ART MANIFESTO: Utopian Fevered Dreams

“If you are unwilling or unable to create your own Utopia, you will inevitably live in someone else’s.”

From Patacelsus


I have it on good authority that good art manifestos start with a declaration denouncing all previous art movements and putting them on notice that they have been found out to be hacks concerned only with money. In keeping with that fine tradition that may or may not even exist, I am putting the leaders of all previous human societies on notice, we have found out that you are run by hacks concerned only with money. Most leaders who are dead are safe from the embarrassment of being found out. Those leaders currently alive don’t seem capable of shame, so for now lets just end the ritual formality of denunciation and get into it.

But what is Utopia exactly? It’s heaven, heaven on Earth. A heaven built with one’s own two hands. Everyone is in the Utopia game. Since Ur and Babylon, all of civilization has been an imitatio in divinus. Everyone wants to build “their” Utopia. Guess who’s Utopia we are living in now?

Why Art Manifesto and not An Art Manifesto? Well, to put it quite plainly, I’m not just talking about art, or the arts, I’m also talking about THE ART, the only Art really. All of the rest of it is just practice in technique. Some people are technically amazing, and an even smaller slice of people actually achieve Art without ever intending to. Many who practice The Art have no artistic technique to speak of and yet still make it work. But many, many, many, who aspire to art or The Art, fail, miserably. Because they never even try.

If you are unwilling or unable to create your own Utopia, you will inevitably live in someone else’s. Many create their own Utopias, but have neither the means or the will to build it very far outside of their imagination. This is the consequence of the Capitalist Utopia we all live in. Our Utopias either stay locked in our imagination, never breathing free, or quickly bankrupt us, or sometimes, get us locked away behind bars, either in a jail or a hospital.

Then there are some who have technique, they achieve unto The Art, and spend their lives churning out baleful anti-art, which like the flaming eye of Sauron, seeks out imagination, creativity and freedom, and burns it out of a person, replacing it with product jingles, corporate logos, and asinine TV/video ads. The products of these anti-art da Vinci’s go on to live their own lives in the ether, astral plane, noosphere, collective unconscious, whatever you like to call it.

But imagine having the means and the will, and choosing not to create a Utopia. What does one call that? Imagine not having the imagination to create a Utopia. That is the beginning and end of poverty. The Capitalist Utopia has broken your body, and hence, your mind. Or it has broken your mind, your body is soon to follow. The Capitalist Utopia is a meat grinder, and Mammon turns the crank.

What kind of art can you make these days that some jackass isn’t looking to commodify and sell? Or would it be better to say commode-ify? What kind of art resists best this trend of the endless shit torrent of “content”? What medium aesthetically and physically resists being owned and sold?

While we’re on the topic of demonology, why do Capitalists get all the fun? Belphegor is in Peter Binsfeld’s demonology too. He is the demon of sloth, and teaches mankind ingenious devices. Seeing him inside out, he encourages mankind to cast off drudgery and instructs in tools designed to eliminate work. He was known to the ancient Middle-East as Baal-Peor, his symbol was a phallus and he was associated with orgies. The Kabbalists know him as the disputer, would that more people in a labor dispute had made friends with him. What better demon to evoke for a Utopia? What better demon to preside over the end of someone else’s Utopia?

In Tibet they have a tradition of art called sand mandalas. There was once a team of monks making a sand mandala in a museum, after they had left a small child decided to play in the pretty sand, the mandala was gone in an instant! But I do not suggest you take up making Art in sand. No, instead I suggest you take up Art with chalk. Lasts just long enough, but not too long. A medium burn in a universe on fire! Let your Art adorn every surface! Let every McDonald’s arch face down with the orison of Papa Guedhe! The local block looking drab? Cook up a special haunt and make it interesting again, seal the deal with a Seal of Solomon! Chalk is cheap and so is talk! Get out there and make street Art!

(Chalkable…)

Strikes and slowdown’s were once the tools by which worker’s unions twisted the arm of capital to get what they wanted. But the union slowly became a tool of the establishment. Wages have been stagnant since the 70’s, and yet worker productivity has risen since to over 70%. The eight hour workday is an idea that goes back to 1810. Eighteen hundred and ten! We are living in the world of the future according to those people, now long dead. In the duration since, repeatedly it has been promised, more often than not in the contemporary discourse, that in the world of the future drudgery would be gone, post scarcity would render society radically differet. So what happened?

Why chalk and not spray paint, or something else more permanently defacing? Well, in the case of paint, it no longer permanently defaces like it used to. Society has become accustomed to it, works around it. In other words, paint isn’t permanent as it used to be, and permanence isn’t the point. This universe is a burning house, everything is impermanent. Chalk then is the perfect medium as message, as well as resisting attempts to commode-ify Art. Most taggers tag in paint to see how long a run they have before their tag gets painted over. As well, most tags are just names written in elaborate, barely readable script. A bunch of latter day Andy Warhols, signing their name on civilizations concrete coral reefs. Boring!

Murray Bookchin, in his book “Post-Scarcity Anarchism”, a book written in 1971, seemed to be of the opinion that a post-scarcity that provided a high quality of life, as well as a harmonizing with the environment, was possible. That was in 1971. Some might argue that we weren’t there yet, but are today. Some might argue that we are almost there, but maybe tomorrow. Many anarchists are jaded with the notion entirely, convinced that the long promised technology will never manifest, that it was a fever dream that distracts from the revolution.

The reality is startling and may cause you to shit yourself from seizures; the shock from this revelation will be overwhelming. It was the Capitalists that promised the future of post-scarcity. They lied.

Spray paint has become passé, something to be ignored on the urban landscape, not pretty enough or weird enough to grab attention. Permanent enough that it is an annoyance to the particular “owner” or caretaker of whatever bears the mark, but not impermanent enough that it becomes worth looking at simply because of its short life. “Tagging” artists have also partially pushed into the mainstream, it is no longer the universally hated pastime it was in days gone by. In contrast, chalk is too ephemeral in its duration to be worth hating or accepting. The simple fact that it is still there makes one curious enough to look. Though it is imminently destructible, no one bothers, it’s chalk, let the rain handle it.

Oh, they didn’t lie about the technology, that’s for sure. If we didn’t have it in the 70’s we definitely have it now. No, they lied about using it. They had no intention of ever improving the quality of life with it. No transformation of society was going to happen, regardless of whether or not the tech was real. The point of Capitalism isn’t the greater good, it isn’t the most benefit to the most people. It is about getting that mutha fuckin’ money. Every single other thing that a Capitalist does is auxiliary to that. Give up all that money and power so that people can live in dignity and without fear of having basic needs met? “Fuck that bullshit”, says the Capitalist. The point of a Capitalist society is so that the most sociopathic and ruthless can get more. It’s an asinine way to run a civilization, if you want it to last for more than a few hundred years, and not collapse into ruin.

How complex your works need to be is entirely up to the artist and their skill. You can go for the fully utilitarian mode of sigil work, or create murals that will wash or blow away within the week. What matters is your intent, and how much life you breath into that intent made physical. You might even find that as you make more works, that your technique and your ability to bring these works to life, to Art, grows and takes on a life of itself, that’s real Art.

And if our leaders are asinine, then why work so hard for them? It’s one thing to show up because you need a paycheck, its another to let yourself be goaded into working as hard as you can because you’re afraid one of the salarymen is going to call you lazy! Constantly on the media streams, these assholes get up in front of everyone and the gods to either implicate or out right accuse the citizenry of laziness, despite all research asserting the opposite. You have a 70” LCD TV that you bought on credit, what do you need with all that health care and minimum wage anyway? Right!?!

Not only will your works take on a life of their own, but they are also embedded there in the moments they occupy, there for any being with eyes to see them. The beings we (and I’m just going to assume that since you’re reading this you are one of those types who talks to spirits, gods, demons, etc.) talk to exist on another plane, sure, which is another way to say higher dimension. Just like the floating silvery orbs often seen over populated cities might be aliens, sure, but are more like cross sections of hyper dimensional shapes being rotated on their 3+n D axes, and less like beings from another planet in our “volume sliding along a duration” type of existence. That means that the chalk is actually not just an aesthetic statement about anti-commodification, but also an effective way to conceal your works from the mundane peoples.

Look, in the past it was sabotage, strikes, and slowdown’s that twisted the arm of capital. But punctuated events have become easy for the Capitalist and his Statist cronies to deal with. Instead, why not provide the ultimate slowdown? Belphegor makes sense as an adopted comrade spirit in these times. Corporations are now more than ever trying to foist as much work for as little pay as they can on the worker. If it isn’t overtime due to under-staffing and high volume, then it is pursuing your personal GOALS, which must meet the SMART criteria, and though they are refereed to with various anti-prose euphemisms such as employee enrichment, what they are friends and fiends is extra work. Extra fucking work, as if the shit they have you doing for a whole third of your life wasn’t enough.

I have a confession to make, I don’t think the revolution will happen soon. I do not mean to say that we should not make the attempt, or struggle in other ways. What I mean to say is that until there is a collapse, the kind that normally happens when a society spins off into massive inequality in wealth and environmental degradation, that the inertia of our collective history will deflect naturally such efforts. We should struggle anyway, however, because the attempt itself plants seeds that can be watered later, to grow in the fertile corpse of our current context. I would not deny anyone that demands “revolution now” the opportunity to make it happen. But in the succession of “nows” that pass, why not engage yourself happily? Why not make Art? Why not paint this soon-to-be corpse of a civilization, like a cemetery mortician putting make-up on someone’s gran-gran, in runes of struggle, revolution, liberty and community? If you have better things to do, then feel free, certainly, to get on with it. But if not, why not pick up a stick of chalk, and paint the world mad?

They don’t lift a finger except to count their money, and they vilify us, these scoundrels, for not wanting to drudge in a world where drudgery could be done away with. It keeps us tired, unable to absorb information as fast, and closer to docile than not. It is not a lack of technology that prevents Utopia, it is the fear of the privileged, and indeed today they enjoy such “private law” that has not been seen since the days of aristocracy. The slick haired, over perfumed, chemically tanned aristocracy of money want you working hard so they can continue to enjoy the privilege that comes from their money. Ready to play hookie yet? Ready for an, ahem, “sick day”, full of fun and adventure?

Indeed, if I should be so bold, I might suggest that one’s whole life should be a work of Art. A magical statement to echo down the ages, heard only by ears that can hear such echoes, and yet the waves of which affecting those who can and can’t nonetheless. Like Nietzsche suggests to us, “What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’” If indeed your life were to occur repeatedly in such a manner, would you want a third of that time spent drudging for a douche-bag with a watch collection worth more than hundreds of thousands of families incomes? Many think when they die the drudgery is over, and if it isn’t, would this not then be hell?

“What kind of adventures”, you ask? Well, you could do a lot of things, with free time comes choice, a thing most at least dimly remember. I could make a suggestion, why not art? Paint the town red as they say. And why not magical art, or as they used to call it, The Art. An abattoir of Art, the concrete deserts of the worlds cities blooming on a spring, summer, fall, or winter day. Any time of the year is good. Not a bad suggestion if I say so myself. I should write a little primer, a wee little Art Manifesto to rouse my glorious fellow rabble into acts sacred and profound. Why not an Art Manifesto, I don’t have much better to do. I wonder if anyone knows anything about Art Manifestos?

Who wants to live in hell on Earth? Why not then use Art to make a Utopia? Nothing fancy mind you, this present context is two breaths away from being a rotting corpse. Perhaps then we should just plant dreams in the subconscious minds of our fellow humans, and nightmares for Capitalists who hope we all stay sleeping. But whether or not we bother to plan our Utopia or with Jovian profligacy spread our Art like so many weedy species spill seeds into the wind, we should at least have a talk about Utopia. If you could live your life as a work of Art, in a civilization that was a work of Art, that might be Utopia, if you were into that. But definitely, lets talk about Utopia first.

 


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.

A City Where Gods Can Live

(an excerpt from Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism)

Imagine a city in some possible future. It’s a beautiful place, not so much because of the architecture or layout, but because there are growing things everywhere. It doesn’t look much like the cities of the past, but something more like a huge garden with buildings in it. Parts of it are completely forested and inhabited by wild animals. Others are given over to intensive crop cultivation. The rooftops and yards of every building are filled with vegetables and flowers. There are wells and streams of clean, clear water. In the large and open public squares, people of all types mingle freely to discuss local issues or daily events.

No two neighborhoods are the same: each has a distinctive personality and a different mix of cultures and religions. Not everyone is Pagan, but Pagan religious practices are fully accepted. Here and there throughout the city, you can see little shrines to different gods and spirits. There are sacred groves and holy trees, where people of any faith or no faith at all can go for spiritual renewal without fear of persecution.

The business of governing—if you want to call it that—is done on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis through directly democratic communes. Every person of every type has an equal voice, and an equal vote in the affairs of the commune. There are no bosses, although different people exercise leadership in different circumstances on an as-needed basis.

There is always work to do, from tending the vegetables or making clothing to keeping the streets clean or teaching the children, but there is no one forcing you to work for someone else’s profit. Everyone contributes in whatever way seems best to the individual, and everyone shares in the city’s wealth. There is no charge for food, or for a place to live, or for necessary health care. When there is a need for exchange, people treat it as an exchange of gifts.

People aren’t alienated from each other, they live and work together in close proximity. If you have something you have to do, there is never any question that someone will watch the children. People sing while they work, or tell stories or jokes. As evening falls, people dance and socialize.

The lifestyle of the city is in some ways a simple one, not reliant on the constant use of high technology, but it isn’t anti-technological. Technological knowledge is used extensively, but only in ways that will not disrupt the basic health and balance of the city’s ecosystem.

Capitalism fell—perhaps hundreds of years ago—but civilization endures.

This is a utopian vision, I know. It’s a fantasy of the imagination, but that doesn’t make it a useless daydream. By imagining what my utopia would be, I free myself from what is. I give myself the power to start working immediately for a better world. If this is what my utopia would be like, then I know what steps will bring us closer.

rojava-title

When central government collapses, people must fend for themselves. This can be a disaster for everyone—or a precious opportunity.

In 2012, the dictatorial government of Bashar al-Assad lost control of the Kurdish regions in northern Syria because of the Syrian Civil War. Syrian troops stood down, and left a Kurdish militia known as the YPG or People’s Protection Units in effective control. The YPG was the armed wing of the PYD or Democratic Union Party, a Syrian Kurdish political party allied with the PKK in neighboring Turkey. The PYD had been building up its network in the area for years, leaving it perfectly positioned to step in when Syrian troops pulled out.

Rather than establishing an ethnic nationalist state for the Kurds as they could so easily have done, the Democratic Union Party established a multi-ethnic autonomous region known as the Rojava Cantons, based on an explicitly ecological, feminist, and egalitarian philosophy called Democratic Confederalism.

While not an anarchist system in the strict sense, Democratic Confederalism was inspired by the writings of American anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin. The Rojava Cantons are the largest and most successful political experiment in the anarchist tradition since the fall of Barcelona at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

From the moment the Rojava Cantons were established, they have been surrounded by absolutely ruthless enemies including Daesh, the Al-Nusra Front, and the Syrian and Turkish governments. Because of their desperate situation, they have been obliged to take allies wherever they can find them—earning the condemnation of some anarchists due to their military alliance with the United States. The courage and perseverance of the Kurdish militias has also thrilled and inspired people around the world, especially that of the Kurdish women’s militia or YPJ.

The military situation simply is what it is: war makes for even stranger bedfellows than politics does. Rather than spending time on sterile debates about moral purity, I’d like to examine the system the Rojava Kurds have created. It may not be strictly anarchist, but it is unquestionably a move toward “power from below” and away from rule by bosses. It is also a step toward a new urban society, one that Pagan anarchists could happily help build.

democThe political philosophy of the Rojava Cantons is Democratic Confederalism, which was first developed by imprisoned Kurdish revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan based on his correspondence with Murray Bookchin. Democratic Confederalism is applied through the Social Contract of the Rojava Cantons, which is essentially a Constitution.

This document opens with the statement that Rojava is a multi-ethnic society including “Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens.” Right at the outset, it rejects the idea of ethnic nationalism or separatism and proclaims that the revolutionary society will be based on “equality and environmental sustainability” with no interference from religious authorities in secular affairs. For a Pagan anarchist, this would be equivalent to a clear rejection of Folkish or so-called “National Anarchist” ideologies and an affirmation of egalitarian and ecological principles as the core of any future revolutionary change.

The Charter recognizes the full participation of “Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Chechen, Armenian, Muslim, Christian and Yazidi communities peacefully co-existing in brotherhood.” This is especially important for Pagan anarchists, because it represents a model for how a minority religion such as Paganism can be accommodated within a broader revolutionary framework.

The Yazidis are an ancient semi-Gnostic religious group, often misrepresented as Satanists because of the importance of a figure known as Malek T’aus, the Peacock Angel, in their mythology. The Peacock Angel is equivalent in some respects to Lucifer or Iblis, but the Yazidis understand this figure in a completely different way from Christians or Muslims. The Yazidis were targeted for genocide by Daesh because of their beliefs, and the YPG and YPJ militias were instrumental in rescuing the Yazidi community from annihilation.

For a majority-Muslim culture like the Kurds to come to the rescue of the Yazidis is a remarkable demonstration of their commitment to pluralism. A future social revolution in the Americas or Europe would likewise have to deal with the reality of seemingly incompatible belief systems existing side by side. Rather than promoting the hatred and rejection of Muslims, Christians, and atheists as some polytheist writers have done, we should emulate the Kurds and embrace a society of “Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan and atheist people peacefully co-existing in solidarity.”

The basic structure of the Charter is built around local self-government. According to “Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan” by Tom Anderson:

Looking more closely at these ideas, democratic confederalism is based on the idea that society can be run truly democratically through networks of grassroots assemblies or communes, which form confederations with each other across regions. Local assemblies elect representatives at the village or street level and these representatives represent their assembly at the level of the city or region. Again, the city or region elects representatives to represent them at higher levels… The idea is that the real power remains with the population, and not with state bureaucracies. According to Öcalan, a form of government would still be necessary, but only to implement the decisions made by the assemblies, whose representatives would be elected at a street or neighbourhood level.

A decentralized society of directly-democratic people’s assemblies in confederation with each other is a basic goal of classical anarchism, so the anarchist roots of the Rojava Charter are clear. Democratic Confederalism isn’t purely anarchist because it accepts the existence of a federated government to oversee the process. Classical anarchist thinkers such as Kropotkin would not have accepted this arrangement, as the federation of communes was intended to be a looser structure without governing authority over the individual communes. Democratic Confederalism also de-emphasizes class struggle, so it’s unclear that the resulting society would really do away with the boss system. Despite this fact, collectivized worker cooperatives are common in Rojava and are seen as part of the revolutionary project.

In keeping with my preference for seeing anarchism as a critique rather than a system per se, I see Rojava as a huge step in the right direction for humanity. That doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the Rojava Revolution is above all criticism, only that it is a positive step.

womenIslamophobes in the West often try to justify their bigotry with a hypocritical appeal to feminism—generally without any prior history of support for women’s equality in our own society. According to their narrative, Islam is fundamentally and unchangeably misogynist, making it “incompatible with our values.” Although Rojava is home to several different religious traditions, it is still majority Muslim. The Rojava Revolution demonstrates that a Muslim society can lead the way in the struggle for full equality under the right circumstances.

The Rojava Cantons are organized into communes of up to 300 people. Every commune has both a People’s Council and a Women’s Council. Each People’s Council has two co-presidents, one male and one female. The People’s Council decides on issues affecting the whole commune, and the Women’s Council decides on issues affecting women specifically. The Women’s Council can veto the decisions of the People’s Council on women’s issues. At every level of organization, women must make up at least 40 percent of every decision-making body.

It is difficult to imagine the sweeping social changes that would be necessary for a system this egalitarian to become the norm in any of the Liberal Democracies that are currently so concerned about Muslim immigration.

libertI’m not suggesting that the Rojava Cantons are anything like the fantasy city I described at the beginning of this chapter. However, they are much closer to that vision than our current situation. Over hundreds of years, a society like the Rojava Cantons could develop in the direction of that ideal city, assuming it could survive while also remaining true to its founding values. If we want to make our society a better place for every living being, we need not only the pragmatism to solve daily problems but also the idealism to dream of long-term goals. We have to be clear on what the ideal society would be like if we want to achieve even a reasonably good society today.

Murray Bookchin provides some useful ideas to help get us started down this path, but we cannot stop with Murray Bookchin. For one thing, Bookchin had an intense and somewhat inexplicable disdain for Paganism. He dismissed any combination of Pagan and anarchist ideas as mere “lifestyle anarchism,” divorced from the tradition of revolutionary struggle.

Bookchin’s philosophy of “social ecology” and “libertarian municipalism” was based on urban living rather than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle espoused by anarcho-primitivists. Bookchin was inspired by the ancient Greek polis and the notion of the informed and politically engaged citizen of the polis. A society based on Bookchin’s ideas would be made up of autonomous directly-democratic cities. Bookchin conceived of these cities as ecologically-oriented, but rejected any revival of animism or Pagan religion.

In Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a Future Social Ecology, David Watson systematically dissected every aspect of Bookchin’s philosophy, concluding that Bookchin’s ideas have little to offer the future and should be set aside. Watson particularly objected to Bookchin’s reductionist materialism, arguing for the value of primal and indigenous worldviews—including their animistic and mythopoetic aspects. Watson was an early advocate of anarcho-primitivism, although he later criticized what he saw as the excesses of this movement.

Obviously Watson did not foresee that Bookchin’s ideas would provide the inspiration for a revolutionary new society. The existence of the Rojava Cantons basically vindicates Bookchin—his philosophy has legs. However, many of Watson’s specific criticisms will probably resonate with Pagan anarchists. Social ecology without a spiritual dimension seems like an abstract theory; it’s not based deeply in relationship between people and their landscape.

Bookchin’s dismissal of indigenous societies ignores the fact that people living in this way have been so much more successful at not destroying their environments than we have. Bookchin is no doubt correct that some primitivists romanticize primal societies in ways that are basically condescending “Noble Savage” racism. That doesn’t mean he’s correct that we should disregard and dismiss their ways of life, or the value of their spiritual perspective for creating a truly ecological society of the future.

As Watson says:

An evolved reason will have a place for the wolf, for the consciousness of the redwood, for ghost dancers, mystics and animistic tribal villagers – will coax into being, with a little luck, a rounded, vital synthesis of archaic and modern.

My daydream of the ideal city is meant as a baby step toward such a synthesis.

cst-author

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword. Thompson lives with his family in Portland, Maine.


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