She of the Steel Gaze;
In nine days my country goes to cast ballots
In the ancient ritual You taught to Your city.
Our system is broken.
Hateful betrayers of Your sacred trust hold power,
As they have for many years now.
We elected them because we trusted them,
They have prorogued our Parliament,
Ignored Parliamentary rulings,
Corrupted our electoral system,
Gerrymandered democratic ridings,
Taken the rights of our expatriates,
Denied voting access to the disabled, the young, and the poor,
So as to spoil ballots.
They have lied continually to us,
Stolen our money and our future,
Denied basic rights to our citizens,
Reduced the rights of women
And of people of non-conforming gender,
Oppressed our poor and disenfranchised,
Broken the unity of our labourers,
Spit upon the sanctity and sovereignty of the earth,
And deprived us of the right to speak against them;
All to better serve their Corporate Masters.
Lady of Wisdom, You see more clearly than I do,
But I see all that You stand for being suborned.
I implore You; give us back our nation!
Strike these betrayers down!
Cast them from the lofty seat they have stolen!
Make our voices count!
Give us back the gift that You gave us
That we may once again govern ourselves,
Instead of being ruled over by Corporatist lackeys.
May Your steel gaze fall upon these corruptors with wrath!
May You look upon us with favour!
Help us to take back what was stolen
Without the shedding of innocent blood.
Send Your Owl to give Sight and Wisdom
Call upon any friends You have
Among the Sacred Spirits of our First Peoples
If only this once.
Draw Your Aegis over us!
Give us back our Canada!
I shall cast my ballot in honour of You.
I shall ask all who know me to do the same.
Praise be to the Lady of Wisdom!
Praise be to the Grey-Eyed One!
The milieu of Gods & Radicals is full of people who are great storytellers and communicators. Many have been brought up on the ‘mother’s milk’ of sagas, epics, spirit lore, the voices of plants, or whispers out of Faerie. I suspect a high proportion have degrees in creative writing or work in a creative field. So, if we choose to work for common causes, this is one of our major strengths. And yet, as the bards and diviners know, telling a good story isn’t always the whole picture; often what matters is sharing an appropriate narrative for the situation. This holds especially true when it comes to activism.
These days many campaigners have started to try and get heard and to access power by talking in the language of the antagonists. ‘You’ve got to use language they understand,’ goes this argument. An example would be conservation charities engaging with the corporate-political archons by speaking of woodlands as ‘natural capital’. It’s a fatal mistake. As George Monbiot notes, ‘you can never win by adopting the values of your opponents’. This is because once you concede to your opponents’ values, all you have left is facts and unanchored emotion, both of which are much more easily manipulated – especially when media ownership is dominated by a narrow capitalist elite who have the means to live nearly anywhere and therefore little to no interest in issues of local concern.
You can’t put ‘nature’ in a box
Recently I took a walk through the fields around my local wood. Six years ago the Planning Inspectorate gave permission for this area of Green Belt to be built on, in the face of strong local opposition, on condition that the land to the west of the wood is transformed from wide open fields into meadows, copses and hedgerows. Since then, however, development plans have been altered so that the proposed community park will be reduced to a third of the originally agreed size.
Setting aside the question of the role of the park as a community ‘amenity’ (on which more below), many of the species that live in the woods – such as badgers and buzzards – rely on the surrounding fields as an area of food supply, but this seems to be entirely forgotten. It’s as though planners and developers think that you can simply detach a wood from its surrounding landscape and expect the biodiversity it contains to remain unharmed. Or maybe they just don’t care.
Sadly such is the power of the housing development lobby that many conservation organisations seem to be starting to give in to the false narrative that nature can be packaged up into parcels. For instance a conservation society I’ve been a loyal member of for nearly my whole life, the RSPB, not long ago adopted the horrendous slogan ‘Giving Nature a Home’. It’s precisely this paternalistic attitude to ‘nature’ (the ecosystem which actually sustains us) that has got us into this mess in the first place.
The failure of the Labour government at the last UK parliamentary election was to meekly acquiesce to the Tory’s austerity narrative despite the fact that history contains many examples of successful alternatives to deep cuts to public services. In a similar way we are being sold a false narrative that ignores and denies the fact that life is characterised by reciprocity and interdependence. We are not separate from some abstract ‘nature’, and neither we or the natural world have a long term future while we think that a few shoeboxes full of ‘wild’-life set amongst sprawling housing estates are going to be adequate to the holistic well-being of humans, or the Earth processes and systems on which we depend.
It’s not all doom and gloom
A small digression to cheer you up before I continue …
While by no means perfect (they’ve used the ‘natural capital’ frame from time to time), one organisation making some positive moves toward a more holistic approach in the UK is the Woodland Trust that has been working to mitigate the impact of ash dieback on 12 million trees outside of woods which risks the loss of vital wildlife ‘corridors’ across the landscape.
I should also mention that the RSPB, despite their terribly misguided slogan, are actually doing a great deal of good work in the field of environmental connectivity too; such as in their support of the Fair to Nature food label which requires accredited farmers to put at least 10% of their production area (i.e. the area of land on which they produce crops, livestock, milk, etc.) into five types of wildlife habitats.
And finally, while speaking of environmental connectivity, having cut a hole in my garden fence as per the advice of the Hedgehog Street project, I now have an enchanting visitor every evening — and with little to no cost or effort am doing something to help a local endangered species.
‘A frame is a story, composed of ideas, memories, emotions and values attached to and associated with a given concept. Framing is a communication tool, that we use (consciously or unconsciously) to provoke a particular kind of reaction to that concept.’
~ Bec Sanderson
Earlier I briefly mentioned the question of community ‘amenity’. I’ve been reflecting on this concept a lot since filling out a recent survey by a conservation charity. In the survey, a question asked was, “How often do you use a park (urban green space) or wood for any of the following activities…” and one possible response was: ‘Escapism / spiritual connection with nature’.
I found this an odd pairing. Most people I know who interact with woodlands and ‘natural’ spaces for ‘spiritual reasons’ do so to engage rather than to escape. I don’t want to make too much of one little survey answer of course (I suspect that enduring supporters’ pedantry is one of the main occupational hazards of charity survey writers) but it can serve as an important illustration of a bigger issue, namely effective ‘framing’. The careless elision of the two non-identical motivations illustrated above accidentally plays into a ‘frame’ that woodlands are best protected by promoting them as as leisure amenities: a place to escape so-called ‘real life’. It also implies that the ‘spiritual’ is ‘otherworldly’ which need not be true, and is – in my experience – particularly untrue of the spiritual understanding of many who are passionately engaged with their local woodlands and environments.
These seemingly small framing errors can however be easily hijacked by developers and government who often use them to argue that they are ‘only being pragmatic and realistic’; offering them an excuse to overlook the uniqueness of woodlands and of specific woodlands in particular. It allows them to argue that the ‘escapism’ and/or ‘spiritual connection’ sought in a specific woodland can just as easily be found in another ‘amenity’; perhaps a leisure centre, shopping precinct or local churches or mosques (Since for most architects of monoculture all spiritually and religiously inclined people must practice their devotions communally, indoors, on designated days, and in socially acceptable ways that do not disrupt the wheels of work and commerce!)
Effective framing is also vital in campaigning not only in terms of ‘winning’ short-term goals, but because there are many unintended longer-term consequences that can flow from a poor choice of frame. Take as an example the term ‘Bedroom Tax’. The widespread media adoption of this phrase has been celebrated as a winning frame by people campaigning against the benefit restrictions set out in the British Welfare Reform Act 2012. However the ‘under-occupancy penalty’ isn’t actually a tax, so the frame is open to a defensive attack, and much more seriously it suggests the idea that ‘Tax = Bad’. Considering that the ‘Bedroom tax’ campaign is one against cuts to state welfare, which is funded from taxation, the implication that taxation is an evil could well prove to be a longer-term strategic error.
So to sum up, it can be worth asking if the way an issue is framed corresponds to one’s values. Sometimes another frame might seem more likely to gain support or get a short-term win, but what will have been conceded in the bigger context?
For more information on ‘Frames’ check out the Common Cause Handbook.
~ Accipiter Nisus
Article based on material originally published by Accipiter Nisus at: http://vernemeton.tumblr.com/
It is simple: Mankind has broken the covenant with nature – Peter Grey, APOCALYPTIC WITCHCRAFT
Our proper place in the order of things has been forgotten. Our responsibilities to the land have been ignored. The gods have been silenced. The divine marriage of the people and the land has been cast aside and the horse, the symbol of this union, has been fashioned into a money making grotesque and turned into dog food.
We used to be reminded of this balance; the balance between the people in their ‘civilisation’ and the landscape just beyond its boundaries. We used to send our young men out into that wilderness; the mountains, plains and woodlands as a divine exchange. We used to send them out to fight for us, to raid for us and to learn the rituals and mythologies of our culture. We used to send these youngsters out there into the wild and there they would die. They would be dead things; without name or home, without weapon or family. They would die and yet come back to the settlements of the living as the dead and bring with them fertility and the blessings of the ancestors. The blessing of fertility for the land, the people and their herds was for the dead to give and they gave it to the dead outsiders to return to their tribes and families. With time we stopped sending our men out to die and return, we stopped handing them over to the dead and soon the very idea of doing so became a story and so passed into legend. The dead still returned; led by their Shining White King who led them roaring across the skies. Instead of revelling in their return and the gifts they brought, we feared this Furious Host, called them devils and hid away. The covenant was broken and another bond was severed.
The Koryos was a ubiquitous institution, in one form or another, across the Proto-Indo-European and (PIE) Indo-European (IE) cultures. Young men were sent out from their settlements to live wild in the spaces beyond the walls. There they learnt to fight and hunt, and were immersed in the mythic and religious culture of their people. They raided other settlements, rustled cattle and acted in some ways as a mobile fighting force for their people. Their exploits reached surviving myths from India to Ireland.
What we can say about them is that they were initiated into these war bands in winter, particularly Midwinter. From archaeological evidence found in Russia, and from mythic sources, we can also surmise fairly safely that the sacrifice of hounds and other canines formed part of those initiation rituals. In fact in some fashion, the men of the Koryos were strongly associated with wolves and hounds; if not in a totemic manner then possibly as part of shape-shifting warfare practices.
What concerns us here is the original practice of the ritual return of the Koryos to the settlements and places of the living; masked, draped in skins or with painted bodies. They would not only embody the dead but literally and in actuality, to those people, become the dead.
The Koryos is an extinct institution now and yet if we consider its functions and roles there is another group of people who in many ways still exist in a similar place; outsiders working beyond civilisation, keeping alive the religious and magical traditions which tie together the people, the gods and the land. If we are going to try to resurrect the Koryos, and once again sing praise-hymns to Koryonos – the God of the Koryos, then it is within the dirt of Witchcraft that it will best take root.
This passage from Kershaw nicely encapsulates the matter;
“…in general, in ancient cults [it is] from the cult itself that the god derives his being. In our case, we will be looking for associations with war, death, the wolf and the dog, with ecstatic states, with initiations and the winter solstice, and, where these do not coincide, with the changing year. We will expect him to share the ambiguity of the Koryos itself and to appear sometimes good, sometimes evil, and always at least potentially dangerous.”
A Witchcraft derived Koryos brought into contemporary times would function very differently, but in some key ways still maintain the connection to one of the many gods who served as the Koryonos. We could call him and his Hosts to return in winter as before but rather than bring their blessing of fertility and fruitfulness, offer libation and sacrifice and ask them to set the hunt out upon the landscape. Evoke the spirit of the Hunt and direct it towards those who drive a greater wedge between people, landscape and the Gods. When our ancestors forgot the divine purpose of the Wild Hunt, they began to fear it. It is time that fear was stoked again.
‘Quiet Wolves’ Copyright Rafal Wechterowicz
In our desire to harm none we have become harmless – Peter Grey, REWILDING WITCHCRAFT
If meat and beer is to be poured out again in honour of Koryonos and his Hosts, if we are to use our resource and skill to begin working against those who would sever us further from our land and the gods, if we are to place ourselves back into that outsider role – even if only for a shirt time – who or what is it we should seek to place in the path of the Hunt?
I am from and live in Britain. My political world is focused on it and so the examples and reasoning I will be presenting over the coming months will focus on this island. I make no apologies for that. I consider this ‘my’ land; my flesh, bone and blood are formed from its soil and from its water. My ancestors farmed a small corner of this island for hundreds, and very probably, thousands of years. It is to this little island that my emotional, spiritual and physical attachments are strongest; hence it is the actions of people on this island which attract my ire more than any other.
I see the greatest harm to the land and to the people being perpetrated by a constellation of politicians, corporations and some sections of the media. But the darkest star in that constellation lies with the current crop of politicians in government.
We have a Conservative government who appear determined to dismantle our National Health Service and continue their programme of privatising services which are currently nationalised. They are systematically cutting welfare services whilst working with the right wing press to vilify and demonize the most vulnerable and weakest in our society. They paint a picture of people on out of work benefits as lazy, workshy and feckless even though they account for only 2% of the welfare budget. The list of their actions AGAINST the people of this country goes on and on. They have lived up their label as ‘the nasty party’.
The greatest outpouring of loathing for our government is rightly aimed at the minister responsible for the Department of Work and Pensions. This man has overseen massive changes to how people are supported when out of work, sick or disabled. People are forced into for private companies in order to receive their welfare money, even if they are already volunteering for charities or organisations whilst otherwise looking for work. Recently it emerged over 2000 people who had been declared ‘fit to work’ and had their sickness benefits stopped, had died within two weeks of their support being removed. This stems from contracting out assessments of the sick and disabled to private companies who have no health expertise and who have targets for getting as many people off sickness benefits and onto standard job seekers benefits. This government is systematically pulling the rug out from under the weakest, the poorest and the most disadvantaged in the name of austerity.
There is a surfeit of political names which could be carved into lead and offered up for the Hunt to set its hounds upon.
Because of their strong association with death, dogs also were connected with war-bands and warriors in Greek, Latin, Celtic, Germanic, and Indo-Iranian traditions. – Brown & Anthony 2012
I want to lay this magical working out like a recipe, not a blueprint. Something with clear ideas and aims but not limiting those of you who choose to join this Hunt to my ways of working. I hope you take the recipe and make it your own, place your own fingerprints on it and to forge your own links to the Hunt.
With that in mind, I want to spend the next three months laying out my intent for this working and the steps to take towards the goal. I will be publishing a bit at a time and allowing a month to pass between each stage to allow the necessary materials and locations to be found and established. The final fourth piece will be in December in the descent into the darkest part of the year, this is when we will draw everything together and perform the cairn raising and make the initial libations.
The intent here is to create a spirit house in the form of a canine skull, be that wolf, coyote, fox or dog or even the traditional substitute for an actual skull; a glass or clay bottle. With this suitably consecrated and occupied skull prepared, it will be taken out beyond civilisation and buried at a suitable place where we will raise a small cairn of stones over it. This cairn and the hound it houses will then become an altar, a shrine and the focal point for libations and offerings to the One Who Leads the Hunt.
The intention here is to create a space beyond the walls of civilisation; a place to slip our societal skin and don that of another animal altogether, a place to pour out our offerings, to shake in ecstasy and to call out to the Koryonos. The spirit house at its core will be our guide and our guardian, its baying to call the Hunt and to set it on its furious flight.
Let us not be under any illusions here, this is a place to spin out malefic magic; calling the Hunt out from the Otherworld and send it into the Land. If we as magical workers, spirit talkers and witches want to change the world – we have to consider using the weapons in our arsenal to effect that change alongside the more mundane actions. Magic is a powerful tool that we have at our disposal and I propose that this Hound and its resting place cairn are to be totems for doing so.
The first stage on this journey is simple; to gather and prepare a canine skull (or appropriate substitute) to be formed into a spirit vessel. Perform whatever cleaning or purification that you deem fit but beyond that nothing need be done to it yet.
The Hunt: the God of the Hunt and the andedion.
The Hunted: the morality and ethics of this malefica
The Hound: raising the cairn
Grey, P. 2013. Apocalyptic Witchcraft. Scarlet Imprint.
Grey, P. 2014. Rewilding Witchcraft. Scarlet Imprint
Kershaw, K. 2000. The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbunde. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph No. 36. Washington DC
Brown, D.R. and Anthony, D.W. 2012. Midwinter dog sacrifices and warrior initiations in the Late Bronze Age site of Krasnosamarskoe, Russia.
A Battle for Our Bodies
We women know a hard truth of our culture; our bodies are not our own.
We are told how our bodies are supposed to behave. How they are supposed to look (age/weight/height/hair/skin colour/breast size/genitals; the last of particular interest to women not visibly born “female”). What we should feed them. How we should decorate them. Whether or not we should use them as incubators and what we are allowed to do with them once a zygote starts growing. We are told to hide, and suppress, our body’s needs and natural functions. We are told that the functions that formulate the incubator are supposed to be hidden from polite company, from menstruation to breast feeding. We are told how we should wrap them, under what conditions it’s okay to unwrap them, and whom we should (or should not) unwrap them for.
After I overcame my childhood conditioning to suppress my sexuality, I wondered why. This is something that has puzzled me for many years. Why in the world does anyone else care about what I do with my body, whom I choose to have sex with, or how? I mean, think about it. How does it affect anyone else that I’m not sleeping with (or someone who’s sleeping with someone I’m sleeping with?) I don’t give two figs what kind of car my neighbour drives because its effect on my life is exactly zero.
I read all the Dianic literature and found it empowering: The Wise Wound, Goddesses in Everywoman, The Chalice and the Blade. Their theory was that because, until recently, your mother was a certainty but your father was an opinion, controlling women’s sexuality assured paternity and therefore, men would not find themselves in a situation in which they were struggling to feed someone else’s offspring. I believed it because it was the only thing that sounded plausible to me.
The men in my life were angered by this theory. They are feminists, and they are stepfathers. They chose to raise someone else’s offspring, knowing full well it was someone else’s offspring, and give their love even when that love has not always been returned. I didn’t give their anger much heed. I figured it was a case in which they did not recognize their privilege. I figured they would come around.
But there’s another theory, one that I’ve recently stumbled upon that makes much more sense. Like anything else it’s not new; I was excited when I discovered, as I was reading it for the first time, that Starhawk had touched on it in the Appendices of her classic book on magick and activism, Dreaming the Dark.
Patriarchy exists to preserve inheritance.
Patriarchy is all about class.
Expropriation and Estrangement
Starhawk believes that we can find the evidence in enclosure. In the sixteenth century a movement spread through England to enclose what was previously common land. All of a sudden, which family controlled the land and its use became of paramount importance. All of a sudden the people who lived on that common land became threats, because if land was held by common “squatters,” it could not be enclosed. Often, lone widows lived in such places and so they were favourite targets of the would-be landowners, since they couldn’t do much to fight back. Persecution increased against marginalized groups; that and widespread famines and possibly ergot poisoning led to revolutions and pogroms. Enclosure forced most of us out of the woods and fields and into places in which our livelihoods depended on wages, and since one could only farm what was now on one’s land, trade became vital, and not an enhancement to existing living conditions. We have seen the culmination of this trend in our current world economy, which depends on trading in raw resources and the forced labour of the developing world.
Knowledge became a marketable commodity in the new mercantile culture that was developing. Universities developed. Knowledge became something you could only have if you had the money to pay, and thus, graduates of those universities worked to preserve their monopoly on knowledge. This particularly affected medicine. Graduating university doctors spread the idea that anyone who did not have their certification was dangerous and stupid and might possibly cause real harm, even when the folk healing tradition was well ahead of the medicine of universities. Often this was also a women’s profession, so once again women became an incidental target. And “women’s medicine,” as a natural and unavoidable consequence of all of the medical practitioners being male, lagged behind and became a method of social control, culminating with the myth of the “hysterical woman” in Victorian times; an excuse to institutionalize women who did not behave according to the desired social mien. We are currently seeing the culmination of the ownership of knowledge, with every task requiring (expensive) papers to certify your capability, bizarre trademark and copyright laws that allow corporations to claim intellectual property over ideas created 700 years ago, and tuitions so high that only the moneyed class can generally afford to pay them.
In order to justify this culture of ownership and expropriation, the world had to be disenchanted. If the world has no life and no spirit other than what can be used as resources, there is no reason not to use it up. Once again, the bodies of (cisgender) women, who are bound visibly by biological needs and changes, and who hold the power of the womb, became incidental targets, as the needs of the body and the needs of the earth and its creatures were denigrated, and “spiritual perfection” came to mean transcending anything as filthy and low as biology and nature. We are seeing the culmination of this disenchantment now, in which faith is painted as a choice between the binary of absolute obedience to a patriarchal, distant god; or utter denial of the possibility of anything spiritual.
All of this is part of a culture of expropriation that derives from estrangement; estrangement from our nature, from our bodies, from the sense of the spiritual in the material, from people who are different from ourselves, even from one another. We are almost seeing the culmination of it now. We no longer know our neighbours. We no longer live in families any larger than the nuclear. Most of us these days are raised by single mothers. We don’t even talk to each other any more, except through phones and computers. As a result we are siloed in echo chambers of the ideas we support and our children sit across the table from each other and use their phones to converse. Almost by definition, Paganism and Polytheism, which see gods and spirits here within the earth, are natural enemies of this culture.
I was excited! Starhawk articulated it so much more effectively than I was able to.
Of course, it started long before that. While the theory of the ancient matriarchy has been essentially disproven at this point, it is likely that inheritance did not matter in the prehistoric world until there was something to inherit that did not belong to the clan as a whole. Chieftainships created a class of haves, and have-nots, which made tracking inheritance “necessary.”
How I Stumbled on This
I was writing a science fiction novel. In the process I created a society in which all the men were warriors, so of course, the women were required to do everything else. This society also had a noble caste who ruled over the other classes. And I found that the society quickly developed, through a natural process of cause and effect, into a patriarchy. Fascist societies, the ultimate in Corporatism, usually develop into patriarchies for this reason.
So I changed one condition; I made inheritance dependent on the female bloodline. Now clans were organized around the females of a particular family, and to become nobles of the clan, males had to marry into it. Technically the males inherited, but only through the females. Suddenly, it looked to outsiders like the males were in charge, but in reality, the females were controlling marriages and fertility, and through that, the process of inheritance. Over time, males began to develop traits that the females found desirable, and eventually it led to the breakdown of the class system and changing roles for males and females.
Why is it always the right wing who seems to support ideas that restrict the freedom of women? You would think that powerful women of the moneyed class would be in an ideal position to challenge the supremacy of the patriarch. But consider it. Keeping the classes divided is the only way in which to assure that there are haves and have-nots. In order to separate the classes, it is necessary to assure that the poor and the rich never mingle, and that requires controlling a woman’s fertility; and subsequently, her sexuality. This is why it’s so important to the moneyed Conservatives to prevent cisgender women (and trans-men) from controlling their own fertility and claiming their own sexuality outside of the imposed rules of the patriarchy. If women could do that, we wage-slaves wouldn’t continue to breed fodder for factories, would we? Especially not in the developing world. And what if a low-class male has sex with a high-class female and she has a child? That elevates him out of the have-nots, doesn’t it?
We women impose these unconscious limits on ourselves. Did you know that women do not call each other “sluts” based on their level of sexuality activity? According to a study conducted at university campuses by Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong, the key trigger to being called a slut by another woman is being from a different economic class. Why on earth would women perceive each other as being “trashy” for being more, or less, affluent than themselves? It seems to me that this is a subconscious method of social control, to prevent the classes from breeding together.
Also, we choose mates based on perceived status. It’s such a cliche that we make jokes about it; trophy-wives and sugar daddies. Men with money are considered sexy. Men buy expensive gifts and seek good jobs to impress women, and it’s considered the height of romanticism from him to buy us jewelry or that coveted diamond ring that proclaims our status as desired property.
We feminists think we’re above that. After all, we believe in making our own way in the world and not relying on other people for financial support. But consider this; assuming you are heterosexual, would you marry a man who made less money than you do? Most of us won’t. We think that “we can do better” and men who make less than we do are often perceived as freeloaders and “bums,” no matter how hard they work. Fortunately this is changing.
There’s one last point of note that supports this theory, and that is the Mosuo people of China. Often called “the last matrilineal society,” they have evolved a society in which all property rights pass through the female line. There is no permanent marriage and partners do not live together, even if they have a long-term relationship. Men live with their female relatives. And all the behaviours of control and sexual dominance are displayed by the women; all the behaviours of social manipulation and preoccupation with appearance is displayed by the men. In other words, property equals power.
The Real Enemy: Kyriarchy
Kyriarchy, pronounced /ˈkaɪriɑrki/, is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, militarism, and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized. (Source: Wikipedia).
It is in the interests of the Capitalists to maintain divisions of haves and have-nots. Kyriarchy is how they go about this in a (nominally) free, democratic society. They teach the rest of us to see one group as being superior to another, which leads to an interconnected system of privilege and disadvantage. Notice that the poor are the only identifiable group that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against? Institutionalized discrimination limits the ability of the poor to get education, houses and jobs, and forces them to pay more for simple things due to interest payments, bank fees and “planned obsolescence.”
This is why it is necessary to consider all disadvantaged groups. The truth is that Kyriarchy cannot exist if we all stand together and refuse to see these artificial divisions.
In other words; sisters, men are not the enemy. Those who teach us that one group is better than another, are. And those who benefit from the status quo the most are usually the ones most invested in preserving it. The ones who benefit the most from this current status quo are white, white-collar, straight, wealthy, older men; in other words, the Corporatist 1%.
By extension, this means that anyone who challenges this status quo and demands change is our ally. It would help us all to march in Ferguson. It would help us all to defend women’s reproductive rights. It would help us all to support labour unions, advocate for anti-poverty groups, and march in the Pride Parade. Any one of these activities is a blow to Kyriarchy; which, in its death throes, will take the Patriarchy with it.
Why the Patriarchy is Doomed
Don’t worry; it can’t last forever. It was doomed from the invention of the Pill. When you can’t control a woman’s fertility, you can’t control her sexuality.
But social sanctions will try. And as long as we allow groups which are invested in the idea of patriarchy — such as religions or corporations — to dictate morality to us, then it will continue. We must stop calling each other sluts. We must stop trying to dictate to each other when it’s okay to sleep with someone and when it isn’t. We should feel free to make our own sexual choices and respect the right of others to do likewise. We should support the rights of all genders, especially because challenging the binary breaks up the division that is based in haves (men) and have-nots (women). The Kyriarchs know this and that’s why they find it so threatening and fight it so hard.
A great victory was recently won when the United States finally caught up to the idea that marriage should be a right for everyone. I am pleased to see another nail being hammered into the coffin as the worldwide movement for the rights of sex workers grows and we stop looking down on women who get more action than others.
When our social customs catch up to our physical and scientific realities, patriarchy’s inevitable end will crumble the support pillar that sustains the Kyriarchy; and it will collapse like a house of cards. We will see the dawn of a new age which is not dependent on human beings dividing themselves into superior and inferior classes. That day is coming. I believe it’s not far away.
- Sept. 2 Update: edits made in response to suggestions from Keen on how to be more gender-inclusive (see commentary below).
by James Lindenschmidt
It is no great surprise to me that Silvia Federici‘s book Caliban & The Witch has gained so much traction in the Pagan community in recent years. When I first read the book more than a decade ago, I knew it would be important for Pagans, simply because it told our story, our history, from the most complete and insightful historical and theoretical perspective I had ever seen. I am on record as saying it is the most important political book yet written in the 21st century, since it deals with the story of the transition to capitalism, with all the violence, blood, fire, and greed that accompanied and forced the transition. But since I have been a Pagan for nearly 30 years, I tended to see the subject matter less in terms of the transition to capitalism, but rather more in terms of the final transition away from Paganism, in the multitude and myriad of ways various paganisms were expressed before they were crushed and assimilated into the new mechanistic worldview of capitalism.
But Silvia Federici is not a ‘Pagan,’ despite the great service her work has been to our community. The context of her work, however, can be just as valuable to us as Caliban itself has been. Three or four decades before that book was published, a few groups of thinkers, writers, students, and teachers began working together. Two of them were the feminist Wages For Housework movement, as well as the Zerowork Collective. Both are worthy of investigation and further study. But by the end of the 1970s, a new group had emerged, which will be the focus of this piece.
A Brief History
History tells us that the Midnight Notes Collective began in the late 1970s with discussions between Monty Neill, Hans Widmer (aka p.m.), and George Caffentzis, with John WiIlshire Carrerra and Peter Linebaugh getting involved early on. Indeed, the membership of the Collective has been quite fluid over the years, both because people naturally tend to come and go over the years, and also because there were years when they intentionally remained anonymous to avoid overt harassment and repression form the establishment, an important strategy of self-preservation for a group demonstrating a “commitment to revolutionary possibilities.” They also wanted to avoid the “rock star” cult of personality, which was common in academia at the time. In addition to the people directly involved with Midnight Notes (including the above as well as Silvia Federici, Dan Coughlin, David Riker, Vasilis Passas, Johnny Machete, and Michaela Brennan, among others ), there were also various friends & associates over the years, including Steven Colatrella, John Roosa, Harry Cleaver, and Massimo de Angelis.
Despite the fluidity of the group, there was an important coherence to their ideas, expressed in a variety of publications over the years, starting in 1979 and running through the Reagan Years into the Bush era, all of which are now available online:
- Strange Victories (1979)
- No Future Notes: The Work/Energy Crisis & The Anti-Nuclear Movement (1979)
- The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse (1980)
- Space Notes (1981)
- Computer State Notes (1982)
- Posthumous Notes (1983)
- Lemming Notes (1984)
- Outlaw Notes (1985)
- Wages — Mexico — India — Libya (1988)
- The New Enclosures (1990)
These earliest publications from Midnight Notes are worth checking out, as a great glimpse into the political climate of the Reagan/Bush years, as the transition of capitalism from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism was cemented.
After these original issues, there were several more publications, some of them book-length, from the group:
Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992 (1992, Autonomedia)
This anthology is an analysis of the “energy crisis” of the 1970s, which they framed as a “work/energy crisis,” as well as a look at the evolution of capitalism in the 1980s. It contains several of their previous writings from earlier publications, namely The New Enclosures and The Work/Energy Crisis And The Apocalypse, with other articles written to fill in some of the theoretical gaps, additional analysis, and history. This book might be the best overall introduction to the thought of Midnight Notes in general. While in some ways it is dated from the 2015 point of view, it is my personal favorite analysis of the transition from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism, and broadened my understanding of today’s capitalism.
Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local & Global Struggles of the Fourth World War (2001, Autonomedia)
This book is an anthology of writing, using the Zapatista uprising in Mexico as the focal point for anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-globalization theory and history. Midnight Notes saw that this uprising was “a luminous crack in a clouded sky,” the first “movement that consciously pitted itself against global capital and at the same time was rooted in a territorial reality.”
Promissory Notes: From Crisis To Commons (2009)
This much shorter piece, published in 2009, is an analysis of the 2007-2008 “Great Recession” or global financial crisis. It also showed that the crisis was largely yet another “apocalypse” or evolution of capital from the neoliberalism from the 1970s through the early 2000s, and represented neoliberal “capital’s flight into financialization,” or the “attempt to ‘make money from money’ at the most abstract level of the system once making money from production no longer sufficed.”
After barraging you with so many links to their writings over the years, I will now attempt to distill their writing into a few of what I perceive to be their key ideas over nearly 40 years of writing.
3 Key Ideas
I remember when my own political outlook begin to evolve away from mainstream partisan politics in the US and toward a more radical outlook, I felt a dearth of information. Most of this was getting used to where information comes from: learning how to disengage from the received dialogues and worldview propagated by the capitalist media and the prevailing cultural outlook I grew up with in suburbia, and toward more obscure, alternative sources was a challenge. To this day, I think that truth discernment is arguably the biggest challenge facing alternative thinkers in the information age. In some ways it’s even more challenging these days, since you can encounter just about every possible viewpoint articulated somewhere on the Internet.
In the late 90s, I was lucky enough to begin studying philosophy at the University of Southern Maine, where George Caffentzis was a teacher. It was a small department, so if you hung out at the philosophy house it was easy to get to know some of the folks who taught there. I was intrigued by George’s ideas and thoughts right from the beginning. There are a lot of great teachers there, but I knew right away that I had a lot to learn from George. I remember early in my freshman year, he did a senior seminar on the philosophy of money, and being really bummed that I was nowhere near far enough along in my philosophy study to be able to take it. So I began to poke around for some of George’s writings, and before long I discovered Midnight Notes. This was in the early days of the Internet, before the writings were available online. I began to read them, and they were definitely challenging. I hadn’t yet read Marx or really any other radical political writings, and in retrospect Midnight Notes served as not only a fabulous introduction, but also an enduring foundation for my radical political thinking. I am grateful for this bit of serendipity that brought me to Maine at this point in spacetime.
Having studied Midnight Notes over the past 15 years, I think these are the most important ideas to glean from their writings:
1. Capitalist Crisis/Apocalypse Is Always About Class Struggle
This idea was first articulated in their 3rd issue: The Work/Energy Crisis & The Apocalypse, written in 1980 after the so-called “energy crisis” of the 1970s had been underway for the better part of a decade, peaking in both 1973 and 1979. I was a child in the 1970s, and I remember seeing the long lines for gasoline, complaints about OPEC and Jimmy Carter, but very little about class struggle. Interestingly, this was also the last decade where labor strikes were common, since strikes were more or less wiped out by the Reagan administration starting in 1981 when he fired the air traffic controllers who had unionized under PATCO and voted to strike. Their argument is quite detailed, but the essence of it is that
Capitalist crises stem from a refusal of work…. The term “energy crisis” is a misnomer. Energy is conserved and quantitatively immense, there can be no lack of it. The true cause of capital’s crisis in the last decade is work, or more precisely, the struggle against it. The proper name for the crisis then is the “work crisis” or, better, the “work/energy crisis.” For the problem capital faces is not the quantity of work per se, but the ratio of that work to the energy (or labor power) that creates it…. Through the noise of the apocalypse, we must see in the oil caverns, in the wisps of natural gas curling in subterranean abysses, something more familiar: the class struggle (Midnight Notes, The Work/Energy Crisis & The Apocalypse).
2. The New Enclosures
Arguably the most important insight that came from Midnight Notes’ writings is the notion of the New Enclosures. Before this insight, enclosure, or “primitive accumulation” in Marxist terminology, was largely seen as a historical artifact from the beginning of capitalist society. Midnight Notes showed that enclosures
“are not a one time process exhausted at the dawn of capitalism. They are a regular return on the path of accumulation and a structural component of class struggle. Any leap in proletarian power demands a dynamic capitalist response: both the expanded appropriation of new resources and new labor power and the extension of capitalist relations, or else capitalism is threatened with extinction.” (Midnight Oil, 318)
Midnight Notes then argued that the New Enclosures took five forms:
- Ending communal control of the means of subsistence
- Seizing land for debt
- Make mobile & migrant labor the dominant form of labor
- The collapse of socialism
- Attack on our reproduction
They — both the collective itself, and several of the writers working outside the collective — have continued to develop these ideas of enclosure since then.
3. Commons & Commoning
The last idea I think is the most important to come from Midnight Notes is reclaiming the notion of the Commons and Commoning. This idea is the logical extension of their insights about Enclosure, since the Commons is the very thing that is being enclosed. These insights came later in the Midnight Notes, particularly through their admiration and analysis of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico beginning on January 1, 1994, the day that NAFTA went into effect. Midnight Notes argues that these struggles represent
on one side, capital’s attempt to form a new level of global superstate and economy and, on the other, an anti-capitalist struggle moving from a multiplicity of localities to large-scale confrontations like the “Battle of Seattle” in late 1999. The Zapatistas have aptly named this struggle “the Fourth World War.”
Commoning is at the center of this struggle, since the commons provides subsistence for resistance, and “this power to subsist/resist is exactly what capital wants to eliminate throughout the world.” In general, and to some degree, capital is always enclosing, whereas the working class is always commoning, and commoning is central to resistance against capital.
Caffentzis, Federici, Linebaugh: 3 Contemporary Thinkers
After this all-too-brief look at the Midnight Notes Collective itself, I now want to turn to 3 new books, published by PM Press, from three of the most important voices within Midnight Notes. While George Caffentzis and Peter Linebaugh have been involved with Midnight Notes from its earliest days, it is important to note that Silvia Federici has remained a bit more aloof from the collective over the years. While she was part of the collective for a few of the later original Midnight Notes publications (namely The New Enclosures), and her writings appear in Midnight Oil and Auroras of the Zapatistas, she is not listed as a member of the collective in either of those books. While I do not pretend to be privy to the undercurrents of interpersonal dynamics and ideological differences within the group, I suspect that Silvia’s unwavering commitment to feminism is at the root of the aloofness. And I should also point out that George Caffentzis conveyed to me in a conversation that for the most part it was Midnight Notes responding to Federici’s work rather than vice versa. All three of these books are anthologies of writing from the careers of each writer, to which I now turn.
In Letters Of Blood & Fire: Work, Machines, & the Crisis Of Capitalism
Of the three, George Caffentzis is the most traditional, albeit radical, “philosopher of the anticapitalist movement.” In Letters Of Blood & Fire is divided into three sections. Part 1 is Work/Refusal, Part 2 is Machines, and Part 3 is Money, War, & Crisis. Part 1 begins with the aforementioned “The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse,” which remains foundational to much of Caffentzis’ subsequent work. These analyses contain wonderful insights, such as this analysis of the relationship between capital’s production, value, and prices:
The hand of capital is different than its mouth and its asshole. The transformation of value into prices is real, but it also causes illusions in the brains of both capitalists and workers (including you and me!). It all revolves around “mineness,” the deepest pettiness in the Maya of the system: capital appears as little machines, packets of materials, little incidents of work, all connected to us — its little agents of complaint, excuse, and hassle. Each individual capitalist complains about “my” money, each individual worker cries about “my” job, each union official complains about “my” industry; tears flow everywhere, apparently about different things, so that capitalism’s house is an eternal soap opera. “Mineness” is an essential illusion, though illusion all the same. Capital is social, as is work, and it is also as pitiless as Shiva to the complainers, whose blindness capital needs to feed itself. It no more rewards capitalists to the extent that they exploit than it rewards workers to the extent that they are exploited. There is no justice for anyone but itself.
Part 2, on Machines, is a more technical analysis of the place of machines within capitalism, and particularly within the Marxist analysis of capital. Central to his arguments is the piece from 1997, “Why Machines Cannot Create Value: Marx’s Theory of Machines,” whose argument is self-contained in the title.
Part 3 contains a very short and succinct piece, which I recommend as the briefest and most coherent introduction to Caffentzis’ work overall. “The Power of Money: Debt & Enclosure” is a very brief look at money in the human experience:
For most of human history, money either did not exist (before roughly the seventh century BC) or it was of marginal importance for most people on the planet (until roughly the nineteenth century AD). Why is it so important now?
He then articulates the “economist’s fairy tale,” which is the received story about the function of money simplifying exchange as compared to barter, as well as “lowering costs” of trade. He points out that money, too, has its transaction costs that mostly go overlooked by capitalist economists.
All in all, these writings convey Marx’s image that the story of the origins of capitalism, and its reproduction, are written “in the letters of blood and fire used to drive workers form the common lands, forests, and waters in the sixteenth century.” I highly recommend this book for readers interested in the most technical analysis of capitalism, from a detailed philosophical perspective.
Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, & Feminist Struggle
As previously stated, Silvia Federici is the feminist of these three thinkers. Revolution at Point Zero, an anthology of her work over the past 40 years, all of which explore the “zero point of revolution” which is where “new social relations first burst forth, from which countless waves ripple outward into other domains.” It, too, is divided into three parts. Part 1 is Theorizing and Politicizing Housework, containing her earlier, foundational work such as “Wages Against Housework” from 1975, as well as “Why Sexuality Is Work” and “Putting Feminism Back on Its Feet.” Part 2 is Globalization and Social Reproduction, and contains 4 essays including “Women, Globalization, and the International Women’s Movement.”
Part 3, Reproducing Commons, has her most recent work including “Feminism and the Politics of the Common in an Era of Primitive Accumulation” from 2010, which contains the powerful argument that there is an “oblivion” in “our blindness to the blood in the food we eat, the petroleum we use, the clothes we wear, the computers with which we communicate.” For Federici,
Overcoming this oblivion is where a feminist perspective teaches us to start in our reconstruction of the commons. No common is possible unless we refuse to base our life, our reproduction on the suffering of others, unless we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them. Indeed if “commoning” has any meaning, it must be the production of ourselves as a common subject. This is how we must understand the slogan “no commons without community…. community as a quality of relations, a principle of cooperation and responsibility: to each other, the earth, the forests, the seas, the animals.
Federici’s writings here concentrate on “social reproduction,” which is the ways in which society and the people in it reproduce themselves. It is the food we eat, the social relations we share outside the work environment, our basic needs down to clean water & air, shelter and clothing. All of these things are “the most labor-intensive work on earth, and to a large extent it is work that is irreducible to mechanization.” It is also work that is largely unwaged, and exists in the context of capitalist enclosure. I highly recommend this book for those interested in not only a feminist perspective, but also in very practical, day-to-day ideas about how we can be commoning and resist capital.
Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, & Resistance
Finally, Peter Linebaugh is the historian and storyteller of the three. He is an engaging writer, and the stories he tells need to be heard and retold. Stop, Thief! is divided into five sections. Section 1, The Commons, is the best primer I know of to exploring what Commons & Commoning is. Start with “Some Principles of the Commons,” which is a very short introduction, showing us that the commons “is best understood as a verb,” and then “Stop, Thief! A Primer on the Commons & Commoning” fills in one’s understanding that the commons “is not a thing but a relationship” as it applies to various modes of living & knowing.
Part 2, “Charles Marks,” are some of Linebaugh’s contributions to Marxism in history. Part 3, The “UK”, are looks at English History including “Ned Ludd & Queen Mab,” which shows us that the Luddites were not technophobes but rather were cross-dressing warriors, “anonymous, avenging avatars who meted out justice that was otherwise denied.” Part 4, The “USA,” contains “Introduction to Thomas Paine” and “Meandering at the Crossroads of Communism and the Commons,” which take a look at the vast commons that existed in pre-colonialist North America. This analysis is continued in Part 5, “First Nations,” with its three essays, “The Red-Crested Bird and Black Duck”, “The Commons, the Castle, the Witch, and the Lynx,” and “The Invisibility of the Commons.”
Of the three, Linebaugh’s writing might be the most readable. I agree with Robin Kelley, who wrote about an earlier book from Linebaugh that there is “not a more important historian living today. Period.” I highly recommend this book for people who want to broaden their understanding of the Commons and Commoning, through the voice of a master storyteller, an engaging and agile writer.
The Witching Hour Legacy
These three thinkers, as well as The Midnight Notes Collective and all who have participated in it over the years, represent a vast treasure trove for anyone wishing to broaden their understanding of capitalism, crisis, resistance & class struggle, enclosure, commons/commoning, and revolutionary possibilities in the 21st century. These writers and ideas were foundational to my own development as a radical thinker and writer, and I remain grateful for their work.
by George Caffentzis & Silvia Federici
If you missed it, check out Part 1 of this Report From Greece.
George Caffentzis on The Commons, Russian Workers, and Capitalists
Marx wrote of the non-coincidence of desires between Russian capitalists and workers:
“…even when [the capitalists] have money, the labor power is not available in sufficient quantity and at the right time. This is because the Russian agricultural worker, owing to the common ownership of the soil by the village community, is not yet fully separated from his means of production and is then still not a ‘free wage-laborer’ in the full sense of the term. But the presence of such ‘free wage-laborers’ throughout society is the indispensible condition without which M-C, the transformation of money into commodities, cannot take the form of the transformation of money capital into productive capital.”
(Capital vol 2, p. 117 of the Penguin edition).
Something similar could be said of Greek workers. The capitalist task of the crisis is to end whatever remains of the commons in their lives and make workers fully “free wage laborers” coincident with capital’s “lust for labor.”
The First anti-Syriza Demonstrations
An Athenian anarchist friend suggested that we should go to a demonstration in Syntagma Square called to protest Syriza’s willingness to sign a new memorandum with the “troika,” although we have as yet no concrete knowledge as to the contents of the new Memorandum. Since the whole affair is being presented in the form of a soccer match, why shouldn’t another team enter the field? Perhaps they will score a surprise goal! But at the moment all eyes are on LeGuard, Draghi and the faceless IMF “technocrats” versus the heroic Tsipras, who delays by putting ever higher bids, and rolling the debt one time more until it is time itself that becomes the issue.
Well, in Syntagma Square the initial rally was small—with predictable statements. But soon it was joined by another demonstration that marched to Syntagma from another part of the city and so the whole rally numbered about a thousand (respectable by NYC standards, but very small by Greek). The groups sponsoring the march and rally included, anarchists, autonomists, and even some Trotskyites. Sure enough I saw an old friend who happened to be a well-known Greek Trotskyite. We would see each other often in the 1990s in NYC, but he stopped coming to the US after 9/11, while my political affiliations in Greece became more defined in the post 9/11 period as well. To the point that we hadn’t seen each other in a decade. During that time he had a bout with liver cancer involving many surgeries and chemo-therapy sessions. The cancer would have killed him if it hadn’t been for his decision to go to France and get medical help there. The decision was motivated by another decision of the Greek medical authorities who ordered an anti-cancer drug for him that was needed immediately but with a 3 month expected time of delivery! The French doctors declared him cancer-free a few years ago, but he must return to France every 4 months to check his status.
My Trotskyite friend prided himself on the books he wrote and the political campaigns he was involved in while in the midst of his treatment, as he should. And now he wants to live to be part of the international working class revolution! The march was beginning again, going down Panapistemiou St. My Trotskyite friend took his place at the end and was off!
Trying to Raise the Spectre of Syntagma Square 2011
At first there was a small circle on the square, but it grew over time. At first it was mostly an older crowd, but slowly younger people joined. The intention is to call for a new decision-making body based on popular assemblies to replace the Vouli (the Parliament) that was de-legitimated by the actions of both left and right parties. One speaker after another noted a discrepancy between the extreme situation being faced and the lack of any force from the bottom to intervene! However, only one woman spoke and she addressed a logistic question: how long should each speaker be allotted, 3 or 5 minutes?
There ought to be a movement of the Syntagma Square 2015, but it remained just that, an ought.
A Run on the Banks in Sparta After the Call for a Referendum
On Saturday morning I woke up in Sparta and looked out from the hotel balcony down Paleologou Street and saw that there were lines in front of the ATMs. I wondered what this was about. On going downstairs for breakfast I learned that the night before Tsipras and his advisors walked out of a meeting with the “troika” and called for a referendum on the question, should the final memorandum the troika offered be accepted or not? The immediate response by the Greek populace was this minor “run on the banks,” minor since there are limits as how much can be withdrawn from ATMs per day. We shall see what will happen on Monday when the banks will be open for business. Will this minor run become a massive charge on the banks’ reserves? There was definitely a feeling of panic spreading on the lines in front of the street. I also felt it. I was prompted to take out extra euro cash (in a classic bow to Keynesian “liquidity preference”) because, though I would simply be contributing to the banks’ reserve of dollars, I too would be impacted by the lack of euro currency that would inevitably be experienced by some of the weaker banks (if not the whole banking system, if a “holiday” is called by the government).
This “preference,” however, has a primal feel about it: contagious, violent, irrational. A condition typified by an audience fleeing a minor fire, crushing each other to death trying to get to an exit!
The Taxi Driver’s Lament
He is a large man, both in height and breadth, and a small business man as well. I wondered whether he would try to short change me by insisting on the meter (which stated 63 euros) instead of the 55 euros I understood from George’s agreement last night with him. The taxi driver stuck to the original deal. This is definitely a time of distrust mingled with solidarity! Here are some quotes from his conversation with me on the road to Gythion:
“In Greece there is a saying, ‘The rich man is one with nothing; those with much, lose it to the tax man.’ ”
A Buddhist adage?
“Greece has the worst politicians and the worst drivers on the planet.”
A Platonic truth?
“I have worked since I was 13 and now I’m on the verge of losing it all. Take this taxi. I spent 130,000 euros for it, 30,000 for the car and 100,000 euros for the taxi driver’s medallion. Now the medallion costs 20,000 euros and falling…soon it will be worth 2,000 euros, but still my brother and I need to work as taxi-drivers to make something. I have one kid and my brother has three. We need to leave them something.”
A small businessman’s Abrahamic statement?
A Taxi Passenger’s Lament
Heard from a taxi passenger: When I flew in from Frankfurt to Athens I was very tired (it was night) so I decided to take a cab home. As I got into the cab I noticed a sign saying, “Flat Rate to Athens 35 euros.” So I settled back to enjoy the ride, but I was getting a little worried (as we were getting close to home) that he might short-change me. Sure enough, when we got to the door of my house I handed him 35 euros, he said, “It is 50 euros.” I began to protest and pointed to the sign. He said, “Thirty five euro is for the day, it is 50 euros for the night.” I said, “The sign said nothing about night or day.” The driver said, “Well, let’s go to the police station to straighten this out.” I didn’t want to go to the police station, but nor did he. So I said, to break the stalemate, “Let’s settle this with fists!” He laughed and said, “The 35 is o.k.,” and off he went.
Bank “Holiday” in Paradise
I am in Agios Dimitrios in the Mani with comrades from Switzerland, writing this on a terrace overlooking the Messenian Bay, it would seem I am in the midst of Paradise, without a care in the world! But I write this also on the first “bank Holiday” in Greece in many years, i.e., the government has ordered the banks to be closed and to distribute cash to depositors at a rate of 60 euros a day through ATMs.
What a strange name for this day…a holiday. What god is being honored, if not the God of Banks: the money form? This god presents itself as the universal mediator between non-coincident desires, but these days it is becoming an angry God that is denying all desires (coincident as well as non-coincident). So that capitalists are looking for cash to make more cash and the rest are looking for cash to keep body and soul together.
This is the first day that the debt crisis has hit the immediate lives of Greeks (and even visitors). The long queues in front of the ATMs tell the tale of anxiety and panic…but even worse is the lack of queues, indicating a machine that is out of cash!
I too am caught in this anxiety and panic, though to a lesser degree, because I can get as many euros I want from the ATMs, but I need to find one that is functioning and has cash. This is increasingly difficult since, most crucially, this availability depends on the euros lodged in the banks as cash!
A system of exchange of commodities is becoming a non-system of non-exchange of non-commodities, leaving in its wake gift exchanges and gratis offerings. What was considered a solid way to solve the problem of non-coincident desires has vanished into air, but it also has an escape hatch. Like the staircase from the inferno to purgatory, it takes time to get to and climb. The Syriza people seem to have the intention to do this without a Virgil. Such a trick is unlikely to succeed unless they are expert secret keepers or master game theoreticians! That we shall see, when this holiday in Paradise ends.
The OXI vote: Syriza’s Machiavellianism and the Anti-austerity Movement
“Vox populi, vox Dei,”[“The voice of the people, [is] the voice of God”] is a phrase from a letter written by Alcuin, an advisor of Chalemagne’s who was an early “founder” of the Holy Roman Emire and often taken as the founder of Europe. In the letter Alcuin warns the Emperor not to pay heed to those (like myself) who use the phrase affirmatively. But if the adage is true, what is God saying through the July 5th, 2015 referendum in Greece? That has much to do with what the question being voted on.
This question was not a general one like “Should pensions be further cut?” or “Should the right to strike be preserve in the new labor laws?” or “Should any new austerity policies be prohibited?” It was quite specific, i.e., “Should the memorandum proposed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, European Commission [aka “the troika”] on Thursday, June 27, 2015 be accepted (“NAI”) or rejected (“OXI”).”
As some critics pointed out, the referendum question had no proper answer, since the “troika” had already taken the memorandum “off the table.” So the vote came down to what the voter wanted it to mean: e.g., “No more pension cuts” or “End austerity policies” or “Greece out of the Eurozone” or a thousand other critiques of the present or nothing precise at all or anything Tsipras and Syriza want it to mean. The referendum’s wording made God speak ambiguously that Sunday through the Greek people’s voice.
In trying to make sense of the peculiar wording of the referendum I saw not so much game-theory in action but a Machiavellian aspect of Syriza, a failed Machiavellianism, however, since Machiavellian reasoning in politics is defeated when it is identified as Machiavellianism! First, the call for a referendum appeared to be a spontaneous response to the troika’s stony refusal to accept some milder structural adjustment measures and a reduction of the debt payments schedule at least. But I learned that the call for the referendum was discussed for months before, within the inner circle of Syriza. So the wording of the referendum was not a hurried decision made in a fit of anger and frustration.
The second Machiavellian point was Tsipras’s claim that an “OXI” vote would give him more power to negotiate with the troika. In other words, the heat of the voter’s insurrection, their gigantic “OXI,” would be useful in frightening his negotiating partners. The attempt to use the anger of Greek workers–who have been degraded on many levels since 2010 and given an avenue for its expression by the referendum—was problematic, since once it is expressed, it cannot be withdrawn. Many said that they voted “OXI” simply because of their refusal to be terrorized by the fears unleashed by the propaganda of the media. This is not a sentiment that can be turned on and off for the benefit of IMF bureaucrats and hedge-fund capitalists.
The third Machiavellian point is Syriza’s refusal to make preparations for taking Greek monetary transactions out of the Eurozone. This was not a technical matter but would have involved the education of the proletariat, capitalists and state employees in the consequences of changing currencies. Even a simple thing like having a few trucks filled with the currency of a possible future money system would have done a lot to “concentrate the mind” of wageworkers (after all, most capitalist-to-capitalist money transactions, outside of the drug trade, are not done in cash). The decision confused both the troika and the Greek working class.
The denouement of this failed Machiavellianism could be seen in Syriza’s proposal sent to the troika five days after the referendum. In that period the voters’ “OXI” was supposed to have shaken up European capitalism, but that did not happen. Neither the exchange rate for the Euro nor the major stock markets of Europe crashed. This lack of response spoke volumes in a language that neoliberals understand. So Tsipras presented the Syriza government’s proposal to the troika on Thursday, July 9. It turns out that this proposal is similar to the memorandum Syriza asked Greeks to reject in the referendum. Liz Alderman, in a nice piece of journalism, compared Tsipras’s and the “troika’s” proposals and she found little difference, e.g., the two proposals with respect to taxation are identical as were the proposed changes in the pension system. Ironically, the major difference was in mililtary spending. The troika’s proposal asks for 400 million euro cut while the Syriza proposal asks for a 100 million euro cut this year.
Silvia Federici, on the broader context of what is happening in Greece
The situation in Greece manifests a double crisis: the crisis of capitalism in Europe, as reflected in the politics of the German Government, and the crisis of the European working-class and the European left.
The politics of Syriza should be de-personalized. They have mismanaged the negotiations but their options were limited given that neither they nor the Greek people ever seriously considered leaving the Eurozone and, for example, turning to Russia for loans. The European Union has become a fetish for the Left, the ideological campaign of ‘Europeism’ has been successful, generating among most a great fear at the idea of leaving the Eurozone.
The Marxist autonomist Left is guilty of the same disease. The formation of a Eurozone has been hailed (to this day, see the recent conference on the crisis in Athens) as a terrain of working class re-composition, but actually we have seen that this has not been the case. Greece has confronted the battle with the European central bank and Bruxelles by itself. No mobilization, no significant expression of solidarity has cone from other countries. This lack of solidarity is especially worrisome, since the working classes of Europe have faced a decade and a half of austerity and structural adjustment and should know the implications of the disciplining of Greece.
By 1998 the EU had imposed on all its members a “Stability Pact” that prevented them from having deficits larger than 3%, forcing them to practically stop all payments, so they could not pay the companies that had been working for them and who eventually went bankrupt. In Italy even victims of an earthquake in Emilia could not be helped explicitly because of the budgetary limits even though the municipalities where the earthquake occurred did have the money necessary. Yet, there were no large demonstrations in London, Paris, Madrid, Rome or Berlin supporting the insurrectional “OXI” vote as a harbinger of their own rejection of austerity.
Even in front of a massive media attack stressing among other things that other workers in Europe would have to pay for the Greek debt.
Syriza never conceived of leaving the Eurozone, never prepared for it, in this, however, reflecting the ambivalence of the Greek/ European population. Clearly people expected more “understanding.” Syriza kept talking of a “humanitarian crisis” rather than a class conflict. The problem however was that the situation the EU is facing does not allow any margin of compromise. The possibility for Greece to default but continue to stay in the Eurozone is ruled by the crisis in which European capital finds itself. The European Union project is in crisis, it has not produced the profitability for which it was created, on the contrary, it is an area of non-accumulation. In this context, Germany is attempting to create a different Europe, “liberated” from countries like Greece that are seen as unproductive, so that can better compete and negotiate with the US and China. In the meantime, Germany too is facing a crisis, because it will have to pay the Greek debt, which cannot be paid by Greece, and will have to abide by the decisions of the US with regard to its relation to Russia (being forced, for instance, to participate in the attack on Ukraine, thereby being prevented from forming any alliance with Russia.)
From a class perspective the crisis, however, is (a) the lack of coordination and solidarity among European working classes; (b) the inability of European working class to delink from capital and the political class, despite the obvious attack to which it is being subjected which will be generalized and intensified in years to come if the TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is realized; (c) the inability of the European left to distinguish between the Europe of the bosses and the Europe of the proletariat and its commitment to a Europeanism that is suicidal, preventing a ‘rupture.’ If Greece had left the Eurozone, it could have triggered a real process of re-composition, instead of being used to discipline all the workers in the other countries, who every night have been reminded of what can happen to them if they step out of line, and reject the reforms imposed on them.
The only bright spot is the referendum, which was the first loud NO to globalization in Europe and, as some have noted, a Latin American moment in European class politics. The No! of Greece could have also begun a confrontation with EU politics that is now redirected against immigrants, as the case of Italy demonstrates. Unfortunately only the right wing in Europe now speaks against ‘Europe’.
The situation with immigrants. In the spring of 2015, 950 immigrants died – Now, everyday, boats with hundreds of people arrive. The government sends them to
different localities, forcing municipalities to accept a certain number, but now citizens are revolting, and the right-wing is fomenting the revolt. More immigrants continue to die. The rightwing calls for a naval blockade, to push them back and tells the government that to save them is wrong, because more will come. They say the government should give no assistance. In reality this is what is actually happening. France has closed the frontiers.
On Social Solidarity Health Clinics
Syriza’s refusal to prepare the working class in Greece of what an alternative to continuing with “humiliating” negotiations with the troika has been widely noted. This observation was even more problematic to those trying to understand Syriza’s strategy, since only if there was a credible threat to carry out a successful exodus from the Eurozone could have the Tsipras-Varoufakis team have won any substantial debt-relief in the first place. One way to explain this anomaly is by assuming that the Syriza leadership simply thought that taking any path out of the Eurozone would be too onerous for Greek workers and capitalists. Greece in this period was definitely inundated with terrifying images of a post-euro world without petrol, without doctors and medicines, without food, in short, a wasteland of repression, illness and violence…a Mad Max world, Greek-style.
But there was already a model of an escape from such a scenario in the more than 40 Social Solidarity Health Clinics (SSHC) that could be found in most of the cities of Greece. Most of these SSHCs were founded in the crisis, especially after the Syntagma Square occupation in 2011. They now involve thousands of doctors, nurses and pharmacists and they see tens of thousands of patients a year. They provide first level health care from doctors and nurses who are working for no pay. They began with the crisis to work with immigrants who were often turned away from public and private hospitals. Greek patients in the SSHCs were few because they (even if poor and uninsured) tended to avoid them since they assumed that anything that served the immigrants must be of low quality. But as the crisis deepened and more and more Greeks were laid-off, increasingly the patients in these clinics became more integrated at the bottom of the wage scale. Throughout Greece the SSHCs have become a remarkable pole of attraction in recent years, and they have played an important role in providing health care services to tens of thousands at a moment when the hospital system was deteriorating due to strictures on public investment on social reproduction.
I was invited to attend a discussion among volunteers at SSHCs from Athens, Thessaloniki, and Crete. The encounter was prefaced by the following self-description:
At the current situation of intensified deregulation of our lives, as in recent years, the Solidarity Clinics have been a Social Safety Net. The only one in such a broad scale. And this is a fact which cannot be appropriated by any government, party or official institutional body. The fact that we continue to operate has nothing to do with an expectation to get things done as it was before. We have nowhere to return to. And this is a conscious choice. In any situation of political and social instability we know that today we have the social relationships and the necessary experience to maintain an active role in social developments.
Here are some notes I took of the frank and open discussion:
- We do “community medicine,” but it needs to be enlivened by new thinking and this new thinking must come from the patients. But it takes time to get new thoughts. Moreover, it is difficult to bring patients in for a general meeting. For example, we recently telephoned 400 patients to come to a meeting to discuss the project and only 30 came. But still, we are not a philanthropy!
- We were originally driven to do our medicine out of need, but soon we started to deal with medicine in a political way.
- We are formulating a third way of delivering health services (i.e., neither in the state mode nor as a private enterprise). We are thinking we are doing medicine as a common and we are using other terms—like “autonomy” and “real democracy”—as well to describe the kind of medicine we are trying to do.
- We have a problem with the left-wing government of Syriza, even though many thought it would save the situation, But that has not happened. In actual fact, the uninsured are the majority in the country. No solution. And even when there is government support, it requires too much paperwork!
- People become tired. At times we feel that some of our colleagues are doing the work out of duty. They don’t feel the same way we do.
- We don’t want to deal with the state. We don’t want to comply with the state’s directives.
Athens after “OXI!”
The city seems to be on vacation after the “OXI!” The traffic is lighter, the tourists are fewer, the smog lighter, the shops (that are still surviving) often closed, except for the cafes, restaurants, and tavernas. I’m feeling the pulse of the city’s circulatory system slowing down, and even at odd moments stopping, as if the summer heat had turned to capital and just said, “Stamata!” (“Basta!”)
A CALL FOR AN INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY
MUTUAL AID NETWORK
SUPPORT SOCIAL STRUGGLE IN GREECE
The below statement is from the Social Solidarity Clinic in Iraklio who are collaborating with other clinics, social centers and movements to create a network from below to receive concrete forms of solidarity.
Please sign and contact at firstname.lastname@example.org
12 July 2015, Euro Summit
A surprise for some. Not a surprise for others. In either case, there is a lasting question. How is a response from below possible to counteract and negate the totalizing financialization of our lives?
There is not one political answer to this. However, a political point needs to be stressed. Support is not needed for an inter-class, ethnocentric peoples—the Greeks.
Support is needed for the struggle from below taking place in Greece. It is the State, first, that homogenizes the differentiated impact of austerity—due to class, age, gender, location, and way of life—under a national identity. To accept austerity, for each MoU, a respective national responsibility. And for five years—nationalization or austerity—the two remedies to choose from.
We choose differently. What is urgent, for us, is to collectivize (not homogenize) individual risk—due to personal debt, job precarity, lessened or no access to health services and good nutrition and the internalization of guilt and shame.
This is the 2nd call for the International Solidarity-Mutual Aid Network. To meet acute and longterm needs in Greece. From/to self-organized initiatives. The aim is to make visible, to demonstrate the efficacy of and put into practice an alternative form of Social Solidarity vis a vis the form of Institutional Solidarity—the EU-ECB-IMF institutions and the new austerity program by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) of the Eurozone.
To clarify. The call is not a contingent choice. It follows our broader effort to develop a different approach to healthcare. On a social, rather than individual, level. Solidarity, reciprocity, equity, without any distinction as to race, color, origin, sexual orientation or religion. Essential elements. For multifactorial healthcare. Not medicalized assessment. For treating human as a bio-psycho-social whole. Not reduction of human to any individual symptom. For deinstitutionalisation. Not charity, medicine for profit, or neoliberal de-hospitalization via closures, privatization and criminalization. For social emancipation.
The plan is to start from, and have at the core of this network, autonomous solidarity health clinics—the sites experimenting on the basis of non-capitalist forms of labor, non-medicalized healthcare, non-institutional dependency. Each clinic will act as a hub, and will coordinate with other self-organized groups in its city/broader area. Each such coalition will determine and share with the network—the initiatives responding to the call—a list of needs (money, in kind, human), ways to be reached (online, mail, in person), long term communication framework/programming. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Needs may range from medicine and electronics to doctors. Within the coming weeks each clinic/coalition will send out their first round of communication.
George Caffentzis is a philosopher of money. He is also co-founder of the Midnight Notes Collective and the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. He has taught and lectured in colleges and universities throughout the world and his work has been translated into many languages. His books include: Clipped Coins, Abused Words and Civil Government: John Locke’s Philosophy of Money, Exciting the Industry of Mankind: George Berkeley’s Philosophy of Money; No Blood for Oil! and In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines and the Crisis of Capitalism. His co-edited books include: Midnight Oil: Work Energy War 1973-1992.
Silvia Federici is a feminist activist, writer, and a teacher. In 1972 she was one of the co-founders of the International Feminist Collective, the organization that launched the international campaign for Wages For Housework (WFH). In the 1990s, after a period of teaching and research in Nigeria, she was active in the anti-globalization movement and the U.S. anti-death penalty movement. She is one of the co-founders of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa, an organization dedicated to generating support for the struggles of students and teachers in Africa against the structural adjustment of African economies and educational systems. From 1987 to 2005 she taught international studies, women studies, and political philosophy courses at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. All through these years she has written books and essays on philosophy and feminist theory, women’s history, education and culture, and more recently the worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization and for a feminist reconstruction of the commons. Her books include: Caliban & The Witch & Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle.
From Thessaloniki to Iraklion
by George Caffentzis
In the summer of 2015 I spent a month in Greece, from June 10 to July 10. I travelled from Thessaloniki to Volos to Athens to Sparta to the Mani to Crete then back to Athens. I stayed mostly with comrades, some new, some old and I was joined for ten days by Silvia Federici. What follows are some observations and comments on this tumultuous period that included the “OXI” (“NO!”) referendum, innumerable meetings of the “Troika” [ed note: the triumvirate representing the European Union in its foreign relations] with and without the officials of Syriza, the coalition of leftist parties that took over the government in January 2015 after being a tiny party for decades [ed. note: or, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left, name taken from the Greek adverb “from the roots”]. Though the sections are undated, they are roughly placed in a chronological order. This is not meant to be a comprehensive account of the situation in Greece, so there are many facets of the class struggle there that are not noted. But I should point out that the immigrant workers are part of the Greek working class.
Greece 2015: Setting the Stage
The following is what I can make of collective understanding of the crisis put together with the help of comrades from Greece and the U.S. (in my own words, of course):
There are two levels to the crisis. First is the visible financial balance sheet level. Here is the world of debt payments due, say X, and the largely tax-based income of the state, say Y, and X-Y is what is due and it is huge amount. The drama of money, part tragedy, part comedy, is played out, with the protagonists in the front of the stage (incarnated by the financial wizards of the troika, the “young” P.M. Tsipras and the now ex-finance minister Varoufakis) while in the background is a shadowy chorus of bond-holders and out-front vulture hedge-fund managers who intervene periodically with sibylline utterances full of threat and fury.
The second level is the unstated but persistently followed plan to use the first crisis of state finances (the debt crisis) to put the European proletariat into crisis by making the elimination of labor legislation favorable to workers, the cuts in pensions, increased unemployment and a dramatic decrease in wages as structural adjustment conditionalities for any new “bailout” loans. The Greek working class is simply the supposed “weak link” useful for carrying out the plan aimed at Europe as a whole.
This is why the “fictive capital” theorists are so unconvincing. If the structural adjustment program elements of the plan were missing, then there would be a “financial solution to a financial problem.” But the clear purpose of the financial crisis is to deal with the fall of profitability in the entire European region. Capitalist strategists believe that the levels of wages, alternative forms of work refusal (pensions and welfare benefits) and of reproductive “services” (health and education) are so high that they make it impossible for European-based capital to compete (especially with Asian and North American capital). The crisis managers’ aim is to normalize the cuts in these levels and to make such a working class existence (precarious wages and even a return to testing physiological limits) a feature of the standard of living in Europe for the foreseeable future. If this is not done, European capital will suffer what at first may look like euthanasia, but then will later precipitate into a violent dissolution. This is the crisis of European capital! So not only are the European proletarians in trouble, but so are the capitalists. There are many crises in the field, there is no THE crisis.
All Quiet on the Extra-Parliamentary Front
There is something remarkable happening in Greece with the victory of Syriza in the elections of January 2015. A left-wing party gets into state power, but it seemed to have definitely kept the rest of the Left (parliamentary and extra-parliamentary) from using this time to put forward their own programs and demands in the streets. This seems to confirm Raul Zibechi’s insight, coming from Latin America, that the only force that could now defeat the anti-capitalist social movements is a left-wing government in power (or on its way to power).
I sensed a definite loss of direction, of energy, of confidence in the last few years within the extra-parliamentary left. Between December 2008 and April 2012 there was a period of intense confrontation with the forces of the state run by right-wing parties proposing austerity as a way out of the crisis. Along with this was the direct confrontation with Golden Dawn, the Greek version of the German Nazi Party [ed note: this is not the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn, familiar to many pagans & occultists]. Both were very popular antagonists.
But the rise of Golden Dawn was halted by its members’ assassination of a popular leftist rap singer that brought out a tremendous response. The right-wing government at the time then recognized that the Golden Dawn was too dangerous to let it expand without some checks. Without the antagonistic presence of Golden Dawn, however, the raison d’etre of much alarm and sense of emergency was vanishing in the fall of 2014.
Syriza’s sudden rise to state power (with its pledge to end the austerity regime imposed by the “the troika” and its minions in Greece) was also disconcerting for the extra-parliamentary left, since Syriza’s success implied that there might be an electoral way out of the regime of poverty and tatters.
Together these two developments disarmed the critics of electoral solutions to the crisis. So now in the face of an unprecedented attack on living standards, we see very little response in the streets. Syriza is therefore receiving negative support from the extra-parliamentary left.
Moreover, on the extra-parliamentary front, there is much division and backbiting typical of a period of defeat. I cannot help but be skeptical of the appeal of the extra-parliamentary left’s political program when I compare the number of youths involved in the simple commodification and consumption of sociality, sexuality and general pleasure in the cafes and tavernas —as if they are thumbing their collective noses at the troika! What a display of the willfulness of enjoyment that inserts a new pole of attraction in the equation…a pure anarchism.
As I walk through downtown Thessaloniki in the soft evening air I wonder, am I on the deck of the Titanic or am I walking through Paradise?
A clear-headed Anarchist from Thessaloniki speaks:
- The solidarity economy is not strong enough yet to take on the task of social reproduction.
- The collapse of the Syriza government would lead to an extremely repressive right-wing replacement.
- Doing cooperative labor is not easy. Multiplying our experience with a cooperative bookstore would definitely be a lesson.
ERT3 confronts Syriza
Silvia Federici and I were invited to a meeting of workers at the national radio and television (ERT3) station in Thessaloniki. It was shut down exactly two years ago by the troika-friendly Nea Democratia-PASOK government that was looking to do something dramatic to show the bondholders that it was serious in sticking to the structural adjustment agenda. The shut-down decision was made abruptly and disrespectfully, with accusations of laziness and corruption tossed around to justify it. But the workers refused to exit silently. They faced down the police with the help of a crowd that blocked the entrances to the station and they continued to work in their studios and offices with live news, opinion and entertainment programing. In the evening and early morning there were documentary programs and re-runs. So that the station provided a 24/7 presence via the internet with programing especially keyed to the interests of the Northern Greek and Balkan audience. They did all this without pay and with donations from their listeners.
When Syriza came to power in January 2015 its spokespeople promised to revive the public broadcasting system and rehire all the journalists, technicians and office personnel that were laid off in 2013. This was the day when everything would be regularized with the arrival of the newly appointed station manager from government headquarters in Athens. However, not all was well as far as the workers were concerned.
First, the ERT3 workers have been used to self-management after two years of making decisions on the basis of assemblies of workers. In fact, that is exactly what they did on the arrival of station manager. They invited him to their assembly to debate with him as to his instructions from Syriza headquarters in Athens.
Second, they had learned one of the first acts of the new station director would be to lay-off or not-hire anyone that had joined the effort to keep the station alive in the previous two years.
Third, they were not happy that the new station manager was a former official of PASOK. Why wasn’t someone more in line with the politics of Syriza sent to become station manager? Or, what is Syriza’s politics now in the first place?
At the workers’ assembly there was talk about going on strike to protest the threatened lay-offs. In response, at the very moment when the rest of the workers would be getting a pay-check for the first time in two years, there was much dramatic rhetoric on the theme of the importance of ERT3’s programming, in support of the argument that the station should not go on strike (since ERT3 is often the only news channel that covers the strikes of others)!
Talk in Volos
After a number of talks in Thessaloniki by George and/or Silvia, here are notes for a joint talk in the Architecture school in the University at Volos:
From Debt To Crisis To Enclosure of the Commons
What is happening in Greece is the implementation of a structural adjustment program (a technical term that became so hated around the planet that the World Bank and IMF stopped using the term to be replaced by the term “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper”!) as it was applied to former colonized states that have taken their mandate from the anti-colonial movement seriously. They were posing a threat in claiming the New International Economic Order (NIEO). This was a serious challenge (of which the nationalization of the oil industry across the planet was an example). The NIEO was in effect claiming reparations for colonialism’s massive theft of land, mineral wealth and labor-power. This was getting too close to the old masters’ bone and had to stop! To do this a trap was prepared, a debt trap. The governments of the former colonial world were tempted to take out loans with variable interest rates which at the time were relatively low, to fulfill the very mandate of ending the poverty and degradation of the last century. The trap was sprung in 1979 (under the rubric of “stopping inflation.”). The interest on the loans rose to nearly 20% over night. The former colonized countries’ governments were trapped indeed facing a debt crisis!The IMF and WB acted quickly. They did not want to lose the opportunity the crisis provided by dealing with a financial problem by financial means (e.g., rolling over the debt for another year). On the contrary, they imposed structural adjustment conditionalities that were directly aimed at the elimination of the commons (since most of these SAPs had requirements involving the land ownership and the transformation of commons into private ownership and other goals that were meant to privatize what were considered common goods (from pensions to “royalties” on extracted wealth. So here we have a direct line from Debt to Crisis to the Enclosure of the Commons.
Like a Frenzied Dog on a Trapped Fox
A similar path can be traced in the application of this scenario to Europe, starting with Greece. This is a period of low interest rates and there is much lending, but it is also a period of low profits as well. Greece became part of the Eurozone under the assumption that the inevitable restriction in monetary policy required by the single currency would be compensated during a crisis (e.g., roll overs of the debt would be allowed). This was a mistaken assumption, since it was not assumed by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF. So a trap was closed on European countries like Greece and a package of structural adjustment policies was unleashed like a frenzied dog on a trapped fox. These policies were directed at commons and commons-like institutions (from pension funds to revenues from the extraction of mineral wealth) in preparation for the TTIP (the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). These specifics are driving the clear investing in silver 2016 that we are expecting.
An Autonomy Crisis
The reactions from the working class of Europe was tumultuous, and a new version of “IMF riots” were chronicled throughout Europe from 2010 on. But there hasn’t been any break through. The working class of Europe is experiencing a crisis of its power to say “No!”…i.e., an autonomy crisis that the OXI vote of July 5 might signal an anti-capitalist resolution.
Family and Poverty Reduction
The most effective poverty reduction institution in Greece is still the family. Though the family capital is being depleted at a rapid rate, it has been the cushion for the hard landing many have individually experienced these last five years. I’ll always remember my cousin’s table for Sunday lunch, everyone, four generations, eating elbow to elbow, frustrated each in their own ways, but all with a full belly! In fact, there is a race between state capital with family capital to determine which will be depleted first. If families’ savings get exhausted first, there will be genuine food riots that hadn’t been seen since the 19th century. If state capital exhausts first, there would be an anarchist turn in the creation of social reproduction institutions (from health clinics to Community Supported Agriculture agreements).
Cash in the Mattress and the Increase in Burglaries
There is much suspicion of banks and other financial institutions in Greece. There haven’t been any serious runs on the banks YET, but there is a walk from them. This explains the dramatic increase in the hoarding of cash under the famous mattresses. This has led to an increase in the number of burglaries, since burglars read the financial news as well! There is even a burglar’s demand for machines that locate gold coins!
A Fashion Statement
There is a strong taste for the tattered jeans, shorts and t-shirts this summer in Greece. Is this a fashion commentary on the crisis? Is this a way of merging the inside with the out? While sitting in the central square of Sparta, I see a little two-year old dressed with torn jeans. This fashion statement is a reminder of a change in the frankness of expression, because when I was a child on the Sparta square, the parents and children were dressed to a “t,” even though the poverty of the 1950s was much deeper than today’s.
Plato’s Republic and Debt Refusal
In the midst of the debt crisis in Greece, Joulia Strauss, a German artist, decided that it was time to bring artists, scholars, political activists to Greece to show their solidarity with the Greek people in crisis. She thought a free school would be the best way to express this solidarity and the best venue for the school would be the site of Plato’s Academy (a few stones remain of it, rescued by archeologists). A. contacted me, recommended Joulia’s project and so I joined. I thought a presentation of Plato’s views on debt payment refusal would be a suitable topic. Then on the 23 of June a small band (reaching twenty at its peak) made its way to the site of the Academy and I made my presentation. The following is the text I based my remarks on:
June 23, 2015 at Plato’s Academy
Everyone would surely agree that if a sane man lends weapons to a friend and then asks them back when he is out of his mind, the friend shouldn’t return them, and wouldn’t be acting justly if he did.
Plato, Republic 331c.
In the fall of 2011, just after the termination of Occupy Wall Street, I began speaking in support of those who had pledged to refuse to repay their student loan debt once a million others have also pledged to do so (under the rubric of Occupy Student Debt Campaign). In the course of giving a number of presentations concerning this campaign I received many queries and criticisms. The queries were most often practical, e.g., “what about co-signers, what will happen to them if I refuse to pay when I become the millionth and first student loan debt refuser?” The criticisms were also practical, ranging from “why not organize people to refuse all debt?” to “if you refuse to pay student loans debt, wouldn’t the Federal Government stop supporting the student loan program at all and hence you would harm future students?” I was prepared to deal with these practical questions and criticisms on their own terms, with empirical evidence and political argument.
But there was a more problematic criticism that was not so easily answered, since those who voiced it were not just in disagreement with the premise of the campaign–it was justified to refuse to pay a student loan debt– but they were morally offended by it. Their retorts to my arguments for the Campaign took on an almost metaphysical aura of sanctity when they spoke about the importance of paying debts from loans that were freely entered into, whatever the consequences. Their criticism quickly left the plane of facts and even values and entered into a world of meta-values with the primary one being: one cannot be morally serious unless one pays back one’s debts.
The political problem posed by this moral attitude to debt repayment is that it touched a raw nerve in many student loan debtors who have been ashamed by their inability to pay off their loans. This shame has led many to try to cover up and not talk to others (even family members) about their plight. According to my research concerning previous student loan debt abolition efforts, one of the key reasons they have not been successful has been their inability to overcome debtors’ characteristic shamed silence that is profoundly anti-political because it turns the collective problem of debt repayment into an individual issue to be dealt with one person at a time. Consequently, this moral criticism had to be dealt with directly and decisively if the anti-student debt effort was not to meet a similar fate, since this criticism not only makes it difficult to move the critics, but it has a problematic effect on many debtors who are already vulnerable to the mental blackmail implicit in the “debt moralists’” assertions.
In thinking through the conundrum posed by these debt moralists, I realized that, as a philosopher, I was equipped to deal with the philosophical arguments for or against student loan debt repayment. The more I explored the literature the more I realized that the defense of debt refusal has a long philosophical history. It was important to get this literature into the contemporary discourse on debt in response to the rigidity of debt moralism.
If Plato’s Republic marks the beginning of political philosophy, then debt payment refusal appears at the beginning of the beginning of political philosophy. Plato, the aristocratic darling of conservative thinkers, actually defends debt payment refusal in the Republic. Plato’s concern with debt should not be surprising, since indebtedness leading to debt slavery was the source of civil wars and revolutions throughout ancient Greek history from 600BC on. Solon, the famous Athenian law-giver, aimed to stop the endless turmoil caused by the cycle of debt-enslavement-revolution-debt and the ever reigniting class war between the poor debtors and the creditor plutocrats that was leading Athens to catastrophe. He did so by legislating the end of debt slavery, a move that led to the democratization of the Athenian state, and increasingly the remuneration of citizens for their public work (especially for their participation in the administration of justice and legislation, which required attending general assemblies and being part of juries, like the jury of 800+ that decided Socrates’ trial).
Solon was a politician and even a sage, but he was not a philosopher. Plato was. What did he have to say about debt repayment refusal? Significantly, the discussion of debt at the very beginning of the Republic. The first person Socrates interrogates, posing the book’s germinating question “What is justice?” is Kephalos, a wealthy arms manufacturer — although an immigrant, a member of the Athenian 1% — and owner of the house where the dialogue staged in the Republic is supposed to take place. The name “Kephalos” itself is important, for in ancient Greek it meant “head,” and as such it is a cognate of the word for “capital.”
Kephalos’ answer to Socrates’ question, appropriately enough for a merchant, is: “Speak the truth and pay your debts!” But Socrates easily dismisses this definition, pointing out that if a person borrows some weapons from a friend, but in the interim the friend “goes berserk” and becomes (murderously and/or suicidally) insane, it would not be just for the debtor to return the weapons to the friend…in fact, repaying the debt in this circumstance would be positively unjust, since it would lead to either murder or suicide or both! Thus the conditions of just repayment of a debt do not necessitate an absolute commitment to repayment under any conditions. Universalizing the kernel of Socrates’ rejoiner to Kephalos’ definition, we come to the following maxim: one should refuse to repay a loan when the payment will lead to evil or unjust consequences that far outweigh what fairness would result from its payment.
Plato’s suspicion of Kephalos’ wisdom was the outcome of the Athenians’ long political experience with a class of merchants and landlords who, like Kephalos, insisted that their loans should be repaid even if this should result in debt-slavery and class-based civil war. This may explain why, in Socrates’ response, Plato referred to the loan of a weapon! For creditors in this case appear to be a maddened crowd, with debt repayment being a cause of murder and suicide, especially when ending with the enslavement of fellow citizens.
These issues did not die with the end of the ancient world. Indeed, today’s “debt moralists” offer a response to those who refuser student loan repayment similar to the one that Kephalos made to Socrates’ query. In turn, we too must respond to the categorical imperative of debt moralists in the same way that Socrates responded to Kephalos’ definition of justice, with an emphatic “it depends.”
First, it depends on whether student loans are unjust in and of themselves qua loans. On this count, the actual mechanisms of student loan debt speak decisively. For a start, student loan debts in the US cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, unlike almost all other loan debts can be. In addition a large percentage of these loans have been contracted under fraudulent conditions, as it was revealed in the course of frequent scandals, court cases and Congressional committees’ investigations. As Robert Meister pointed out in the case of the University of California, UC administrators pledge future student fees largely to be paid for by student loans and grants to support UC’s bond ratings, its capital projects and a variety of equity deals that turn public money to private gain. This territory has been thoroughly explored by previous student loan debt abolition movements and there is still a lot more to learn.
Second, it depends on whether the collective good is served by repayment. Here it is important to understand the function of student debt in the context of the changes that have taken place in university financing since the 1970s. The ever increasing student debt burden (now beyond one trillion dollars) has been the material condition that made the imposition of ever increasing tuition fees in both public and private non-profit universities possible and financed the expansion of for-profit universities. These developments have led to the corporatization and privatization of universities, on the one side, and plunged a whole generation into debt-bondage. There is no doubt, therefore, that restoring a tuition-free university system and avoiding a further polarization of society requires that we end the present student debt system.
Third, it depends on whether the education and knowledge student loans are intended to pay for ought be commodities in the first place. This is where Plato enters again. Plato held a life-long antipathy to “sophists.” This word had a sociological reference–those who sell their knowledge to students—as well an epistemological one—those who claim to be wise. The sophists believed that knowledge was a commodity that could be exchanged for money. This was their answer to the question that has been at the center of the debate concerning the development of “for-profit” universities and the intensification of corporate efforts to impose intellectual property legal regimes on academic labor. Plato would not approve. His was a notion of knowledge that was neither commodified nor commodifiable. In Plato’s Republic those who know are to live a perfectly communistic life, neither paying for their education nor getting paid for its use. For two thousand years this conception of an academic institution remained the dominant one, and even in these neoliberal times it still has value.
The very status of most universities (that are either public or private but non-profit) and the traditional temporal limitations placed on “intellectual property rights” (e.g., patents give monopoly rights for the sale of an invention for 20 year) indicate that, despite highly organized and well-financed efforts, the commodification of education and knowledge is still not perceived as legitimate. If most universities are not supposed to profit from the education they provide and the knowledge they disseminate, why should ancillary financial institutions profit from them instead?
Student debt refusal, then, is in principle as just as one’s refusal to return a borrowed loaded gun to a maddened friend who intends to murder and then commit suicide with it. It should not be deterred by objections like the following, “Wouldn’t canceling all student loan debt be unfair to all those people who struggled to pay back their student loans?” For as David Graeber retorted in his important book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, this argument is as foolish as saying that it is unfair to a mugging victim that his/her neighbors were not mugged as well! (p. 389) Plato would agree.
Look for Part 2 of Report From Greece by George Caffentzis — with Silvia Federici — here.
George Caffentzis is a philosopher of money. He is also co-founder of the Midnight Notes Collective and the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. He has taught and lectured in colleges and universities throughout the world and his work has been translated into many languages. His books include: Clipped Coins, Abused Words and Civil Government: John Locke’s Philosophy of Money, Exciting the Industry of Mankind: George Berkeley’s Philosophy of Money; No Blood for Oil! and In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines and the Crisis of Capitalism. His co-edited books include: Midnight Oil: Work Energy War 1973-1992.
Work is a very human concept. If the animals related closest to us are acquainted with its tedium, it is because they are domesticated by us and forced to aid us in our endeavours. Other mammals tend to take shortcuts through life. If their needs can be met by doing the bare minimum, they will, anyone who has ever had a pet will agree. It is highly likely we lived in much the same way for most of our history. Even though our lives were short, and harsh, a nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle would guarantee ages of empty time. Time must have seemed as abundant as the vast landscape that surrounded us. There hardly was an elsewhere to think of, and as a consequence, people must have lived fully present in the here and now, eating, hunting and sleeping in accordance with the demands of their body and their environment. Before we adopted a sedentary lifestyle, there was no reason to acquire a multitude of tools and stores. Only that which could be carried or stored safely was useful. At the dawn of agriculture, an insidious, inadvertent trade-off began. Material security was exchanged for leisure time. Yet traditional agriculture inevitably ensured quiet times, when little work could be done, and fields had to be left fallow at least every few years.
Paradoxically, it was the horror of the industrial age that led to a clearly defined concept of leisure time and recreation. Now, in the west, the majority of us at least have an inkling of what leisure is, while people in the developing world still slave to sustain our spoiled lifestyle. At the same time, within our society, there are groups of people who are unemployable, and have more idle time on their hands than they could possibly need. But in general, leisure to us, means time to do whatever you love doing. Technology, which promised and indeed delivered so much opportunity for leisure, has lately turned out to be the exact opposite. Omnipresent interconnectedness has enabled the colonisation of idle time. Even time waiting for a bus or a train can and will be put to good use. The company phone works as a modern ball and chain, ever anchoring us to or at least reminding us of duty. If the phones are not calling our attention towards our paid jobs, then we are allowing it to continually reminds us of filling up a void with experiencing and consuming, or being elsewhere. Idleness has become subversive. If you fail to do anything, you are not fully realising the potential to “make” something, to consume or to experience some extraordinary.
I often think of my grandparents. My grandmothers are in their eighties now, of course not as active as they used to be. My grandfathers have passed on. I can hardly remember a time my grandfathers and grandmothers were truly idle. They were always busying themselves with something. They had quiet rituals and mundane chores around the houses and gardens. All their activities and rest were governed by a blessed cadence that governed their life, according to season and necessity. My grandparents were always occupied with something, with the exception of the evening hours. Yet there was peace in their house. I find that peace hard to come by in a modern day household. We crave the clutter and permanent question marks in our head of books and opinions other than my own. This is of course our own doing, but I find breaking this habit hard, as the same restlessness is mirrored in the people that surround me. We seem to have plenty of leisure time, yet we hardly ever get round to doing the things we love most. Spending time with your children, your love, your pets, or puttering in the garden or walking the woods. In my case: doing some embroidery that has no other object than being pretty for pretty sake. Visiting those beloved grandmothers. Reading a book for the thirtieth time, letting the words wash over me like familiar friends. Ordinary stuff. These moments are rare, and becoming even more so.
The collective moments of downtime have slowly but surely wilted as well. The shops are open every day now, which is convenient since there is always someone working in an average household. Even holidays are not what they used to be. Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being active and loving what you do. I do believe, though, there is a structural problem with always wanting to maximise and squeeze everything out of life. All that hustle and bustle does not take into account all this going back and forth has on our environment, whether it concerns paid work or leisure. The compulsion to be active sidelines the need for contemplation. As a society, we have lost track of the value of fallow time and space, which was once considered as a prerequisite for a good life. As fallow fields have now little or no place in mainstream agriculture, an idle mind is considered equally undesirable. Sleep is used to balance the budget, while a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things anyone can do for their health. I could think of many reasons why work and activity in general has established itself as the defining aspect of our culture. It has to do with past hardship, fear of scarcity and dutiful religion. But one of the reasons, it seems, is that an idle mind is useless to a capitalist system. Idle minds are no longer a human resource that is either producing or consuming. In that sense, indulging in empty time and space, refusing to run in the rat race at least some of the time, is a small act of resistance. It wordlessly ridicules those who define themselves solely by what they do.
A fallow field rarely lies fallow for long, just like an idle mind is almost immediately occupied with something else. New thoughts, new life germinates on black bare soil and empty minds. There is always the possibility of vice sprouting from too many idle hours. Enjoying time can easily become killing time. On healthy soil, though, soon other vegetation and pursuits will take over. The essential difference is that the new life consists of thoughts and seedlings that come into being effortlessly, and defy man-made structures and plans. They embody the distant wild, that lives on, in a dormant state, below our cultured minds. A novel, a painting, a garden or any other creative work of significant size can hardly be conceived of and nurtured within sparse stolen hours only. And if you are forced to make a living with something other than your heart’s desire, then it is a lot harder to hear the call of the world beyond, for your mind is often cluttered with anxious thoughts of duty.
I like to think more fallow fields and idle minds would do the world a world of goodness. Whether you are working or not this summer, I wish you all moments of true idleness. For in silence and stagnancy, we can hear the whispers of the Gods and the wailing of the world worn thin. Who knows what will start to grow in the quiet reception of a idle mind or a fallow field.
by James Lindenschmidt
I think the name of this website contains an unlikely pair, which is one of the reasons it’s one of the most interesting sites on the web for me. Indeed, I remember when Rhyd Wildermuth was conceiving of this “Pagan Anti-Capitalist website.” Of course I was very excited, since paganism and anti-capitalism are two of my favorite subjects. But I have a confession to make. When I first heard that the name of the site had been registered as GodsAndRadicals.org, I was underwhelmed. You see, I don’t identify as a polytheist, despite my appreciation and respect for polytheism. I felt the “gods” part would alienate the non-polytheist pagans who might otherwise appreciate what we are doing.
In addition, historically speaking, most radicals (such as Anarchists and Marxists) usually don’t align themselves with religions or theological points of view other than atheism. Most radical traditions emphasize materialist metaphysics, largely neglecting if not outright rejecting the realm of theology. I thought, therefore, that any mention of “gods” would be off-putting to a sizeable population of radicals who might otherwise be interested in what we are doing here.
I no longer feel this way. As an example of what I mean, I will turn to a recent critique of capitalism that has gotten quite a bit of attention in the past few weeks for further analysis.
I was really happy to see Paul Mason’s article, The End Of Capitalism Has Begun, published in The Guardian this week. Obviously that’s a major global media outlet, so any aspect of anti-capitalism getting attention in such a place is a good thing. And indeed, there is a lot to appreciate in Mason’s article. His diagnosis of the present and ongoing crisis of capitalism is solid, where in its current manifestion, “neoliberalism was the first economic model in 200 years the upswing of which was premised on the suppression of wages and smashing the social power and resilience of the working class.”
His main point is in line with what has been called “cognitive capitalism,” or the observation that the dynamics of this “new” mode of capitalism “are profoundly non-capitalist” in the sense that, rather than facilitating production, capitalism seems to get in its own way in these new modalities of production. While there is definitely some truth & insight in these arguments, there are several critiques of Mason’s position. One is our own Sean Donahue, pointing out that Mason’s view of how feudalism transitioned into capitalism is flawed. While it’s true that there was a labor shortage brought about by the Black Plague, which therefore tipped the balance of power more in favor of the feudal working class, early capitalists via their Enclosure movements and looting wealth from the new world were able to manipulate these circumstances to their advantage:
“People were driven out of their communities and into the cities as communal land was forcibly seized and privatized and sold to people who had become wealthy as a result of Spain paying back its debts to British and other Western European creditors with gold and silver looted from the Americas… created not a shortage, but an abundance of available labor, which provided the workforce for British industrialization.”
In addition, George Caffentzis offers up critiques of the “cognitive capitalism” ideology in his book In Letters Of Blood And Fire, specifically the chapters “A Critique Of ‘Cognitive Capitalism’ ” and “Why Machines Cannot Create Value: Marx’s Theory Of Machines.” I won’t fully reproduce his detailed arguments here, but the essence of it is that theorists of cognitive capitalism underestimate Enclosure, ie, these “theorists’ argument concerning the withdrawal of capitalists from the production process does not quite reach its conclusion unless the very transformation process by which capitalism becomes itself is jettisoned” (Caffentzis 120).
Mason rightly learns from the Free software movement, which he refers to as the Open Source model, and calls for this methodology/philosophy to be expanded to other areas:
“If I could summon one thing into existence for free it would be a global institution that modelled capitalism correctly: an open source model of the whole economy; official, grey and black. Every experiment run through it would enrich it; it would be open source and with as many datapoints as the most complex climate models.”
I can understand his enthusiasm. I’ve been an advocate of Free software (I prefer this term to Open Source software, which was conceived basically as a way to market Free software to businesses by de-emphasizing the political & social benefits and emphasizing the practical methodology of developing software in the context of freedom) since I discovered it in the late 1990s. In 2000, when I was excited about the broader social implications of the Free Software movement, I wrote that Free software
“represents a test drive in a post-scarcity environment. Similarly, it can be seen as a socioeconomic experiment of global scale and with global repercussions. This experiment, as the next phase in the Information Revolution, will require us to ask new questions: How should economies be structured? Is it acceptable to put private profit ahead of public well-being? Is cooperative technical innovation scalable to areas outside of software development? The Free [software] social experiment will make answers to these questions clearer, provided we are wise enough to use the data we gather from this phase of the Information Revolution to decide how to invent our future.”
But by 2004, after I had come to understand Enclosure & The Commons more fully, my optimism had faded somewhat, as I expressed in The Virtual Enclosures:
“But the virtual commons is being enclosed; this enclosure will have a similar effect in both brutality and scope to the previous enclosure movements in history. The virtual enclosures threaten the very existence of the Internet as we know it, along with a person’s ability to access his or her data on his or her computer. We are moving into a future where … ownership of virtually all works created on computers will be controlled by software corporations, alienating the creative person from their creations; where advancing technologies will allow corporate interests to conduct pre-emptive strikes against all possible copyright violations; where ultimately, the mere thinking of certain copyrighted ideas will transform the thinker into a criminal.”
Indeed, we have seen these predictions come to pass in the past decade-plus, and I think that Mason underestimates the power of capitalism to adapt and impose itself onto any competing modality of production. We must not forget that Karl Marx believed the end of capitalism was imminent…. when he was writing in the mid-1800s. It has been the unfortunate oversight of many an anti-capitalist thinker or activist since then to continually underestimate capitalism’s ability to navigate each apocalypse that comes along, and ultimately turn the situation to its advantage by expanding its ability to exploit, enclose, and accumulate.
What Comes After?
Yet, my biggest critique of Mason’s work is the vagueness with which he talks about what will come after capitalism. He calls it, simply, “postcapitalism,” and does not talk much about what production will look like in this world:
“Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.”
He then lists 3 changes brought about by information technology that, he believes, will facilitate the change. But he doesn’t talk much about the capitalist infrastructures in place, upon which these changes depend. Will the smartphone used by his “educated and connected human beings” be manufactured in a factory with suicide nets around it, to prevent workers from ending their misery? Will the environmental destruction from rare earth mining, which provides the raw materials for these technological commodities, continue under postcapitalism?
Imagination, Will, Reality
“The future exists first in imagination, then in will, then in reality.”
— Barbara Marx Hubbard
“In order to transform the world, it is necessary to see that transformation is possible, to move beyond the world in its “givenness,” recognizing the forces and limitations that constitute it as such. Humanity cannot do what it cannot imagine that it can do.”
— Jason Read, “Towards a Bestiary of the Capitalist Imagination”
“Bing! Bing! the light bulb of an idea
Buzz! Buzz! talking it over with neighbors or co-workers
Pow! Pow! telling truth to power.”
Peter Linebaugh, “Some Principles of The Commons,” from Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, & Resistance
It is precisely in imagining our future where, in my estimation, the gods are of primary importance. I will not presume to define “gods” in this article, for several reasons. Each person will have to define gods for themselves, in their own terms, so if I commit to a single definition here I am sure to alienate most of my readers. I will say that my own conception is between, inclusive of, and broader than both the polytheist definition where gods are literal enduring personalities we can encounter in our lives, with coherent personalities, wills, and ideas of their own, and the atheist/skeptical conception that gods are fantasy & delusion. I can navigate this apparent contradiction via consciousness. A few months ago, I wrote that
I don’t experience relationship with gods that manifest as coherent personalities. I’ve tried, and I haven’t given up that it may happen someday. I’d love that (at least I think I would….. as more than one of you have pointed out to me). I’ve spent a lot of time over the years, in meditation, in devotion, in prayer. I’ve burned candles, incense, and bonfires, sitting in contemplation, in service, honoring them, learning about their stories, their personalities. I give regular offerings, mindfully, “from the gods to the earth to us, from us to the earth to the gods, a gift for a gift.” And for me, it’s all just energy.
I realize that this paragraph was, in a sense, an invocation, or at the very least an invitation. Be careful what you wish for, right?
The point is, in order to re-enchant the world, we need to be open to these experiences, these presences, even if we don’t quite believe they are real. The world is bigger than the mechanistic, reductionist viewpoint upon which capitalism depends, and a willingness to see beyond our set of comfortable ideas — which may or may not include gods — is necessary. We must, at the very least, be open to the possibility of relationship with something larger than ourselves. Gnosis will be at the heart of the transformation away from capitalism, opening up the possibility that it doesn’t transform into something just as as oppressive and destructive, if not more so. When we are in better relationship with the world and everything in it, from our ecosystems to the creatures in it, from the memory of the ancestors lingering in every place to the land wights and nature spirits who dwell there, we will be more apt to protect the incredible gift of life on this planet. The experiences we have when we are out looking for gods inspire our imagination, clarify our will, and help us create a better reality.