collective us-ness is of course false. I can have just as much in common with a Dubliner or a Parisian as I do with a New Yorker, except that a New Yorker was probably just as indoctrinated into American-ness as I was, while neither the Dubliner nor Berliner experienced that American social programming.What do I actually have in common with a highly-paid tech worker in San Francisco? Or a farmer in Iowa? We aren’t even neighbors anymore; I live in Europe.

While one might be tempted to say that a Dubliner or Berliner experienced similar programming to what we do in America, just the German or Irish version of it, this is not precisely true. Both Ireland and Germany are new nations, neither of which occupy conquered land where previously lived indigenous peoples slaughtered to found a nation. And while both countries have colonial pasts (Ireland as colonized, Germany as imperialist and then later Nazi colonizer), neither are currently colonizing the rest of the world with their culture or with massive militaries.

Because this is what one begins to understand most about the United States when you have left it for any period of time. American culture is terrifyingly dominant and dominating, drowning out cultural differences anywhere it goes, demanding conformity to its forms and its preferences.

Anti-AirBnB posters, Berlin

The moment you’ve heard an American couple complaining how a French server didn’t speak English or how the Coca-Cola ‘tastes funny’ elsewhere in the world, and particularly when you start to note how Americans demand that the world around them conforms to what they believe to be the right and natural way to do things, you immediately understand that American-ness is more than a mere nationalityit is a colonialist ethic.

Within America, the conceit seems to be that some are more guilty of such behaviors than others, and you can somehow determine who is more ‘American’ by race, gender, political, or sexuality markers. This becomes patently untrue outside of America, though: I have witnessed the same imperialist behavior from a Black lesbian traveler as I have from white straight menthey both act just as ‘American.’ What determines whether someone is going to act like an imperialist ass has nothing to do with their oppressed status within America, but how much work they’ve done to actually interrogate their American-ness.

So too in politics: while Trump declared America needed to be made great again and Clinton retorted that America was great because it is good, both essentially argued that American greatness (with its global imperialism and indigenous slaughter) is a sacred, unassailable thing.

American Exceptionalism

This is American exceptionalism, which is rooted in the founding horror of the United States itself. America is a colonial ritual, initiated through slaughter of indigenous people, alchemically transformed by stripping displaced Europeans and enslaved Africans of their identities in a great alembic of nationalist horror. From that transformation was born a new kind of global capital, a new sort of cultural imperialism, and a new sort of Empire which follows an American everywhere they might go.

Worse, it is utterly invisible to the American, especially the American who has never tried to live anywhere else. And the American cannot help but continue to colonize and slaughter, unless they finally choose to fight America itself.

The invisibility of American exceptionalism to the American helps explain at least to some degree why American leftists abandoned anti-globalisation politics faster than leftists elsewhere. Within the protests against the expansion of global capital throughout the world was an internal contradiction, one which struck directly at the heart of American identity. Because the expansion of global capitalism meant that what came to define the American ‘way of life’ (its products and services, its urban uniformity, its hyper-consumerism) would be made available to the rest of the world.  Since many Americans–even leftists–believed that what they had was the way the world ought to be, the expansion of global capitalism seemed like an expansion of freedom, democracy, and progress.

That is, globalisation made the world look American, brought American-style ‘democracy’ and products to the primitive, uncivilized, unenlightened peoples of Paris, Berlin, and São Paulo. This was the ‘interconnectedness’ which urban American elites touted as the primary benefit of globalisation, but that interconnectedness can just be easily named ‘assimilation.’

Two decades of the expansion of global capital through ‘neo’-liberal policies has created a new global class of interconnected assimilated people who now share the same values, purchase the same products, and vote as a global bloc. Connected through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they “like” unique photos of travel and local cuisine that look remarkably like every other travel and dinner photo in every other gentrified hip neighborhood of the world.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of an urban class against which the Communists and Anarchists waged war–and failed. Another such class has risen, transforming everything it touches, marching to the orders of global capital, crushing local resistance under its vintage-shod feet.

The grand conceit of the globalist was that such ‘interconnection’ would lead to more peace. If people in Barcelona, Toronto, Chicago, and Tokyo all use the same iPhones and drink the same Starbucks coffee, they would be less likely to want to go to war with each other. Through that commonality, ideas like Democracy and Equality would also spread from the “free world” to the rest of the world.

There is another word for this, though, and one that describes what has actually happened a lot better than globalisation or interconnection. That word is colonization.

Each Starbucks I see in a foreign city feels like an embassy or a military outpost of America, much like what it must have felt like to see Catholic churches in South America after Spanish and Portuguese conquest.

The point we must remember is that the colonization of global capital is mostly invisible to those who were long ago colonized by it. Where an American might see a McDonald’s in Europe or Africa and be relieved, they cannot see the violence and cultural erasure that led to the creation of that McDonald’s. It is even more true with cultural forms, ideas, language, and politics.

Far-right and fascist groups in the United States are some of the few who still offer a criticism of global capitalism, but they are very, very wrong in what they want to do about it, as well as whom they blame for the destruction of cultural difference. It is not the immigrant Muslim fleeing wars, nor the immigrant Mexican fleeing poverty, who has changed the shape of society and destroyed what makes peoples and communities unique.

It’s capitalism, and the United States is its largest supporter. So, too, are the American corporations who spread its gospel throughout the world, and unfortunately the Americans who have not yet understood that they will always be a colonizing, imperialist force until they fight America itself. Taking up that fight will require Americans not only to question their own colonial indoctrination, but also their complicity in support for the global capitalists within the United States who spread the American religion to the rest of the world.

I hope they take up that fight.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.

He is currently in Dublin, Ireland.


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Margaret Killjoy’s Fantastic Aesthetic Anarcho-Fun Heresy

Olympia is one of those towns subject to a relentless misdirection spell. No magician or witch cast it, though–it arose organically in the alembic of poor urban planning confronting wily land spirits and chthonic forces who will never quite care where you intended to go because they want you to show you something…or someone.

So my best friend and I were suddenly headed north through downtown Olympia, though we’d meant to go south. For the third time.

“Fuck,” she moaned, trying to steer the van into a turn lane. “Again?”

“It’s like something’s fucking with us,” I started, and then saw a figure crossing the street in front of us. I had no time to finish the sentence. The light was about to change, and the person would be gone.

“HeyI’llberightbackIhavetogosayhitosomeone” I blurted out, jumping out of the van.

“What? Where are you? Okay, I’ll park.”

Among heretics, few words are necessary. When something happens to one, the other just knows. My best friend can stare suddenly down an alley mid-sentence and I don’t need to ask what she is seeing. I can jump out of a van in the middle of traffic and she knows something’s about to happen.

I ran down the sidewalk, then suddenly slowed, remembering that I looked like a 200 lb shaved-head man chasing a long-haired steam-goth down the street. That looked bad. Besides, my target seemed happily oblivious, lost in thought, so jumping up from behind her like that seemed really rather rude.

“Hey,” I called, really clumsily. “Are you…? We’ve never met but you’re my hero.”

That was the best I could come up with. I don’t really have heroes, let alone get a chance to meet the ones I do have. So I don’t really know how to talk to them, and I’m anyway awkward as fuck. But a few seconds later, my companion was behind me. “Holy fuck, Magpie?”

Of course my companion knew them, too. Among heretics, there are no chance meetings.

If you’ve never heard of Margaret Killjoy, you’ve probably already encountered her anyway. There are a few humans who do things that make it so that other humans do things which then inspires others to do things. Like grandmothers, but not old enough to have grandchildren so they’re grandmothers to ideas and art and movements and ways of living. Margaret’s one of those people.

This is supposed to be a review of her new book, and it will be, I promise. But there’s that weird thing where reviewers are supposed to be objective and to disclose any relationship to the author they have, and that’s a really complicated thing to do here because I have to tell you some stories.

Stories like the one I began with, where I’m driving in a van with my best friend, who’s one of those people who also grandmothers existence into being, and then I see Margaret Killjoy crossing the street and jump out of the van and then my best friend comes up behind us and it turns out they know each other too, hadn’t seen or heard anything of each other for ten years and had been just as inspired by her as I was.

And there’s other stories, like maybe 15 years ago or more when I was trying to figure out how my anarchism and my Paganism fit together when all the anarchists around me were atheist and all the Pagans around me were bourgeois Wiccans. And then I read the introduction by Alan Moore to Steampunk Magazine (Margaret Killjoy was its editor), and then I realise that there are anarchists and occultists and they’re the same people. But I also realised there were anarchists who are into steampunk, not just into it because it was a cool aesthetic but because…well, because stories.

And myth.

And magic.

Because here’s why Margaret Killjoy was my hero for so fucking long (still is, actually). What she saw about an aesthetic built on fantasy and an alternative vision born of the industrial age is what every really good fantasist, but also every good theorist and mystic, sees: the world not only could have been different, it still can be. And not only can it be, but the certain sorts of people who give way too much time thinking about how it still can be different are the ones who have the potential to make it different.

Because steampunk ultimately was about what might have happened if all the clockworks and steam engines and airships didn’t go away just because the capitalist industrialists realized they were inefficient. We could still have had machines that made sense, whose workings you could watch, alien as they were to the peasants and townsfolk of Europe and its colonies. You could open up a clock and see how it worked, and because you saw how it worked you could have power over it. You could turn a valve that ran a factory and make the factory stop, or you could rig up your own brazier and basket and ask your geeky seamstress friends to stitch together a big canvas for you and next thing you know? You’re floating over the city with your friends.

Now? Now everything’s gotta be bought, even steampunk shit. The capitalists ruin everything.

Steampunk Magazine was an anarcho-anti-capitalist fantasy that felt just as true, just as possible as all the downtowns full of skyscrapers and stores full of credit card machines that ‘actually exist.’ There was something about the way it presented fantasy that made it feel less fantastic while making everything else around you seem like pure fiction. Why couldn’t the Luddites have destroyed the factories and replaced them with clockwork automatons so we all had time to build cool goggles and cobble together houses from machine parts or clothing from scraps, and then adorn it all in gilded Anarchy symbols made with cogs?

If humans can come up with the internet, Walmart, or nuclear waste, we humans ought to be capable of prettier shit, too.

That’s what I learned from Margaret Killjoy, back when I was a wee anarchist lad living in a crumbling two-story witch-house, planting sacred trees and hanging runes and sigils made from clock pieces and broken glass from their branches. Everything was possible, everything else was possible, and it could be beautiful and absurd and fantastic and fun and as anarchist as we wanted it to be.

Towards that end, Margaret put together a pretty awesome book, too. Mythmakers and Lawbreakers, a collection of interviews with and writing about anarchist fiction.  For that book Margaret interviewed one of my other heroes, and even cooler got to stand next to that other hero and talk to people:

Because Ursula K Le Guin is another one of those people who tell you that it’s possible to have and be something else if you just convince others that they can also do it too, at which point there are enough of you to make that world.

That’s fiction. But it’s also myth. And more than anything, that’s what magic has always been.

So, oh. This is supposed to be a book review and not a slobbering fanboy propaganda piece (but it’s that too). Because Margaret’s got a new book out, published by that swanky fantasy publisher TOR.

The book’s called The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, and I think you should read it. You should read it if you’re an anarchist or a witch, and definitely if you’re an anarchist and a witch. And also you should read it if you aren’t, because it’s damn good.

It’s a novella, so I shouldn’t tell you too much about the plot. Except that it’s about squatted land in the middle of nowhere inhabited by people who decided to stop caring about gender or the State or buying and selling, and maybe also decided to summon a land spirit to protect their community against the police and people who might want to take over their utopia. And that goes wrong, just like many other utopias go wrong.

You get to read about some cops getting gored.

You get to read what it might be like to live in a world where gender and sexuality isn’t a thing people even think about at all.

And by reading it you’ll get to see what it might be like to live in a world where people write things like that, things that make you feel like even more things are possible, and that maybe one day we can live in a world where everything that we think of now as fiction becomes more true than what everyone else tells us is real. Because we’re already living in that world, in no small part thanks to Margaret Killjoy’s fantastic aesthetic anarcho-fun heresy.

The book comes out August 15th, but you can pre-order it from Red Emma’s. While you’re waiting you can read the first chapter here, and also read this short story by Margaret on Tor’s online site.

And check out everything else Margaret has done–it’s amazing, and maybe you’ll get as inspired as I’ve been.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.

He lives in Bretagne.