This episode was a treat. I was lucky enough to interview A Peoples’ Remembrancer, Peter Linebaugh, on Bastille Day. These comments are taken from that conversation. We spoke about a lot of things, including Bastille Day; the Green and Red struggles of May Day; prisons, plantations, & the factory as locations of struggle; coal miners; the lungs as part of nature; rewilding the cities; welfare as referring to wellness; how the magical Will is a social creation and becomes more powerful when shared collectively; and revolt as a Peoples’ Magic.
The excitement, the joy, the emotions, and the will is collective when it becomes powerful, and then it produces events that are totally unthought of. Who could have possibly imagined that a wall 90 feet high, in parts 30 feet thick, surrounded by a moat deep enough to drown in, who would have thought that such an edifice which had remained for centuries could be brought down in the space of less than 24 hours. That’s what we’re celebrating on the 14th of July, 1789. This edifice of tyranny, this edifice of repression, this action of people who are rewilding it has provided inspiration for every urban revolution that has ever taken place, and it provides us inspiration now that the carceral archipelago, the huge military prison complex of the USA, can be brought down in a twinkling. These are the miracles of history, but it’s just as accurate to say these are peoples’ magic.”
Several months ago, I had an opportunity to record Moore, Wild, & Lynch in a living room in Maine. The music in this episode, an instrumental called “The Jig,” is from that session, along with several ambient recordings of city people celebrating and the ocean.
Those of you who wanted to hear more from Dr. Bones, whose masterful sermons and rants have been a big part of our podcasts thus far, here you are. Not much more to add; go listen to the man himself tell his story.
This episode is an extended discussion of the Commons, with contributions from David Bollier, George Caffentzis, Massimo de Angelis, Peter Linebaugh, and our own Dr. Bones. Thanks to The Droimlins — Eddy Dyer on guitar and Jimmy Otis on accordion — with their songs “Horse Hooves on the Steppes of Eurasia (765 AD)” and “Tenement Polka.” Also thanks to Eddy Dyer for his vocals and Ethan Winer for his bass on our punk-tinged cover of “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got” by Ral Donner. Above all, thanks to the birds in the forest for allowing me to record their conversations one morning.
The commons, as I would call it today, is those social systems in which people create their own alternatives to capital, where they reproduce their own values and value practices which are completely different to that of capital. The commons empower us, essentially. It empowers us not only to define our own way of doing things collectively, together, but also to make us more powerful to sustain the attack of capital, IF we are organized.
–Massimo de Angelis
To speak of the commons in the 21st century requires long memory and fierce forgetfulness. For not only has the commons been fenced off from memory, but we must also overcome a few hundred years of capitalism’s deep magic, ensorcelling us to not even be able to recognize, much less formulate and articulate, the commons.
The magic of capitalism runs deep.
There’s a sort of intellectual violence that has brought us to repress our understanding of the commons, and there’s also been a raw military and political violence that made it, for a period of time, dangerous to talk about it.
Capitalism is perhaps the most powerful sorcery in human history, just in terms of its ability to get shit done. It is a brutally efficient organizing principle, since it can quantify and commodify virtually everything it encounters. A few centuries after its rise, capitalism is by far the most dominant form of social relation in the world. This is not because capitalism somehow benignly ascended to this position through its merit, because people willingly chose it, or even because people accept it as the “least evil” economic system among a litany of poor choices. We must never forget that capital is always imposed by force, by violence if necessary (and it is always necessary, even if the violence is out of sight for those who benefit most from capitalism).
The world as we know it is wrapped up in fences and borders because we allowed others to rule us, to tell us it was their property. Don’t touch this! Don’t do that! This belongs to someone! Well, why? Why does it belong to them? Don’t you see the laws of property are nothing more than a way to get you to obey? What right does someone have, other than an illusion created by the state to buy a building of hundreds of people and increase their rent for no reason? What right does anyone have to take a forest that is sacred to me and my allies? Why am I not consulted? Ah, because I don’t have that falsehood, that lie, called property.
Deep Magic Speaks: ‘There is no alternative’
We are taught to believe that there is no alternative to capitalism, and to see the world in a way that reflects this idea. Or if people can imagine an alternative, it’s a free-for-all resource grab with no rules except might makes right. Eventually, we forget that we can have any other kind of social relation than capitalism or chaos. We repeat its incantation —“there is no alternative”—to ourselves and one another, and we deepen our enchantment. And in a strange way, we are unified by our enchantment, because we can always perceive others—both people and resources—in terms of the capitalist vision. And this vision requires that we look at it selfishly—what can I get from this person? How can I profit from this commodity? The deep magic of capitalism entails an indifference to the suffering of others, which makes it sociopathic, and on those occasions when we realize we are a society of sociopaths, we accept it because we have become convinced that there is no alternative.
I’ve long been interested in the history of crime — and here I don’t mean the thieving that is at the base of capitalism, when our subsistence is taken away — instead I mean that thieving for subsistence, which poor people have always been forced to do when their own means of subsistence, namely the land, was taken away. So my first study had to do with the history of crime, which I rapidly learned was the history of people trying to obtain subsistence in a regime of privatization…. Labor history is the history of life, and the history of life can’t be written without the commons.
Except, it’s a lie. There are many alternatives, including the older, deeper magic of the commons. The deeper magic that capitalism knew from Day One it would have to bury, to eradicate from peoples’ minds.
Capitalist institutions are more vulnerable than we realize. It remains to be seen if capitalism can survive the pressures of climate change. I tend to have my doubts.
The signifier of deep magic is participation and complicity. For instance, when our full participation in capitalism is expected, automatic, and unquestioned, then we are under its enchantment. And we all are, to some extent. The poor kid who enlists and finds himself shooting at strangers in the desert participates. The low level cubicle-dweller with a 401k participates. The single mother buying food for her family at WalMart, having had any other mode of social reproduction stolen from her, participates. Every non-cash transaction, using credit or debit cards, Paypal and similar services gives the wizards of financial capital 3-5% right off the top, which doesn’t even include the draconian interest rates, sometimes more than 20% annually if you are really poor, that they charge for the privilege of using their payment system. Paying cash is one step better, since there is no percentage off the top that goes to capital. Yet, even cash is fiat currency: In the US, the Fed invokes a dollar into being, with a mere word that no longer requires breath behind it. Instead, there is debt behind each dollar from its inception (capitalists never create money for nothing). People take those dollars and circulate them, everyone behaves as if they are real, more real than the homeless camp hidden at the edge of town. These wizards’ tendrils dig in to nearly every transaction most of us do. So we participate. All of us do.
The magic of capitalism runs deep.
Actual commoning is generally only recognized when it’s taken away. When you lose the sidewalk in the suburban development, or when you lose the water fountain in the school you attend, you realize that, oh, I had part of the land where I could walk. I had water that was healthy that I could drink for free. So this expropriation or removal of the commons is often the first time that we get to see that such a thing ever existed.
In general, I’m not a huge fan of allegory. But I loved Rhyd Wildermuth‘s The DisEnchanted Kingdom when he wrote it several months back. When he told me he wanted to do a reading of it for the podcast I was excited. And it came out even better than I hoped it would. This one is really fun to listen to.
Music for this episode was provided by Dark Follies, taken from recordings I did with them a few years ago. Songs performed, in order of appearance, are called Jovano Jovanka, Uskadar, and Dobriden. Violin by Carson Lynch, accordion by Ann Murray, acoustic guitar by Larry Averill, percussion by Stephen Carpenter, Nikki Shields, Brent Nelson, and Joie Grandbois.
The background sounds you hear were recorded on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine, on a point overlooking Portland Harbor. If you listen closely, you will pick up one of the neighborhood cats who had something to say.
The weather here has been very unusual. The abundance of moisture isn’t, but it’s about 20 degrees warmer than average for December. There’s been a lot of rain and fog, and almost no snow or ice thus far. It reminds me of early spring weather, when the thaw is underway and mist lingers in the air. The sounds of moisture in this episode come from both this past week and last spring.
In previous episodes, all the background music was something I’d recorded or mixed, but for the first time here I am including music I had nothing to do with recording. Disemballerina’smusic is excellent, and creates a lovely mood for this episode. They were kind enough to let me use their songs Black Angel Trumpet, Two Crows, That is the Head of One Who Toyed with My Honor, and Year of the Horse. These songs are available on their bandcamp page more or less as you hear in this podcast, with a few volume & EQ adjustments to fit the music in with the rest of the recordings in this episode.
Dr. Bonesgives us another sermon this episode, on the fractured relationship between domesticated primates and the natural world around us.
“In an age where we are confounded with rampant materialism, where our lives seem dictated to us by machines and prior programs, what does it mean to live magically?
You and I exist in a world beyond the divine right of kings. For hundreds of years, just wearing a crown made you someone chosen by God, and here we are, us moderns, looking at something like that and thinking, hmm, what an anachronism. Where do you think that came from? Do you think people just woke up one day and said, “well, you know, kings, fuck em.” No. It took people thinking magically. It took people imagining a world beyond…. and not knowing how it was going to manifest itself. Isn’t that what we do?”
Episode 4 begins with the sound of my favorite natural spring in the world, and it flows throughout this episode. Music is provided by Eddy Dyer, recorded at a recent benefit concert in Maine. Eddy’s guitar graces most of this episode, and he plays a medley of “Under The City” (music by Jimmy Otis, lyrics by Eddy Dyer), followed by a Cure cover, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” (Smith/Gallup/Thompson/Tolhurst/Williams).
“Under the city lies a world beyond the pale
There is no sacred thing on this side of the veil
Under the city I’ll be hiding from the drones
Preaching my visions on a rusty megaphone”
In addition, we have a sermon from Dr. Bones, and a meditation on Dreams, Enchantment, and Living Magically from C.S. Thompson.
“This is the difference between being an enchanter, and being a person who is under an enchantment. We tend to think of the world around us as being disenchanted because we’ve been enchanted to think that way.”
Thanks to the spirits of the spring for their song, to Eddy for his enchantment, and to Dr Bones & C.S. Thompson for their wisdom.
“I remember the very first time I went into the prison. You go through the front gate which is all barbed wire, which is weird. Then you go through these series of portals, of gates that make these gigantic clanging noises when they lock, it’s really just totally unsettling. By the time you finally get out into the population you’re completely unnerved already.
But then I got out into the main yard, a little nervous of course, and I start looking around. I’m looking at all these guys, looking them in the face, in the eyes. I realized, these are just a bunch of Mainers. These are the guys I grew up with. They’re just people who screwed up, and most of them should not be prison. The fear immediately disappeared.”
“This is the power of the state elevated to godhood.”
“We’re number one in prisoners.
By every measure the U.S. leads the world in prisoners, with 2.2 million people in jail and more than 4.8 million on parole. No nation tops that – not China with 1.7 million, not Russia with 670,000. We not only have the highest number of prisoners, we have the highest percentage of people in prison or jail. In the U.S., 702 of every 100,000 people were in prison or jail in 2013. Cuba has 510 per 100,000 people in prison, Russia has 467, and Iran has 290.
Black and Latino Americans have been especially hard hit: they form over 39 percent of the prison population. One in every three black men is expected to serve time during their lives (at least under our current criminal justice system). Approximately half of all inmates are there for violating drug prohibition laws.
How is it that America, supposedly the beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world, has more prisoners than any police state?”
“If you don’t want to reach out to somebody in prison, work on building the pagan community…. period.”
Thanks to Alban Artur, Kevin Emmons, and Janine Marie for their insights and experiences. Thanks to Dr. Bones for the rant. Thanks to the Order Of Maine Druidry for playing the community drum and holding space. Thanks to the weather gods for the rain transitioning into snow. Background music and rhythm programming by James Lindenschmidt.
“There’s something about winter that… a lot of revolts, a lot of insurrections, have happened in the winter months when a lot of the external distractions of the difficulties of society have gone away. Everybody is in enclosed spaces, it’s cold, and it’s raw. Life is raw. We start to see the real conditions of life and we become restless & discontent.”
In episode 2, our own managing punk anarchist druid editor, Rhyd Wildermuth, tells the story of the origin of Gods & Radicals, and walks us through a detailed preview of A Beautiful Resistance, the upcoming print journal that will be shipping very soon.