The Factory Floor & The Witch’s Stake

To accept Empire is to deny the dead, the tortured witches of our past and the tortured rebels dying in Empire’s prisons. To not fight Empire is to defy our own bodies, defile the land and destroy the bodies of others. To accept Empire is to become Empire.

From Rhyd Wildermuth

The following essay is adapted from Rhyd Wildermuth’s speech, “Witches In A Crumbling Empire,” to be republished as part of his next collection, Our Time of Springs, Our Time of Flames (August, 2018)


The Empire under which we all suffer, under whom we are all ruled, was born upon the factory floor and upon the witch’s stake.

Industrialised capitalism started in England around 1760. Before then, almost everything humans used was made by humans with human effort, without the input of petroleum. So, in the early 1700’s, any clothing you wore and any food you ate was made or grown completely without fossil fuels.

The first coal-fired factories were built in cities swollen with refugees from the surrounding areas. Those people had just lost all access to land and the means to support themselves because of laws called the Enclosure Acts. No longer could they raise animals and plants from the earth with their own two feet firmly planted on the ground; now, their only option was to stand on wood and stone factory floors for 14 hours a day making things for other people.

Humans are hard to control. Humans don’t like working all day for someone else. They have to eat, and piss, and shit, and rest. Many women bleed every moon, sometimes they get pregnant and have to care for their children.

But Coal doesn’t tire. Coal doesn’t show up to work late after a night of drinking or fucking. Coal doesn’t need a rest, doesn’t get menstrual cramps, doesn’t daydream about how life can be better. Coal also doesn’t demand wages.

So the great ‘revolution’ of industrialisation was the slow replacement of human labor with black carbon labor from the earth. In the Americas, the people called Black were also used to replace waged labor. In both cases, the rich tried to find a low-cost, easily-managed, fully-predictable means to gain wealth.

Slaves revolt, though, and kill their masters. Coal and oil blacken the cities and skies with soot, but burned through filters, the carbon becomes invisible, escapes quietly into the atmosphere, warming the earth at such imperceptible rates that it could be ignored until recently.

What could not be ignored was the tendency of humans to revolt against their masters, be they slaves or peasants, workers or servants. Humans don’t make very good machines, we are unpredictable, tire easily, and anyway would rather be creating art or eating, then doing monotonous work for little pay.

The same era which saw the birth of industrialised capitalism also saw the birth of all modern forms of government and control. The modern city, the nation-state, so-called Democracy, representative government, prisons resembling factories resembling schools which resemble prisons. It also saw the birth of the modern police and the political order under which we now live.

But what is Empire?

By Empire I mean America, but I also do not.

By Empire I mean Capitalism, but I also do not.

By Empire I mean colonization. I mean industrialisation. I mean the slaughter of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans. I mean the carbon in the air and the worker in the factory. I mean all the newly extinct species and all the dying forests. I mean the corporations which own the internet and the corporations who profit from the computers and smartphones you read this on.

By Empire, I mean the foreign wars. I mean an Arab woman cradling the corpse of her decapitated daughter and shaking her fist at the gay Black dude from Los Angeles who only joined the Army to get money to support his mother.

By Empire, I mean the Mexican child screaming as her father is taken away by an ICE agent whose grandparents fled the Nazi advance in Europe.

By Empire, I mean the Black father mourning his son killed by a cop whose ancestors sold themselves into indentured servitude rather than starve to death during the famine in Ireland.

By Empire, I mean the intersectional feminist writing essays about the exploitation of women and children on a computer made through the exploitation of Asian women and African children.

And by Empire I mean the Arab man who massacres gays in a nightclub to retaliate for atrocities none of those people committed.

By Empire, I mean the single white mother driving her disabled kid to a doctor’s appointment over roads lain by migrant workers who are about to get deported.

By Empire I mean the civitas and the polis. I mean civilization and the police, the laws and logic, the political order, the thou shalt nots and the prisons where you go when you refuse to listen.

But more than anything, I mean the Empire in each of you and the Empire in me.

I mean all that was once wild and raw and sacred in us that is now ground into machine-parts and mechanical obedience.

By Empire I mean you, and by Empire I mean me.

And finally, by Empire I mean this thing that is crumbling around us, gasping for air, begging us to keep it alive.

The Empire that is crumbling around us was born on the factory floors and the witch’s stake, and both were assaults on the human body.

Silvia Federici said it, in her essay “In Praise of the Dancing Body:

Capitalism was born from the separation of people from the land and its first task was to make work independent of the seasons and to lengthen the workday beyond the limits of our endurance…. What we have not always seen is what the separation from the land and nature has meant for our body, which has been pauperized and stripped of the powers that pre-capitalist populations attributed to it.

If the first task of Capitalism was to separate us from land and nature, they have more than succeeded. One need only look at the vastly artificial surroundings we all live in, the devices we use to speak with each other, the manufactured foods and synthetic medicines. Can you walk outside your home and find something edible growing by the pavement? Do you know which birds share your neighborhood with you? Can you point to where precisely the sun will rise tomorrow morning without a compass? Without looking outside tonight or at the internet, which phase is the moon in?

But it’s useless to rail against this disconnection. What separates us from the land and nature is not a current assault in an ongoing struggle: the war was won by them long ago. We are an occupied people, often occupying occupied land cleared long before any of us were born.

If that war was lost, though, the other war is still on going. Says Federici again:

Mechanization—the turning of the body, male and female, into a machine—has been one of capitalism’s most relentless pursuits.

Capitalism has needed us to act like machines so we can fit into the system as mere, fully-interchangeable cogs. Many of use don’t fit, though: be it our bodies themselves or our failure to conform, the process of turning us into machines is never fully complete.

Those of us who gum up the gears aren’t welcome in the factory, but Empire has a place for us too.

Empire was born on the factory floor, and it was also born on the witch’s stake. Failure to file down your rough bits, refusal to conform to the will of the political order, and worst of all encouraging others to do the same will land you at best in jail, or riddled with mental-illnesses that were non-existent in pre-capitalist lands, suffocated with a crushed trachea for daring to sell loose cigarettes or bleeding to death in the street for looking non-white when the polis tried to enforce its will.

There are countless technological distractions and institutions which have helped us forget our bodies: the masturbatory fantasies of video games and pornography, the medicalisation of any bodily refusal to be a good worker. Gyms look like factories for a reason, for it’s in the mills and on the mechanical looms where we first lost the meaning of muscle and blood. And then there is clock time, our smartphones and alarm clocks, schools which teach kids to move from class to class to prepare them to move from task to task.

Capitalism needed to separate us from the land and our body because it is the land and the body which tells you this is all wrong. The land screams as species go extinct, forests die, icecaps melt. Your body screams when you treat it as a machine.

Your body tells you this is all wrong. Starting from the body, you know you tire faster when you are doing meaningless work. You know the food on offer to you at the supermarkets is empty, you know that the air you breathe is often toxic. You know sitting for eight hours staring at a screen hurts more than just your eyes, that standing behind a counter slinging coffee to exhausted people makes you a poorly-paid drug dealer.

All that knowledge is what capitalism needs you not to know.

All those feelings are what Empire fears you’ll feel.

Capitalism needed to separate us from the land and our bodies for another reason.

Your body is always in contact with something else, something outside yourself. Your feet, the lowest part of you, the easiest part to ignore until they hurt, they connect to the entire world-soul. Taking your shoes off, standing on the grass or the sand or stone, you become no longer a machine but a body again, part of something always bigger than yourself, with a different logic, a more intuitive time, a deeper truth.

Your feet on the earth, you cannot be disconnected from the earth and the seasons, because you are also the earth and its seasons. Work in summer is not work in winter, the time of your waking and the cycles of your sleeping follow a different rhythm fully separate from the time of money-making, the time of machines.

Capitalism needs you to forget this.

Witchcraft tells you to remember.

If Empire was born on the factory floor and on the witch’s stake, it spread into every last bit of our existence, making subjects out of each one of us. While Capitalism needed to separate us from the land and our bodies, Empire needed us to become passive subjects of the political order.

Passivity is not receptivity. As a gay man I can assure you, more action goes into receptive sex than merely closing your eyes and thinking about the Empire. I suspect most women would concur.

Receptivity opens us to the world of senses, of feelings, of meaning. You are being receptive now, taking my words into you, playing with them, weaving their meaning into the tapestry of you. But passivity makes you a victim, a mere tool in the hands of the powerful. Passivity is consumption, selection between lifestyle options, an identity defined not by what you do but by what you choose. Did you vote Democrat or Republican? Drink Coke or Pepsi? Use an iPhone or Android?

Passivity reduces will to mere consumer preference. No longer will to power but a mere checkbox on a ballot or a selection on a screen. No longer desire and suffering but mere distractions to dull the fatigue of work and the anxiety of alienation.

You cannot force someone to become passive except by long applications of torture. But there is another route, a slower one, by which you can conquer the will of others by telling them not ‘thou shalt not’ but ‘thou cannot.’ Like the God of Eden’s lies to the woman in the garden, we are told we cannot survive without capitalism, cannot be safe without police, cannot find meaning outside of waged work, cannot find love without cosmetics.

And so what we did not lose on the factory floor we lost with the death of witches. Not only the women with herbs and poison roots, not only the crones bearing stories from times before private property, not only the maidens urging worship in temples of wild lust, not only the mothers feeding us from their bodies. Not only them, but also them: the women who reminded us an entire world can be made not from city and machine but forest and dirt.

Not only them, but also the heretics, the mad, the dreamers, the rebels. The men dressed like women tearing down fences along with women drest like men, refusing the enclosure of the sacred commons and the seizure of land for the profit of the few. The indigenous elders gunned down by settlers, the traditional healers dead in the hulls of slave ships. All of them taught what Empire needed us to forget: the earth knows what the computer never will, that the body bleeds a liquid more powerful than petroleum.

With them gone, we started to believe we can-not. We cannot heal ourselves without pharmaceuticals, we cannot feed ourselves without factory farms. We cannot make our own clothes, cannot craft our own homes. We must now suckle at the toxic teat of the Market while it slaps us with an invisible hand.

We started to believe we cannot resist.

But in the screaming defiance of the immolated witches was a reminder: we can refuse to submit, even in death.

It took centuries to shape us into what we are now, passive sniveling subjects of Empire and Capital. Though this may seem long, we lived outside Empire much longer. Capitalism is new and short-lived, compared even to Feudalism. It differs only in its full permeation of all our existence, and it is for this reason I call it Empire.

It is also collapsing.

The climate change caused by Capitalism cannot be stopped any longer, and its effects already cause famines and resource wars throughout the world. Between 30,000 and 140,000 species go extinct every year now; at the beginning of the 1800’s, this number was no more than 1000 yearly. Cities are beginning to flood, water tables depleting, while the oil-wells which makes the entire Empire run are going dry. Climate change will increase the refugee crises currently fueling the nationalist parties in Europe and the US, and whether they are fleeing from resource wars or unmanned drone bombers, they are undoubtedly the first quakes of Empire’s impending collapse.

Empires always pompously declare themselves eternal. The British swore the sun would never set on them, the third reich was supposed to last 1000 years. Western Democratic Capitalist Empire declared itself ‘the end of history’ in the 1990’s, but of course Fukuyama’s prediction sealed its fate.

Empires have always tried to cheat death and this one is no different. But the crone that stands on the other side of death’s door revealed her trump card, and now few can deny what this means.

Some still cling to the vain hope that Donald Trump is merely an unfortunate set-back to the progress of civilization. But reversing civil protections, installing fascist theorists in positions of power, rattling the chains of other world leaders, building a wall to keep the Mexicans out—these are not mere reversals of Empire’s progress, they are Empire trying to save itself.

Consider this wall between the US and Mexico. See past the obvious racism of such a thing and its absurd cost to what’s lurking beneath the political veneer. Consider the impending flood of climate refugees: remember your geography, look at a map displaying where the major destruction will occur first, and suddenly Trump’s idea isn’t mere xenophobic delusion.

The increase in surveillance powers, the militarization of police forces, the dismantling of the courts and the rights they are sworn to protect, the stoking of fascist flames: these are not just the actions of a psychopath, but of an engineer shoring up the ruins of Empire.

The same is happening everywhere else in the world. The capitalists know we are remembering to resist again, and so they are raising again the stakes, piling faggots beneath them, waiting for our next sign of revolt.

To accept what is around us now, to call such things “good” and “necessary,” is to laugh in the faces of the screaming witches who died so this Empire could arise. To chase after like mongrel dogs the trinkets and crumbs the capitalists throw down to us on the floor–the “rights” and “freedoms” and all the glossy junk cluttering store shelves–is to jeer at the sorrow and sufferings of our ancestors hauled to work in chains or prodded into mills by the terror of starvation.

To accept Empire is to deny the dead, the tortured witches of our past and the tortured rebels dying in Empire’s prisons. To not fight Empire is to defy our own bodies, defile the land and destroy the bodies of others. To accept Empire is to become Empire.

To fight Empire is to stare in the face of our own deaths and laugh, knowing the worst that might happen is Empire might burn us, too.

But to the witches who risked the stake to avoid forever the factory floor, the insurrectionists who risked bullets to forever avoid submission, and any who risked the rage of Empire for the possibility that Empire might fall, the choice was an easy one.

So is ours.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals Press and a co-editor of godsandradicals.org.


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Ohitica and the Rez Dogs of Standing Rock

During the six months that I spent at Standing Rock, I learned about the life of the rez dogs and their relationship to the people they live with. It’s not the tidy house-dog life of city dog… Instead, the dogs of the reservation are their own people. They are relatives in their own right.

From Lisha Sterling

When I first arrived at the Water Protector camps in Standing Rock, I lived in the Sicangu camp on the south side of the Cannon Ball river, by highway 1806. My days were spent busy on Media Hill in the Indigenous Environmental Network’s media tent or talking to folks in the Legal tent, or else running back and forth between the different camps, the place we came to call “Hop Hill”, the Prairie Knights Casino, the town of Cannonball, and the town of Fort Yates. I’d often roll back into my home camp at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, exhausted. That didn’t leave much time for being social in a non-work atmosphere. But when I could, I’d sit by the sacred fire for a bit to listen to the elders talking.

One night, I rolled in late and parked my van near the kitchen tent. I could see that there were people inside, so I went in to join them. A large pot of chicken soup simmered on the fire. Two young men and one young woman were in there, talking and eating left over food from the evening’s dinner. They offered me some food, but I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to listen in on the conversation.

After a little while, another young woman came into the kitchen. She had a baby sling across her body, and a couple of bottles in her hand. She asked if there were any measuring spoons in the kitchen. Her voice had a worried, nearly panicked tone to it, “I need to measure out a teaspoon of this medicine for the puppy!” She turned and we could see the limp German shepherd puppy in the baby sling, “He has worms really bad. The vet says he isn’t going to make it. She wanted to put him down, but I made her give me the medicine. But now I can’t find a measuring spoon!”

I noticed that one of the bottles in her hand was a prescription bottle and the other was an herbal tincture bottle, “You have something to measure with right there,” I told her. “One dropperful is ¼ teaspoon. Four dropperfuls is one dose of his medicine.”

She looked from me to the dog and then to the bottle in her hand, surprised, “Really?”

She put the bottles down and began to open them both. The other young woman jumped up to help her get the medicine measured and dropped into the dog’s mouth. The puppy barely moved.

The young woman with the puppy explained what her day had been like. She’d been at a friend’s house, and they had this puppy. It was the last of a litter but had never been picked by anyone who came by. It had started to get sick, and the family had just figured that it would probably die. She asked if she could have the dog. Her friend’s family said yes, and she immediately drove up to Bismarck to find a vet and see what she could do to help the dog. “But he hasn’t moved the whole time. He didn’t move when I picked him up. He won’t eat. He didn’t move when the doctor checked him. He’s just been like this all day.” By now she was at the edge of tears.

Now, let me take you on a tangent here for a moment to tell you that, under normal circumstances, it is said that you should never mix Lakhota medicine with any other kind of medicine. There have been some major exceptions made in terms of “Christian medicine” in the sense that these days even many čanupa (sacred pipe) carriers are also Christian, but on the whole the admonition not to mix Lakhota medicine with anything else still stands. However, we were in a different situation than usual. The elders and the holy people had specifically called on people of all nations and all religions to bring their prayers to Očeti Šakówiŋ camp. And with those prayers comes some of the other practices and medicine of those other nations. It was in that context that it seemed wholly appropriate for me to mention a bit of Jewish folklore to the young woman for the benefit of her puppy.

“In Jewish tradition, if someone is very sick and it looks like they are probably going to die, we sometimes change their name. It is said that changing their name can trick the angel of death. Other’s say that changing the name gives a person a new job to do in life. It’s common to rename a person in such a situation ‘Chaim’, which means ‘Life’, but sometimes the name is something else. It can be like a wish or a prayer for what you want in that person’s future.” I told her.

“I like that tradition. It sounds good. He doesn’t have a name yet.”

Just then, one of the wise old ladies of camp walked into the kitchen tent. She’d barely stepped inside when she was asked by the woman with the puppy, “What should I name my dog?”

Theresa Black Oak looked at the puppy, a bit confused, and asked why she was naming the puppy. So, we explained the situation to her. Then she looked closely at the dog for a moment and thought about it.

“Ohitica. His name should be Ohitica, which means Brave.” Theresa announced.

The young woman repeated the name, “Ohitica. You are Ohitica!” She told the puppy.

As this interaction was going on, one of the young men prepared a bowl with a little bit of the chicken soup in it. He suggested that she should try feeding the dog some of it. She took the puppy and put him on the ground in front of the bowl. He stood up a little wobbly at first, but then he was stable on his feet. He sniffed the bowl and began to drink the broth. Then he ate the pieces of chicken. He finished the whole bowl of soup, and then he began to run in circles and bounce around like a puppy does.

Everyone’s eyes were wide with surprise, not least of all the woman who had brought the puppy in.

“Wait, he didn’t move all day?” Someone said in surprise.

“Not at all,” She answered with wonder.

“Well, a little bit of medicine and a brand new name, makes good medicine!” I laughed, so relieved.

About a month later, I drove up to Media Hill to meet with someone at the Indigenous Environmental Network tent. As I arrived at the fence around the IEN area, there was a German shepherd puppy tied up next to the entrance. I bent down to say hello, “Oh my goodness! You are so cute! You look just like Ohitica, only you are much bigger than him!”

Just then, the woman who had walked into the kitchen with a tiny, sick puppy in a baby sling walked up. I saw her feet first, but when I look up and saw her face I nearly whooped in joy, “You ARE Ohitica!”

And so he was, and that healthy young dog left Standing Rock a few days later to a new home far away.

Dakota and her puppies say,
Image by Kelly Kai Botak all rights reserved

In February 2017, amidst all the other indignities of the expulsion of the Water Protectors from the camps at Standing Rock, we had to see news reports about how the good people of Bismarck, North Dakota had to go down and rescue dogs that had been left behind by “protesters”. It was true that the people who came down from animal rescue agencies found dogs in and around the town of Cannonball, but it was absolute privileged, self-righteous, colonialist White ignorance to believe that these were dogs left behind by the Water Protectors. Like so much else that was reported by the White press in North Dakota about the camps and the people in them, the prejudice and refusal to acknowledge the people and culture of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was at the root of problems invented for the sake of the pro-pipeline narrative. Those “abandoned” dogs were, in fact, rez dogs who were moved off their rightful home just as their Native human companions had been before them.

During the six months that I spent at Standing Rock, I learned about the life of the rez dogs and their relationship to the people they live with. It’s not the tidy house-dog life of city dog who gets adopted into a quaint idea of a “forever home”. Instead, the dogs of the reservation are their own people. They are relatives in their own right.

Most of those dogs go inside when they want to and stay outside when they want to. Some never go inside at all, even in the coldest part of the winter. Some dogs have more than one family, and they travel between houses when they feel like it, spending a day or a week with one set of humans before visiting their other set of humans. Other dogs prefer to roam around most of the time in little packs, though they’ll show up on their family’s lawn when it’s time to eat.

In the autumn there were several litters of new puppies born in the vicinity of the Water Protector camps. When the puppies were old enough to be weaned, several families walked around the camps with their surplus puppies to see if anyone wanted one. Every puppy that came through camp in that way got adopted and went home with a new Water Protector family.

In the depths of the winter when the Cannonball recreation center became both the Očeti Šakówiŋ Camp Media headquarters and the Standing Rock emergency shelter, there were a number of local dogs who decided that all the bustle of the rec center was their preferred place to be. We let the dogs come and go for a while, and even fed them if they looked hungry, but then some of the elders of the tribe made it known that they didn’t want the dogs in there. “They have homes. If you feed them they won’t go back to their families and then we’ll have a pack of dogs who think that the Rec Center is their new home.”

So, we kept the rez dogs out of the Rec Center, and most of them went back to their normal routines. Most, but not all.

One big, fluffy white dog who was probably about four or five years old curled up outside the front door of the rec center for days. If you didn’t happen to come out when he got up to go find food elsewhere, and if you didn’t notice that he never had more than a few hours of snow over top of him, you might be forgiven for thinking he’d just frozen in place there.

A very sweet and gentle health care worker stood in the Rec Center in tears because she was afraid for this wonderful dog. I reminded her that this dog had obviously lived through other North Dakota winters. He knew how to survive out here. This was his home. He had long fur, so he probably wasn’t nearly as cold as she thought, and he knew how to snuggle into his own little shelter in the snow bank. I also showed her the signs that he had been moving around and wasn’t just frozen to the spot. She calmed down, but she was still concerned. A few days later she tracked down the family of that dog. He was fine.

Another large golden retriever mix kept insisting on coming into the Rec Center, long after he’d been officially kicked out. In January, his family showed up at the center when they’d heard that their dog was over there. We discovered the dog’s real name was Cinnamon, and that his family had thought he’d died since they hadn’t seen him in two weeks.

“Did you try to look for him?” someone asked.

“No. He’s old. If he felt he needed to go find a place away from here to die, that’s his right. If he was well, we knew he’d come home eventually.”

The folks running the Emergency Center insisted that the family needed to take Cinnamon home. They did, but two days later he was back at the Rec Center. This went back and forth a few times.

Another Water Protector who was getting ready to go home spoke with the family and asked to adopt their dog. They agreed. Cinnamon went off to a new city with a new name and a whole new human family.

In reality, quite a few rez dogs adopted humans from among the non-local Water Protector population. But many rez dogs stayed on the rez where they had always lived. Their lives are not the lives of city dogs, but that doesn’t mean that they are bad lives. They are just different lives.

And yes, many dogs came to Standing Rock with Water Protectors, too, but none of them was left behind. Once the population of the camps grew in late October, even the dogs who had previously been able to run free in the camps were required to stay on leash or in a tent or structure at all times. Any dog seen wandering without a human in camp would be taken to the sacred fire where an announcement would be made that the dog had gotten loose. If the dog’s owner did not agree to keep it under control, the camp security said that they would take the dog away and send it to a new home or an animal shelter. As far as I know, no dog was taken from its humans in that way. Instead, camp dwellers kept their dogs well under control, leashed or in their makeshift homes. And when they left camp, their dogs went with them.

After the camps were cleared, a bunch of White people who were full of their own certainties about the world went down to the reservation in search of the abandoned dogs that they “knew” Water Protectors would leave behind. Perhaps law enforcement had something to do with it. Maybe the many sheriff’s deputies and federal agents from across the country had seen the rez dogs in Cannonball and told people about them. Either way, they assumed that these dogs were homeless, and that irresponsible, dirty hippies and Indians who had spent as much as nine months living in tents through every kind of weather the prairie can dish out had just left without them. No one bothered to ask the people in the houses on the reservation about the dogs wandering around the area in packs or by themselves whose dogs these were. The White people “knew” and so they took the dogs to shelters and made a big deal about showing how righteous their cause was.

The difference between reality at Standing Rock and the ideas that White settler culture in Bismarck imagines is as stark today as it was a hundred fifty years ago.


Lisha Sterling

Lisha Sterling

Lisha Sterling is a crazy nomad woman who works on humanitarian technology, spending lots of time in low resource areas and disaster zones. She talks to plants, animals, gods and spirits. Some of them talk back.


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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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Guerrilla Ontology: On Destruction, Violence and Direct Action

Smashing badger traps and creating psycho-geographical distress is not going to stop Empire nor the ecological collapse that is a byproduct of its violence. But this is not our task…. Our aim as guerrilla ontologists is to be agents of destruction, poetic terrorists and involutionary fighters, disrupting history and resisting its violence.

From Julian Langer



We hear about violence all the time. We talk about violence all the time.

We label this violence as good and that violence as bad. This violence as necessary and that violence as unnecessary.

This violence theirs and that violence ours. And the conversation goes on and on and on.

Often we don’t recognise when we are talking about violence, as violence takes so many forms, wears so many masks, and we’ve been raised to uphold most acts of violence as simply factors of ordinary daily life.

To the pacifist, all violence is evil and must be avoided at any cost. Pacifists believe in the great cosmic separation of forces of light from forces of darkness. They view the universe as fundamentally flawed in this way. Pacifists believe that there is such a feature of existence, which can pervade all of Being – this notion of evil and darkness – which is something that must be rejected at all points.

To say something is evil is to presuppose a moral ought, that something should or should not exist, and that each existent example of evil must be rejected and expelled from society. What evil is ultimately is that which threatens the machinery that is society.

But while we talk about violence again and again, we rarely talk about what violence is, nor what it isn’t. Oh sure, we talk about their violence and even our own on occasion (though usually sanctifying its enactors, the living as heroes and the dead as martyrs who sacrificed themselves for God, the God of the machinery of the technosphere).

Rarely, if ever, do we talk about what violence is, what are violence’s origins, and other questions that might be considered too abstract or conceptual for “realpolitik.”

Violence seems to be a very specific type of action (again embracing generalized categories), which often gets mistaken for another. So, before giving any type of definition of violence, I will discuss what it is not: destruction.

Destruction as a phenomenon is the event of a singularity whereby, due to certain physical intensities, a new situation, space, location, Thing (etc.) is created. In this way, creation and destruction are in no way a dichotomy, but rather the monist force of the flow of motion, energy, transience in an entirely physical sense.

A hurricane and a wildfire are destructive, but they aren’t violent. In their destruction they create new situations, spaces, locations; Things, from the intensity of their energetic releases. A meteor that kills most of the life on planet Earth, including the dinosaurs (arguably this planet’s most successful occupants if we assume a paleontological realist epistemology), is not violent and does not enact violence upon those it has killed. The Chicxulub meteor was destructive, and its destruction lead to the creation of a situation that resulted in mammals becoming more prevalent (as a generalized category of species-Being) as the dinosaurs died out.

Destruction and creation are the monist flow of Life, where life and death are one and the same thing. They are the same thing in each present, temporarily bound by the physical dimensions of embodied Being – wild-Being as I choose to term it. As such, destruction(/creation) is an aspect of what is wild (or natural, if you prefer).

Violence as Violation

Violence presents itself not as destruction, but as violation. This doesn’t mean that violence is defined by the intent to violate. No, the perception of an action or event doesn’t alter its physicality, only the relationships of those within or towards it. As such, violence can occur with no intent to violate.

So what does it mean to violate? To violate something is to assert authority (not power) over a given space, place, moment, individual, or group, and to interrupt the wild authentic flow of living energies into the constructions (not creations) of the supposed authority, which asserts itself through violence.

Rape is an act of violence, where rapists assert themselves as an authority over whom they are raping. Rape interrupts the wild authentic flow of living energies of those raped, via usurpation of their body, and makes of them a constructed object of the rapist’s pleasure resources.

This authority stems from the mythologies of civilisation, surrounding hierarchies of Others who are granted the ability to dominate and oppress through innate privileges. This is not to say that rape and other acts of violence do not occur outside of civilisation; rather, civilisation is the monopolisation of violence and a force that intensifies violence, to such a degree that it corrupts Being into something inauthentic and entirely different from what is wild.

Myths of authority (again, not power) are what violence is. Civilisation is defined by the machinery of the technosphere, the body of the metropolis, the materiality of its ideology. Its violence does not and cannot create, but rather it constructs. It constructs through language and through what civilisation deems as resources.

To civilise, to domesticate, to assert authority, to construct, to mechanise is to be violent; whereas to be destructive(/creative) is to be wild, living, natural.

This definition might feel uneasy to those who have been involved in (or have been active voices for) resistance groups whose tactics have included those generally considered violent. In fact, many have sought to justify the use of violence, and this is not just limited to groups within “western” nations, such as ALF, ELF, DGR etc., but also indigenous resistance fighters in their appeals to those “citizens” who seek to oppress them. But this is simply a misunderstanding brought about through the limitations of language as a means of conveying meaning.

The actions of these radicals aren’t violent, but destructive(/creative), and as such aren’t attached to the authoritarianism of violence and its ugliness. That’s not to say that there aren’t groups who call themselves radical, but actually just want to reconstruct the same machinery of violence they supposedly oppose. Rather, resistance/revolt/rebellion/etc., is destructive/creative, not violent.

Guerilla Creation/Destruction

What does this mean for radical practice, eco-anarchist, ontological-anarchist or otherwise? Simply it means we are agent of destruction; we are the creation of destruction, we support the destruction of the violent constructions of civilisation, in machinery, language, myths, socio-normative forms of interaction and all else that encompasses the metropolis, the Leviathan, the state, the economy.

This action of destroying the reality constructed by civilisation is the activity of guerrilla ontology, which amounts to destroying civilisation’s machinery and myths, and creating events, spaces, places, situations that allow for the anarchic flow of wild-Being to move freely.

Guerrilla ontology has not generally been viewed in the sense I am describing here. It was first described by Robert Anton Wilson and defined on Wikipedia as:

“The goal of guerrilla ontology is to expose an individual or individuals to radically unique ideas, thoughts, and words, in order to invoke cognitive dissonance, which can cause a degree of discomfort in some individuals as they find their belief systems challenged by new concepts.”

So with it being drawn from Wilson’s philosophy and writings, guerrilla ontology is typically associated with new-age, Discordianist spiritual practices.

Ontological anarchist Hakim Bey describes his concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone as a practice in guerrilla ontology, and is where the term is first located within anarchist thought. We should expand the concept past mere quietism and pure lifestylism, so as to be the basis of destructive(/creative) attacks of sabotage, resisting civilisation in a revolt based in Life. But to do this we must explore what it is to be a guerrilla. Guerrilla fighters are fighters who utilise a guerrilla-based approach to conducting warfare. So what is the guerrilla mode of attack?

Che Guevara, the famous Marxist guerrilla fighter of the Cuban revolution, stated in his work Guerrilla Warfare: A Method that the objective of the guerrilla strategy is the seizure of power. Now obviously in the case of Che, and the Marxist project he was involved in with Castro, the seizure of power translated to the reconstruction of the Leviathan under their authority, not liberation, wild freedom or anything actually desirable. But this is an issue regarding the authenticity of the project in question, not in the approach itself. And given Che’s proficiency as a guerrilla fighter, I feel comfortable with this objective of the method, regardless of its ideological outcome.

So we will follow from this presupposition that the guerrilla mode of attack is based on the objective of seizing power, and for our purposes this seizure of power is a destructive(/creative) one, not a constructive violent one.

Guerrilla groups – such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, Khmer Rogue, The Japanese Red Army, The Ñancahuazú Guerrilla, M-19, The IRA, New Peoples Army, Movimiento Peronista Montonero, Democratic Army of Greece, Free Papua Movement, The Angry Brigade, J2M, Individualists Tending Towards the Wild, YPJ and YPG, Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and other such organisations – have all taken as their approach seizing power strategies and tactics that are based in acts of sabotage, ambushes, raids, hit-and-run style approaches and other means of attacking, while avoiding large scale head on warfare of the traditional militarist approach. This is not to advocate all the specific forms of irregular warfare these groups and groups like them use or have used – bombing “civilians” (for example) just for the sake of it is ugly and only succeeds in goading civilisation to dominate through greater authoritarian means.

Why Guerilla?

Why utilise tactics of irregular warfare with small-scale attacks like ambushes and sabotage? Why not attack head on? Lets look to a historical potential that led to ruin to discuss why not.

After she was beaten by the Romans and her daughters were raped, Celtic druidess and queen Boudicca led a guerrilla campaign that almost saw the Romans out of Briton. The Iceni tribes under Boudicca’s leadership enacted rebellions and ambushed cities held under Roman rule. Through their guerrilla tactics they successfully depleted the Roman position in Briton to near defeat.

Had they not ever directly engaged the Roman military, with its technologically superior weaponry and armour, the Iceni and Boudicca would likely have seen the Roman colonial invaders off, defeated in blood drenched Celtic victory. Unfortunately they did face the Romans in open battle and the Celts lost.

So it seems sensible to advocate guerrilla type tactics given the technological might of empire and our available means of attack.

One resistance fighter, within anti-civ eco-radical resistance, whose approach has utilised much of what can be considered a guerrilla approach, is Theodore Kaczynski (better known as the infamous UNABOMBER). Kaczynski’s infamy comes not only from his bombing campaign and his famed manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future, but from his years of eluding the FBI and other institutional agents who sought to track him down.

Kaczynski’s ideology has been a central aspect of the eco-extremist movement, who actively embrace narratives of violence. One of the things clear in Kaczynski’s writings is that, while he presents great analytic accounts on technology, his politics remain tied to narratives of history(/civilisation). The eco-extremist movement seems equally tied to narratives of history, and they mistake their sanctified deity of Wild Nature for a violent force, when the wild is destructive(/creative) and violates nothing.

Regarding the UNABOMBER (as a political entity), Kaczynski was a failure, both in historical and anti-historical terms, who, despite his many brilliant aspects, found himself in the trappings of a far more extensively intensive prison than the one you and I find ourselves located within. The eco-extremist post-Kaczynskiist movement would do well to remember this, or maybe this is something that their pseudo-active (passive) pessimist nihilism just accepts?

Perhaps I’m being unfair to Kaczynski. It is true that both the eco-radical and anarchist milieus are colossal failures in pursuing our desired outcomes outside of some smaller personal projects. Empire has now spread across basically the entire body of the Earth and ecological collapse is basically a certainty. But the energetic fury of defiant revolt that courses through my body leads me to press on, channelling the power of the wild, to be a destructive force upon civilisation, creating untame spaces/places/locations/situations.

Indigenous Resistance

Lets look at other struggles, fights, and dances.

The indigenous peoples of what we now call Australia enacted a war against the settlers that has no apparent beginning or ending outside of History; a lived reality of warfare against the reality being constructed by the British mask of civilisation. This warfare was conducted by “cheeky fella” loner-leaders, whose attacks were coordinated devoid of formal organisation, usually in the form of ambush warfare. Rather than forming organisations, militias and other general categories of organised warfare, they practiced their guerrilla far more like communities/unions of egoists, working in mutual aid to resist civilisation.

What did their resistance look like? Well, many of the guerrilla fighters took to forming bands, who focused on payback, through means of inflicting unending sabotage and psychological warfare. The sabotage is basically what we call property destruction in the form that eco-radicals are very familiar with. The psychological warfare mostly took the form of mocking, humiliating and harassing the invaders, threatening and intimidating as means of psychic-attack.

The lone-leader guerrilla fighters of the indigenous Australians include famed warrior Pemulwuy, who it was believed could not be killed with firearms. Pemulwuy fought British invaders through ambush raids and killed British officials in vengeance against their violence towards his community and the land he lived upon. Like Kaczynski and similar guerrilla fighters, Pemulwuy failed and found himself at the mercy of his enemies (the approach of a lone-leader indigenous Australian attack seems to draw in something from guerrilla ontologist attacks).

Does this mean we start killing officials or supporters of Empire like Pemulwuy? Not necessarily, as there seems to be far more prudent practical means of inflicting damage to the Leviathan. These means hold more potential for actually disrupting its narratives, not just serving as a basis for the civilised to reinstate and make those same narratives more violent. I don’t see the attempt to assassinate government officials, or to kill a few domesticated individuals, as an activity that has any pragmatic potential for desirable outcome, and it seems like a waste.

Guerrilla ontologist warfare seems best enacted through 2 types of ambush attack. The first, sabotage, is well known to eco-radicals. This type of attack through “property” destruction has had relative degrees of success for groups like the ELF, ALF, Earth First!, the Hunt Saboteurs, and other eco-anarchist groups (This is stated with the acknowledgement that, due to the sheer scale of Empire’s authority at this point, we need an honest pessimism regarding its potential and its failings in the past).

The second form of ambush attack being advocated here is the utilisation of psychic warfare, to create sensations of wildness within the consciousnesses of the domesticated. This means to shatter the technologically induced comforts that distance the domesticated from the horror of the desert of the Real, the apocalyptic situation that stands before us, into a perception that can look at little else.

Smashing badger traps and creating psycho-geographical distress is not going to stop Empire nor the ecological collapse that is a byproduct of its violence. But this is not our task. The Real is breaking through this Reality, through hurricanes, wild fires, through rust upon the metal of the technosphere and far more examples than I could ever list. Wild-Being is ultimately inescapable; civilisation is the construction of a phantasmic illusion, and it will collapse.

Our aim as guerrilla ontologists is to be agents of destruction, poetic terrorists and involutionary fighters, disrupting history and resisting its violence. And this is best done through ambushing via sabotaging the machinery of civilisation (“property destruction”) and via psychological warfare, rather than head on assaults, which always result in increased intensities in violence from civilisation and its agents.


Julian Langer

Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild Beings. Musician and activist.


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Hedgework: On the Dialectic of Man and Nature

In the Vale of the White Horse, within sight of Uffington Castle, there is a large rectangular field, where until recently members of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids gathered to celebrate Lughnasadh. Every year in late August, under the light of the waxing moon, 200 people, of all ages, would materialise out of the summer heat and the ripening corn. After setting up a wide circle of bender tents and yurts around a central fire, they’d make sure to beat the bounds; processing clockwise around the field, playing instruments and clapping loudly, greeting the directions and the spirits of place. The same thing happened every morning throughout the festival.

This practice highlights an important truth; although any visitor to the camp would easily recognise the importance of the central hearth, those hedges around of the field were every bit as sacred. As if to highlight this fact, at the southern edge of the field, within the hedge itself, stood a hidden grove, with a holy oak at its heart – this venerable being oversaw all the naming ceremonies, initiations, and other secret rites in the community. When I first ventured into that grove, some seven years ago, I felt like I was on a threshold; beyond which, through which, the whole world began.

Hedgerows are perhaps one of the most quintessential features of these islands*. They wend their way between gardens, grass and crops, catching the bounty of the Earth like a net catches the wealth of the sea. Some of my most powerful spiritual experiences, like that mentioned above, have taken place along and within hedges. They are – to borrow a term from Celtic Christianity – “thin places”, locations where the veil between this world and the other is light, and the divine is close at hand.

The state of “in-betweenness”, or liminality as anthropologists call it, carries a great deal of significance in cultures all around the world; boundaries, be they intellectual or physical (and they’re often both), fascinate us and ensnare our imaginations; so we sanctify them, or joke about them, or wrap them up in taboos. Hedges – neither in one field, nor the next – are no exception.

It’s unsurprising then, that we find the hedge playing a major part in the sacred geography of Anglo-Celtic Pagan traditions. The hedge, we are told, is the domain of the hedgewitch – a folk healer-cum-shaman; a cunning man or wise woman, who works in service of their community from its edges. For these workers of craft, the hedge is a medicine cabinet, an altar, and an axis mundi. It gives us herbs for healing, a place to meet the gods, and a means of journeying into the Otherworld. It is from this latter use that we get the name “Hedge-rider”.

In ancient times, we are told, every village would have been surrounded by a hedge that protected it from the wilds beyond – the village witch would have negotiated this barrier; mediating between the spirits of the forest and the human folk of the village.

The trifecta of wilderness, hedge and village never sat quite right with me. For one thing, you simply didn’t see this feature anywhere in the British landscape in which I grew up. No village I know is surrounded on every side by hedges, nor are woodlands pushed to the rim of each parish like the scum on a bath. Lots of villages – including the one in which I grew up – have a dispersed, not nucleated, pattern. The houses are spread out, not clustered together.

For most of its history, my village was a string of homesteads, scattered around a large area of common land – land that was only built on in the 20th century. Commons – often in the form of pasture, woods, reed beds, and heathland areas, frequently imagined as “wild” places – are usually carefully managed in Britain and Ireland, and were created in spots that, either due to steep topography or infertile soils, were not suited to agriculture. Instead of a landscape in which humans live apart from nature in little enclosures, what you see in reality is something quite different – a patchwork of different types of land use, according to a mixture of geography and human choice. Hedges, in this landscape, are the needlework; the green thread binding everything together. The hedge, in other words, is not the interchange between the village and the wild; but rather the connective tissue between places of all kinds.

We find this pattern reaching far back into the history of the landscape here. While the Celts or Anglo-Saxons would have surrounded their villages with fences made from wooden palisades if they chose, they would head out into the woods to clear patches for agriculture, wherever the soil, aspect, and water supply was preferable. Richard Mabey, one of Britain’s most renowned naturalists, tells us that rather than surround villages, the first hedges delimited these clearings. The edges of these clearings, enclosed by bushes and trees, were called haga – the root word for “hedge” today.

It is not hard to imagine how, perhaps while working on until dusk, these first farmers would have spotted haegtessa at the edge of the forest – ephemeral figures of women, skulking between the trees. Sometimes, it might have turned out that what they’d seen was one of their own wives or grandmothers, gathering herbs or praying to the gods. At others, no human visitor to the haga could be identified – and the apparitions would have been attributed to ghosts, fairies, or other beings.

The association between mortal wise women, the haga, and ephemeral spirits stuck. As these early farmers hollowed out more of the wildwood, they left threads of trees and bushes standing, to mark out one field from another. Over time, they trained these plants into a barrier against livestock – the first true hedges of the kind we know today. The shadowy haetessa would live on, as the word “hag”. In a very real sense, then, the hedge represents the essence of the wildwood, living on in the cracks of the British landscape.

But the ancient origins of the hedge are not the whole story; the recent past of these green walls is an altogether more chequered affair. Throughout the Medieval period, the ancient hedges retreated – being cut away to make more space for farming. Across much of England in particular, it ceased to be as important to set apart different fields. In many parishes, agrarable fields and pasture was held in common, as part of the open field system – managed centrally by the entire community through manorial courts. Under such economic conditions, hedges served little purpose.

But this situation did not last. Enclosure – the process by which common land was sold off to private individuals – was carried out steadily throughout the late medieval and early modern periods, before dramatically accelerating, with the assistance of several acts of Parliament, over the course of the 18th century. As environmental historians such as Nick Blomley and John Wright have documented, one of the first acts taken by new owners was often to plant hedges; hedges being a means of excluding commoners from the land that had been taken from them. Prior to enclosure, the rural poor relied on common land – especially pasture – to supplement their diet and obtain fuel. Once deprived of these resources, they had little alternative but to move to the industrialising cities or emigrate.

The rage felt by former commoners was considerable, and riots resisting enclosure were common – with hedges often being crossed through acts of mass trespass and grubbed up as criminal damage in the process. The old saying – Horne and Thorne Shall Make England Forlorne – encapsulates the feeling of the time; with both profit-oriented sheep farming (horne) and enclosure through hedge-laying (thorne) being identified as key instruments through which the poor were immiserated. Under such circumstances, we encounter another incarnation of the “hedge-rider” – the impoverished commoner who leaps across a newly planted line of thorns, to reclaim his birthright.

The hedge, then, emerges from the history of the British landscape in particular as a deeply ambiguous, yet highly potent force from my point of view. The hedge’s origins as the mysterious barrier between cultivated and uncultivated space, as the ubiquitous remnants of primordial woodland, retains much of the power of the original image of the hedge as the border between village and wild, while correcting that image’s flaws. If we imagine the hedge as a barrier between the human and the non-human, this can reinforce the problematic divide between nature and culture; a divide that so bedevils our attempts to live and think sustainably. The hedge’s more recent history as an instrument of enclosure; that kept people off the land, and eventually forced them off it for good; shows precisely the damage this sort of rhetoric can do. We cannot allow hedges to shut us out of nature.

If, on the other hand, we think of hedges as stitching that connects up landscapes of which humans are already a fundamental, and numinous part, then they become a constant reminder of the presence of the other natures in all our lives. Hedge-riding becomes as much a matter of crossing boundaries in defence of the commons, as it is a case of journeying along green roads into the Woods From Which We Come.


Notes

*The islands of Britain and Ireland. The term “British Isles” can imply continued overlordship of the Republic of Ireland by the British crown, and so it is not used here.

Image by Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.


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In Praise of the Dancing Body

By Silvia Federici

The history of the body is the history of human beings, for there is no cultural practice that is not first applied to the body. Even if we limit ourselves to speak of the history of the body in capitalism we face an overwhelming task, so extensive have been the techniques used to discipline the body, constantly changing, depending on the shifts in labor regimes to which our body was subjected to. Moreover, we do not have one history but different histories of the body: the body of men, of women, of the waged worker, of the enslaved, of the colonized.

A history of the body then can be reconstructed by describing the different forms of repression that capitalism has activated against it. But I have decided to write instead of the body as a ground of resistance, that is the body and its powers – the power to act, to transform itself and the world and the body as a natural limit to exploitation.

There is something we have lost in our insistence on the body as something socially constructed and performative. The view of the body as a social [discursive] production has hidden the fact our body is a receptacle of powers, capacities and resistances, that have been developed in a long process of co-evolution with our natural environment, as well as inter-generational practices that have made it a natural limit to exploitation.

By the body as a ‘natural limit’ I refer to the structure of needs and desires created in us not only by our conscious decisions or collective practices, but by millions of years of material evolution:the need for the sun, for the blue sky and the green of trees, for the smell of the woods and the oceans, the need for touching, smelling, sleeping, making love.

This accumulated structure of needs and desires, that for thousands of years have been the condition of our social reproduction, has put limits to our exploitation and is something that capitalism has incessantly struggled to overcome.

Capitalism was not the first system based on the exploitation of human labor. But more than any other system in history, it has tried to create an economic world where labor is the most essential principle of accumulation. As such it was the first to make the regimentation and mechanization of the body a key premise of the accumulation of wealth. Indeed, one of capitalism’s main social tasks from its beginning to the present has been the transformation of our energies and corporeal powers into labor-powers.

In Caliban and the Witch, I have looked at the strategies that capitalism has employed to accomplish this task and remold human nature, in the same way as it has tried to remold the earth in order to make the land more productive and to turn animals into living factories. I have spoken of the historic battle it has waged against the body, against our materiality, and the many institutions it has created for this purpose: the law, the whip, the regulation of sexuality, as well as myriad social practices that have redefined our relation to space, to nature, and to each other.

Federici land pullCapitalism was born from the separation of people from the land and its first task was to make work independent of the seasons and to lengthen the workday beyond the limits of our endurance. Generally, we stress the economic aspect of this process, the economic dependence capitalism has created on monetary relations, and its role in the formation of a wage proletariat. What we have not always seen is what the separation from the land and nature has meant for our body, which has been pauperized and stripped of the powers that pre-capitalist populations attributed to it.

Nature has been inorganic body and there was a time when we could read the winds, the clouds, and the changes in the currents of rivers and seas. In pre-capitalist societies people thought they had the power to fly, to have out-of body experiences, to communicate, to speak with animals and take on their powers and even shape-shift. They also thought that they could be in more places than one and, for example, they could come back from the grave to take revenge of their enemies.

Not all these powers were imaginary. Daily contact with nature was the source of a great amount of knowledge reflected in the food revolution that took place especially in the Americas prior to colonization or in the revolution in sailing techniques. We know now, for instance, that the Polynesian populations used to travel the high seas at night with only their body as their compass, as they could tell from the vibrations of the waves the different ways to direct their boats to the shore.

Fixation in space and time has been one of the most elementary and persistent techniques capitalism has used to take hold of the body. See the attacks throughout history on vagabonds, migrants, hobo-men. Mobility is a threat when not pursued for work-sake as it circulates knowledges, experiences, struggles. In the past the instruments of restraint were whips, chains, the stocks, mutilation, enslavement. Today, in addition to the whip and the detention centers, we have computer surveillance and the periodic threat of epidemics as a means to control nomadism.

Federici mechanisation pullMechanization—the turning of the body, male and female, into a machine—has been one of capitalism’s most relentless pursuits. Animals too are turned into machines, so that sows can double their littler, chicken can produce uninterrupted flows of eggs, while unproductive ones are grounded like stones, and calves can never stand on their feet before being brought to the slaughter house.

I cannot here evoke all the ways in which the mechanization of body has occurred. Enough to say that the techniques of capture and domination have changed depending on the dominant labor regime and the machines that have been the model for the body.

Thus we find that in the 16 and 17th centuries (the time of manufacture) the body was imagined and disciplined according to the model of simple machines, like the pump and the lever. This was the regime that culminated in Taylorism, time-motion study, where every motion was calculated and all our energies were channeled to the task. Resistance here was imagined in the form of inertia, with the body pictured as a dumb animal, a monster resistant to command.

With the 19th century we have, instead, a conception of the body and disciplinary techniques modeled on the steam engine, its productivity calculated in terms of input and output, and efficiency becoming the key word. Under this regime, the disciplining of the body was accomplished through dietary restrictions and the calculation of the calories that a working body would need. The climax, in this context, was the Nazi table, that specified what calories each type of worker needed. The enemy here was the dispersion of energy, entropy, waste, disorder. In the US, the history of this new political economy began in the 1880s, with the attack on the saloon and the remolding of the family-life with at its center the full-time housewife, conceived as an anti-entropic devise, always on call, ready to restore the meal consumed, the body sullied after the bath, the dress repaired and torn again.

In our time, models for the body are the computer and the genetic code, crafting a dematerialized, dis-aggregated body, imagined as a conglomerate of cells and genes each with her own program, indifferent to the rest and to the good of the body as a whole. Such is the theory of the ‘selfish gene,’ the idea, that is, that the body is made of individualistic cells and genes all pursuing their program a perfect metaphor of the neo-liberal conception of life, where market dominance turns against not only group solidarity but solidarity with own ourselves. Consistently, the body disintegrates into an assemblage of selfish genes, each striving to achieve its selfish goals, indifferent to the interest of the rest.

To the extent that we internalize this view, we internalize the most profound experience of self-alienation, as we confront not only a great beast that does not obey our orders, but a host of micro-enemies that are planted right into our own body, ready to attack us at any moment. Industries have been built on the fears that this conception of the body generates, putting us at the mercy of forces that we do not control. Inevitably, if we internalize this view, we do not taste good to ourselves. In fact, our body scares us, and we do not listen to it.

We do not hear what it wants, but join the assault on it with all the weapons that medicine can offer: radiation, colonoscopy, mammography, all arms in a long battle against the body, with us joining in the assault rather than taking our body out of the line of fire. In this way we are prepared to accept a world that transforms body-parts into commodities for a market and view our body as a repository of diseases: the body as plague, the body as source of epidemics, the body without reason.

Federici reappropriate pullOur struggle then must begin with the re-appropriation of our body, the revaluation and rediscovery of its capacity for resistance, and expansion and celebration of its powers, individual and collective.

Dance is central to this re-appropriation. In essence, the act of dancing is an exploration and invention of what a body can do: of its capacities, its languages, its articulations of the strivings of our being. I have come to believe that there is a philosophy in dancing, for dance mimics the processes by which we relate to the world, connect with other bodies, transform ourselves and the space around us.

From dance we learn that matter is not stupid, it is not blind, it is not mechanical, but has its rhythms, has its language, and it is self-activated and self-organizing, Our bodies have reasons that we need to learn, rediscover, reinvent. We need to listen to their language as the path to our health and healing, as we need to listen to the language and rhythms of the natural world as the path to the health and healing of the earth. Since the power to be affected and to affect, to be moved and move, a capacity which is indestructible, exhausted only with death, is constitutive of the body, there is an immanent politics residing in it: the capacity to transform itself, others, and change the world.


This essay originally appeared in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are.


Silvia Federici

is a feminist activist, teacher and writer. Her published works include: Revolution at Point Zero. Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (2012); Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2004); Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of Western Civilization and its “Others” (1994 editor).

The Tide

10 years ago
I wanted to be a Tower.
Now,
now I want to be a Village.

I want to shelter the baker, and
nestle the children in
for summer sweet sleep.
I want to protect the cows
from the rain and wind
and help mold the cheese.

I have gone from cold and barren
to lush and fertile, and
I want all roads
To lead to my hearth;
my home;
my heart.

I want to tell you
that I had to swim
across the ocean
more than once
and slay more than one
Sea Monster
to get here.
I say this so
you realize
that life is not easy
but it is worth
the journey and
the pain
and the tears
that make the ocean
all for us to swim
through and
makes the trials and
the laughter and
the swearing;
the curses;
the oaths.
I want to tell you
that being the village
is more
rewarding
than being
that tower
that I struggled
So Hard
to Become.

But, like all things,
the unbecoming
can be
as great
as the
Becoming.

Hunter Hall

gloriaHunter Hall’s a ferocious poet seen late last century lurking black-hooded about the rainy streets of Seattle. Reading Deleuze&Guattari while slinging brutal mochas, channeling serpents and raw riot through her spoken-word performances, she now lurks somewhere in the Salish Sea, plotting revolution while baking for her children.

Hunter Hall has a poem in A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is HereClick here to order.

Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge 2016 and the Apocalypse Now Reading Challenge 2016.

Method of the world’s destruction: ecological devastation, corporate greed, and a mad scientist’s bioengineered supervirus.

Oryx and Crake is the second Margaret Atwood book I have read. I am finding that I have mixed feelings about her. I think she’s a brilliant writer. Her prose is magical and her sense of character amazing. I can’t help but feel a little pride in her as a Canadian. But the critics always wax rhetoric about how wonderfully original she is. She’s not, at least not that I’ve seen yet. Obviously these people just don’t read science fiction.

Atwood’s basic scenario here is a weird mating of The Time Machine, The Stand, and Frankenstein. Professional reviewers claim that Atwood has written “an innovative apocalyptic scenario in a world that is at once changed and all-too familiar because corporations have taken us on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.” It sells books because of our secret fears of genetic engineering. However, it’s not true, and if that’s what these people think then they weren’t paying attention. Also, one professional reviewer who was quoted on the cover of the edition I read said it was “uproariously funny.” I don’t think it was funny at all, and I think that if this guy thought it was funny he’s probably one of the corporate drones that Atwood was critiquing in the book. Someone in a review also said that it was confusing because she jumps back and forth between different moments in time and changes tenses when she does; and this same reviewer had the audacity to criticize Atwood’s grammar! Her grammar was the professional quality one might expect of such a critically acclaimed writer, and the story started in media res and was told primarily in flashbacks, and if that was confusing, I think you should stick with teen fiction.

What is actually great about this book is the fact that it is a brilliantly-written Greek tragedy that ultimately results in the likely extinction of the human race; along with quite a lot of the animals that we are familiar with. There’s a lot of “for want of a nail” stuff going on here. At several points disaster could have been averted, but it isn’t because of human flaws and human mistakes, and so all hell literally breaks loose. The epicenter of many of those flaws and mistakes is the protagonist, once called Jimmy but now known as Snowman, who found himself uniquely in a position by which he could have saved the world but, like Hamlet, fails to do so because of ignorance, negligence, and his tragic flaw, which is a desperate desire to be loved or even liked by someone, largely stemming from childhood neglect, emotionally distant parents, and a very lonely childhood. I love it because so many people in real life fail to do the right thing because of that flaw, or they overlook things that probably should have triggered alarm bells.

Others have found Snowman to be really unlikable as a result of those tragic flaws, but I didn’t. I found I had a lot of sympathy for him, and I could understand why he did a lot of what he did. Jimmy’s mother reminded me of my own, who was bipolar, undiagnosed and untreated for the length of my childhood. You learn that she and Jimmy’s father were at odds over some morality issue associated with the work that Jimmy’s father did for the Corporation they both used to work for. And in this future vision, Corporations own Compounds and keep their people entirely separated from the rest of the world, which they call the “pleeblands” (which of course was actually “plebelands” at one time, one would guess), and your worth, status and wealth depend entirely on your usefulness to the Corporation. Scientists and mathematicians are valued; artists and writers are considered a waste of oxygen; unless they write advertising for the Corporation, of course. Protesting the Corporations is outlawed and demonstrations are punishable by death. In this, Atwood borrows extensively from the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction (or, if you believe her and the critics, she reinvents the wheel).

You learn also, mostly as side stories in Jimmy’s personal observations of what goes on around him growing up, that the world is in a desperate state of ecological disaster due to climate change, there are too many people and too little resources, and the work that the genetic engineering companies do is actually important, or at least some of it is, in assuring the human race’s survival; except that they create primarily what makes the CEOs of the Corporations money, rather than what is good for humanity, due to selfishness and an innate sense of their own superiority over the pleebs (the rest of the planet). In this we also see some shades of the overpopulation horrors of the 1970s, such as in Soylent Green (or Make Room! Make Room!, as the book it was based on was called.)

Quickly you learn that Snowman is looking after an artificially-created sentient race that bears some resemblance to humans, and who comes from humans, but who aren’t quite human. They’ll remind science fiction aficionados of H.G. Wells‘ Eloi. They were created by someone named Crake, who is a very important character in the novel, being the mad scientist in question, and who was once a friend of Snowman’s. Also, there was someone named Oryx in his past, a woman he quite clearly loved, who for some reason was believed by the Crakers to be the creatrix of the animals. But since they are guileless, innocent, and somewhat simple like the Eloi, their beliefs seem almost mythological or biblical. You also learn that Crake was somehow responsible for whatever killed humanity, which was clearly a plague, and if Atwood tried to tell me she never read either The Stand or I Am Legend I would call her a liar, because parts of the book were full of eerie scenes of human life stopped dead, just like Stephen King and Richard Matheson wrote about so well. The title of the book is meant to represent both sides of human nature and not just the characters.

Sounds like spoilers? Nope, not a bit, because you find out most of this stuff in the first chapter. The story is more about how it all unfolds than what happened. And in this, Atwood displays a masterful understanding of the dark side of human nature and how the light side of it can be manipulated and twisted to dark purposes. It’s an amazing story and I was reading it with page-turning alacrity because it was gripping and fascinating. Only at the very end does everything become clear.

There are many questions that should concern the modern mind. Have we already gone so far with climate change that it will inevitably destroy the human race? How far is too far to go with genetic engineering? What are we going to do when there are so many of us that we overwhelm the planet’s resources to care for us, which might already have happened? Are we doomed to destroy ourselves out of greed, neglect, indifference?

And yet there are also subtler questions of human morality and the nature of religion. The Buddha’s dilemma comes up; the Buddha abandoned his wife and child to pursue enlightenment. Did he do the right thing? Buddhism is founded on the idea that attachment is sin, but if anyone did this in modern society we would call them a nutbar or a jerk, and certainly they don’t have normal human empathy and are probably something of a sociopath. There’s a Frankenstein-like element too; the Biblical references in the story of the Crakers is quite clear. Did God mean to create us? If so, was S/He aware of the full consequences of that? Were we created imperfectly and almost by accident, to be lesser, or greater, beings than our creator(s)? Was the Creation a total accident, or some madman’s weird plan?

And there’s a subtle human dilemma too, and that is the damage created by neglecting a child and denying them real love. Snowman might have been able to recognize that Crake was a sociopath if he’d had anything resembling normal parental empathy, but he had no basis of comparison. Is Atwood subtly critiquing the fact that since our society demands that both parents work, our children are being raised by babysitters and the internet? I think perhaps she is.

I really wish I could recommend this novel to everyone, because it does what really good science fiction is supposed to do, which is to make you question the world and society we live in, in a setting that is weird enough to make us feel a little safer than confronting it directly in the present, real world. But not too safe, because some of this sounds a little far-fetched; but not enough of it. Not enough of it by far.

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Book Review: The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There have been quite a lot of reviews of this book on Goodreads, so I think I’ll make mine brief.

This was a brilliantly written book in which three novellas — one a gothic horror novella about cloning, another a dreamscape fantasy novella of an alien world, the third being an almost Kafkaesque story of totalitarian imprisonment and suffering — interconnect. This is pure literary science fiction, in which the plot is not the point, but the theme, and that theme is Colonialism, racism, and institutionalized Colonialism and racism, and the role of identity and memory.

The protagonist of the overarching story is an anthropologist named John V. Marsch, though he never once is the viewpoint character, except by proxy in the final story through scattered and deliberately disordered journal entries. He might be descended from the aboriginal race (or races) of the twin worlds of Sainte Anne and Sainte Croix. It is generally accepted that there was at least one, and possibly more than one, aboriginal race of shapechangers who took on human forms when the human colonists came; and it is generally accepted that the humans wiped them out. However, Veil’s Hypothesis, which was invented by one of the incidental characters you encounter, suggests that the indigenous race forgot they were ever of another race, so they have intermingled among humans and the only real difference is that they have bright green eyes and they can’t use tools well. This is further complicated by a belief of the aboriginal peoples in a race called the Shadow People, who once used tools but don’t anymore, and who can manipulate thoughts and dreams. And they may once have been humans in an ancient first wave of colonization that has been long forgotten.

You will find none of this explained in the story, by the way. These details are gleaned from reading between the lines in the process of the existing stories to form all the pieces of the puzzle.

What it has to say about identity, memory and Colonialism is brilliant and thought-provoking. How memory is unreliable. How Colonial arrogance leads to a sociopathic lack of empathy and the cheapening of human life. How institutionalized racism creates unwarranted and irrational distrust in people. How it leads to the persecution of a class of people which is cloaked in “righteousness.” How identity depends a great deal on not only genetics and experience, but on one’s personal narrative. How truth depends greatly upon one’s point of view.

The writing is also brilliant. The language is amazing, and the clever, interweaving plot elements are mind-boggling. I will probably have to read it again just to pick up on all the subtle nuances I missed the first time around.

So why did I only give it a three rating? Well, to be blunt about it, I was not intending to read poetry; I was reading a novel. I found that Wolfe was so concerned with his theme and the unfolding puzzle that I could get invested in none of the characters and none of the plots, with the exception of the second story, which had the character acting in such a bewildering way at the end of it that I’m still not sure I know what really happened. In general the novel left me with a feeling of confusion and dissatisfaction. So, it was great writing, yes. But did I really enjoy it? I feel a little bit like the morning after from the time when I discovered alcohol-soaked parties in the SCA in my youth. I’m *told* I had a good time. My face hurts from smiling and my throat is hoarse from yelling and laughing. But if that’s true, why does my head hurt and why is there such a bad taste in my mouth?

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