The Ways We Breathe

“This era of mass consumerism… is imperilling the ways we breathe”

From Lorna Smithers

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“We need to remember that our very breathing is to drink our mother’s milk – the air – made for us by countless microbial brothers and sisters in the sea and soil, and by the plant beings with whom we share the great land surfaces of our mother’s lustrous sphere.”

Stephen Harding

Inspire. Expire.
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

Respiration (from spirare ‘breath’ and re ‘again’) is participation.

Inspire. Expire.
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

Lungs. Two. Right and left. Each enclosed in a pleural sack in the thoracic cavity of the chest. Primary bronchus, secondary bronchi, tertiary bronchi, terminal bronchiole. In the alveoli, ‘little cavities’, across the blood-air barrier, gas exchange takes place.

Breathe in: oxygen 21%, carbon dioxide 0.04%. Breathe out: oxygen 16%, carbon dioxide 4.4%. 6 carbon glucose, oxidised, forms carbon dioxide. Product: ATP (adenosine triphosphate) ‘the molecular unit of currency of intracellular energy transfer’. The spark of all life.

Birds have lungs plus cervical, clavicular, abdominal, and thoracic air sacs. Hollow-boned they are light as balloons, breathing in, breathing out. Then there are the lungless. Through tiny holes in the abdomen called spiracles leading to trachea, insects fill their air sacs, breathing in, breathing out. Earthworms and amphibians breathe in and out through their moist skins. Fish breathe water in through their gulpy mouths then out through their gapey gills.

Plants breathe through their leaves. By daylight they photosynthesise. Stomata breathe carbon dioxide. It mixes with water. The green lions of chlorophyll work their magic by sunlight. Oxygen is released. From glucose the magical hum and buzz of ATP. At night they respire glucose and oxygen back to carbon dioxide and water. 10 times more oxygen is produced than used.

Underground, fungi breathe the air of the soil through thread-like hyphae that mass as mycelia. They respire aerobically (with oxygen) or anaerobically (without oxygen), changing glucose to ATP (it’s all about ATP!), ethanol, carbon dioxide, and water. This old, old, metabolic pathway dates back to the days before oxygen ruled our breath and is also utilised by microbes. The hidden ones of the deep, single-celled, or living colonies, breathe through their single cell walls in ancient ways – acetogenesis, methanogenesis – to gain the blessed ATP.

To live we must not only breathe, but consume. Life lives on death. And this human animal consumes not only to create ATP, but for warmth, light, housing, transport, pleasure. Some say it began with fire, others with farming, others with writing, others with machines, others that it originated deep within human cells in the power plants of mitochondria – the Anthropocene.

The spark of this era of mass consumption has become a funeral pyre fanned by the winds of greed. Its smoke is imperilling the ways we breathe. Fire triangle: oxygen, fuel, heat. Smoke from carbons and hydrocarbons is composed of water, carbon dioxide, countless other fumes.

Smoke inhalation damages the lungs through burning, tissue irritation, oxygen starvation (asphyxiation). In 1952, 4000 people died in the Great Smog of London. Great smogs hang over Delhi, Baghdad, Beijing, Los Angeles, Rome. Asthma, lung cancer, COPD, leukemia, pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, weakening of lung function, difficulties breathing in and out.

Carbon dioxide levels rising, increasing greenhouse effect, raising temperatures. The forests, cut down, cannot help. The peat bogs, drained off, cannot help. The oceans acidifying cannot help. We are choking those who breathe with us, who are dropping like canaries in coal mines.

Who would dare to douse the fires? Throttle the exhausts? Get locked out of the factories for good?

Those who inspire. Those who burn with inspiration, ysbrydoliaeth, rooted in spirit, ysbryd. The breath of the universe, the breath of our human and non-human ancestors, the breath of the gods. Those who not only consume but give and offer those gifted breaths back before expiring.

Inspired ones! Burn with me! Breathe with me! Breathing in, breathing out, with the lunged and lungless creatures with skin, fur, feathers, shells, scales, leaves, hyphae, the single-celled.

All one breath.

Inspire. Expire.
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

Respiration (from spirare ‘breath’ and re ‘again’) is participation.

Inspire. Expire.
Anadlu i mewn. Anadlu i allan.
Breathe in. Breathe out.


Lorna Smithers

Lorna Smithers profile pic IILorna Smithers is a poet, author, awenydd, and Brythonic polytheist. She is currently exploring how our ancient British myths relate to our environmental and political crises and dreaming new stories. As a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn, she seeks to reweave the ways between the worlds. She has published two books: Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, and edited A Beautiful Resistance. She blogs at Signposts in the Mist.


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We Can All Be Arks

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“You, reading this essay: you are an ark.”

From Asa West

From a car window, California fuchsia might look like just another ornamental flower. A few bright spatters of red along the parkway, surrounded by the kinds of no-fuss shrubs installed by landlords and people who spend most of their time indoors. Compared to the exotic species like hibiscus or ficus, species that simulate lush tropical landscapes, California Fuchsia might even look rather scraggly and small. Is it the type of plant a driver will notice at all? Maybe people appreciate the showy little tube-shaped flowers, or maybe it’s not impressive enough to warrant a glance.

But you don’t get California fuchsia’s whole story from the window of a car.

Epilobium Canum ssp Canum, native to the California Floristic Province, is an integral member of foothill and coastal ecosystems from Oregon to Mexico. If you suspect that the size and shape of the flowers would be the perfect size for a hummingbird’s beak, then you’d be right: it’s a favored flower of several species of hummingbirds, along with the white-lined sphinx moth, the giant swallowtail butterfly, and the California dogface. What’s more, California fuschia also has a long and beneficial relationship to humans; it’s historically been used by the Chumash as a vulnerary herb, healing wounds in the same way that calendula has been used by Europeans.

Speaking of vulnerary herbs, did you know that yarrow is a California native plant? The feathery plant with the corymb inflorescences, a favorite of #WitchesOfInstagram, grows around the world and may have been propagated by ancient settlers and explorers. Gardeners savvy to its healing properties will eschew the brightly colored cultivars and look for Achillea Millefolium, with its plain white flowers that work well in salves and attract butterflies and bees. But, like California fuschia, yarrow can look pretty plain compared to all the exotics.

In fact, that supposed plainness is why so many native plant communities have been obliterated by developers fixated on turning California into a hybrid of England and Hawaii. You can buy a white sage smudge at Whole Foods to go with your essential oils and appropriated dream catchers, but when you pass real live white sage on the street, it looks like a vaguely pretty but rather uninteresting background shrub. The elder tree (ssp. cerulea) is summer deciduous in California and looks dead during the hottest months. The seedheads of sages and buckwheat turn brown after flowering. The authors of California Native Plants for the Garden are stark in their description of the colonization of California: “Compared to the rich greens, bright flowers, and bold textures of subtropical species,” they write, “the natives must have seemed dull and gray.”

How sad, that a shallow and limited idea of beauty can lead to the deaths of entire ecosystems.

#

Last spring, my husband and I scoured Los Angeles for a new place to live. Our options were limited, especially since we had one kid and another on the way, but I found a listing for a two bedroom condo in Koreatown from which the commute to our jobs on the west side wouldn’t be too catastrophic. (Nine miles, only an hour each way, not too shabby by L.A. standards). We went to look at the place and found it had a back door, and outside were two neglected alleyways and a cramped ficus tree. My daughter promptly tried to climb the tree while I wandered the alleys to look at the soil, which was compacted and rocky and covered in garbage. The land was hurting, its surface a raw abrasion, and I knew as I felt the quiet weight of a geis settle onto me that this was where we would live. The spirits of this place had been waiting goodness knows how long for someone, anyone, to come and stick up for them.

After we moved in, I set about getting permission to clean up the alleys, install a small container garden, and plant some drought-tolerant natives. The backlash was immediate. Two neighbors dismissed new plants as against the rules and thus self-evidently bad, citing decades-old regulations in the building’s covenant. Another got upset and tried to get the building manager to shut me down, calling plants a fire hazard (although it was unclear how plants were a fire hazard when a path littered with junk apparently wasn’t). The status quo bias was formidable: anything perceived as unruly or out of the ordinary was attacked like a virus. I couldn’t make sense of it. I still can’t. Is this the same bias that makes people resist renewable energy and doggedly support capitalism, even as it sucks away their resources and erodes their lives?

If only, I found myself thinking, my neighbors could have heard Lili Singer speak.

My husband and I had taken one of Lili’s gardening classes at the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit in the San Gabriel Valley that propagates native plants. He and I had sat with 30 other gardeners in a little classroom with no AC, taking notes as Lili described plant communities and design principles. For the most part I happily geeked out over wildflowers and sages and coast live oaks, but at one point, the class suddenly turned profound.

Gardeners and conservationists preserve these native species, Lili told us, not to keep them on life support for all of eternity, but in the hopes that someday they’ll be able to flourish on their own again. “California fauna evolved alongside these specific plants, and they need these plants to survive,” she said. “If you save the plants, you’re also saving the insects, and the birds that eat the insects, and the animals that eat the birds. You’re saving whole ecosystems. Your backyard can be an ark.”

She was referring to Noah’s ark, of course, but stories of devastating floods can be found in mythologies all over the world, a specter of annihilation that haunts our collective psyche, a warning whispered by the gods. In the Epic of Gilgamesh,* a group of gods decide to destroy the world, but Ea, “the cleverest of the gods,” warns Noah’s predecessor Utnapishtim:

Reed fence, reed fence, listen to my words.

[Utnapishtim,] King of Shuruppak, quickly, quickly

Tear down your house and build a giant ship,

Leave your possessions, save your life….

Then gather and take aboard the ship

Examples of every living creature.

In this version, the gods are not unanimous in their decision to destroy humanity; in fact, they quickly come to regret it, “cower[ing] by the palace wall, like dogs” to escape the rising water. To me, this version feels truer to our experience of climate change than the Noah myth, in which the instigator of the flood decides which humans are virtuous enough to survive. If climate change were a punishment, then the corporations, lobbyists, and politicians responsible, rather than the most vulnerable and innocent among us, would be hit the hardest. Indeed, we can almost see the 1% in Gilgamesh’s council of gods: foolishly believing themselves to be above destruction, deciding that the world is theirs to destroy and all its lives theirs to take, only too late realizing that they, too, are vulnerable.

I thought about just going ahead and planting the plants, even doing it in secret to avoid getting fined, but after I experimented with a little flower bed and someone kicked it to pieces, I realized my neighbors were not above simply tearing up anything mysterious they found. The sickness plaguing our land isn’t just physical. A dark and troubling thing happens to people’s minds when they live long enough under capitalism. They begin to hold life itself in contempt, seeing any other organisms not as partners and companions, but as competitors and threats. They view the new family down the hall with suspicion and anxiety, ready to attack if property values sag. They grow used to monocultures and conformity and balk at the sight of an unruly hedge. They forget how to be a community; one neighbor plays loud music at 3 a.m. and shrugs at the thought that it might bother people, while other neighbors call the police instead of knocking on his door. There are literal floods happening, yes–and droughts and famines and hurricanes and wildfires–but we’re drowning in something else, too.

We can be arks, I found myself thinking after the class. On the first full moon after we moved in, I brought my ritual supplies to the roof of the building to perform my first esbat in our new home. Not for the first time, I found a part of myself preparing to instruct my daughters in witchcraft when they come of age (if they want it, of course). This is how you’ll explain the compass, a little voice said as I conjured the quarter spirits. This is how you’ll teach scrying, it murmured as I closed my right eye and gazed at the moon in my bowl of water. Then I thought: I am an ark. My body, my mind, my knowledge, the traditions and wisdom I’ve stored up inside me. I carry them through the years so that I can pass them on, and so that their recipients can pass them on, and so forth until the calamity has passed.

You, reading this essay: you are an ark. The god Ea whispers to you through the reeds. What are you carrying that’s worth saving? What do you hold that must be protected and sheltered until conditions are right for it to fly free? Your devotions to the old gods and your knowledge of the Ways? Your friendship with the good folk? Your gateways through the hedge? The mass-produced books on Paganism, as lovely and important as some of them are, are not living knowledge. The written word kills the witchcraft. What’s alive lives in your body, and nowhere else.

#

Happily, I eked out the majority board approval I needed to plant my natives. I bought my seedlings–some fuchsia and sagebrush and golden currant and blue-eyed grass and elder, plus some California poppy and baby blue eyes seeds, and a compact Cleveland sage that wouldn’t tolerate the clay but might do all right in a pot–and, after a good rain, put them all in. I was afraid the soil was just too bad for them to thrive, but as I dug, I noticed it was teaming with earthworms. The land was impatient to be healed.

Gardening might seem to some like a paltry, even indulgent form of activism when Nazis are killing people in the streets. But the nurturing of threatened species requires radical hope–which Jonathan Lear defines as hope that “is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is,” and which Junot Diaz says “is not so much something you have but something you practice.” There’s a chance, and not a small one, that someone will kill all my native plants after I move away; after all, people all over Southern California are still hard at work tearing up natives to replace them with sod and concrete. But the act of planting keeps despair at bay. Perhaps one of my plants will release one seed that will fly somewhere safe and carry the species forward. Besides, liberation becomes easier to imagine when you get a tiny glimpse of what lies on the other side. Your body remembers a future with gardens, and that promise propels you to action.

After I put the plants in, I tamped the moist soil down and made the berms and offered each plant a little breastmilk to welcome it. I went inside and fed my children. My husband and I hope to move out of the city in a few years, to a place near a forest where I can tend a real garden instead of an alley, but my geis puts me firmly in this place until these plants are established and the birds and insects have learned of their presence. I hope that when I leave, the spirits will be able to protect these plants, or at least that status quo bias will work in their favor. I hope this patch of land will be a sturdy ark, sailing patiently towards a time when riotous, joyful life will thrive again.

*Translation by Stephen Mitchell


Asa West

Asa West is a sliding-scale tarot reader blending traditional witchcraft with earth-based Judaism. Her writing has appeared in Witches and Pagans Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and other outlets, and you can find her at tarotbyasa.com and instagram.com/tarotbyasa.

 


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The Land Under Our Feet

Llyn Dinas, below Dinas Emrys (photo by author)

Tribes which hadn’t spoken to each other in decades gathered together on frigid northern plains to face down hired mercenaries, police, infiltrators, and their army of bulldozers.

At the same time on the other side of the planet, mothers raged and fathers wept to Allah as their children were shot dead for throwing stones at other bulldozers and other mercenaries called “soldiers.”

A few hundred years ago, women laid their children in graves dug shallow into peat.  Beneath threadbare cloaks clinging to shoulders laden with what little they could carry, they cursed landlord and king while boarding ships to take them across a cold sea into servitude.

At almost the same time in the land to which those other women traveled, other women clawed into dry hard earth with nails made brittle from famine. There they buried their own dead in their own shallow graves–all those who died on the march from the fecund swamps that were once home along the trail of tears.

As you read this, undocumented refugees and artists hide behind barricades in a forest, shouting and jeering at and sometimes fleeing police armed with grenades and truncheons. The police advance and with sledgehammers smash homes where children were born and lovers held each other in desire; then they retreat to their own homes in time for dinner before sleep to begin the destruction the next day.

In high mountains a village mourns a shaman whose songs led them and many others into the arms of the goddess of a sacred plant. Her body riddled with bullets, like so many others murdered for the sole crime of being in the way of those who wanted the land upon which she lived for something more profitable.

The brutal repression of the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, the violent oppression of Palestinians, the Irish famine, the forced marches of indigenous people and the murder of their leaders, and the French government’s violent eviction of the Z.A.D. from Notre Dame des Landes: these are the stories of capitalism, the blood and sorrows of millions soaking into the land under our feet.

Today’s Mayday. It’s Beltane.

It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of revolt.

For anarchists and communists, it’s a sacred day, marches and riots to remember martyred workers. For Pagans and witches, it’s a sacred day, when forest and sun dance like sex and the life it breeds and the meaning it gives.

One chants of resistance, the other sings of joy, and under both is the land under our feet.

Capitalism began only a few hundred years ago with the forced expulsion of peasant from land in Europe and the forced expulsion of colonized from their land across the waters. Evictions, massacres, enslavement, settlement and re-settlement: without these things there could have been no Capital, no factories and what they produce. Marx called these acts “primitive accumulation,” theft of wealth and labor and most of all land by force and law.

But this is not just our history, this is our now.

The money funding the bank which forecloses on a poor Black family’s home is the labor stolen from Africans enslaved and land stolen from commons enclosed.

The investment capital that gentrifies a white neighborhood is the alchemical product of cheap labor and the forests in which First Nations hunters stalked Elk and Bear.

The bulldozers used to demolish the homes of Palestinians are the bulldozers that tear down homeless and refugee camps, that move the rubble of bombed homes and move the dirt into mass graves.

The guns used to shoot the child throwing rocks are the guns pointed at the Black kid just trying to walk home from the store, the guns which kill American kids in their classroom are the same guns used to subdue Mexican teachers demanding better pay, guns hoarded and wielded by police and soldiers everywhere to prevent us from taking back our collective birthright: the land under our feet.

Under all of this is land. Humans live only because of land, we eat and drink and breathe because of land. Without land our gods are naked and cannot speak, our children are hungry and cannot live, our ancestors forgotten and cannot be heard.

Paganism is about that land. Anti-capitalism is about that land.

Colonialism, Capitalism, Empire: these are the names of the story of how humans are ripped from land, severed from the gods and each other and themselves.

Now in the crush of cities we rush from rented space to work, from work back to rented space. Now in towering tenements we open foil packets into boiling water as children cry, sirens wail and televisions declare the future is now and capital always.

Now the forests die.

Now species older than humanity breathe their last.

Now the oceans rise and storms rage.

Now backlit screens become our society, likes and retweets our comfort, all because we have forgotten we are also the land under our feet.

Today is Beltane. Today is Mayday. People are dancing. People are being shot. People are shouting in rage. People are fucking each other, people are sighing at another day of wretched work.

Gods&Radicals exists because they are connected by the same thing. We write because we remember the land, remember each other, remember ourselves. We remember our gods stolen from us by sword and cross and dollar, springs and forests taken from us by fence and judge and profit, ancestors and offspring asking us when the cruelty of Empire will finally end.

We are witches, heretics, dreamers and bards. We are guerrillas, organizers, rioters, saboteurs.

We long for the liberation of others and for the liberation of ourselves, the coming time when around burning barricades or crackling hearths we can be ourselves again. No longer laborers for others, no longer criminals under the tyranny of law. No longer illegal and refugee, no longer colonized and conquered.

No longer anything but the land under our feet, and those who live upon it.

Happy Beltane. Happy Mayday.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is one of the founders of Gods&Radicals. He lives everywhere, but mostly in Rennes, Bretagne. Follow his newsletter here.


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Strategize, Don’t Moralize

1024px-beschickung_einer_mobilen_mischanlage
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after Trump’s election, I’m in a mass meeting. Several hundred people have gathered to establish a new organization meant to channel outrage into sustainable direct action, mutual aid, and radical municipalist politics. People are talking – expressing not only their fears about ICE and healthcare, but also their hope that our work can create something better. Several of them say it’s important to acknowledge “the people who’ve been doing this good and important work all along” (that is, established activists and nonprofit staffers).

No one asks why, if their work is so good, it didn’t keep Donald Trump out of office. No one asks what, exactly, that work is meant to accomplish – or, if its goals are worth supporting, how it envisions achieving them.


 

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you start nailing boards together without a plan, will that get you a house?

When you build a house, there’s a very specific goal: the physical structure needs to match the architect’s blueprint. The design’s details, in turn, depend on the concrete conditions, both current (e.g. available land and budget) and future (e.g. the number of people meant to live there). Then, the construction process itself is structured by clearly-defined intermediate goals and benchmarks. You first lay a foundation, then erect a frame, then install plumbing and wiring, and so on.

That’s strategy. You don’t begin with the notion that you want some vague, indeterminate kind of house. You have a concrete ultimate goal in the blueprint, with definite intermediate goals along the way. Now, unexpected disruptions might make you change your plan; what if you lose half your budget, say, or find an archeological site? But, that doesn’t mean you throw the blueprint away.  It means you revise it in response to changing conditions, because without the plan you can’t carry out the work. Strategizing means figuring out not only where you want to go, but how, precisely, you intend to get there.

The US far left loves to debate tactics (Is it OK to punch Nazis? Is the Black Bloc counter-productive? Is mutual aid just charity?). But how does it approach strategy?


 

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tactics follows strategy.

First, you set your ultimate goal, whether it’s building a house or social revolution. Once you’ve analyzed your conditions and resources, you put together a series of intermediate goals. You don’t pick them haphazardly – each of them has to set you up to advance to the next while, simultaneously, making you more capable of eventually reaching the end goal. Particular tactical decisions work the same way, but on a smaller scale. Is a tactic good? Well, is it the best way to achieve your next intermediate goal (while building up your overall capacity)?

To build a house’s frame, you first have to lay a foundation. To install the wiring and plumbing, you first have to build the frame. You might be excited about the carpentry and unhappy about mixing concrete and waiting for it to set, but if you skip the foundation the frame won’t survive. Does that make carpentry ineffective? Of course not – as long as you use it in the right context.

What makes Nazi-punching, Black Blocs, or mutual aid any different? Is your immediate goal to disrupt an alt-right event? If so, a Black Bloc might be a sensible tactic, but showing up with bags of groceries probably isn’t. But if you’re trying to establish a positive presence in a neighborhood with high food insecurity, groceries are going to work a lot better than hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for Richard Spencer to walk by.

When the Left debates tactics in the abstract, it sacrifices evaluating them strategically. You might decide that having plenty of outlets is what you want most in a house. Does that mean you can go ahead and install them before you’ve built the walls? When radicals draw lines of demarcation based on individual tactics, then supporting mutual aid (or antifa, or union work, etc) effectively stands in for a more holistic strategic analysis.

But what tactic is effective outside the right strategic context? Mutual aid without a larger political project is charity; it doesn’t build power. Antifa separated from mass work is self-isolating catharsis politics. Outlets only work when they’re wired into a wall.


 

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Tintoretto, “Allegory of the morality of earthly things,” 1585. Via Wikimedia Commons

US leftists tend to think in moralistic, rather than strategic, terms. To be clear, “moralistic” doesn’t mean wanting to be ethical. Rather, it’s the impulse to reduce every political question to an abstract, absolute, and non-contextual value judgment. Is it Good or is it Problematic to smash a Starbucks window or change people’s brake lights for free?

But when you isolate a tactic from its strategic context, it loses its meaning. No tactic is good or bad in itself. What counts is its ability to accomplish a particular goal in a particular situation.

Counter-strategic moralizing generally comes in three flavors:

  1. Inherent good. Every group has a limited number of person-hours and a finite amount of money. How should it choose what to do with them? “Inherent good” moralizers don’t ask what is most likely to bring a social revolution closer – instead, they look at whatever idea is in front of them and try to evaluate it in a vacuum. If it seems good in the short term, they’ll do it, whether or not it builds towards a long-term goal. Often, they’re “pragmatic” reformers, social democrats/Berniecrats, or Alinsky-style “community organizers” (for whom organizing is itself the point, never mind towards what end!).
  2. Representation. This means asking not “how does this fit into our strategy,” but “who is getting credit for it?” Whether in the form of identity liberalism or straightforward sectarianism, it reflects the career aspirations of media figures, academics, and professional-activist NGO staffers who need political credibility to enhance their personal brands.
  3. Catharsis. “Catharsis moralizers” chase the feeling of mass politics (whether it’s real or not). They’re drawn to emotionally-intense peak experiences, street demonstrations above all. Often, they’re “alphabet soup” sect-Marxists, riot-porn anarchists, or the protest scene’s radical fringe in general.

 

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Communist theory discusses objective conditions and subjective conditions. A political group can’t control the objective conditions – is the economy in a boom or a bust? What’s the relative strength of other social forces? Objective conditions are the environment within which a political actor moves.

Subjective conditions, though, are under the group’s control – how good is its strategy? How effective are its tactics? Is it correctly analyzing the objective conditions and acting accordingly?

When both objective and subjective conditions are good, a movement can succeed. Otherwise, it fails.

US leftists have no mass base inherited from their precursors. However, for the first time in decades, the overall objective conditions are favorable: most Millennials would rather live in a socialist or communist society. They overwhelmingly support and/or participate in the labor movement. Liberalism and conservatism are both struggling to break out of a sustained crisis of legitimacy. If there ever was a ripe time to revive mass socialism in the United States, it’s now.

But, the subjective conditions are caught in a negative feedback loop. Because of counter-strategic moralizing, revolutionaries aren’t able to strategize how to make their movement a meaningful presence in working-class life. That, in turn, keeps socialists disconnected from the working class at large – and without that living connection, there’s nothing to force revolutionaries away from moralizing. It’s like having the supplies and equipment to build a house, but never having learned how to use the tools.


 

If capitalist realism is so seamless, and if current forms of resistance are so hopeless and impotent, where can an effective challenge come from? A moral critique of capitalism, emphasizing the ways in which it leads to suffering, only reinforces capitalist realism. Poverty, famine and war can be presented as an inevitable part of reality, while the hope that these forms of suffering could be eliminated easily painted as naive utopianism. Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible ‘realism’ turns out to be nothing of the sort.

Mark Fisher

 

… it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

Fredric Jameson

Do you believe revolution is possible?

Mark Fisher talks about “capitalist realism” – the sneaking sense that even if socialism would be a better system than capitalism, it’s never actually going to happen. Not here. Not really. Capitalism seems like it’s built into the real world, as natural as the rhythm of the seasons, not like something contingent, fragile, and temporary. Mass socialism (rather than hobbyist socialism, fringe socialism) does not currently exist in the US. So, the prospect of a revolution – a literal, overthrow-the-government working-class uprising – holds a place in the radical psyche similar to that of the Second Coming for mainline Protestants. It may be an article of faith, but it’s comfortably hypothetical. It isn’t actually meant to leave the indeterminate but distant future (and “after the revolution…” is how you start a joke).

So, why strategize for revolution? Capitalism is not, of course, a law of nature. It’s loose and limited in ways that “capitalist realism” can’t admit. Socialist revolution is possible; it’s happened before and it will happen again. But, contemporary leftists haven’t gotten to learn through practice that the working class can organize towards a revolutionary goal, creating institutions, parties, and a culture of solidarity and struggle. And without that, socialism is just an idea in their heads, not a living reality straining to come into being.

Before 2008, socialism was marginal because the objective conditions prevented a revival of the mass revolutionary movement. That was true for decades – and from that context, there emerged the subjective conditions that still define the Left. Why is organized leftism so disproportionately academic and middle-class? Well, academics manipulate ideas for a living, but don’t have to translate them into social realities. Of course they and their students gravitated towards Marxism. Before 2008, who else would have? Since then, though, the objective conditions have changed. Mass socialism is possible again.

So, how can the Left break out of its self-isolating feedback loop? It begins with dropping conventional activism and finding ways to build institutions that can weave into working and unemployed people’s daily lives. It begins with taking on small projects that win credibility and expand capacity (then using that expanded credibility and capacity to take on larger and more daring projects, repeating the cycle and growing a base). It begins with strategy.


 

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism

Ode to America

On the delusions of American exceptionalism.

From William Hawes

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My own little world
Is what I deserve
‘Cause I am the only child there is.
A king of it all
The belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this.
Forever the first
My bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist.
Where everything’s mine
If I can keep my mouth shut tight, tight, tight.

-Guster, “Center of Attention”

So much for the city on the hill. Narcissism has changed to nihilism and solipsism: “climate change isn’t real”, and the ravages of history continue down the rabbit hole of memory.

Take another look. Genocide and chattel slavery. The war against Mexico, the quite uncivil war, the Spanish-American war, the massacres in the Philippines, the two World Wars. Dust off a book and check out the post-WWII carnage. Three million dead in Korea, three to five million dead in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A million or more in Indonesia where our CIA handed out kill lists to Suharto’s regime. Untold atrocities in Nicaragua. Juntas and death squads covering South and Central America, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan, a million or more in Iraq. Refugees numbered 65 million last year, with 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation.

Welcome to America, where minorities are killed for loose cigarettes or burned-out taillights. Where kids are shot up in school after warning of the madman dozens of times. Where we are chided to “support our troops” as they massacre, where we’re told “blue lives matter” as black men are murdered in cold blood.

The only solution is to abolish the military and the police. There is no reforming to be done. Likewise the nation-state and the corporation must be banned as well. Banish capitalism to the dustbin of history. The neoliberal globalizers (yes, Trump, that means you too) have got to go.

This is the fourth world war, as Subcomandante Marcos explained brilliantly. Billions of people now are no longer needed in the global economy and form the reserve army of temporary, part-time, and seasonal laborers. This is the new precariat, which along with the ever exploited proles constructs and maintains the property of the oligarchs in our new gilded age.

The risks from global warming, nuclear war, industrial pollulants, new pandemics, and food and water shortages from drought, floods, and extreme weather all should remind us that we are constructing our very own abattoir as well. Seven and a half billion of us fighting and scrambling over the scraps and dregs of our fossil fuel age doesn’t paint a pretty picture when you step back and look at things with a global perspective.

There is an absolute nothing at the heart of Western life. This gets touched up in media and the arts, when terms like “Spaceship Earth”, “The Big Empty”, and “Lonely Planet” are used in a playful way, masking our sorrow. Projecting our own isolation and alienation onto the world, we anthropomorphize features and creatures around us and thus imagine that everyone and everything else must be feeling as helpless, bleak, and disturbed as we are.

Yet, it is just not so. Just because the universe is kind of a lonely and scary place does not give us the right to destroy the planet out of fear of our own mortality, our own sense of meaninglessness.

While our foreign wars mutate and mushroom out of control, domestically, America today is increasingly provincial and insular. Like many subcultures, the political realm is dominated by nostalgia, a return to a so-called Golden Age. From “Make America Great Again” to Bernie Sanders’ New Deal/Keynesian/Social Democratic promises, they are all based on delusions. These are delusions of isolationism, delusions that we can use a Scandinavian blueprint onto a population of 320 million, delusions of American exceptionalism, being the indispensable nation.

There is also a delusion regarding the “living wage”. There can only be a living wage coinciding with a radical restructuring of the economy towards sustainability and ecological living. Without this, what would happen? A wage hike to $15/hour would encourage everyone to spend more, consume more, go on more trips and use more fossil fuels. This would not help any single living thing on the planet, as our economy is built to destroy and degrade the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.

Comments on US Left Radicals, with Respect

I also sense a split between two strains of Leftist radical thought in the US: the activist/socialist Left and what one might call the counter-culture/spiritual Left. Turns out, each has much to offer the other.

The activists/Marxists will be instrumental in breaking the passivity, new-age hedonism, and tendency to harp on conspiracy theory of the spiritualists. Organization and discipline on the strategic and tactical levels are in short supply, and here socialists have a lot to contribute to the conversation.

As for the counter-culture/spiritual types, they have much to teach the social justice activists and socialist/communist organizers and academics as well. In a very practical sense, those in the counterculture who have “dropped out” are doing a great service by not contributing tax money to our war machine. Those who squat and occupy public land responsibly should also be applauded, not ignored, by the academic Left. The growing movement in permaculture and homesteading also is uniquely absent even in alternative media (is too much patchouli and yoga a repellant for otherwise intrepid journalists?).

There is also an idea as old as time, summed up by the saying “Man does not live by bread alone”. The constant focus of some on the socialist Left on only materialistic problems and solutions (exemplified by some Marxist and lefty economists, among others) and inequality does not give enough weight to questions of inner life in modern society.

Many of the activist/socialists cannot even be counted on to support full drug legalization. Additionally, many ignore the issue of, or are scared at speaking out in favor of, the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics, even though study after study confirms their beneficial effects. Of course I’m not trying to inflate the heads of the credentialed experts, as any hippie on Haight-Ashbury or Rasta in Kingston could have confirmed this 50 years ago.

Speaking of the 60s, 50 years ago the French managed to scare De Gaulle out of the country, with an alliance of students, workers, feminists, artists, Leftists, and citizen protestors. Union workers in the US should be supporting high school students’ calls increased legislation to halt gun violence, as well as college students’ call to end student debt, creating free higher education for universities and community colleges, etc.

Then there are people who fit neither category, including environmentalists, peace activists, anti-nuke and GMO protestors, dissidents, anarchists, etc. For many here, the Greens are simply not anti-capitalist enough, and the socialists do not put enough emphasis on environmental concerns and ecology.

I have offered a respectful critique of one of the main Left parties, Socialist Alternative, in a previous piece, especially their call to “democratize the Fortune 500 companies”, instead of breaking them down to human-scale anarchic cooperatives and inherently questioning the nature of the consumer goods and production model, which contribute to pollution, misery, disease, alienation, and global warming. Also, their call for a living wage without structural transformation of the industrial system falls flat, for reasons mentioned above.

Last year, Alan Jones wrote a pretty epic essay dismantling the faulty thinking going on in the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in an essay here.

What is needed among radicals is more guts, and more imagination. We need more people like SPUSA 2016 presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik who called for the military and the police to be disbanded in the LA Times.

What is necessary is to become more grounded in speech and action. Technological utopianism has to be replaced by scale-appropriate bioregional and eco-centric Earth-based production techniques. To accomplish this, we will need to reorient our culture and pay respects to the main keepers of this wisdom, the First Nations of Turtle Island, the land we know as North America.

Visioning

What anyone with a heart wants is a rainbow nation, not in terms of a country or nation-state with borders, but groups of interdependent communities, aka intercommunalism as the Black Panthers called it, where our brown, black, white, yellow, and red sisters and brothers can live and thrive in a veritable kaleidoscope, a mosaic of multicultural and intergenerational cooperation and beauty. To live in cooperation with each other and live close to the Earth, we will have to learn from and adopt the rejuvenating and conflict-avoidant cultural practices of indigenous communities.

Land and property reform are at the center of this agenda, as is instituting a universal basic income. We must utilize the burgeoning fields of communal farming, permaculture, and agroforestry to feed ourselves. We must decentralize…Small Is Beautiful, as Schumacher explained.

Over the course of human history, the village was the central unit of society, where bioregional production, markets, and trading dominated. This is how unique culture is formed, where syncretism and blending is encouraged, not denigrated by xenophobic bigots.

The modern city is completely unsustainable as well as uniquely alienating as it divides citizens by class, race, as well as in the more subtle realms of social and cultural capital, as Bourdieu foresaw.

Holistic, ethical science can be used in tandem with decentralizing farming practices and renewable energy infrastructure. The dream of the primitivist, anti-civ, and “green anarchists” (funny how some have tried to appropriate this term, which can apply to a wide spectrum of theory) to go without any modern technology is ridiculous. Sustainably made labor-saving devises should be encouraged, not denigrated, and applied science based on the precautionary principle must be upheld.

Also necessary will be deliberative councils based on merit, publicly broadcast to stimulate citizen input and education, where scientists can openly debate and plan for strategies to mitigate global warming, industrial pollution, medical and psychological epidemics of suffering (drug abuse is rampant in this country and largely attributable to loneliness and alienation, as the Rat Park study showed), etc. Imagine how much more enlightening and interesting watching the top researchers in their fields resolve crises would be, compared to the absolute shit on CNN, CSPAN, FOX, or MSNBC.

Meritocracies are not utopian, and flourish in scientific research, in spontaneous social situations, as well as for open-source coders, engineers, and technologists. Arthur Koestler sketched this idea out a bit in his book Janus, dubbing it “holarchy”.

Global warming continues to be the number one threat to the planet. By opting out of the Paris Accords (a pitiful excuse for a climate agreement, but better than nothing), the US government has very clearly shown itself to be very clearly at war with the world.

Yet “America” does not exist. Borders do not exist. We must become ungovernable, semi-nomadic if need be, like many of our multicultural, cosmopolitan ancestors were. We should re-wild and reinvigorate our natural surroundings through sustainable communal-based agriculture.

This does not mean consigning every family to peasant-level subsistence farming, as likely only 10-15% of the population would need to work in a food-production based capacity and would be compensated for their hard work and dedication compared to our mass society, compared to the 1-3% in our mechanized agro-business model where laborers and seasonal workers are ruthlessly exploited. There must be a mind-shift from a culture based on scarcity to a culture based on natural abundance.

More and more people are waking up to the ever-increasing dangers of runaway climate change and nuclear war. If the Left does not unify and form a cohesive, coherent strategy that speaks to ordinary people, the proto-fascists in Washington as well as the alt-right will continue to scapegoat minorities for capitalisms’ failures in pursuit of their goal of a tyrannical white-supremacist state.

Possibly the most feasible solution to our interlocking crises is to address the elephant in the room: overpopulation. Instituting a global program promoting woman’s education, safe sex, and birth control, and redistribution of wealth to the Global South could help tremendously.

The fragmentation of the Western Left continues because ultimately it is rooted in Eurocentrism, in a Baconian/Cartesian/Newtonian view of science and the universe. The advent of capitalism as well as the cementing of the Westphalian ideology of the nation-state ultimately leads to oligarchy, fascism, and the destruction of the biosphere and natural resources. Revolutionizing the system of global capital and abolishing the nation-state cannot be delayed for reforms that seem more realistic. Our time is running out.


William Hawes

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is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. His articles have appeared online at CounterPunch, Global Research, Countercurrents(.org), Gods & Radicals, Dissident Voice, The Ecologist, and many more outlets. You can email him at wilhawes@gmail.com. Visit his website williamhawes.wordpress.com.


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Witchcraft, An Act of Resistance: Part 2

“I’m not really alone, that my solitary acts are not really solitary, not if they are practised by many, many others, each resisting in their own little way, doing what they can.”

From Emma Kathryn

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“The night is warm, though not quite balmy, not in the mountain at least. There’s no moon in the sky, though thousands of stars burn brightly in its dark depths, their glow not enough to cast even a glimmer on the canopy of the jungle, much less penetrate it. Below the canopy, men and women, fearsome with their machetes and knives, follow the narrow path through the trees, down the mountain. To the plantation.

Tonight, they follow their queen once again, to free those stolen from their homeland, imprisoned and put to work in the brutal plantations, treated worse than animals.”

-Queen Nanny of the Maroons; spiritual leader, military strategist and chief. Obeah woman.

Part one of this article was my very first piece for G&R and you can read it here, if the fancy takes you. At the time of writing, I thought it would be a one-off, but here we are, once again on the topic of witchcraft being an act of resistance. That’s because it is, and always has been. Witchcraft has always been used by the poor and oppressed.

I won’t go into too much detail about that first article but I will say it was a rallying cry, a call to action for those of us who practise, to utilise our craft in the fight against the capitalist system. I stand by what I wrote in that piece, and would argue that the need for our craft to be a resistance is more important than ever.

But whilst a call to arms is all well and good, it isn’t enough. It’s not enough for writers to sit behind computer screens and tell others to act out, but it’s also hard to know what to do, how else to affect change on a larger scale. Sometimes it feels like our individual efforts are not enough, and it’s easy to get disheartened, or to lose sight of your goals, of the end game. Sometimes, it can feel like our solitary acts of resistance are worthless, indeed, I was just thinking along those lines the other day. But then it occurred to me that I’m not really alone, that my solitary acts are not really solitary, not if they are practised by many, many others, each resisting in their own little way, doing what they can.

When I was a kid, my mum used to watch this show called Allo, Allo. It was a comedy set in German occupied France during the second world war. I absolutely loved it. It followed the escapades of a French Cafe owner, caught between the German officers and the French resistance. Each episode would follow the reluctant and bumbling cafe owner passing on information or carrying out small acts of sabotage against the occupying force. He didn’t ‘defeat’ the occupying forces alone, and the resistance needed this one mans help.

Often times, it is the smaller acts of resistance, carried out by small cells or individuals that all combine against the enemy, the effect accumulative, each small blow adding to the overall effect. It’s like in fighting, a knockout is exciting to watch, but many times the fight is won by smaller blows finding their mark, beating the opponent one punch at a time.

As witches, sorcerers and occultists, why would we not utilise our craft in creating and carrying out our own acts of resistance, our own small sabotages? This second part then, is this writers way of uniting our smaller acts of lone resistance. Everything herein I have learnt through my own experiences, and I share them here in the hope that you, my fellow seeker, find them inspiring and useful too.

Freeing Yourself

Freedom from the capitalist system or from any kind of oppression you find yourself under can seem like a lofty goal or ideal. Ultimately the path towards our own freedom is long and arduous and ever ongoing, but the first step on that road involves becoming aware of the ways in which we are trapped and how deep this entrapment runs.

A must read for any would be rebel witch or occultist is Dr Bone’s Curse Your Boss, Hex The State, Take Back The World. The good doctor does a fine old job of fully explaining the ways in which we are trapped in a system, and how we have been programmed or forced into thinking that there is no way out of the spectral cage in which we find ourselves. Indeed, the concept of the spectral cage is highly important in our quest to be free from oppression. Within the book are practical steps one can take in different circumstances to help free oneself. I have used some of them to good effect, my favourite being the card in the boot conjure working. It’s become my go to working for work related issues. It can also be adapted to suit various other circumstances. I cannot recommend this book enough.

In freeing ourselves, we must be honest with ourselves. It won’t be easy, in fact will be downright uncomfortable and hard and there will be tough choices and decisions on the road ahead, which leads me onto my next point, baneful magic.

To Curse Or Not To Curse

Within the world of witchcraft there are many who abide by ethical and moral codes of conduct, whether that be the threefold law, karma, or any other system of belief that aims to censor our behaviours. As such, baneful magic such as cursing and hexing can cause quite the conundrum for those practitioners who abide by such rules.

Like I said, this journey will not be an easy one, and we will be forced to confront dilemmas such as these, problems that force us to reconsider our stance on many issues.

Now, for myself, I don’t hold to the threefold law. I just don’t believe it, and in saying this, I mean no offence to any who do, after all, we should each be free to decide for ourselves what it is we believe, without having to justify it to others. In my opinion, the threefold law and karma are highly complicated concepts that have been watered down into easy to say mottos that sound good but mean very little. That’s not to say that these concepts are worthless, but, especially in the case of karma, they are far more intricate and complicated than how they are presented to us within mainstream modern paganism.

As I said to a fellow witch a few weeks back (one who cited the threefold law to me when the topic of cursing came up), I simply do not believe in the threefold law, and the answer to why is simple. I know countless people, mostly good, who go through life trying their best, who don’t hurt others, who keep themselves to themselves, who go out to work each day, and yet they get shit on. Constantly. Where is their reward? Where is  their three times returned goodness? They simply never get it. Oh yes, there might well be the odd bit of brightness, but it sure as shit aint three times what they’ve given out. And the reverse is also true; there are plenty of arseholes who spend most of their lives being selfish, not caring about others, who make other people’s lives a living hell and who, in return, never suffer for it. They don’t get their shittiness returned threefold either.

So it will be up to the individual to decide how far they are willing to travel along the path of malevolent magic. It will not be for everyone, and that is fine. I will say though, that self-defence is a must, and never be afraid to defend yourself, by whatever means available, and to me, this includes using witchcraft.

Community

Connecting with other witches, seekers and occultists will be an important aspect of using your craft as a resistance. Not everyone will have the same political leanings or world view (there’s so many debates, arguments and factions between pagans today, it’s no wonder we’re an eclectic mix!) and that’ fine, in fact can be a good thing as it broadens the minds. You’ll be exposed to varying opinions and approaches, some will inspire you, others provoke debate, and others will turn you right off, but knowledge is power, and the scope for learning more becomes so much wider when you expand your magical circles.

Besides from the practical benefits of the sharing of ideas and honest and open discourse, connecting with others is a good way of forming networks with other practitioners. Building friendships and relationships will lead to the mutual exchange of help, and so the beginnings of solidarity are formed.

The Land

At the beginning of this piece, I talk about Nanny of the Maroons, a rebel who led her people to freedom. So successful were their attacks on the plantations and on the British that Nanny and her community were left alone by them, partly due to her ferocious attacks in which hundreds of slaves were freed, but also because of her connection to the land. Nanny came to know the mountain well, and as an obeah woman, you can be sure she was connected to the spirit of the land. The British army couldn’t find their way up the mountain, through the forests, whereas Nanny knew the land well and could navigate it easily.

The land is the beginning and the end. Forging a relationship with it strengthens your witchcraft, and as such, your resistance based on it. Get to know the land where you live; what grows where, the creatures that live there, the natural cycles and rhythms of nature. Feed the birds, pick up rubbish, care for the land where you live and over time your relationship with it will grow and flourish.

And there you have it fellow seekers, my thoughts and opinions on the topic of witchcraft as a resistance. I hope you find them useful.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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Assigned Faggot: Gender Roles, Sex, and the Division of Labor

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A boy in eighth-grade math class walks over and says, “You sit like a woman. What are you, a woman?” We both know there’s no right answer.


 

When I was born, the obstetrician said I was male. So, growing up, that was the role expected of me. People told me I’d become a heterosexually-married adult man. I shouldn’t have long hair, wear dresses, or cry “like a sissy.”

At some point, though, that comprehensive set of expectations (that gender role) changed. By the time I hit adolescence, no one thought I’d marry a woman. Boys were supposed to like football and act tough, but nobody looked at me and thought I could ever do that. My classmates started calling me gay before I even knew what the word meant. More and more, people expected that I would behave different from my male peers.

Of course, their expectations carried a weight of moral condemnation. When they called me a “faggot,” they made it clear that it was a very bad thing to be. But, none of them seriously believed that someone who looked, moved, and sounded like me could be anything else. I was chastised and punished for filling it, but nevertheless “faggot” was the role I was pressured to fill.

Are gender and sexuality fundamentally personal identities, or are they imposed by a larger social system? How sharp is the line between them?


 

Walking down the hall in high school, it feels like every other word is “faggot.” An especially churchy classmate tells me that if I was a real Christian, I wouldn’t “want to be that way any more.”

In gym class, the coach sends the boys to one side of the room and the girls to the other to do different activities. No one looks surprised when I go with the girls.


 

On paper, US conservatism believes in a strict gender binary. You are male or female, birth to death. Men are naturally one way and women another. No one really falls in between. Men, of course, are naturally strong and unemotive. They sleep with women but socialize with each other.

And yet, people who embraced that ideology wholesale would meet me and assume that my friends were girls, that I was emotional and “sensitive,” that I’d defer to my male peers, and – perhaps most of all – that I was sexually available to men. But since they didn’t read me as cis female, why weren’t they bringing the usual male expectations?

When I had straight male friends, why did they expect me to be emotionally supportive and assume I had some special insight into “what women want?” They didn’t seek that from each other, and they’d have either laughed or gotten angry at anyone who asked it of them.

If their idea of gender was as binary as they believed it to be, why didn’t they place me into a male role?


 

Unfortunately, many women-particularly single women-are afraid of the perspective of wages for housework because they are afraid of identifying even for a second with the housewife. They know that this is the most powerless position in society and so they do not want to realise that they are housewives too…

We are all housewives because no matter where we are they can always count on more work from us, more fear on our side to put forward our demands, and less pressure on them for money, since hopefully our minds are directed elsewhere, to that man in our present or our future who will “take care of us”.

Silvia Federici

 

Did those people believe in genders besides female and male?

With their ideas, they didn’t. With their actions, though, they did. After all, they created at least one gender role besides “man” and “woman” – I know because they assigned me to it! My social position was not authentically male. I was failed-male. In practice, my gender was “faggot.”

When they said “faggots aren’t real men,” that was an is, not an ought. “Faggot” is a socially-real gender category distinct from “male.” It is imposed (like all genders) by a social system beyond the control of any given individual. Gender, after all, is more than either individual identity or cultural beliefs. Each gender role corresponds to a particular place in the overall social division of labor.

To be given a feminized gender (like “woman” or “faggot”) means to be given feminized work: emotional, interpersonal, domestic, caregiving, and sexual. When you meet someone, they read a gender onto you. Practically speaking, that means they either expect you to take on those tasks or they expect others to take them on instead of you. There are, of course, plenty of signifiers that help people make that gender assignment (speech inflections, clothes, names, communication styles, inferred secondary sex characteristics, etc). But all that only makes up half of what a gender is – the rest is being expected to do specific kinds of work, and you can’t cleanly untangle the two halves. Being conventionally feminine means being expected to wear makeup, long hair, etc – but also to have a less aggressive conversation style, to step aside for men on the sidewalk, to be “nurturing,” and to sleep with men. On the ground, the division of labor and cultural norms are united. Each upholds the other.


 

I sit in a therapist’s office and talk about how since transitioning, I’ve felt less and less connection with any sort of sexuality and I don’t understand why. He tells me I just need to accept that I’m attracted to men – once I do that, he says, things will fall into place.


 

Radical feminism talks about “compulsory heterosexuality” – the idea that heterosexuality is more than a sexual preference some people happen to have. It’s a political institution built into the gender system itself, through which all women (including lesbians) are pressured to treat sex with men as inherent to womanhood. This approach to sexuality cares about the pleasure of men, but leaves non-male desires as (at best) an afterthought. Without it, feminized gender roles (woman and faggot alike) would bear little resemblance to their current forms.

I faced that imperative, just like my cis female peers. To be sure, people delivered it to me on different terms. Attraction to men was expected of me, but never treated as though it were positive. However, it was still part of the role I was assigned. Accepting my lesbianism still entailed a process of soul-searching to break through some deeply internalized messages; it tracked closely with the experiences of the cis lesbians I know.

Sexuality doesn’t neatly come apart from gender. Gender is an overarching system, a way of organizing certain types of work within class society’s overall division of labor. My socialization into a feminized role brought with it certain sexual expectations, just as it carried emotional and interpersonal ones.

Neither sexuality nor gender floats free, separate from each other or from the overall organization of society. They aren’t (just) individual identities, and they aren’t (just) cultural ideas. These roles exist physically: the interactions humans have with each other and with the world re-create them every day. If you ignore that context, you’ll misunderstand the relationship between them.

Cultural norms about gender receive institutional support from the government, businesses, religious congregations, etc. After all, gender is an efficient and elegant way to get some people to do certain kinds of work for free. Sure, some aspects of contemporary gender predate capitalism. However, this gender system is still capitalist to its essence. Why? Capitalism digested those older components and turned them into something qualitatively different (as the historical research of Silvia Federici and other Marxist feminists shows).

Beliefs and practices aren’t merely ephemera. They aren’t fluff on top of an underlying economic reality. They’re part of economic reality because they’re part of how people carry out the daily work of existence. Their function within it is vital. Without them, it wouldn’t be easy to get anyone to do feminized work for free, but with them? People “spontaneously” enforce those roles on each other via social pressure, “common sense,” and violence. Why else do so many women punish each other for deviating from fundamentally-sexist norms?

Again, though, the ideas in people’s heads are only half the picture. The conservative Christians I grew up around believed wholeheartedly that only two genders existed. But when they couldn’t find a place in the male role for people like me, what did they do? They created another one for us (faggot). Did they call it a gender? Of course not, but ideology isn’t what you believe. It’s what you’ve internalized through what you do. And isn’t it telling that if you asked them about trans and nonbinary people, they’d say none of it was valid because “those people are just confused faggots?”


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Nearly all liberals (and more than a few leftists) arrive at their politics by first noticing an instance of oppression, then deciding to oppose it. They hear conservatives condemn gays, for instance, and think, “We’ve got to stop that prejudice. Gay people deserve respect!” That’s an understandable approach – disrespect, bigotry, and microaggressions are right there for all to see. Shouldn’t they be gotten rid of?

But when you remember that ideas and beliefs are only half of what’s going on, doesn’t something almost sinister emerge? We can remove the outward signs of oppression. But does that mean it’s gone, or just that it’s harder to see?

When you look at someone’s face, it doesn’t take its shape from the skin on the surface. It takes it from the bone underneath. If outright bigotry is the visible skin, the division of labor and the need to enforce it are the bone. Had I grown up in a liberal area rather than a conservative one, the people around me would have believed that women should be considered equal to men and that LGBT people deserved acceptance and respect. Those categories would have been enforced more gently – but they still would have been enforced. Since capitalism’s division of labor would have remained, feminized work would still have gotten assigned to feminized roles.

They wouldn’t have called me “faggot,” but they would have called me “fabulous” – and at the end of the day, the role expectations are the same either way. Respect and inclusion would have been nicer makeup, but the face beneath would have been no different.


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Radical politics should begin with the physical reality of class society and its division of labor.

The cultural half of the mechanism matters. It isn’t a question of “divisive social issues.” Norms and ideas are part of how the system works, and separating them from “economic class” just shows you’ve misunderstood both.

But because these roles are unified with the class system, the goal can’t simply be greater respect. Imposing them politely is still imposing them. The surface manifestations are an important part of the phenomenon, but they aren’t all of it. And ultimately, radical politics must seek to abolish the entire thing.

And if radicals forget that, then sure, they might find ways to make society look less oppressive.

But will anyone have actually gotten free?


 

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism

Regeneration = Gentrification…

“As we ever expand, as civilisation grows and spreads, the demand for space, for homes and resources increases.”

From Emma Kathryn

pexels-photo-878979

…Which in turn leads to the forced removal of the poor. It happens the world over. As we ever expand, as civilisation grows and spreads, the demand for space, for homes and resources increases.

This last couple of weeks, this issue has hit closer to home.

Regular readers will know I live on a council estate in the middle of England. Many of us on the estate fall into the category of the working poor. We live here because we cannot afford to live anywhere else, but more than that, its home. Many of us have lived here for decades. Lasting friendships are formed, as are allegiances. We stick up for and look out for our own.

A couple of weeks ago, the residents received letters letting us know that the future of the estate is uncertain,that they are looking into regenerating the area and that the council would be undertaking resident surveys to find out the wants and needs of the residents.

Sounds good, doesn’t it.

Only of course, we all know that our opinions won’t get taken into account. Not really. As ever, money talks, and that’s the real issue here. You see, the council are selling off more land to housing developers.

One of the only open large green spaces this end of my town has already been sold off. The playing field has four football pitches and extra space besides. It is the only place where the kids from the estate can go and play for free, where dog walkers can amble and let the dog off the lead, or just for anyone to enjoy spending time outside. It’s a busy place in spring and summer. The council want us, the community, to welcome this change, to really want it and so they tell us about the new and improved sports facilities they will build, but we all know that those facilities will not be free, that the kids from the estate will be priced out of using these if they do in fact appear at all. The council want us to believe that they are doing this for our benefit, that our lives will be improved, and that the proposed two hundred homes that will be built on this land has nothing to do with it.

When are we going to stop believing the authorities?

The fear for the estate is that it will be sold out from under us. After all, it’s land that could be used, that could be sold off to the highest bidder. Money talks and the poor don’t count.

Don’t believe me? All you have to do is look at the Grenfell tower tragedy that dominated the UK news last year.

For those that don’t know, Grenfell tower was a tower block of flats, council owned, in one of the richest boroughs of London. The posh Kensington and Chelsea borough council had decided to regenerated the area, covering the eyesore of a building in cladding designed to improve the view for the towers rich neighbours, because you know, god forbid they should have to look at the reality that many have to face, have to endure, day in, day out.

When fire ripped through the building, killing seventy-one people and leaving many others homeless and with nothing, it soon came to light that the cladding the council had chosen had made the fire worse than it would have otherwise  been. Tower blocks are designed to contain a fire breakout in the flat it starts in (and the advice to tenants who live in high rises in the event of fire is to stay inside their flat). The cladding was not flame retardant and instead fuelled the fire, helping it to spread through the entire building quickly.

The council, again, one of the richest, had decided against spending five thousand pounds more on fire-retardant cladding, instead choosing one that isn’t recommended for buildings as high as the tower block. Again, because the poor don’t matter.

The tower is currently nothing but a burnt out skeleton, and many of the former residents are still homeless, despite the public coming together and raising millions of pounds for the victims (though where that money is now, well, that’s another article for another day, but needless to say it isn’t where it should be, helping those for whom it was raised).

More than that though, do you think the land will be used to create housing for those who have lost everything? I would wager not.

I bet land developers and the council couldn’t believe their luck. Prime London land is now unoccupied! When enough time has passed for people to have moved on and forgotten, the council will sell the land and build more homes and services for those with money, for those who either willfully or not serve the capitalist agenda.

I hope that we don’t forget, that those poor and displaced people will fight for what they have lost, will hold the government and authorities to account.

The poor are being squeezed out of London. In fact the poor are the first ones out whenever the land they’re on is needed.

Sporting events such as the Olympic Games displace the poor. When Brazil hosted the games, officials evicted many families before the 2016 games. For example, to make way for one high-speed bus lane, some three hundred and eighty-five families were relocated, sometimes as far as thirty kilometres away.

Sometimes support networks including familial and friendship relationships can be a lifeline for those in need. Friends and family help one another out, whether that’s the lending of money for something to eat, childcare enabling a parent to work, advice and so on. When these support networks are torn apart because of forced removal, it becomes more than land rights.

You could also go one further and say that forced eviction is an act of violence. Whenever and wherever we look to for examples of forced removal or eviction, we see violence. Why else would people leave their homes with little or nothing? Because of the threat of violence. And what can be more violent than war? In war we see the displacement of people, and this is an act of forced removal.

Whatever you think about the politics of refugees, and in this age, there are many differing opinions, no matter your political leaning, there can be no doubt that a war zone forces many to leave their homes.

If we look past the politics of war, past the soldiers who fight in them, past all of that and really see the war machine, then we cannot deny that war is big business. Weapons and other war technologies are for sale to the highest bidder. And after the war is over, why, there’s land that’s going to need to be developed, and there’s going to be all kinds of infrastructure to be laid down. Money money money.

That’s why when world leaders go on state visits to other countries, they take with them arms dealers, construction CEOs and so on.

I don’t know what will happen to where I live. I wish I could say that we will rise up, us residents and fight the council tooth and nail, but I don’t think that will happen, least of all because there are too many who can’t be bothered. There are some who believe the council when they say it will be better, it’ll make their lives better. And there are a few of us who are angry.

I don’t know what we will do. I know I will fight it every way I can, but I don’t think it will be enough. I think the council have already made their minds up, that it doesn’t really matter what us, the residents, think or say. If they really needed land for homes, then why allow companies to build massive carparks in the middle of residential areas (there are two recently new built carparks in the town where I live, one of which is smack bang in the middle of a residential area). The council could have sold that land to housing developers, or refused planning permission for the carpark, but no. It’s all about the money.

I feel connected to the land where I live, where I have lived my whole life. The playing field is home to a host of trees, plants and fauna. The spirit of the place, of the land, of the trees, plants and animals. All of this will be lost, and I fear it’s one more step closer to our disconnection from the land.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


The pre-sale for Circling The Star ends 14 February.

 

No Individual Solutions

privilege
Source: University of San Francisco

When my partner and I walk down the sidewalk, we know people will sometimes shout that we’re “fuckin’ dykes.” When a straight couple goes out in public, they know they won’t get called “fuckin’ breeders” – they have that privilege.

Mainline social justice acknowledges that. It doesn’t pretend that straight and lesbian couples get treated equally, and it condemns the position of privilege enjoyed by heterosexuals relative to LGBT people. However, recognizing the need to end something is only half of a political position – you also need a way to make that change happen.

Social justice promises just that. Its strategy against not just straight privilege, but privilege in general has two prongs: anti-discrimination legislation on the one hand, and individuals changing their conduct on the other. People need to own up to their privilege; then, they must relinquish it.

But how, specifically, do you do that? Although social justice proponents are often light on the concrete details, one widely-shared article has an answer: if privilege is letting you do something, don’t do it.


 

If you have access to something and you recognize that you have it partly because of privilege, opt out of it.

Mia McKenzie

Now, that implies more than it says. This analysis begins with the experiences of individuals: this couple faces street harassment, that one doesn’t. Then, it generalizes those experiences to larger social groups (Black people, men, bisexuals, and so on). However, it never lets go of its initial individualistic assumptions – the experiences of a group are the experiences believed to be shared by its members.

From there, “opting out” follows logically. Is oppression about individuals being treated unequally because of their demographic position? If so, anti-oppression means working towards equal treatment. Is privilege is the sum of many individual acts of oppression (stacked, like the hierarchy of needs, from microaggressions all the way up to genocide)? Then ending those acts ends privilege. Some can be outlawed (hate violence, for instance). For others, though, you have to convince people to change their behavior. You couldn’t feasibly have a law against not taking women’s opinions seriously, for instance.

So, those with privilege must give it up. Not making use of it seems a reasonable starting point. The article quoted above, for instance, gives as an example not attending a conference that refuses to accommodate wheelchair users. You “opt out” of the benefits, and privilege weakens. To stop privilege, stop participating in it.

In practice, though, that doesn’t work.


 

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Source: GVSU Feminist Voices

But doesn’t fewer people taking advantage of privilege mean fewer people reinforcing it? Even if “opting out” isn’t sufficient by itself, isn’t it a necessary tool?

 

On the ground, “opting out” fails for two reasons:

  • “Opting out” is undesirable. When anti-oppression types say “privilege,” what concrete things are they talking about? Sometimes, they mean getting away with things no one should do – committing sexual assault with impunity, for instance. At least as often, though, they mean less-privileged people not getting to do neutral or positive things that the privileged take for granted – not acts of violence, but things that everyone should be able to do. My partner and I risk homophobic harassment when we go outside. Straight couples don’t. Should they “opt out” of leaving the house? After all, they can do so without being bothered by homophobes – that’s privilege. “Opting out” would mean never stepping out of their front door.
  • “Opting out” is impossible. My partner and I don’t choose to be harassed. Straight people don’t choose not to be. When some people get treated better than others, is it because they somehow control how strangers behave towards them? Should a straight couple say to everyone who walks by, “I know we’re heterosexual, but please treat us no differently than you’d treat lesbians”? If they did, would a homophobe answer, “Oh, happy to oblige! You damn dykes”? If individuals could just will these structures out of their lives (as “opting out” implies), this whole system would have died a long time ago. But that’s not how it works. The social order precedes and transcends the individuals within it.

 

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Source: Feminist Hulk via Comics Alliance

But if “opting out” is impossible, why does the idea persist?

Well, social justice’s individualism allows for no other conclusion. If privilege boils down to individual actions and individual experiences, then individual choices must be both the problem and the answer. Sure, social justice pays lip service to “structural issues” and “systemic oppression.” But the nitty-gritty of what it means by that always falls back on individual complicity. How “systemic” can a critique be when it doesn’t acknowledge that social organization is more than the sum of the individuals inside it? If “structural” oppression just means that every member of a better-off group is individually complicit in their privilege, doesn’t that reduce oppression to “bad apples?” The bad apples may number in the tens or hundreds of millions, but the essence is still there – the problem is rotten people making rotten choices. It’s still about each person’s individual moral failure. However, there is no mechanism by which you can stop being complicit. So, for social justice, there is no solution. There’s only condemnation without end.

 

Luckily, though, this framework doesn’t line up with reality. Oppression isn’t the sum of millions of immoral decisions. Liberation is possible. But, it takes something that social justice hates even more than privilege.


 

Only when men see our work as work-our love as work-and most important our determination to refuse both, will they change their attitude towards us. When hundreds and thousands of women are in the streets saying that endless cleaning, being always emotionally available, fucking at command for fear of losing our jobs is hard, hated work which wastes our lives, then they will be scared and feel undermined as men.

But this is the best thing that can happen from their own point of view, because by exposing the way capital has kept us divided (capital has disciplined them through us and us through them-each other, against each other), we – their crutches, their slaves, their chains – open the process of their liberation.

Silvia Federici

Privilege leads to unequal treatment, but that’s not where it comes from.

Capitalism involves more than fast-food chains and stock exchanges. It’s an all-encompassing division of labor. Every single task through which humanity continues to exist gets parceled out to one group or another. That’s the material basis of social categories that, at first glance, look either natural or merely cultural.

The “common sense” belief that race and gender are bio-cultural phenomena just masks what they really are: ways of assigning different work to different people, carried out under different conditions. Those divisions are then enforced by institutional discrimination, “common sense” ideas (promoted through media, education, and religion), and – should those fail – physical violence. “Woman” as a cultural category both emerges from and reinforces the way that certain people are expected to do care work and housework (mostly unpaid). The category “white,” similarly, both comes from and continually recreates the fact that some workers tend to have better conditions, jobs, and pay, a cultural sense of superiority, and de facto segregation from other workers. Through gender, capitalism gets a lot of necessary work done for free. Through race, it prevents certain workers from uniting with the rest of their class against the system by giving them relative advantages within it. So, privileged workers benefit in the short term. But in the long term, their privilege just prolongs their own exploitation.

Social justice will never realize that. Why should it? The activist subculture is mostly middle-class, not working-class. So, it reflects middle-class ideas and middle-class interests.

Do middle-class and ruling-class men and whites have a long-term stake in abolishing their own privilege? No – it gives them an unambiguous competitive advantage in the professions, management, and business. Why else do middle-class people from less-privileged demographics frame their politics in terms of unjust disparities and ethical imperatives? Without a shared material stake in ending privilege, moral self-sacrifice is all that’s left.

Middle-class and ruling-class reformers, though, find themselves in a contradictory position. On the one hand, lacking privilege makes their lives tangibly worse. But on the other, their class position depends on the continued existence of privilege, because the capitalist division of labor depends on it and they depend on capitalism.

So, they end up with equally-contradictory politics. Social justice has no way out.


 

On more than one occasion, Black workers have forced the employer to open a new job area to them, only to run up against the rigid opposition of white workers.

White revolutionaries must understand, and help the masses of white workers to understand, that the interests of the entire working class can only be served by standing firmly with the Black workers in such cases.

Noel Ignatiev

Does that mean that privilege will never go away? If social justice can’t overcome oppression, what can?

Class struggle.

Internal divisions notwithstanding, the working class as a whole carries out all of the tasks of human existence. Without workers, there is nothing. But, the working class doesn’t decide the way in which it does that labor. The ruling class of capitalists does – the investors, executives, and business owners who control the physical and social infrastructure through which all work happens (the “means of production“).

Capitalists dictate the social order and exploit the working class, accumulating wealth at workers’ expense. The working class has the ability to overthrow capitalism (since capitalists need workers, but workers don’t need capitalists). It also has an interest in doing so – replacing it with a system in which workers (paid and unpaid) control everything. Obviously, capitalists have good reason to oppose that. So, whenever workers try to collectively pursue their interests, the ruling class opposes them however it can. That ranges from shaping “common sense” to relying on state violence.

The division of labor within the working class both creates and relies on privilege. In doing so, it makes it harder for the working class to effectively struggle against its oppressors. Privileged workers are less likely to side with the rest of their class because, due to privilege, they’re comparatively better off. But, that’s only a short-term interest. In the long term, their interests are the same as other workers’.

So, there’s a material basis for workers to come together and organize against the ruling class – and when they do so, specifically fighting against privilege is ultimately good for them all, even if some are benefitting from privilege at the moment. But, to make that happen, working-class politics has to focus on the long-term goal of ending capitalism and exploitation. It needs the analysis that your privilege here and now is the enemy of your liberation in the future. In other words, if it sticks to “achievable” short-term reforms, it can’t effectively do that because it’s dropped the long-term aim. After all, you can’t focus on long-term interests if you don’t acknowledge them. Moderate socialism isn’t any more useful against privilege than social justice.

What can end privilege?

Communism.


 

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Communism can end privilege. Liberal social justice can’t. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Individuals can’t “opt out” of privilege because privilege isn’t individual. It’s built into the class system itself. To get rid of it, get rid of class.

But social justice is scared of that conclusion. Its social base is upper-class and middle-class – they’re either at the top of the pyramid or close enough to imagine themselves getting there. They need the class system, but the class system needs privilege.

Fortunately, abolishing privilege doesn’t depend on them. The working class can do it. No one else can. So, if you really want to see the end of privilege, don’t listen to social justice. Build institutions of working-class power.

Back in the 70s, radical feminists had a saying:

There are no individual solutions to social problems.

Privilege is a social problem. You can’t “opt out” of it. So, stop looking for individual solutions.

Fight for a collective one instead.


 

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism