Before The Social Justice Warriors, There Were The Netroots

A Racefail Memoir

From Sajia Sultana

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In my twenties I was fascinated by blogging and the net-roots, all those wonderful left liberal blogs of the early 2000s – Pandagon, Alas a Blog, 3 Quarks Daily, Feministing, Obsidian Wings, Digby, Making Light.

I learned of Making Light through one of Neil Gaiman’s posts on fanfiction. Teresa Nielsen Hayden had written a lovely post on Mary Sue fanfiction and pro fiction. I started commenting there many years ago, although I was always more of a lurker. I started my own livejournal blog, and became friends with Bellatrys, londonkds, oyceter, and spiralsheep.

I never forgot the conversation Making Light had after the 2004 election on gay marriage, how conciliatory they were to conservative members of that community. A stark contrast to how they handled Racefail after the 2008 election.

I’m not sure if the pandagon archives are still there. I think Alas A Blog still exists. I remember Barry Deutsch’s comic about a Jewish girl who was a dragon-slayer. I remember Matthew Yglesias, although I had a very scratchy knowledge of economics. I remember A Tiny Revolution and Michael Berube. My god, all these white leftists and liberals hi-fiving themselves over how superior they were to the religious right and wondering why there wasn’t a big tent coalition on the internet.

The net roots were obsessed with popular culture. The Buffy debates alone took up yards of screentime. I didn’t have a TV then, although I passively and incoherently absorbed everything I read on the internet. This is why I get infuriated when people accuse the social justice warriors of trivializing social justice concerns, because the netroots had not modeled good behaviour, to put it mildly.

Before Racefail, the biggest netroots dustup I observed was with Amanda Marcotte’s plagiarization of Brownfemipower’s work around WOC reproductive rights. The signs had been there, all along. Amanda Marcotte had defended Paris Hilton as a powerful woman enjoying her money as she choosed while dismissing Beyonce as a non-feminist.She was an obsessive anti-theist and was an apologist for harmful hipster elitism. She made much mileage out of her heartbreaking tale of rape and a pregnancy scare that took place afterwards. Which is one thing to defend reproductive rights and abuse survivors, and another to defend a rapist like Hugo Schwyzer.

I wonder how much the anger of the white netroots against the social justice warriors had to do with the fear of aging.

Racefail happened in January 2009. My entry into Racefail happened by way of a blogger who referred to Deepa D.’s essay, “I didn’t dream of dragons.” This was a magnificent essay taking down everything that was Eurocentric about the western high fantasy tradition. Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s livejournals were on my friendslist, and I gaped in horror as they doubled down on racist denial. Will Shetterly started on his rampage of stalking women of color feminists and their white feminist allies. The Nielsen Haydens and Shetterly probably thought they were doing liberal damage control, but it still looks like liberal racist libel and slander of my friends Spiralsheep and Willow, and the ones that I don’t know about, from where I stand.

What made their behaviour even more unforgivable was the fact that Making Light had built its reputation as a bastion of moderacy and approachment between (white) leftists and liberals and centre-rightists. Dave Luckett had posted opposition to gay marriage after the 2004 elections, and instead of being booted out the Making Light regulars reached out and used reason on him, and succeeded. Yet when Spiralsheep and Willow had made completely reasonable attacks on white Eurocentrism in science fiction and fantasy, suddenly they were being divisive and spouting “identity politics nonsense.” Maybe if they had a couple of fiction manuscripts that could have been published at Tor.com they would have been treated better.

I loved the community building that happened post-Racefail. There was the famous POC unicorn sci-fi call-in, where POC fans of science fiction and fantasy proclaimed their love for the genre, and brilliant posts by Deepa D, yeloson, delux vivens, skywardprodigal, and many more. People of color who loved pop culture but had issues with representation realized that they were no longer alone. Racefail was the shot that was heard around the world. It may have been just a Livejournal spat, but it quickly snowballed into massive WOC and QTIPOC online organizing on a global scale.

Now one can argue that I should never have placed trust in the white left to begin with, but hey, I’m a Bangladeshi liberal by birth, breeding, and choice, not an angry black woman with justifiable skepticism of white intentions starting in the womb. And the trauma, added to the already toxic brew of body image dysphoria, bipolar disorder, paranoia, social isolation and first world poverty, made me highly suspicious and angry with my white friends in the Vancouver punk scene. What made things substantially worse was that I felt unable to talk to anyone about my severe emotional pain over seeing white leftists whom I had greatly admired doing incredibly shitty things, misrepresenting the people they had sworn to defend the western right from, and lying their asses off. I mean, Racefail was just a Livejournal dust-up, what was there to be angry about?

What made me even angrier about Racefail was that the Nielsen Haydens were Christian leftists. They talk the talk about mercy, but everybody knows that it’s way easier to forgive the people who hurt you than to forgive the people you hurt. They have never forgiven Spiralsheep and Willow for having been the targets of their abuse. And the Nielsen Haydens’ Christian hypocrisy got enabled like hell by their atheist friends and supporters in the sff community.

At this point the discerning reader will ask, “But Sajia, you hate cultural appropriation rhetoric, why aren’t you more sympathetic to the NHs?” While it’s true that cultural appropriation rhetoric has gotten out of hand, there were legitimate concerns at the heart of anti-appropriation ideology. And it did act as a seed for a massive amount of online community building. And it’s hypocritical for the white left to smear POC pop culture activists when they committed just as shitty behavior not just in the netroots blogs, but earlier on Usenet and the western alternative press. And even if Spiralsheep and Willow had been completely 100 percent wrong, that’s no excuse for the asshole behavior of the NHs and the stalking and abusive behavior of Will Shetterly.

I was pissed off at Teresa Nielsen Hayden dismissing our community building as “bullshit identity politics”, especially because Tor’s reinvention as a bastion of pluralism would not have been possible without that community building. As a bellydancer and yogini I’ve been hurt by POC in-fighting and aggression and policing of white femininity, while the Nielsen Haydens seem to have only revitalized their brand through Racefail.

I was trapped in a digital world, knowing it was unhealthy of me to be spending so much time on Livejournal and Dreamwidth, addicted to communal anger. Part of it is that because I am an empath, I over-identified with the pain and anger of the people whose blogs I was reading, and was unable to create, let alone maintain, good boundaries with my internet friends. Physical movement would prove to be my salvation, but it was years before I could forgive myself for being a Muslimah who liked yoga and a Bangladeshi who loved bellydance.

Part of it was social justice discourse’s “ooh shiny” problem. One person would write something full of heartrending emotion and brilliant insight, the blogosphere would go nuts over them, dropping all common sense and boundaries, until the next blog post full of scintillating wit and heartache came along.

But I made some good friends there. Delux vivens always thought highly of me, and at one point said she would have liked to visit South Asia with me as a traveling companion. It was through her that I met hotcoffeems, a mixed race Sufi revert who loved to bellydance, and who was my inspiration for studying Sufism in Vancouver.

I’d written a post on Boobquake that got a lot of mileage on the internet, and through the links delux vivens had posted I had discovered the LJ blog of hotcoffeemississipi. She was a wonderful writer with a wicked sense of humor. She’d studied ballet as a child and gave me a lot of harsh but necessary advice about the problems with trying to study multiple dance forms at the same time. She’d had terrible problems with her abusive ex-husband but finally managed to get some kind of stability in her life.

She had been stalked and harassed by an internet mob accusing her of ethnicity fraud. She was accused of being a white girl playing dress up with hijab and pretending to have black ancestry in her lineage. She had to change her journal name, but that wasn’t enough and she stopped blogging altogether. I was traumatized, realizing that some of the ideas I had in my head were the same ideas used by the bullies to justify their mistreatment of hotcoffeems. I just didn’t like the scapegoating of white feminine expression by social justice discourse, the obsessive cataloging of privilege, the minute dissection of cultural expression in the pursuit of some obscure purity.

There’s something fucked up about people opposing racial categories as a way of policing human behavior and then using those same racial categories to control access to culture.
I hated the Nielsen Haydens for smearing the online POC community I fell in love with and desperately wanted to be a part of. And then I ended up hating that online POC community for smearing the white bellydancers whose art I loved.

I don’t like being asked to give up things that make me happy. I don’t like people whose main occupation in life is policing other people’s pleasure; whether that pleasure be of religion, art, sexuality, movement practices or community.

I blame the Nielsen Haydens for corrupting our POC media fandom community with the lure of book contracts in a bad economy. I am angry with the POC media fandom community for attacking and even slut-shaming white bellydancers and female yoga practitioners WHO NEVER HURT THEM PERSONALLY while accepting a few pennies from white scumbags in the science fiction fandom hierarchy who had a history of hurting POC fans. No, it’s not restitution if the white people in question continue to lie about Racefail.

And the irony is, in the time of the netroots I really wanted to write for Tor.com. But even if I had a bunch of short stories or a novel ready I’ll be double damned if I lend legitimacy to people who won’t apologize for their shitty behaviour and continue to justify their shitty behaviour towards impoverished POC fans who don’t have a manuscript with which to bargain on their end.


Sajia Sultana

a1299267168_16Sajia Sultana’s song and spoken word can be found at sajiasultana.bandcamp.com and YouTube.com/sajiasultana.


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The Caricature of Discomfort

A powerful and painful declaration of the reality of living with disability.

From Azuos Naej

English Translation below.

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A Caricatura Do Incômodo

Incomodo: ligeira alteração de saúde; mal-estar, indisposição, não é cômodo, confortável ou aconchegante.

Instintivamente sabemos o que fazer com um incomodo, e na maioria das vezes é muito simples: é só virar a cara e elevar o coração e a vontade para as belas paisagens que criamos em nossa mente. Sim, o escapismo é nossa principal ferramenta de defesa, e com ela nos elevamos ao patamar de humanos, pessoas, indivíduos, cidadãos… Nossa mentalidade é formada pela classe média, que o ideal está em toda parte dizendo o que devemos ser e fazer, eliminado o imperfeito. Nascemos marcados em um tipo de predestinação, não no sentido místico, mas pela probabilidade social muito bem ordenada apesar de parecer um caos. De onde viemos diz muito de nós e impregna na carne, nervos, tecidos e órgãos. A adoração do belo é dos melhores escapismos que a humanidade inventou e nesse mundo que vivemos isso é o mais importante, apesar de o discurso dizer a mesma merda moralista que tem uma palavra tão linda que dá vontade de tatuar na testa- igualdade.

Quantos incômodos por dia evitamos indo para aquele paraíso em que somos os vencedores? Mas pra vencer tem que ter o belo, vivenciá-lo e fazer parte dos belos. O feio só tem valor se se submete a alguma norma, se tornando uma caricatura, e estamos nessa época. Desgastamos a beleza com nossos discursos, o feio cotidiano as vezes é colocado em certos lugares para observarmos uma beleza inexistente, que só usando a força do cinismo dá para suportar o ideal decadente jogado na cara.

O feio está em toda parte, de certa forma somos feios, mas as inúmeras maquiagens nos dão a sensação de conforto.

Não superamos nossos corpos, eles ditam a essência do ser, talvez porque somos viciados apenas em ver. Parece o único sentido que possuímos, apesar de usarmos as palavras elas pouco importam em comparação a essas duas bolas que temos em baixo da testa, bolas que lacrimejam e que não queremos muito esse líquido salgado saindo delas. O que você quer ver, o que procura no espelho, encontrou? Se não encontrar é só não olhar e desviar os olhos. Tarefa fácil, mas as vezes o medo vai se acumulando até virar um esgoto pronto para estourar, quando não somos capazes de suportar o peso de ser caricatura e não nos deixam estar entre os eleitos (olha que são muitos) só nos resta a tarefa mais difícil que é abandonar os olhos e fazer uma imersão introspectiva, e aí vem as malditas perguntas, tu se pergunta porque é o que é, e porque não faz parte, aí tu descobre que é proposital pessoas como você estar onde estar e ter que conviver com a solidão, aí tu se olha no espelho, são tantas coisas que não deveriam estar nesse lugar, os olhos não são claros, a boca e o nariz não são como você se imaginava, a imersão no corpo não para ainda mais que a todo momento você é lembrado que tem um e precisa de manutenção sempre no ideal do belo. Mas e quando a caricatura é ainda mais borrada ao ponto de nem se parecer com algo humano? Você pode falar como os eleitos, se vestir igual e ser tão capaz quanto eles, mas seu lugar de origem e seu corpo vão te empurrar para fora do paraíso, a termos muito claros para a exclusão e uma lista enorme, a caricatura humanoide é rotulada de deficiente físico, e seu corpo não é atlético e sexy como milhões de propagandas despejadas toda hora, você usa alguma prótese ou tutor numa das mãos ou pernas ou nas duas, tu não anda direito se arrastando por aí e há várias formas de se arrastar de joelhos, arrastando a bunda, de quatro… inúmeras posições que marcam o corpo, é uma vida de cicatrizes diversas. A vida passa a ser uma tentativa de se curar, pois quando você se arrasta arrasta os olhos e as bocas para si, a boca entortando de risadas ou nojo, arraste-se todo dia e todo dia as mesmas bocas e olhos. A sua forma de andar diz qual porta ou escada você pode usar, se você depende de uma cadeira de rodas sabe o que estou dizendo, mas ser cadeirante tem suas vantagens se seu problema é só as pernas atrofiadas. Você já reparou naquelas crianças dementes que babam e tem mal formação congênita, ou aquele vizinho que tem uma enorme cabeça por causa de hidrocefalia? Em que lugar eles estão na sua imaginação?

O ideal de belo hierarquiza qualquer realidade entre os não eleitos há eleitos, ainda mais se conseguir disfarçar sua caricatura, alguns como eu usa calça e evita ir em lugares que precise estar com menos roupa, temos a vantagem de nos integrarmos a sociedade fazendo tarefas idiotas, entrando em algum sistema de emprego que dará 10% de isenção a uma empresa fingir que tem preocupação social, mas na peneira só a caricatura menos borrada terá essa chance.

Você está só e sempre estará, mas a solidão é muito mais cruel se tu não tem atrativos para alguém, aí as bolas que estão abaixo da testa não param de lacrimejar, e na maioria das vezes que expressa descontentamento em público, ou tem a sorte grande de ter alguém escutando você, e você ouve que não tem problema, que a merda do mundo é assim mesmo, e que você é uma boa pessoa, e o que importa é o que você tem dentro, e é para parar de reclamar tanto porque você tem uma bela vida e tem piores. Você se pergunta se tem piores e imagina o que dizem para os piores. Os piores podem ser caricatura, eles tem esse direito?

Não ame ninguém porque não será correspondido, sempre vai existir uma barreira, ainda mais se estiver se arrastando. Mate a imaginação, sonhar apenas trás dor e sofrimento, no máximo você terá um quase, quem quer se relacionar com uma caricatura, quem sentirá compaixão ou desejará estar ao lado de um reptil humano? A solidão é a única companheira e ela é ciumenta e sorrirá na sua cara a cada tentativa frustrada ou sonho desfeito l. Acostume-se a estar só mesmo que venha a dor no peito te torturando, mesmo que a cabeça doa todos os dias e sua coluna se desfaça, a maior dor não é estar num ciclo de eleitos e sim de não ser amado, não possuir o respeito comum. A dor é outra companheira, essa é mais perversa, ela gargalha alto te apertando e moendo seus ossos, por mais esforço que faça não será humano, e você verá todos que conhece com suas vidas, tendo seus amores, lutas e desafios, mas você ainda está no mesmo lugar sendo infantilizado por não estar conformado, e será julgado, sendo rotulado de arrogante, anti-social (hoje em dia temos a vantagem de termos amigos imaginários nas redes sociais que é o ápice do anti-socialismo disfarçado em integração social), de não ver as coisas belas da vida, é esse belo que todos enxergam que está em tudo menos em você.


Azuos Naej

É um poeta, músico e cuidador de gatos de Salvador.


Apoie nosso trabalho aqui.


English Translation

The Caricature of Discomfort

Discomfort: slight alteration of health; malaise, indisposition, not comfortable, pleasant or cozy.

Instinctively we know what to do with discomfort, and most of the time it’s very simple: just turn your face away, elevate your heart and will to the beautiful landscapes that we create in our minds. Yes, escapism is our main defense mechanism, and with it we rise to the level of human, people, individuals, citizens… Our mentality is formed by the middle class, that the ideal is everywhere, saying what we should be and do, eliminating the imperfect. We are born marked in a type of predestination, not in the mystical sense, but by the very well ordered social probability, although it seems a chaos. Where we come from says a lot about us and permeates the flesh, nerves, tissues and organs. The adoration of the beautiful is one of the best escapisms that mankind has invented, and in this world we live in, it is the most important, although the discourse says the same moralistic shit that has such a beautiful word that makes you want to tattoo on the forehead- equality.

How many troubles a day do we avoid by going to that paradise where we are the victors? But to win you have to have the beautiful, experience it and be part of the beautiful. The ugly only has value if it is submitted to some norm, becoming a caricature, and we are in that time. We wear beauty with our speeches, the ugly everyday is sometimes placed in certain places to observe a nonexistent beauty, that only using the force of cynicism can support the decadent ideal thrown in the face.

The ugly is everywhere, in a way we are ugly, but the volumous makeup gives us the feeling of comfort.

We do not overcome our bodies, they dictate the essence of being, perhaps because we are addicted only to seeing. It seems the only sense we have, although we use words they matter little in comparison to these two spheres that we have below the forehead, spheres that tear up and we don’t want much salty liquid coming out of them. What do you want to see, what do you look for in the mirror, did you find it? If you do not find it, just do not look, look away. Easy task, but sometimes the fear is accumulating and becoming a sewer ready to burst, when we can not bear the weight of being caricatures and not letting us be among the elected (see that there are many) we have only the most difficult task, which is to leave your eyes and do an introspective immersion, and here comes the damn questions, you wonder why it’s what it is, and why it’s not a part of life, then you discover that it’s purposeful for people like you to be where you are, to be lonely and have to live with loneliness. You look at yourself in the mirror, there are so many things that should not be there, the eyes are not light, mouth and nose are not as you imagined, immersion in the body does not stop even though every moment you are reminded that you have one body and it needs maintenance, always in the ideal of the beautiful.

But when is the caricature even more blurred, to the point that it does not even look like something human? You can talk like the elected, dress the same and be as capable as they are, but your place of origin and your body will push you out of paradise, to very clear terms for exclusion, and a huge list of them. The humanoid caricature is labeled physically disabled, and your body is not athletic and sexy like millions of advertisements dumped all the time, you wear some prosthesis or tutor on one or both hands or legs, you do not walk around right, dragging around, and there are several ways to crawl on the knees, dragging on the ass, on all fours… innumerable positions that mark the body, it’s a life of diverse scars.

Life becomes an attempt to heal itself, for when you drag your eyes and mouth towards you, your mouth twisting with laughter or disgust, crawl every day and every day the same mouths and eyes. The way you walk says which door or ladder you can use, if you depend on a wheelchair you know what I’m saying, but being in a wheelchair has its advantages if your problem is only the atrophied legs. Have you ever noticed those demented children who drool and have poor congenital formation, or that neighbor who has a huge head because of hydrocephalus? Where are they in your imagination?

The ideal of beauty hierarchizes any reality among the non-electable and the elected, even more if you can disguise their caricature. Some like me wear pants and avoid going places that requires wearing less clothing, we have the advantage of integrating society by doing stupid tasks, entering into some employment system that will give 10% exemption to a company pretending to have social concern, but in the sieve only the least blurred caricature will have that chance.

You are lonely and always will be, but loneliness is much more cruel if you have no attraction for someone, then the spheres that are below the brow do not stop watering, and most of the time expressing public discontent, or is lucky enough to have someone listening to you, and you hear that there’s no problem, that the world’s shit like that, and that you’re a good person, and what matters is what you have inside, and it’s for you to stop complaining so much because you have a beautiful life and some have worse. You wonder if you have worse and imagine what they say to the worst. The worst can be a caricature, do they have that right?

Do not love anyone because it will not be reciprocated, there will always be a barrier, especially if you are crawling. Kill the imagination, dreams only lead to pain and suffering, at most you will have almost. Who wants to relate to a caricature, who will feel compassion or will want to be next to a human reptile? Loneliness is the only companion and she is jealous and will smile in your face with every failed attempt or dream undone. Get accustomed to being alone even if the pain in the chest comes torturing you, even if your head hurts every day and your spine is undone, the greatest pain is not being in a cycle of electables but being unloved, not having the respect. The pain is another companion, this is more perverse, she laughs loudly squeezing and grinding your bones, no matter how much effort you make, you will not be human, and you will see everyone you know with their lives, having their loves, struggles and challenges, but you are still in the same place being infantilized for not rolling with the punches, and being judged, being labeled arrogant, antisocial (nowadays we have the advantage of having imaginary friends in social networks that is the apex of antisocialism disguised as social integration), of not seeing the beautiful things of life, it is this beauty that everyone sees that is in everything but in you.


Azuos Naej

Is a poet and a musician from Salvador, Brazil. He also takes care of cats.


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Insurrection as Resurrection

“It’s too late to put flowers in gun barrels”

From Jonathan Ray

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First, they came for the elections, but we grew up hearing that “voting doesn’t matter.” A slow boil of district manipulation and a thinning pool of viable candidates bore that out, but turnout was dismal, and symbols are important. Every election since the turn of the century has revealed more systemic corruption. We have lost a little more hope and a little more will to command our “leaders” with our voices with each lap around the ballot box. Long gone are the days when we could trust the word spoken from a podium. We had a glimpse of another way, but he showed up with a mysterious bruise and got quiet pretty fast after that.

The cabals, cartels, and corporations that put most candidates on the stage are not interested in our will. This time we would have been screwed either way, but with this administration has dissolved the facade of eligibility. Now the idea is out there that any asshole can hold an office, and it seems that any useful bastard will. A certain pall fell over the world on Election Night. It felt like a tectonic shift, or something happening in an invisible dimension. It was as if some significant changing of the guard had taken place at a level that even silenced Congress. Half the nation reeled with disgust and anxiety and the other shot off fireworks and felt empowered to out themselves as demons. Everybody got duped. Some got evil.

Next, they yanked the reigns of the media. The big networks danced to the tune of their sponsors and partner agencies. The internet gave us grassroots reporting, but the corporate bullhorn blasted from all sides the idea that dissent and conversation about corruption are “fake news” now. The division is everywhere because it is the priority and the agenda. Now is the moment where we are just about ready to tear down the last shreds of the veil, thus the efforts to keep us apart and at each other’s throats are mounting. The TV, radio, and print that used to deliver at least a degree of truth sold out to shareholders years ago. This legacy media (for with alt-this and post-that on every corner there is no actual main stream anymore) are purging the web of independent voices along with the snake oil, psychological operations, and doom dealers. Hijacking online conversations is a growth industry, employing perhaps thousands of human trolls and perhaps millions of tireless “bots” to control the narrative.

Weaving spiders are busy indeed. The alphabet agencies, be they spies or corporate mouthpieces or Google itself, tell us who to trust and who to scoff at, and we let them. We haven’t had to do real research since these little portals arrived in our pockets. Taking blue pills was easier than looking for ourselves. After generations of learning to look to Big Daddy for answers, it was child’s play to pull the wool over our eyes. Then the tools of research became the means of censorship. The big bang of available data that happened when the Internet went live is slowing down, and attempts are being made to reverse its flow so that it can be contained and controlled for good. Leaks continue. We can hope that stubborn defenders of truth will continue to burn holes in the dragnet and allow the flow of uncollared information.

Then Congress rolled back progressive laws but told us that only hurt “snowflakes.” We figured hate crimes and transphobia and racism were overblown. We didn’t think the Klan was even really a thing. It seemed like a joke or anachronism. How wrong we were, and how lucky we were to have such delusions as others watched their backs for lifetimes. Local governments are busy shadowboxing with political theater for the benefit of their base. Politicians treat bathroom laws and other rollbacks of LGBTQ rights as a priority to impress the evangelical voters. Nevermind what those same creeps get up to in bathrooms and hotels off the clock.

Meanwhile, real issues like infrastructure, education, safety and economic security are passed to the next official to deal with, if at all. The hollow men in expensive suits wrap themselves in the flag, drop crocodile tears paired with cherry-picked Bible fragments, and utterly ignore all requests to join the rest of the world in the 21st century. As long as they keep getting paid for their votes and avoid each other’s deep-dirt blackmail schemes, the circus goes on as it always has, and we get fed to the lions when we demand bread.

Then they began to shut the gates. In a brief but ominous symbol, the Statue of Liberty was unlit for a time. Only a few noticed enough to ask why, but it had a dark resonance. Fear had trumped love, and our nation of immigrants started turning people away as if that would affect a trend toward homegrown, often white terrorism. After decades of war, thousands have nowhere to go, and years of conditioning have made us associate the wrong countries with terrorism and job stealing. Our “job creators” are the ones moving all the work offshore to their tax havens and secret banks. Our “protectors” are the ones starting fires all over the world.

However we may live as individuals, America knows in our gut that we have become everything we once opposed. But no one can handle that, and many can’t even recognize it, so the masquerade goes on. A war on terror never ends, it just ramps up and creates an endless cycle of blood for money. See also the wars on drugs, crime, poverty, and so on. Like cancer, there’s more money in research and feel-good branding than a cure. The institutions of these troubled times work to entrench and preserve themselves rather than solving the problems that were their reason for existing.

Meanwhile, the growing police state has started stopping people on planes and stranding them in airports. They started making lists of “bad” nationalities. Men in brown with dogs and guns are at the borders asking for papers. We know where that leads. The mask is slipping, and the face is all too familiar. How long now? Do we need to endure this again? What lesson have we ignored that demands a retread of humanity’s most famous dark night of the soul?

The military is becoming the corporate police, leaving endless streams of well-meaning youth to return home as shattered shells of themselves with no structure of psyche repair in place. The beat cop is a dying breed. City police are militarizing and in some districts are goaded into procedural racism, thrill-kills and property theft which they can practice with impunity and even reward. Private mercenaries are being hired to destroy dissent to environmental and social abuse. Every peaceful protest attracts provocateurs in anarchist drag who come to break windows for the camera and frame organizations that seek reclamation of peace and justice for the people. “See, these people are out of control!”

Then the tear gas and rubber bullets can fly. Soon the privatized prisons will be full of stoners, activists, and people of color, as was the intention in ’68. First we had “Free Speech Zones,” then they started criminalizing protests, but we assumed the stories we heard about these movements were true tales of violent mob rule. We figured we had nothing to shout about until we did. So now what?

It’s too late to put flowers in gun barrels, but there is another way to invert our predicament. Turn inward and to each other now. These are the times we expected. Cross the artificial divides and build bridges where you may. Resist the death grip of the old institutions as we quietly make them irrelevant. Authority was never the friend of the people, and the pretense is finally falling away. The Germans lost the war, but plenty of Nazis got new jobs and learned to take new shapes. They won, in their way, and you can see it in the way things have gone with the Allies. History repeats and mutates.

Here we all are, and it is up to us to awaken and stop the historical cycles of abuse. This time of fear porn and hate bait is the moment for vigilance and courage, self-empowerment and cooperative subversion. The human race is on the table, about to have its organs harvested. The anesthesia needle floats just above the skin. We have excused our complacency for too long. We kept our noses in the arsenic lace of the virtual world when our duty was always to direct experience and action. Now is the time to RISE: resist, inquire, subvert, and engage. I leave it to you to choose your path.


Jonathan Ray

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Jonathan Ray is a writer, father, mystic, and musician working out of Tucson, Arizona. Driven to uncover, understand, and heal, he thinks of himself as a “conspiracy therapist.” Exploring the connections between the visible and the invisible and helping others to rediscover and empower the parts of themselves which have numb in our collective switch to survival mode is his life’s calling and the theme of his works.

Jonathan’s writing and music can be seen at apocalypsefatigue.org, named for the stage between the revelations of the world’s woes and the inspiration to embody solutions through action.


Check out our online bookstore here.

Why Are We All In This Handbasket?

“Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.”

From Judith O’Grady

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Initially I was planning to write an essay about the puzzling goodness and badness/ impulse towards Right Action and selfishness/ kindheartedness and meanness that exist in all people. So I was talking it over with my friend, “All people are connected blah blah blah” and he countered that people have various cultures that inform their ethical systems and so different judgements follow in different cultures. “But culture is wholly learned….” I said and then brought that biological truism that we are all descended from Genghis Khan (after all) into the discussion. He declined to be descended from the Pillaging Emperor and so later I looked it up—- of course we’re not ALL descended from him but the Wikipedia designation of some hundreds of wives and further hundreds of children must fall short of his actual begottens by some measure as well. Since we’re all in fact descended from the same Mitochondrial Mother, if not from Genghis, it really makes no never mind.

Leaving that aside for a moment, I do find it strange and puzzling that people are so varyingly kind and mean. Some quite dreadful people will act for the common good with energy and self-sacrifice in some instances and with self-serving brutality in others; even though there are clear and present at-danger innocents in all cases.

I adhere, in a bumbling and non-psychological way, to the teachings of Jung and so can bring his concept of the Self and the Shadow Self into play. Not that the Self is Right Action and the Shadow Self is ‘bad’ by any means——- the Self can be the reasonable fear of personal harm or the worry that one is acting outside accepted practice that pushes one to not commit to the Shadow Self’s bravery. We are inextricably both Selves and the complete person is the integrated Self, not the Shining Knight.

Be that as it may, we must all learn to act as the common descendants of the One Mother and stop the pillaging of the Earth. Because another of my beliefs is that She is just about to declare humankind as a failed evolutionary experiment unable to rise above our greed for luxury and blink us all out. The only way we can stay the execution is to all share exactly as if we are all one people, to all live simpler lives of commonality, to make sure everybody has enough. Or else we will find ourselves all jumbled up in that proverbial hand-basket and bound for ‘hell’ (or in my belief system doomed to never again reincarnate as humans or perhaps at all).

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So I reported back to my friend “sbna of humankind are related to Genghis Kahn.”

“Well, good! Because those children of rape would be affected by it, right?”

As is obvious, he’s a fairly black/white thinker no matter how much the shades of grey keep irrefutably intruding. Firstly, I pointed out that some of Genghis’ approved wives (as opposed to the spoils of war) might have been moderately pleased with their position—— history reports him as enjoying and valuing his sons and presumably their mothers. On the Other Hand, the children who were the product of rape are an army in their own right, Genghis aside.

On the Gripping Hand, Jung-On-Toast!! Yes, those children DO change humankind. Another of Jung’s precepts is that of the Collective Unconscious— roughly that we all tap into a deep well of previous-people’s lives that inform our own unconscious. We ‘remember’ backwards to that First Mother and the shadows the fire cast on the cave walls. This is a new and unpleasant idea; that not just half of the Speakers in the Collective Unconscious (the raped women, hand of the Goddess over them) but all of everybody (AND their children) has nightmare rememberings.

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Secondarily, there is evidence that hardship, particularly disruptive hardship (being a non-combatant in the path of war, being unhomed and made a refugee, living through a famine, being raped and losing your place in your society by it), leaves an imprint on the mother’s DNA—- the children born in the wake of those disruptions are different than those who are not. Biology supports Jung; the cruelty of man creates larger damage in the world than just the sum of their acts.

So when we look further at what is going on in today’s World Emotional Flux it seems to me that there are not one but two inflammatory decision cruxes going on all at once.

The Great Mother Earth will, if we don’t act fast to clean up our lifestyle as well as start behaving as if we all sink or swim together, flick us away with Her fingernail. There are no more new frontiers of resources and land, there are no more Empire-building plans to gradually educate the others into Proper Whiteness being accepted, there are no more excuses that we were just acting according to our nature and that the blame really lies in the actions of the victims that will be allowed. It’s the End Times for us.
What is true in small is true in large: when I used to be testifying inside the conservative small-town system I would ask the women who had just, at the coffee klatch or the Tupperware party, identified their husband as ‘treating them well’, “When you all go out as a family and have a day of adventure together, who drops into a chair with a sigh of relief when you get home and who goes and starts dinner?” Once you see it you can never again unsee it. Further, if you see the imbalance of one act/attitude/ bigoted belief you may suddenly see it all.

“He works hard…..”

“And you don’t?”

Unpaid work suddenly slides into the other side of the balance and measures itself against wage-earners. Suddenly something besides dollars earned has to be used as balance-weight. Hours worked? Tasks completed? Value of the ‘job’ balanced against the enculturation of the next generation?

But that’s true of the whole system just as it is true of each individual action; once all-women say #metoo,

“Why can’t men just treat us as people, treat us as they treat other men?”

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Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.From the troublesome memories of yesterday right back to sexual dimorphism taking away the female proto-human’s right of no, there has never been a good reason for treating one sex or some people as inherently less than the other sex or some other people. Only the ‘better’ group getting away with it is what permits it.

This is a tricky moment ‘cause that man who just has to get over it and give up his privilege and that woman who is finding a shaky solidarity with all woman-kind must ALSO immediately, no time for putting it off, drop everything and get to it, learn sharing and consideration and give up capitalism and resource extortion. We have to successfully work as a team with those exploiters and with those unappealing (for whatever specious reason) others and with those people with unjustifiable beliefs…..

Starting NOW.

 


Judith O’Grady

image1is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

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

No Individual Solutions

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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

A New Luddite Rebellion

We do not revolt because we might fail. People might get shot or imprisoned, vulnerable people might suffer more than they already do, police oppression might increase, and all that effort could be wasted forever. And though these fears have always been good fears, our reliance on technology for re-assurances of certainty has amplified our inaction.

This is not a controversial statement: if many of us can barely try a new restaurant without relying on smartphones to take away the very minimal risk of an awful meal, why would we expect ourselves to face actual, real risk?

A manifesto from Rhyd Wildermuth

“Welcome to the modern world. It’s just like the old world, except it doesn’t work.”

–Peter Grey

My friend and I were both hungry; me perhaps a bit more so since I’d been traveling all day, hadn’t eaten that morning and it was now mid-evening.

“I’ll take you to dinner,” I told him. “Somewhere close–maybe pizza.”

“Okay,” he answered, and then started looking at his phone. “This place has really good reviews. Just need to take two trains.”

I was really hungry. “How long will that take?” I asked.

“45 minutes, maybe an hour.”

I shook my head. “Seems far and will cost a lot to get there. Isn’t there a place nearby?”

It was his turn to shake his head. “None with good reviews.”

“I don’t care,” I answered, probably a bit too curtly. The hunger was irritating me greatly. “Let’s just walk to one of them.”

So we did, set out into the cold city night, finally coming to an Italian restaurant. I looked at the menu, the prices were decent. “Perfect,” I said, turning to him.

“I can’t find any reviews on Trip Advisor though,” he answered. “But there’s one about a mile from here with a lot of reviews…”

Exhausted and frustrated, I snapped back: “Food’s food. I’m buying anyway…let’s go in.”

“But it might not be good,” he replied, until suddenly seeing something on his phone that made him excited. “Nevermind, I found it. Good reviews, we can go in.”

I’ve thought about this interaction very often since it happened a few months ago. My friend isn’t stupid; in fact, he’s very intelligent, and his magical insights into the world are often quite profound. Nor is he hardly alone in succumbing to the peculiar sort of paralysis of inaction I’ve recounted here. In fact, I suffer from it often too, as no doubt you likely do.

The desire to know if something is good before you try it, to want certainty about the uncertain–that’s hardly a new thing. But what is new, deeply radically new, is our reliance on social media (and the corporations which run them) and technological devices to give us that certainty, to tell us it’s going to be okay, to remove the risk that an action might not result in the absolute best conditions.

As with a night out at a restaurant or a date with a person met online, so too with any of the actions we might take towards revolution. We look to Tumblr and Twitter to gauge the sentiment of others, to divine if our groups and theories and plans are popular enough, have all the required sign-off’s from every possible identity focus-group, and nod sagely when told ‘that won’t work’ by whichever correctly-branded social justice personality happened to come through our feed that particular minute.

We do not revolt because we might fail. People might get shot or imprisoned, vulnerable people might suffer more than they already do, police oppression might increase, and all that effort could be wasted forever. And though these fears have always been good fears, our reliance on technology for re-assurances of certainty has amplified our inaction. This is not a controversial statement: if many of us can barely try a new restaurant without relying on smartphones to take away the very minimal risk of an awful meal, why would we expect ourselves to face actual, real risk?

Those Satanic Mills

If you feel this way of critiquing technology seems bizarre, anti-modern, ‘primitive,’ or appears to ignore all the ‘good’ that technology has done, you might be tempted to describe all this as ‘luddite.’ And you’d be correct, and not in the ways most moderns have come to understand what the Luddites fought for.

The Luddites have always fascinated me. Men and women, sometimes cross-dressing, stealing into oppressive factories in the middle of the night to smash looms to stop production: that’s quite hardcore, regardless of why they did it. Besides the awesome acts of industrial sabotage, however, two other aspects of what the followers of King (or Ned, or Captain) Ludd did two hundred years ago are extremely relevant to us now.

The first aspect is their anarcho-paganism. They all claimed to follow a ghostly captain or leader who urged them on their night-time strikes against the industrialists. The stories they told about exactly who He was varied just as often as their actions: Ludd lived under a hill, or in a well, or under a church, all three places not ironically located “somewhere” in Sherwood forest, where Robin of Locksley and his fellow rogues were said to hide. Ludd was a spirit, a king, or a general (“No General But Ludd/Means The Poor Any Good” went one of their chants), or just a captain amongst them, or even the ghost of a man named Ned Ludd (killed after sabotaging a factory, goes the stories).  Like other similar groups such as the Whiteboys and Molly Maguires and Rebeccas, the Luddites invoked the mythic against capitalists and the State to great effect, at least while their resistance lasted.

And that brings me to the third aspect of the Luddite resistance, the part which I find most haunting as another year on this earth passes for me (I’m 41 today, it seems). To explain this aspect, though, we need to step back a bit and look not just at the Luddites themselves but at the era in which they fought and the strange (and eerily familiar) historical circumstances which created the world around them.

If industrial capitalism has a specific birthdate and birthplace, it was 1769 in Derbyshire, England. It was in that year and in that place the very first modern factory was built by Richard Arkwright. The sound of the factory was compared to “the devil’s bagpipes,” a fact memorialized in this poem by Lorna Smithers:

When Richard Arkwright played the devil’s bagpipes on Stoneygate a giant hush came over the town. The blistering whirring sound against the pink horizon of a sun that would not set over clear sights for two centuries of soot and smog was damnable. Yes damnable! Gathering in storm clouds over Snape Fell.

You who have seen a premonition might have heard the village seers tell of smoke for flesh charry knees and the squalor of shanty towns. Red brick mills turning satanic faces to the coin of their heliotropic sun: Empire.

Piecers running between generations bent legged beggers, tongue in cheek defiant. Weavers watching shuttles slipping through fingers like untamed flies. Luddites sweeping across greens with armaments and gritted teeth…

It took forty years for Arkwright’s new terror, “those Satanic mills” as William Blake called them in 1804, to finally spark the resistance movement known as the Luddites. In that space of time, Arkwright’s first mill multiplied into 2400 similar factories spread throughout England (mostly in the major cities), an average of 60 a year.

So, in two generations, Britain had gone from a place where there was no such thing as a factory to a place where there were several thousands. In four decades, an entire society which had started out knowing nothing about industrialization appeared to become irrevocably industrialised, and it was at that point the Luddites struck.

But why then? Why not before? And why fight what appeared to be inevitable?

Against the Modern World

A Foxconn factory (maker of most smartphones) in Wisconsin.

We must first ignore the modern interpretation of what a Luddite is. They weren’t ‘anti-technology’ or slow-to-adapt old people hopelessly left behind in a new world. Nor where they only concerned with fighting for better wages for weavers (who, before the factories, were able to support themselves and large families on the income from their specialized trade).

They were people close to my age and somewhat younger, the oldest people alive in Britain who could still remember the old world before factories, but still also young enough to actually work in them. They were a generation that stood on a threshold between the pre-industrial world and the new industrial capitalist order.

Imagine if you will what it must have been like to see your parents and the older people in your villages, towns, and cities starving because they could not or would not adapt to this brave new world. Many of them were too old, feeble, or weak-sighted to work in the factories, and anyway the factory owners preferred children as young as five to do much of the nimble work (and they couldn’t fight back). So while you see the older generation starving and destitute, you also see your own children or younger siblings coming home from the mills with broken fingers, strange bruises, and unmentionable wounds from their 14-hour day crawling under machinery to tie broken threads or retrieve loose bobbins.

And then there’s you, you and others your age, still young enough to work in many of the mills yet old enough to remember when the world wasn’t like this at all.

Now, it is almost impossible for us to imagine a world before factories, even as in many modern liberal democratic countries very few of us have actually stepped foot in one. That’s not because they aren’t around anymore: they’ve moved mostly to Asia and Africa, where exhausted workers are crammed up like cattle in a slaughterhouse to make the phone and laptops you’re probably reading this on (as well as the clothes you’re wearing, possibly the chair you’re sitting on, and most of the stuff inside the home where you lay your head at night) for little or no wages.

And it is almost impossible to imagine what society was like before the factory. What was it like to only wear clothes made by yourself or people who lived nearby? What was life like before the cities swelled with displaced peasants blinking in the light of dawn before the gates of textile and steel mills, hungry and exhausted but jostling each other in line for a job that day to feed their family? What did the streets and town squares look like at night before everyone had to wake up at dawn to go to work? How did we relate to each other before wages became the only way to survive? And what did society look like before mass-production, when no one ever wore the same thing, when ‘pre-packaged experiences,’ monoculture, and conformity were literally impossible?

It is almost impossible to imagine the world before factories.

Almost, but not completely.

Because we are living in a similar world to what the Luddites experienced.

“All that is sacred is profaned…”*

(* from The Communist Manifesto)

If you can pinpoint any places in western history where technology severely altered the way human society functioned, I suspect there are three. The most obvious one is the industrial revolution, which was also the birth of capitalism. The one before that changed the world as well (but much more slowly) was the invention of the printing press, which gave to early merchants and the bourgeoisie the power to disseminate literature outside the strictures of religious and royal decree. And while we tend to see that invention as a net gain for humanity, we must remember that mass-printing and distribution has always been primarily in the hands of the rich, with the rest of us merely passive consumers.

The third–well, that’s the era we’re in now, the computer/internet ‘revolution.’

The first ‘node-to-node’ digital communication happened in 1969, 200 years after from the birth of Richard Arkwright’s steam-powered looming frame. But being military technology, it took more than a decade for that technology to filter out to non-military capitalists and become the ‘World Wide Web.’ In the following decades, we’ve gone from a world where random (“risky”) human interactions occurred only in public spaces to one where most such interactions now occur ‘online.’ Here’s some other stuff that has changed:

  • 30 years ago, there were no smartphones or texting; in 2015, 98% of all Americans 18-29 years old had a cellphone.
  • 17 years ago there was no Wikipedia, 14 years ago there was no such thing as Facebook, 12 years ago no Twitter, 11 years ago no Tumblr, and 7 years ago no Instagram.
  • In 1984 only 8% of US homes had a computer of any sort; in 2010, 77% did.

These are all merely statistics about technological saturation; they tell us only as much as the figures about factories in England between 1769 and 1810 told us. But we don’t need to dig very far to understand that this technological change has radically altered what it means to be a human in a capitalist society.

For instance: before cellphones, you could only be reached at home. That meant if you needed to wait for a call you had to stay by the phone, but it also meant that your life was less likely to revolve around the ability of someone to get a hold of you immediately. There was no expectation that your attention could be gotten at any hour of the day because such a thing was impossible.

Before texting and email there were letters. You had to take the time to decide what you were going to say to someone, write it out on paper, post it in the mail, and then wait some amount of time for a reply. Thus human interactions were slower and more ponderous and most of all more intentional. Even the angriest of letters wouldn’t arrive until the next day at the earliest, and this slowness meant there was always at least a little time to rethink your immediate fury, unlike now with our instantaneous ‘send’ buttons.

Social media, however, probably represents the largest shift in how we relate to each other and also how we see ourselves. To have large groups of friends you had to do stuff for them, and with them, call them on weekends or send them letters, catch up with them for coffee or go to their parties or invite them for dinner, take vacations to see them or host them in your home. Now you need only post an update and read theirs to feel you’ve performed acts of friendship.

Accompanying that shift has been an increasing feeling of isolation and alienation. So many people now self-diagnose with introversion (as with trauma, or social anxiety, or many other ailments) that one wonders how humans ever managed to talk to each other before the internet.

The general response to this apparent increase in alienation is to state it has always been there, that being connected to each other more via the internet has helped us talk about it more, and that anyway we are #Blessed the internet came around to let us all be social despite our fear and misanthropy.

But in this case particularly, those of us who stand on the same threshold of change that the Luddites also stood upon cannot help but remember–we all did fine without social media. Better, even. We got over our shyness and anxiety because we had to, and the internet appears to have merely enabled us to not get over such things, to not address our social anxiety and fear of rejection and instead hide safely behind a screen.

Before the internet, binge-watching television (“Netflix and chill”) or staring at a screen for hours a day was a sign you’d given up on yourself and the world around you, were depressed and really just needed a friendly face or to go for a walk. They were symptoms of serious depression, indications that some large issue in your life has been unaddressed for too long and the things to ‘get you through’ had become addictions which prevented you from seeking help.

Now those things are all proud marks of ‘self-care’ enabled by technology without which we’d all surely be miserable, lonely humans. Nevermind that we are still miserable, lonely humans, and probably more so now.

Non-Binary Poly Radical #Blessed Vegan Cruelty-Free #Resister Queer Theorist Influencers Unite!™

Less controversial but even more unaddressed is what this new ‘technological revolution’ has done to our ability to survive, to earn enough money to eat and pay rent. The much-vaunted and ridiculous ‘internet of things’ has made it so we rarely get to ‘own’ the things we pay capitalists for, and must re-sell parts of ourselves constantly in order to compensate for dwindling wages and no savings. This is the curse of the ‘millenial’ (a marketing term that, like so much else, somehow became a ‘fact’ in capitalist society)–to have no steady income but to have thousands of Instagram followers in the hopes of one day having enough to be an ‘influencer’. To face insurmountable college debt and no way to secure housing but to get thousands of retweets on Twitter.

It is not just the fate of millenials. I’ve had two posts shared over 100,000 times and one seen by 1.5 million people. And yet I haven’t been able to afford eating more than twice a day in years, and have been nomadic for the last five years because 1.5 million views doesn’t pay rent.

The answer to the poverty experienced by more and more people (again–not just millenials) is to ‘monetize’ your life. Or as put in a rather brilliant essay about nomads like myself at It’s Going Down (“Living In A Van Down By The Instagram”):

The point here is not to whine about how we all can’t be special snowflakes or social media super-stars; the point is to state that capital is colonizing all aspects of our lives, including online worlds, and attempting to make us in turn generate profit, content, and value during all waking moments, either online or off. And, there’s no better backdrop to do this than when we are constantly traveling, as we in turn are utilizing and activating our social networks for the sake of monetizing them. Thus, we are pushed to take photos and tag corporations in the hopes that maybe one day we could get $50 for a sponsored post. To fundamentally turn ourselves, and our lives, into brands.

As was pointed out in the new book, Now, by the Invisible Committee, this has become both the economic baseline as well as central anxiety of our time. We aren’t just driving somewhere and enjoying a podcast or randomly picking up a hitch hiker, we are instead missing out on an opportunity to sell our labor power for Uber or Lyft. We aren’t taking photos to share with loved ones, we are building up our brand and trying to gain followers, which we will then sell to multinational corporations. This is the logic of the gig economy applied to all aspects of our lives, at all times, and in all scenarios.

To monetize yourself, though, requires you make yourself more sell-able, becoming a brand, a product, constantly adapting to market demands. Or as Badean wrote in “Identity In Crisis:”, in the Journal of Queer Nihilism:

“The collapse of traditional subject positions is managed through the proliferation of a new positions: app designers, graphic designers, cyber sex workers, queer theorists, feminist publishers, social network engineers, trend hunters, eBay sellers, social justice activists, performance artists, porn directors, spammers, party promoters, award winning baristas.

We are forced to continually define ourselves, to enact countless operations upon ourselves so as to produce ourselves anew each day as someone worth taking to market — our basic survival depends on the ceaseless deployment of increasingly discreet technologies of the self.

Everything is for sale: our sex appeal, our fetishes, our tattoos, our radicalism, our fashion sense, our queerness, our androgyny, our fitness, our fluidity, our abnormality, our sociability. Facebook and Twitter function as the new resume.

We are caught in the unending necessity to be continually educating, training, exploring, perfecting, and fine-tuning ourselves. Our continual self-invention is both economic imperative and economic engine.”

No doubt this seems dire enough, but one more dark truth emerges from this constant race. Because if we are constructing our identities in order to become more sale-able to people (be that for money or Facebook likes or even just to be noticed in this new hyper-gendered micro-radical hierarchy of new identities), how do we even know who we are anymore?

To be honest, I don’t always know. I am a radical queer anarchist pagan nomad punk fag brother boyfriend theorist bard druid, but none of that actually tells me what I am, only the hashtags people might use to define me on a social media post. Labels that once gave meaning now become indelible brandings. Try to shift any of those identities and the world (or the social media world, anyway) pushes back…hard. And just as often, those labels themselves are fiercely contested: I cannot count how many times I’ve been told I’m too ‘masculine-presenting’ to be allowed to use the term queer.

So who am I? Who gets to decide? And why are we using capitalist tools to mediate those discussions in the first place? Or is it possible it’s those very tools which have triggered these crises in the first place?

Not All Revolutions Are Good

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

(The Communist Manifesto)

The shift wrought by internet technology wherein identity is now the very battlefield of our ability to survive in the world may seem utterly different from any other struggle which has come before. In context of the struggle the Luddites and the early communists and anarchists fought, however, not much has really changed.

The rise of industrial capitalism triggered vast shifts in social relations which are to this day still being constantly disrupted. It should thus be no surprise to us that ‘disruptive technology’ is a statement of pride for many of the new architects of this current upheaval, an upheaval in which we also take part when we celebrate the destruction of older forms of relating (binary gender, hetero-normative society, class-based politics). What ‘good’ comes from these disruptions unfortunately seems fleeting and probably is. Because while it is a beautiful thing that acceptance of gender variance and queer sexuality have become so prominent, it’s a sick joke to say a poor queer or trans person desperately trying to pay rent by sleeping on a friend’s couch while letting out their bedroom on AirBnb, turning tricks on TaskRabbit or bareback hookup apps, and desperately looking for the perfect filter to get their Instagram account another 100 followers has somehow had their life ‘improved’ by these disruptions.

Yet, to this current horror in which we all find ourselves, perhaps the Luddites might shrug and say, “at least you didn’t have time forced upon you.” Because along with ‘disruption’ of the factory from hand-craft and laborer to factory and wage-slave came the beginning of an oppressive order of time.

Clocks became no longer curiosities but requirements. Suddenly, knowing if it was half-past eight or just ‘morning’ became the crucial difference between feeding your family for a day or starving on the street. Time literally had to be disciplined into us during the birth of industrialization, often times by christian moralists like John Wesley working on behalf of the factory owners.  Time became something that you “spent” rather than something that passed, work became measured not by what needed doing according to the season but what the factory boss demanded you do within a set number of hours.

Before industrialization, work was task-oriented. You planted at some times of the year, harvested at others, ground wheat and fixed carts, wove cloth and made clothes not when an arbitrary number declared it was ‘time’ to do so but when the thing itself needed doing. And work itself was determined by how long you wanted to take doing the task, not how many hours the boss said you needed to stand at a counter or else be fired.

When attempting to imagine what that world was like (not very long ago), we tend to imagine it for ourselves, what our own life might have been like. Harder to imagine, however, is what all of society itself was like without clocks as over-seers. Imagine then what life would be like if not just you but all your friends and all the people in your town lived life without clocks, and you get a little closer to understanding precisely what the Luddites were fighting for.

A New Luddite Rebellion

It was against such radical, world-altering shifts that the Luddites broke into factories at night, smashing looms. One imagines they wanted their time back, they wanted their children and parents back, wanted the ability to survive without working in factories back. They wanted back the rich texture of a society where you knew the people who made your clothes, talked to the people who grew your food, or were those people themselves.

We are living in another such time. People older than me lived most of their childhoods without the internet and do not (or cannot) adapt to a world where everything about them is on display, sold piecemeal through Facebook updates and Instagram photos.

Those much younger than me do not know a world without cellphones, do not remember that it was possible to make new friends and meet amazing lovers without connecting first to an always-on device in your pocket. How many of them know you can arrive by train to a foreign city with just a paper map and a notebook and have the best trip of your life?  How many will ever get a chance to experience what it was like to not just survive but actually have a pretty decent life in a city on less than full-time, barely-above minimum wage as I did in Seattle 15 years ago? And most of all, how many of them will ever know that risk and uncertainty is not something to be avoided at all costs but very often the thing which makes life worth living in the first place?

I barely remember what that was like.

I also barely remember what it was like to be anonymous, to have hours and hours of free time without devices I felt like I needed always to be looking at, constantly notifying me that emails and texts and retweets and messages are coming in. To have long conversations with strangers while waiting for a bus, to make new friends on the walk to work or find an awesome lover by chance while whiling away the day at a cafe. And most of all, I barely remember what it was like to know who I am without labels–to not need to call myself anything but my name, and have that be enough.

I want that all back. If you are close in age to me, you probably do to. If you are younger than me and don’t know what that was like, perhaps my telling of it is enough to entice you to want it also, and if you are older than me you might be shaking your head, having already mourned what’s been lost.

More than anything, we need this all back. Not just our time (consumed constantly by always-on devices and relentless updates). Not just our Selves (boxed in, categorized, labeled and shelved by any number of ‘identities.’). Not just our ability to pay rent and eat and still have enough money left over to enjoy the ever-dwindling number of months and days we have on this earth. Not just all that, but we need our will back, our reckless desire to act in the face of risk and uncertainty, the chaotic and unscripted interactions between ourselves and the world which make our lives not just exciting, but mythic.

And therein’s the key to the ritual invocation we must perform to take back what we’ve watched slowly sold off of our lives with each new screech of the devil’s bagpipes. There are spirits, gods, and ancestors who keep the memory of the old worlds even as we forget. Ludd was one, and though his followers failed to stop the horror born of the factories in England, some of us still remember their attempt. Be it Ludd or the Raven King, Brighid or Dionysos, or perhaps all the old gods and heroes summoned together, we can make another go at stopping this new horror waking upon the world. From the shattered remains of the past we can reconstruct a new resistance against this increasingly senseless drive towards self-as-product.

And if we fail, we will no doubt be smeared by many for being ‘anti-modern’ just as the Luddites were, dismissed and forgotten by many others, but definitely remembered by some, just as the Luddites are still remembered now.

We may indeed fail. The risks are very, very great, and there’s no Trip Advisor listing to assure us that there will be good food and pleasant ambiance after our uprising. Perhaps our failures will be re-tweeted across the world, Facebook Live videos streaming our defeat to countless millions using greasy thumbs to scroll through the comments. We’ll lose Instagram followers and potential Influencer sponsorships while the rich and powerful of the world destroy more forests, gun down more poor people, and start more wars.

We probably won’t win. But I’m gonna try anyway, because I want my life back.

And maybe you do, too.


Rhyd Wildermuth

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


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The Striptease That Was Blamed on Abū Bakr’s Naughty Son

“In an age where all our movements and words are tracked, and in which internet call-out culture and aggressive trolls make it difficult for any would-be dissident to express viewpoints that fall outside of party lines, it seems timely to be reminded of the poetry of Al-Andalus and in particular that of arguably its most saucey knave.”

From Slippery Elm

Picture1

When the young prince arrived perched atop his thoroughbred steed, with his mouth of ambergris and his teeth a string of pearls curled into a smile, and began to unbutton his fine linen sūsīya shirt just so, and to expose the moon coloured upper reaches of his shank, just above where it was bronzed by sunbeams or henna—the poet Ibn Quzmān had fallen in love. Oh, if it wasn’t for fear of the lad’s father, the powerful noble, Abū Bakr!

The images with which I open this piece are drawn directly from a poem by the notorious andalusī poet Ibn Quzmān (d. 1160). It is a curious poem, this. Formally a zajal, yet with some features that make it closer to a muwashshah, it is a mock panegyric which becomes a mock satire which becomes a mock panegyric and on and on, allowing the poet to satirize his ‘patron’ and subvert his authority right under his nose, and still end up getting paid for it.

Ibn Quzmān is famous for his expertise at composing poems in the zajal form, a type of sung strophic poem written in a ‘popular’ or colloquial vernacular of Arabic that often included loan words from Romance, and whose content frequently dealt with the taboo themes of wine, love, and sex. He is also famous for seeming to take delight in subverting the authorities of his day at every chance he could get, for his intense love of wine and for gleefully boasting of his sexual adventures with all manner of women and men, regardless of their class, ethnic, or religious background. While scholars have their theories, exactly how he was able to go about his drunken weaving way through the streets of Córdoba and Sevilla singing his wine-soaked songs on corners and in the marketplace during the reign of the Almoravids without getting his head lopped off continues to amaze us.

As many contributors to Gods and Radicals are poets not only dedicated to the multiplication of beauty in the world, but to employing the satirical register to curse our enemies—the high priests of capitalism and their pseudo-religious puppets—we can learn a lot from Ibn Quzmān, a true master of the subtleties of satire. In an age where all our movements and words are tracked, and in which internet call-out culture and aggressive trolls make it difficult for any would-be dissident to express viewpoints that fall outside of party lines, it seems timely to be reminded of the poetry of Al-Andalus and in particular that of arguably its most saucey knave.

In addition to a discussion of some of Ibn Quzmān’s poetry, this piece is intended to be a work of banishing, to dispel some of the misconceptions that have been sold to us about Al-Andalus in particular and classical Islamic civilization in general. A further intention will be revealed toward the end of this inanna-dance of rent illusions, as the misconceptions finish their fall to the ground around us garment by garment.

Ibn Quzmān has been referred to by some researchers as ‘a prince of disorder’. He often boasted of his great appetites for love and wine, his masterful poetic prowess, his blond hair and dashing good looks. His literary idol was that other great saucey knave of Arabic literature, a poet both simultaneously hated and loved—Abū Nuwās. It would certainly be reasonable to award Ibn Quzmān the title of ‘Abū Nuwās of the West’.

Citing a few verses from the poem which the anthologists title “Zajal no. 90” would be a fitting way to introduce this colourful character to a pagan and pagan friendly audience.

For me to repent would indeed be absurd,
And my survival without a wee drink would be a mistake.
Wine! Wine! Ignore what others say.
In my view, it would be folly to give up depravity!

Hey, let us clink glasses together in a toast!
Drunkenness! Drunkenness! What is soberness to us?
And, whenever you wish to take a morning drink,
Wake me up at dawn’s early light.

Take my cash, and spend it on wine,
And my clothes, and divide them up among whores,
And assure me that my approach is correct;
I have never gone wrong in doing this!

And when I die, my style of burial
Will be to lie neath a vine in the vineyard,
While you gather grape-leaves over me as a shroud,
And on my head let there be a turban of tendrils.

Let the Evil One summon all my dear friends there.
Commend me to Him at all moments,
And whoever eats a bunch of grapes,
Let him plant the stem on my grave!

I’ll pour Your [i.e. the Evil One’s] great gift of joy from the krater itself:
Take Your glass, raise it high, and empty it.
How good is that gift of joy with which You favoured us!
Whatever You command, will be done by me!

After the request is made to his companions to perform this rather devilish, bacchic ritual on the poet’s grave after he dies, he then goes on to describe a night of rollicking sex he had with a Berber lass, and the food fight and brawl with her husband and family that ensues the morning after. Here I will spare the reader the graphic descriptions the poet gives of their genitals when aroused, or the precise ‘honey-sweet’ manner in which he claims they fucked. Interested readers can look for this poem themselves in Arabic or in Spanish (trans. by F. Corriente) or the English version I’ve drawn upon here, translated by Monroe. Any pursuer of Ibn Quzmān’s dīwān however will discover that he wrote plenty more poems similar to this one.

The astonishing thing is that what at first seems a tasteless macho boast about his night of love, if we scratch below the surface, with the help of Monroe’s detailed analysis of all the poem’s contradictions and ins and outs, we see how while ostensibly trying to poke fun at the Berbers, the aims of the poet are actually to subtly criticize the anti-Berber sentiments and prejudices commonplace among his andalusī contemporaries. The poem is a ruse, and though it might have been based on some real events, in this case the poet’s misadventure likely never took place, at least in the way he relates it. It was crafted with a political purpose in mind.

Written in an age when the Christian crowns to the North were becoming increasingly aggressive, our poet is making a plea to the diverse ethnicities and followers of different religions that made up andalusī society to put aside their differences and unite against the advances of what at this point in the history of Al-Andalus was mostly a common enemy. It’s true the Almoravids in some ways did not do good service to the cultural achievements and ‘religious tolerance’ of the Umayyad and taifa sovereigns that reigned in Al-Andalus before them (i.e. by burning books, destroying ornate palaces, and massacring groups of people who weren’t like them) but in painting a more nuanced picture of these veiled invaders (the Almoravid men were famous for covering their faces with veils) the poet is actually way ahead of his time. Arabic philology is still to some extent plagued by the prejudices of last century and earlier. That Arab culture is the high and the exquisite, and that andalusī arabized culture especially is tolerant and more ‘Western’ compared to the ‘barbaric’ ways of the African Berbers. Naturally there is much more complexity to this and as the new generation of philologists starts to come into its own I predict there will be more studies that come out challenging this overly simplified dialectic.

While for those who are dedicated to studying these things it’s become normal, our daily bread and olive oil per se, some readers are likely surprised to hear about so much wine and illicit sex (illicit from a hardline religious perspective) in a primarily Muslim society, or to hear that this society had a very diverse ethnic make up.

Our enemies have sold us an imaginary line in the sand with ‘light-skinned’ Christians to the North and ‘dark’ Muslims to the South, as if both of these societies were totally homogenous, when nothing could be farther from the truth. In Al-Andalus, while culturally and politically dominant, ethnic Arabs who had come from the East were a minority (and even within this minority alone there were tribal differences and different regions of origin and so on). The majority of the population were the same old mix of Iberian peoples (with all the influences from all the various peoples and civilizations that had come through the Iberian peninsula and left their mark, Iberian, Ibero-Celtic, Phoenician, Jewish, Roman, Visigoth, Byzantine, Berber, Arab etc) who had at this point in history become arabized in culture, customs, and language. Some were muwalladūn (s. muwallad), arabized Iberians (often Goths or Hispano-Romans) who had converted to Islam. Others were what has come to be called mozarabs, arabized Christians. Others were arabized Jews or arabized Berbers (or non-arabized Berbers in the case of the Almoravids). Others still were sub-saharan Africans or arabized Nordic or Slavic peoples.

These last three groups mainly came to be in Al-Andalus due to the slave trade (reminder, the English word ‘slave’ comes from Slav). Many were kept as eunuchs but the arabized Slavs did come to power for a time in the taifa of Almería. It has even been postulated that Ibn Quzmān’s name is an arabization of the germanic surname Guttman (which might explain his alleged blond hair, although I’m not entirely convinced by this theory).

Even in the Christian crowns to the North that were not arabized, various kings and popes at different times tried to enforce members of each religion to wear special clothing to distinguish them from one another (people didn’t always go along with this). The idea was that rather than there being clear dividing lines between light and dark, everyone pretty much looked, dressed, and acted the same, hence the need for other items of clothing to enable the political and religious authorities to detect those differences between people and in so doing, profit off of them.

Some apologist researchers today (usually with right-wing orientations or orthodox religious affiliations) claim that all of the erotic poetry and especially the homoerotic poetry that was written in Al-Andalus, and indeed the wider Islamic world, was all just make believe, or just jokes, or that the male pronouns are masks for lovers who were actually female. It is true in some cases that male pronouns were used to disguise a female beloved, but in other cases this argument becomes futile when descriptions of the beloveds are made that include explicitly male attributes like beards or phalluses, or when the beloveds are compared to well known male cultural figures like Moses or David.

It is true that we should be cautious about taking every poem as autobiographical reality (as we noted in the case above) but the existence of wine parties, homoerotic relationships and other types of taboo sex in Al-Andalus (and classical Islamic civilization in general) are thoroughly documented in a wealth of sources besides the poetry, such as in anecdotes, and works by the historians of the day among others (i.e. al-Maqqari). I do not mean to insinuate that Al-Andalus was a drunken fuck fest, but to dispel the common misconception about classical Islamic societies being strictly puritanical and/or ‘homophobic’.

When islamophobic (and often right-wing) historians draw on the widespread homoerotic motifs in Arabic literature as a way to degrade Islamic civilization, they ought to take a closer look at the Greeks and Romans whom they idolize, with their famous love for ephebes and ganymedes…

The same goes for when islamophobes and ‘anti-arab’ writers insist that all of the cultural and scientific advances of classical Islamic civilization were made by thinkers who weren’t ‘ethnically’ Arab (for example, Persians). It is true that many ‘non-ethnic’ Arabs produced great works of science and philosophy, but just because they were born outside of the Arabian peninsula or were of a different ‘ethnicity’ is irrelevant. For better or for worse they were arabized, Arabic speaking, and belonged to the same cultural milieu. How many luminaries of Greek or Roman civilization were actually from Anatolia, Syria or Northern Africa? Plenty! Or even, as in the case of Seneca, from places as far afield as Córdoba? The same place, strangely, where Ibn Quzmān would be born centuries later… No one who fetishizes ‘Western’ civilization would ever question the ‘romanness’ of their idols. And for good reason, while from disparate places, they were all romanized, and part of the greater Roman world.

Some left-oriented writers could also benefit from getting over a few too-often touted exaggerations of their own. For example, that Al-Andalus was a cultural and ethnic utopia and a place where women were ‘liberated’ more so than they were in the East. This is simply untrue. We are talking about a period of about 800 years. Different regimes came and went. Under some, different ethnic groups got along better; under others, less so.

Similar to other Mediterranean societies of the time, at least “officially” the society of Al-Andalus was undoubtably a ‘man’s world’ in which sexual hierarchies rotated around an axis of ‘politics of penetration’. However, there are of course many nuances to this, plenty of exceptions, and a noteworthy number of women (many of them poets) who defied these norms. It might be untrue to say that women were better off in Al-Andalus compared to the eastern regions of the Islamic world at the time (not to mention we’d have to define what ‘better off’ means in the first place), but the relatively high number of woman poets and women in positions of power in Al-Andalus compared to other Islamic societies contemporary to it should at least give us reason for pause.

Does it make our arguments any less strong if we are realistic, say, about the number of books in al-Hakam II’s library? (The previously oft-cited 60,000 is probably closer to 600). Doing the best we can to get our history right can only make our arguments stronger. Even if it was only 600 books, it still likely would have been one of the biggest (if not the biggest) and most important libraries on the European continent at that time.

Another misconception is that, although there might have been ethnic diversity in Al-Andalus, the different ethnicities did not mix or interact with one another. This is utter nonsense. How many right wing or orthodox Jews and Christians, for example, continue to paint the illustrious andalusī Hebrew poet Yehuda Ha-Levi as some sort of ‘proto-zionist’ and yet totally ignore, censure, or deny the great wealth of wine and love poetry (in which figure both male and female beloveds) that he dedicated to his fellow Muslim courtly courtiers at court? Does this make him any less of a Jew? Does this mean he loved Zion less?

These things continue to be denied at all costs by some because it would in many ways nullify their political rhetoric and rattle their religious and ethnic identities. Even Isabel the Catholic, who, with Ferdinand, is famous for finally taking control of the last remaining corner of Al-Andalus—The Nasrid Kingdom of Granada—and for eventually expelling the Jews from the Iberian peninsula, had a Jewish gynaecologist in her personal employ.

Furthermore, the numerous normative texts left behind by the religious and political authorities from each of the three Abrahamic religions are proof that romantic relations across ethnic and religious divides were a widespread and significant problem (in their eyes, of course), such that they were kept busy writing laws and making decrees to try and keep it under control. Strangely, these same authorities were fine with their male coreligionists keeping concubines belonging to one of the other two religions (from which many an ‘illegitimate’ child was born), while attempting to guard their female coreligionists from contact with men of the other two religions at all costs.

Having now been acquainted with Ibn Quzmān and (hopefully) having dispelled a few misconceptions regarding Al-Andalus let us return to the striptease with which we began.

In premodern Islamic civilization there was no word for ‘homosexual’ hence my choice to use homoerotic here. Although it was religiously proscribed and could be punishable by death, desire from a man toward another man was not considered psychopathic (as in Christianity) but natural, derivative of or comparable to the same desire a man might feel toward a woman. However, the permissibility (or not) of sexual relations rotated around an axis of a politics of penetration. This is to say that in male-male sex, the penetratee would have been more severely punished than the penetrator. Likewise in female-female sex, the penetrator (if any) would have been punished more than the penetratee for upsetting gender norms. Furthermore, men of higher class could usually get away with penetrating younger men or men of lower classes without it being frowned upon.

In saying that Abū Bakr’s son is a flirt and a dandy with whom he wants to romance (not to mention one of a higher class), Ibn Quzmān is indirectly satirizing his father. Yet he is also turning the politics of penetration on its head by offering himself as sex object to the whims of this younger man.

In his excellent essay “The Striptease That Was Blamed on Abū Bakr’s Naughty Son: Was Father Being Shamed or Was the Poet Having Fun?” Monroe gives the following commentary:

By couching his rebellion in the form of a pseudo-panegyric that is, in reality, a satire against a member of the ruling class, the voice speaking in Ibn Quzmān’s poem carries its rebellion one step closer to total anarchy, attempting through subversion of the genre to disrupt the entire social order. However, the speaker’s program is presented from the very outset as unsuccessful. He is doomed to failure in his attempt to win the boy’s favours because of his prudent, pusillanimous, and decidedly unheroic fear of Abū Bakr, if for no other reason. Thus it may be concluded that the speaker’s anarchic program is being presented ironically, as one of which the implied author heartily disapproves. In this sense, Ibn Quzmān’s Zajal No. 133 seems to validate the eternal truth contained in the Qur’ān, to be far less licentious than a preliminary reading might suggest. Paradoxically, licentiousness, insofar as it is presented as being unsuccessful, may in certain cases have the ritual function of reaffirming the very values it seems to flout.

And yet, this is all part of the plan. Monroe continues:

A mock panegyric, such as Zajal No. 133, has the potential to become a satire…But if, as in this case, the satire is also undercut, what does it become?—a mock satire with the potential to become a true panegyric? Since that panegyric is also undercut, the poem becomes a satire that is a panegyric that is a satire that is a panegyric that is a satire that is a panegyric, with no amen. Thus the poet has found a unique way to circumscribe his patron with a vicious circle from which he cannot escape and within which he is rendered utterly neutral and helpless. The poem is therefore an instrument for patronly entrapment: having been roundly insulted, the patron must now graciously pay the poet for his efforts while secretly remaining thankful that matters have gone no further. In this sense, the poem illustrates the poet’s superiority over the patron, based upon the poet’s unique mastery of words. But when a superior poet praises an inferior patron, the genre of panegyric has been totally inverted.

Ibn Quzmān has cast a binding spell. And like any good magician, he has also used his wits and a dash of trickery to neutralize his adversary. By the time Abū Bakr realizes what’s going on, it’s too late. Our poet has effectively snared his ‘patron’ in a lyric brocade and has him at his mercy.

In proposing we can learn from Ibn Quzmān, I don’t mean to imply we have to go out and peddle our poetry to this ‘patron’ or that, although studying his work would of course be helpful to any recalcitrant poet who ekes out a living with her craft yet at the same time will never compromise her poetic principles.

More so, what I want to draw our attention to are some of the techniques he uses. Ring composition, unsaying away his satire and his panegyric ad infinitum, and the potent mix of inversion, wine, and taboo sex to undermine authority. This is beginning to sound a lot like witchcraft.

Wine, poetry, and ‘illegitimate’ sex are all proscribed in the Qur’ān. Not least of the reasons why being that they are strongly associated with the pagan rituals of the jāhilīya (lit. ignorance: Age of Ignorance; pre-Islamic Arabia). Many of the poetic forms most typical of Arabic poetry—like the qasīda for example—actually arose out of whole ritual frameworks and poetics of gesture and movement. Anyone who’s read the sūra known as al-Shu’arā’ or ‘The Poets’ knows that the Qur’ān makes poets out to be liars and cheats. The common pre-Islamic image of the poet in the Arabian peninsula was that of a wandering sage or magician, sputtering out poems and prophecies, who’s powers of eloquence and strength of vision were said to have been bestowed upon him or her due to undergoing possession by jinn.

Which brings me to the historic moment we’re at now. It appears we’re experiencing a turning point in magic (which of course, therefore, has potent political implications as well!) accentuated by the forthcoming publication of Rain al-Alim’s Jinn Sorcery slated for release on Scarlet Imprint sometime this Spring.

I imagine many ‘Western’ readers will discover that something that has been made out to be so foreign is really much more familiar than we think. For truly, the jinn are all around us. Whether in the form of stray dogs, hot eddies of wind, or waiting in line right next to you to buy goods at a market stall. For I have heard say in the Maghreb that at every market 2/3 people that are there are actually jinn in disguise.

To illustrate this further I will make a somewhat picaresque confession: I have watched a significant portion of The Fellowship of the Ring in Arabic. It was fascinating to note that the word the translators used in this particular version to denote ‘elf’ (i.e. Legolas) was jinn. The idea that the elves and fairies of the ‘West’ are the same as, or are at least related to, the jinn is not some fantastical orientalist cut-and-paste job, but something affirmed by the very cultures to which the jinn belong. I am not saying that a jinn is identical to a fairy. However, the parallels are too striking to overlook and are certainly worthy of prolonged reflection.

I hope this present piece, and other installments of my little rasā’il (s. risāla) series lend a wind toward the conjuration of the coming sandstorm. And may that storm erode the outworn bars that have kept us prisoner from each other for far too long, that have kept us from seeking intimacy and companionship instead of strife and distraction, while our enemies are free to profit off our fear and hate unopposed; the iron bars and barbed-wire walls that uphold the edifice of empire, greed, and burning disdain for all of life—both human and non-human.

Now that it’s time to part, we will do so in the same way we have met. With a striptease.

In a famous anecdote about al-Mu’taman, one of the Hūdī kings of Zaragoza during the taifa period, the sovereign and his poet-courtiers are out wandering in the meadows looking for an ideal place to have a drinking party. His charming young Cupbearer (who happens to be a Christian in this case) finds the perfect place and in exchange al-Mu’taman orders all of the revellers to obey him. He himself declares himself the lad’s slave, and is totally smitten with love for him (another topsy turvy subversion of the pecking order, typical in taifa court culture).

For Ibn Quzmān the employment of taboo topoi in his poems was about political subversion, and yet at the same time about something more. However, for these taifa poet-courtiers, these borderline-heretic devotees of the cult of pleasure and religion of love, these topoi were also about political subversion, and yet at the same time about something more. While the Qur’ān proscribes wine and beautiful virgins (both male and female) in this world, both wine and virgins are available in bountiful supply in the world to come, where wine flows in a river and ephebes dressed in emerald gowns are available to attend to the delights of the faithful who have made it in to Heaven. Therefore, the taifa drinking party also had a subversive mystical element: it was about invoking paradise in the here and now, which through the magic of poetry, is transformed into the nowhere and always.

On with the anecdote. The Cupbearer, now revealed to be a bestower of immortality, begins to remove his armour and garments.

The authors of this anecdote use a curious string of religious symbolism when referring to him, not least of which using the word zāhir (exterior) to refer to his clothes, and bātin (interior) to refer to his body. You might recognize these words as also referring to two schools of Qur’anic exegesis, the zāhirī (or exoteric) which takes things at face value, and the bātinī (or esoteric) which searches for hidden meanings beyond the veil of the text.

This anecdote touches on something that witches will no doubt find familiar. Wine, that red spirit of sex and war captured in a goblet, effects the soul, not the body. Like those of sex, the pleasures of wine are primarily spiritual, not physical. For if wine were to solely effect the flesh and not the spirit, it would be contradicting its own raison d’etre.

The striptease in the sense of shedding exoteric religious identity in search of a deeper truth is something common to mystics the world over. Particularly in those who employ an apophatic discourse. In keeping with our andalusī theme, we will turn to Ibn ‘Arabī, who seems to ask:

When the fetters and trappings of religious identities and customs fall away, if only temporarily, what’s left? What are the common jewels that shine there at the heart, often obscured by so many layers of cultural and political filigree?

May his immortal words ring out in the olive groves:

Marvel, a garden among the flames.
My heart has become receptive of every form.
It is a meadow for gazelles, a monastery for monks,
An abode of idols, the Ka’ba of the pilgrim
The tables of the Torah, the book of the Qur’ān
My religion is love. Wherever its camel mounts turn
That is my belief, my faith.
We have a model in Bishr, Hind, and her sister,
In Qays [aka Majnūn] and Layla, Mayya and Ghaylan.

So let us be like wild eyed Majnūn (whose name is often translated as ‘crazy’; but literally means be-jinned; bewitched), and ever be consumed by the spirit of love; oh cooling flood, oh black fistful of loam, oh fire that casts no smoke!


Slippery Elm

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Slippery Elm’s poetry and prose in English and Spanish have appeared in dozens of journals and anthologies in both Europe and North America. He has performed as a part of flamenco groups in Europe, Africa, and North America, in courtly settings, as well as in the streets, by hearth corner, and under leaf. He is the editor and translator of the poetry anthology Your Death Full of Flowers and the author of two pocket poetry books. He compliments his poetry and dance by studying Arabic and Hebrew philologies.


 

An Authentic Soul

Rudely disobeying the fuck out of all that seeks to control.

From Rude Dao

Authenticity is all too rare these days. The individual becomes conquered by society. Hobbies give way to labor. Individual thought becomes entangled with the beast we know as ‘society,’ and is processed into simple-minded, compliant drudgery. Love becomes more of a social norm; almost mandatory. The cliché maintains. Get a job. Contribute to society. Get married. Get a home. Continue societal contribution. Teach offspring the typical, societally accepted path of modernity. Die. This is the reality of most who live in any industrialized society. And it’s oddly accepted.

First, I’d like to give a little background on myself so that my direction can be more personally understood by readers. I lived a relatively sheltered life. I didn’t live in poverty (although my family struggled). I went to school like all the other kids. I was intimidated into christianity because, you know, burning for eternity didn’t sound too enticing. And family is always right, right?

I was taught to always respect authority- without question. If they demand it, you do it. I was told that I was to always be honest, regardless of circumstances. I basically ratted myself out to my mom any time I thought I was doing something ‘wrong.’ And having a very Christian mother, as some can surely testify, almost everything besides worship is wrong.

Then, came highschool. The clusterfuck of institutional learning. At first, I was bullied. I was anti-social. I did not fit in. The clique culture was rather drab to me. So, I continued on the usual path. Comply, ‘learn’, go home, sleep, repeat. Eventually, I met some people who did things differently. Skip school, party, adventure, whatever. The people I started to associate with, although they were sketchy and ultimately awful friends, had one thing in common: they lived as they wished. While I now resent all these people as they’ve turned out to be nothing more than a pack of manipulators, cowards, and traitorous snitches, I can say that I learned a lot. I began doing as I wished. I started slacking in school. I had no personal dilemma in dodging class. In hitting up parties. In avoiding that scary, scary curfew. The time for being manipulated by family, school, religion, and society in general, had ended.

I found myself- as in, I became unique and rebellious. Even though I generally had an issue with any authority as a child, I came to absolutely loathe it as a teen. I started getting arrested. Getting into fights. Expelled from school.

Finally, I found myself in prison. My rebelliousness did not recognize the conventional morality, or legality, of society. I was released. Everything rebellious had been destroyed institutionally (also backed by Christian rhetoric). I became remolded into that un-genuine, monotonous being. Not long had passed before I became fed-up with being used by the system for community service, court fees, and whatever else they could suck out of me. The rebelliousness and pursuit of individual desire, regardless of what authority told me, re-booted.

Since then, I have been in and out of jail and once again, to prison. I’ve had all too many run-ins with cops, judges, and probation officers. Yet, here I am. Still alive. Still unique.

The reason I tell my story is to hopefully provide some level of inspiration for the disenfranchised. The repressed. Those whose individual autonomy and will is repressed by the institutions and regulations of society. Compared to others I have met, my life has been a cake walk. But regardless of background, I would wager a bet that most can relate on some level. We all have felt that sting of having our dreams shot down. Being told that conformity to the current model is the only way. That our aspirations are nothing more than pipe dreams, and that we need to continue down the boring path that society dictates. To society, I can whole-heartedly and passionately say this: Go Fuck Yourself.

Let’s talk about labor. Can we discuss that crazy shit? I get the most boring, drone-minded responses to labor. “You have to,” or “That’s the way it is.” And then, of course, those who pretend to love their work or use some other excuse to write off being used for profit while receiving pennies on the dollar. Aren’t you glad bosses can give us some work so that they, I mean we, can make money? I’d hardly call the ‘free time’ that we receive between work days to be free when you know full well you have to adjust your sleep, personal, and social schedule based around that job. I see jobs take precedence over personal leisure, love, and hobbies almost ten times out of ten. And people are okay with that. If you are okay with being somebody’s wage slave and making minimal to make sure they make optimal, then have at it. Some of us prefer not to be submissive to a system that clearly does nothing but serve everyone but US.

Now, what would labor be without proper education? I sure as hell didn’t learn to paint with 12 years of my life spent in school. It’s quite obvious that public schooling simply serves as another source of indoctrination and submission to authority. Having to sit, against our will, and learn things that will likely never serve us to benefit us, ever. Learning over and over again how to repeat national anthems. How to properly ask authority (teachers) if we can use the bathroom. Or having to raise our hand to insert any opinion in a matter. My favorite was being reprimanded by the big bad principal for breaking rules that I never consensually agreed to obey in the first place (as if I would).

And for most, it doesn’t end at school. The same indoctrination, or justification of such indoctrination, is continued at home, church, etc. Shit, I’ve done martial arts most of my life and the majority of the places maintain that institutional mindset. The “do good and obey” mindset. Ironic, really. All-in-all, school is just a way to maintain the status quo. To turn out more societally compliant individuals. To mold them to society’s needs. To maintain the supposed authenticity of authority. To kill authenticity.

Something else I often critique is etiquette, or niceism. Think about it. Think about how often you say ‘thank you’ without meaning it. Or how we may even apologize for someone else bumping into us. Think about how we blatantly follow etiquette. While it obviously differs culturally and regionally, much of it remains the same in modern society. Cashiers, angry at their jobs, dish out niceties without thought or genuine meaning. Servers bite their tongues when dealing with shitty customers.

We interact based on what we are told is to be civil, nice, or based on proper etiquette. Hell, I enjoy going out of my way at times to be nice and make someone’s day better. But that’s because I chose to. I didn’t do it because it’s a societal norm that has been ingrained into my being since birth. Remember being forced to apologize for things you weren’t sorry for as a child? Etiquette simply serves as a rather superficial way to grease the wheels of society.

If everyone actually said what was on their mind without fear of social repercussions or being outcasted because of a lack of empty-minded etiquette, what would happen to the way things ran? It makes confrontation less likely, sure. But perhaps living in a society that enjoys bubble wrapping social interactions is more of an issue. To make this clear: I’m not talking about just being a random asshole. But I’d rather someone be real with me and say what is on their mind than simply throw me some artificial line that is said more or less impulsively, without character.

Now, on to legality. I frequently see radicals and free thinkers fall into the tragedy of legality. That because, in their mind, some laws are just simply because it covers their personal principle(s)- failing to recognize that legality is a major tool in maintaining this social order. To legitimize legality in any capacity is to give some legitimacy to the state’s ruling and therefore, their methods of handling those who break the law which include (using legal terms): kidnapping, extortion, imprisonment, murder, etc. While I’m not a moralist, I often find myself having to speak from a morally acceptable standpoint just to even get a few words in.

Laws, backed by the judicial system and its goons, the police, serve as a disciplinary measure for the authentic. For those who would seek to live a different, genuine lifestyle. Simply put, they ensure that society stays nice and clean with little hiccups. And those who disobey will be made an example of. Thrown in a pen and mentally (often physically) abused to the point of submission. Laws are the master’s tools used to breed Fear and compliance.

Now that I’ve ranted on about only a few (certainly not all, and not to be dismissive of other issues) of the things that grease the wheels of the monolithic individual killer, what about us? What about those who wish to escape this? This expected lifestyle of monotony, compliance, artificial relations and interactions, repression, and degradation?

I’m not an optimist. I’ve seen too much and felt too much to sit here and lie and say that we can change all this. We won’t undo thousands of years of social conditioning beyond perhaps and individual level. I can’t write an essay and expect to create some free ass rainbow community, all happiness-inclusive. Personally, as far as I’m concerned, this is entirely an individualistic journey. Not to deny the obvious benefits of having comradery and real community. Having love and brother (or sister)hood is an amazing feeling. But I feel that the changes must take place within, initially. It’s not practical to simply withdraw or walk away. The system has done a damn good job of ensuring that we remain meek and domesticated. That we are reliant on the system that enslaves us.

That being said, that doesn’t mean we can’t fight. Maybe it will change something. Maybe it won’t. But damn, I sure as hell feel good after telling a boss off. Or screwing over the system at any chance I get. Nothing beats the feeling of standing up. Now, cursing out a cop isn’t going to destroy the judicial system. Flipping off the boss won’t crush capitalism. But to me, it’s about one thing: RISK. And that’s scary. It’s put me behind bars. In bad situations with sketchy people. But the feeling of freedom in making your own choices, regardless of what you are told, is the most freeing feeling I can imagine. We can sit around and talk all day about how we’d like to act but if you give it a shot, you might find it’s more fathomable than imagined.

The systems won’t collapse because you take a stand for yourself… but you, as an individual, can rise. Once you’ve deconstructed and cast aside all the shit stains of modernity and are able to live an authentic life, the external becomes more easily approachable. There is power in individuality. In genuine, individual authenticity. In being what you want. In doing what you want. You might have to play the game. Escape isn’t always so practical or even rational depending on circumstances. But YOU are what matters, if you declare so to yourself and decide to live for yourself and not the whims of others. Disobedience itself is an amazing act of rebellion against conformity.

It needs no ideology or fixed goal. It need not be rooted in optimism. It simply is. It is choosing self over the society that presumptuously dictated its desires to you. Authenticity shall, and always will, trump conformity and then the Authentic Soul shall be revealed.


Rudester

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I live in the blue ridge mountains and have for the majority of my life. I’m heavily involved in martial arts and enjoy freedom in the wilderness. I enjoy getting Dionysian in the woods while deconstructing notions of civility and ‘proper’ behavior while pissing on normality.


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