Grandmother of the Revolution

“Because revolutions don’t only spread like wildfire, they spread like forests and especially trees. An old tree puts out many seeds that become saplings that become trees of their own. And then those trees put out more seeds, more saplings, more trees, and next thing you know the world is a forest again.”

A brief tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, from Rhyd Wildermuth


 

“To die was merely to go on in another direction.”

Ursula K. Le Guin has died. Or returned.  Or really, she’s merely gone off in another direction.

There will be a thousand tributes and remembrances to her. You should read them all, even if you’ve never read her work. Especially if you’ve never read her work. Because you’ve no doubt noticed all the really cool inspiring mystical/anarcho/revolutionary sorts you know are all in tears right now, like they’re mourning their favorite grandmother.

Because we are.

Ursula K. Le Guin was like a grandmother, but also like a tree. Trees can be grandmothers, you know, and they often are. Because trees don’t just grow and die, they do lots of other stuff in their very long lives. They shade the ground, shelter and feed small animals and birds. The leaves they drop compost into more soil, while their twigs and branches get gathered for nests. And their roots, oh those roots. They hold the earth together around them, even long after the tree itself has died.

But what trees also do in their long lives is make more trees. Unlike humans who make more humans, trees scatter their children everywhere. The wind shakes their branches and more trees happen thousands of feet away. A bird plays in their branches and then flies miles away and more trees happen there, too. And then those trees that happen from that first tree live long lives, shelter and feed animals, hold the earth together, and then also make more trees happen.

Le Guin was like a tree. When I first saw her at a reading in the crammed back room of a bookstore, I didn’t just see a woman there, nor did my companions.

“She’s like an ancient tree” one of my friends whispered. “It’s like a tree lived for a thousand years and decided to walk around and write and tell us stuff.”

My friend was right. And also wrong, because she was a human. But actually what’s the difference? Because trees and humans aren’t so different, and the truth of the matter is not for science and logic to decide but for art.

“I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie.”

Le Guin was a grandmother tree and not a grandmother tree. Or maybe great-grandmother tree and not great-grandmother tree, because who knows yet how many generations of other trees happened because of her? So many ideas happened because she happened, so many worlds.

Many of the tributes to her will be about how she inspired the fiction of many others (ahem–wizard school, a matter she herself shrugged off and laughed about, because ideas didn’t belong to people anymore than trees belonged to their grandmothers who themselves were grandchildren).

But what shouldn’t be under-stated is how much she inspired those of us who learned fiction could tell the truth, and truth could be completely fiction, and the difference didn’t matter nearly as much as people like to think.

For a long time as a writer she fought the demands of literary critics and the publishing industry to define her books according to a marketing category. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Why were both different from fiction in general? They were all beautiful lies telling the truth; some had imaginary dragons, some had imaginary people, but it was all imaginary.

And of course if it was all imaginary, yet we also found truth in it, then what does imaginary actually mean? And who decides?

Well–we decide. That was always her point anyway, wasn’t it? That was her point about capitalism as well (because she was as anti-capitalist as they get, though you might not always notice from the big-name tributes). And about anarchism (yeah, she was one of those too). And really her point about love, and gender, and everything.

We decide. We make the world. But sometimes people get in the way, particularly greedy people who profit off others’ suffering. And so we have to stop them, but without imagining that stopping them will make every problem go away:

There would not be slums like this, if the Revolution prevailed. But there would be misery. There would always be misery, waste, cruelty. She had never pretended to be changing the human condition, to be Mama taking tragedy away from the children so they won’t hurt themselves. Anything but. So long as people were free to choose, if they chose to drink flybane and live in sewers, it was their business. Just so long as it wasn’t the business of Business, the source of profit and the means of power for other people.

Le Guin never coddled us as she led us through the worlds she created, never tried to make the paths through forests clean of debris. The truth was beautiful and messy, beautiful because it was messy, messy because it was beautiful. The Dispossessed, more than any other work, made sure we knew just what liberation looks like, as did her short story about the founder of the world that book speaks of:

“What is an anarchist? One who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.”

Most of the best quotes are from that short story, most of these quotes are, too. And here’s where I start to cry while I type. Because sometimes a thought would come into my head: there will be a day without Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a funny thought to have, one I’d have quite often. And it turns out I am not the only one, either–so many of my friends have said the same thing.

It’s because of that story. But also because grandmother trees will not always be around, even if the forest that rose up around them continues to grow. I’m part of that forest, and so are you. So is this site and publisher, so are quite a few others.

And it’s that story (gods I’m crying) that maybe made us think about how one day she would go in another direction. But also we would still be around, and that would mean something and so would her passing.

That story, The Day Before The Revolution, tells the last day of the woman who changed a world. And of course Le Guin changed a world already, but maybe is about to change it even more. How she already changed it will take thousands of tributes (and again, read them all). How she is maybe about to change the world even more, well–I think we will see very soon.

She was and wasn’t a grandmother tree. She wasn’t Odo, the mother of the revolution, but maybe she also was. Because revolutions don’t only spread like wildfire, they spread like forests and especially trees. An old tree puts out many seeds that become saplings that become trees of their own. And then those trees put out more seeds, more saplings, more trees, and next thing you know the world is a forest again.

“Tomorrow? Oh, I won’t be here tomorrow,” she said brusquely. Whoever had asked her smiled, another one laughed, though Amai glanced round at her with a puzzled look. They went on talking and shouting. The Revolution. What on earth had made her say that? What a thing to say on the eve of the Revolution, even if it was true.”


If you’ve never read Ursula K. Le Guin, here’s a short list of recommendations on where to start.

Changing Planes: a really accessible collection of short stories about other worlds all threaded together. Some of them will make you cry.

The Wizard of Earthsea: the first of her Earthsea books, a gorgeous story that doubles as an ethics manual for magic.

The Birthday of the World: Another collection of short stories. Again, some will make you cry.

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, The Day Before The Revolution, and The Dispossessed: these three pieces (the first two are short stories, the last is a novel) outline maybe the best theory of anarchism ever written.

Gifts/Voices/Powers (“Annals of the Western Shore”): three ‘young adult’ novels that I really wish had been around when I was a teenager.

The Left Hand of Darkness: one of the many novels that takes place in her “Hainish Cycle.” Explores what would happen if sex was only something you did, never something you were.


 

Margaret Killjoy’s Fantastic Aesthetic Anarcho-Fun Heresy

Olympia is one of those towns subject to a relentless misdirection spell. No magician or witch cast it, though–it arose organically in the alembic of poor urban planning confronting wily land spirits and chthonic forces who will never quite care where you intended to go because they want you to show you something…or someone.

So my best friend and I were suddenly headed north through downtown Olympia, though we’d meant to go south. For the third time.

“Fuck,” she moaned, trying to steer the van into a turn lane. “Again?”

“It’s like something’s fucking with us,” I started, and then saw a figure crossing the street in front of us. I had no time to finish the sentence. The light was about to change, and the person would be gone.

“HeyI’llberightbackIhavetogosayhitosomeone” I blurted out, jumping out of the van.

“What? Where are you? Okay, I’ll park.”

Among heretics, few words are necessary. When something happens to one, the other just knows. My best friend can stare suddenly down an alley mid-sentence and I don’t need to ask what she is seeing. I can jump out of a van in the middle of traffic and she knows something’s about to happen.

I ran down the sidewalk, then suddenly slowed, remembering that I looked like a 200 lb shaved-head man chasing a long-haired steam-goth down the street. That looked bad. Besides, my target seemed happily oblivious, lost in thought, so jumping up from behind her like that seemed really rather rude.

“Hey,” I called, really clumsily. “Are you…? We’ve never met but you’re my hero.”

That was the best I could come up with. I don’t really have heroes, let alone get a chance to meet the ones I do have. So I don’t really know how to talk to them, and I’m anyway awkward as fuck. But a few seconds later, my companion was behind me. “Holy fuck, Magpie?”

Of course my companion knew them, too. Among heretics, there are no chance meetings.

If you’ve never heard of Margaret Killjoy, you’ve probably already encountered her anyway. There are a few humans who do things that make it so that other humans do things which then inspires others to do things. Like grandmothers, but not old enough to have grandchildren so they’re grandmothers to ideas and art and movements and ways of living. Margaret’s one of those people.

This is supposed to be a review of her new book, and it will be, I promise. But there’s that weird thing where reviewers are supposed to be objective and to disclose any relationship to the author they have, and that’s a really complicated thing to do here because I have to tell you some stories.

Stories like the one I began with, where I’m driving in a van with my best friend, who’s one of those people who also grandmothers existence into being, and then I see Margaret Killjoy crossing the street and jump out of the van and then my best friend comes up behind us and it turns out they know each other too, hadn’t seen or heard anything of each other for ten years and had been just as inspired by her as I was.

And there’s other stories, like maybe 15 years ago or more when I was trying to figure out how my anarchism and my Paganism fit together when all the anarchists around me were atheist and all the Pagans around me were bourgeois Wiccans. And then I read the introduction by Alan Moore to Steampunk Magazine (Margaret Killjoy was its editor), and then I realise that there are anarchists and occultists and they’re the same people. But I also realised there were anarchists who are into steampunk, not just into it because it was a cool aesthetic but because…well, because stories.

And myth.

And magic.

Because here’s why Margaret Killjoy was my hero for so fucking long (still is, actually). What she saw about an aesthetic built on fantasy and an alternative vision born of the industrial age is what every really good fantasist, but also every good theorist and mystic, sees: the world not only could have been different, it still can be. And not only can it be, but the certain sorts of people who give way too much time thinking about how it still can be different are the ones who have the potential to make it different.

Because steampunk ultimately was about what might have happened if all the clockworks and steam engines and airships didn’t go away just because the capitalist industrialists realized they were inefficient. We could still have had machines that made sense, whose workings you could watch, alien as they were to the peasants and townsfolk of Europe and its colonies. You could open up a clock and see how it worked, and because you saw how it worked you could have power over it. You could turn a valve that ran a factory and make the factory stop, or you could rig up your own brazier and basket and ask your geeky seamstress friends to stitch together a big canvas for you and next thing you know? You’re floating over the city with your friends.

Now? Now everything’s gotta be bought, even steampunk shit. The capitalists ruin everything.

Steampunk Magazine was an anarcho-anti-capitalist fantasy that felt just as true, just as possible as all the downtowns full of skyscrapers and stores full of credit card machines that ‘actually exist.’ There was something about the way it presented fantasy that made it feel less fantastic while making everything else around you seem like pure fiction. Why couldn’t the Luddites have destroyed the factories and replaced them with clockwork automatons so we all had time to build cool goggles and cobble together houses from machine parts or clothing from scraps, and then adorn it all in gilded Anarchy symbols made with cogs?

If humans can come up with the internet, Walmart, or nuclear waste, we humans ought to be capable of prettier shit, too.

That’s what I learned from Margaret Killjoy, back when I was a wee anarchist lad living in a crumbling two-story witch-house, planting sacred trees and hanging runes and sigils made from clock pieces and broken glass from their branches. Everything was possible, everything else was possible, and it could be beautiful and absurd and fantastic and fun and as anarchist as we wanted it to be.

Towards that end, Margaret put together a pretty awesome book, too. Mythmakers and Lawbreakers, a collection of interviews with and writing about anarchist fiction.  For that book Margaret interviewed one of my other heroes, and even cooler got to stand next to that other hero and talk to people:

Because Ursula K Le Guin is another one of those people who tell you that it’s possible to have and be something else if you just convince others that they can also do it too, at which point there are enough of you to make that world.

That’s fiction. But it’s also myth. And more than anything, that’s what magic has always been.

So, oh. This is supposed to be a book review and not a slobbering fanboy propaganda piece (but it’s that too). Because Margaret’s got a new book out, published by that swanky fantasy publisher TOR.

The book’s called The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, and I think you should read it. You should read it if you’re an anarchist or a witch, and definitely if you’re an anarchist and a witch. And also you should read it if you aren’t, because it’s damn good.

It’s a novella, so I shouldn’t tell you too much about the plot. Except that it’s about squatted land in the middle of nowhere inhabited by people who decided to stop caring about gender or the State or buying and selling, and maybe also decided to summon a land spirit to protect their community against the police and people who might want to take over their utopia. And that goes wrong, just like many other utopias go wrong.

You get to read about some cops getting gored.

You get to read what it might be like to live in a world where gender and sexuality isn’t a thing people even think about at all.

And by reading it you’ll get to see what it might be like to live in a world where people write things like that, things that make you feel like even more things are possible, and that maybe one day we can live in a world where everything that we think of now as fiction becomes more true than what everyone else tells us is real. Because we’re already living in that world, in no small part thanks to Margaret Killjoy’s fantastic aesthetic anarcho-fun heresy.

The book comes out August 15th, but you can pre-order it from Red Emma’s. While you’re waiting you can read the first chapter here, and also read this short story by Margaret on Tor’s online site.

And check out everything else Margaret has done–it’s amazing, and maybe you’ll get as inspired as I’ve been.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.

He lives in Bretagne.


 

Gardens From Ruins

In her short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Ursula K. Le Guin describes a near perfect society built on happiness and equality. Everyone is well fed, there are no soldiers in the streets, no secret police, no bombs. Technology advanced to the point that only what was non-destructive, what was useful, abounded. Public transit, sexual freedom, an end to barbaric wars over religion, even an end to rule by the powerful and the rich:

…there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians.

Omelas should be recognizable by any in the Capitalist, Democratic West. This land of peace and happiness, of wealth and security, this utopia of enlightenment, of progress–it’s the dream of Liberal Democracy.

And like Liberal Democracy, it has a dark secret:

In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room….

In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect.

…The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes-the child has no understanding of time or interval – sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes…

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

Like those in Omelas, we in Liberal Democratic societies depend upon a miserable child in a basement. Miserable children, actually–many of them, human and non-human, literal and metaphoric.  Many of these ‘children’ have been discussed in previous essays in this series, but let’s open the door to that basement and look in again.

Rights

The rights and benefits guaranteed by Liberal Democratic governments have never really been extended to all, even within their own borders. In the United States, access to property and other wealth, freedom of movement and speech, the right to bear arms or to due process has always been, first and foremost, reserved for the dominant (white) majority. For Blacks, for First Nations, and for other non-dominant peoples within America, the Progress of Liberal Democracy has never been Progress at all.

Wealth

The wealth enjoyed by the dominant classes actually comes at the expense of those minorities who were dominated as part of the process Marx called primitive accumulation. People from the continent of Africa were hauled over in chains to serve as (enslaved) labour for European Capitalists. Much of the wealth these slaves produced for their owners created the Capitalist class in the first place.

Slavery wasn’t the only way they got their wealth, though–the land these Capitalists control was seized violently from First Nations and indigenous people who then, landless, fell into abject poverty and misery. And while the former British colonies bear much of the weight of this guilt, Europe is hardly innocent. In fact, without all this stolen wealth, European societies could never afford the social programs they give to their people.

Peace

Liberal Democracies are violent societies, though the more you resemble the dominant class, the less likely you are to see the violence. Business owners, tech-workers, lawyers, politicians–we don’t read of them being gunned down or beaten up by police for looking suspicious, especially if they’re white. Instead, it’s those with darker skin, be they Arabs and Africans in Europe, aborigines in Australia, or Blacks and First Nations people in the United States and Canada.

Those on the outside of Liberal Democracy suffer even worse fates, as they continue to be part of the process of primitive accumulation. The resources of their land stripped, their attempts at self-determination crushed by superior foreign militaries, their local economies destroyed by brutal trade deals–the rest of the world find themselves not only with fewer rights and less wealth, but no chance to gain them.

Technology

In no discussion of freedom in the period since the Enlightenment was there ever any awareness of the geological agency that human beings were acquiring at the same time as and through processes closely linked to their acquisition of freedom.

Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Climate of History

All the advances of Capitalist societies have another child in the basement we do not like to look at–environmental destruction. The climate is changing rapidly, species are going extinct at frightening rates, and the resources we rely on to have our Enlightened societies are dwindling quickly.

All our technological advances rely on easy and abundant access to petroleum and coal. Our need for energy to power our lives and have our ‘free societies’ not only destroys the environment but causes wars, starvation, and destruction of human lives as well.

walking awayWalking Away From Empire

Liberal Democracy must be called what it actually is: Empire. We in Europe and the Anglophone world sit within the gates of imperial cities; even the poorest and most oppressed amongst us become complicit in the oppression of those outside our walled gardens.

Liberal Democracy is not worth saving. While may of us in ‘the West,’ in so-called civilized Capitalist societies, have enjoyed great wealth, comfort, and apparent freedoms, these have come at great cost to others. We have all seen the child in the basement, starved, imprisoned, treated horribly, beaten.

The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice, sometimes speaks. “I will be good,” it says. “Please let me out. I will be good!”

They never answer.

We within Liberal Democracies–whether we benefit most or little–have been too long content with staring at the horror upon which are societies are built and giving no answer. Now, as Liberal Democracy is shattering around us, abandoning its own illusions about equality and sustainability, we must answer.

Le Guin ends her story on a note of hope, though a strange one, an ambiguous one.

At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home.

…They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

In the previous four essays of this series, I discussed the current crisis of Liberal Democracy, and its apparent end. In this essay, which ends the series on Liberal Democracy and also begins a new series, we’ll look at how to walk away from Omelas, and where we might go next.

While the dissolution of Empire brings with it chaos and the threat of Fascism, while the journey to build new societies may seem daunting, and our histories littered with crushed rebellions and failed revolutions, we shouldn’t fear.

In fact, the crisis of Liberal Democracy we’ve discussed opens much more ground for new ways of being, new modes of existence, and new attempts at resistance and revolution. The States who rule over us are in danger of falling into ruins, and Capitalism is threatened with the mortality that faces every thing that has ever lived. Rather than prop them up, rather than try to save them, we should let them die, compost what remains and garden in those ruins.

“What Should We Do Instead?”

Every anti-capitalist has heard these words, usually uttered by someone quite Liberal, quite concerned about the state of the world. Perhaps the conversation started with a discussion about child labor in Asia, or about the relationship between Capitalist technology and the rising oceans. Maybe it was about the systematic violence against Black people in the United States, about the causes of the refugee crises sweeping Europe. Maybe coal was discussed, or the way laws in Liberal Democracies protect the rich and ensure the rest of us have no choice but to sell our time for wages

At some point, they answer with an exasperated, frustrated question. “What’s your plan?” or “But how will we feed 7 billion people?” or even angry retorts about failed revolutions, or the horrors of State Communism. And sometimes they’ll just throw their hands up in the air, or shrug, and say, “we can’t change this.”

This demand for one perfect solution is actually one of the first problems we’ll need to overcome if we’re to transform our societies into something more equal, more sustainable, less violent and less destructive. There cannot be one solution that can fit 7 billion people.

In fact, it’s precisely the idea that any one solution must apply to everyone that gives Liberal Democracy so much power. As discussed in my first essay, Liberal Democratic societies see themselves as the end-point of history, the final evolution of political forms, as close to utopia as humanity can ever get.  And it;s through this idea that Capitalism and the State remained unquestioned: the only resistance most of us ever engage merely tries to make Liberal Democracy work a little better.

The demand for one, universal solution probably comes from the authoritarian elements of Christian monotheism anyway, which was just as much a form of governance as it was a form of belief.  The same totalitarian urges which arose when distant peoples adapted Christianity to their own culture (say, in Ireland and Wales, or the egalitarian cults in mainland Europe), repeated themselves in the Soviet Republics and today through Liberal Democratic institutions (like the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, European Union, and World Trade Organization).

The ‘one true way’ is a trick of Authority. We must resist this at every turn. No ideology can apply to every situation, no solution can ever be final.

And anyway, there’s an even bigger problem that comes with demanding a perfect answer or a grand program of revolution. We abdicate our own responsibility and our own power, either refusing to act until such a plan comes along or demanding others tell us what to do. The first functions as an excuse never to change, and the second is an invitation to Fascist and other eager Totalitarian leaders.

“But How Will We Still…”

Many of the problems we encounter already have multiple and obvious solutions anyway, but they involve apparently losing something we currently value or think we really need. And thus, any attempt to radically address the problem becomes abandoned or fiercely fought because it will result in a major change to society.

The murder of Black people by police in the United States is a good example of this. The most obvious solution to stop this is to get rid of the police. Police exist within Liberal Democracy as agents of State violence, and getting rid of the police takes away the power of the State to perform that violence.

This solution is almost always met with protest. “We need the police,” most say. “How will we enforce laws? How will we keep criminals from killing innocent people? How will we stop thieves?”

Do we really need police, though? The majority of laws in Liberal Democracies protect property (theft, burglary, shoplifting) and disproportionately punish the poor, while laws against rape, domestic assault, molestation and murder are often not fully enforced against the rich or whites. The police protect that inequality, as well as murdering Blacks, First Nations, and other minorities at shocking rates.  Why keep them around?

Worse, when we insist that the police must exist, we are like those in Omelas, staring at the humiliated and abused child in a basement. We know that the protection of property and the security we get from the police is impossible to have without those murders. But then we try to convince ourselves otherwise, buying in to the utopic dream of Liberal Democracy, assuring ourselves that one day no more poor will be imprisoned, no more Blacks will be murdered. Like evangelical Christians hoping one day for the return of Jesus, we tell ourselves things shall eventually get better, and so the suffering the police cause now is a tolerable sacrifice for our own comfort.

The same is true for solutions to stop global warming and extinction. We know that burning fossil fuels is changing the climate, polluting the air and water and land, melting the ice caps and drowning the villages of indigenous people. The obvious answer is to stop burning them, but then the question is asked, “how will I get to work? How will we transport food and consumer goods? How we power our smartphones and light our homes at night?”

Why would we think the destruction of the environment is less important than the apparent benefits we gain from fossil fuels?  What we (that is, those of us in Liberal Democracies) gain–private, personal transportation, strawberries in winter, cities illuminated at night, mass-produced disposable goods, cheap and abundant electricity, quick global flights, Pokemon Go and internet porn–comes not just at the cost of our environment, but at the cost of everyone else trying to live within it.

flower concrete

Nature’s Lessons, Nature’s Revolt

There are important questions we ought to ask ourselves in all these cases, though. Because Liberal Democracy has been the dominant form of government for the last two centuries, because Capitalism has been the primary mode of exchange for the last three hundred years, and because the State has become so pervasive and powerful in the last century, we’ve had a long time to forget how to live without certain things, and very little experience on how to come up with new ways of living.

But for that, we fortunately have Nature to teach us.

There are five metaphors from Nature that provide a good framework for a revolutionary strategy. Each of them can unfold for us methods of resistance and teach us how to approach the problems we face as Liberal Democracy collapses. They are ways that nature renews itself, sometimes with human help, sometimes against human effort. Rather than forming a program of revolution, they instead offer a framework for revolutionary action.

They are as follows:

  • FiresWildfires: Forests and grasslands sometimes burn. Dry, desiccated scrub and undergrowth fuel vast conflagrations, setting alight and destroying towering trees that seemed likely to last forever.  Yet soon after, new life takes root, the ashes of the old fertilizing the new. In fact, some plants and trees can only germinate after the extreme heat of forest fires. But oftentimes we stop these fires to protect property. Our radical strategies must keep in mind that things just sometimes need to burn down, that creation is born from destruction, and violent uprisings by oppressed people will be part of any revolution.
  • Ripe,_ripening,_and_green_blackberriesBrambles: In North America, Blackberries are an invasive species and choke out other life. But removing them wholesale from an area can cause even worse damage: since they often take root where the land was already damaged, they provide protection and food for small animals and birds, as well as erosion control. Just as some things need to burn down, our radical strategies must also acknowledge that some problems are deeply rooted, thorny, and uprooting them too quickly can lead to great–and unnecessary–suffering.
  • 800px-Seed_bomb_aka_Seed_ball_(Guerilla_gardening)Seed bombs: A seed bomb (or seed ball) is a form of guerilla gardening. Mixing clay, compost, and a diverse variety of seeds, they are dried and then thrown onto impoverished or wasted land. When it rains, the clay soaks up and holds enough water to let the seeds sprout, and from these balls, land that was forsaken and even poisoned can be revitalized. Individual actions can make a massive difference, and any revolutionary strategy must acknowledge this. It must also acknowledge that for small, local actions to matter, they’ll fail without diversity, intention, and the resources to survive on their own.
  • 800px-2008-06-28_Broken_sidewalkRooted upheaval: In many urban environments in Europe and North America, chamomile and other tiny flowers grow in the cracks and gaps in pavement. Tree roots degrade and destroy concrete and asphalt. None of these plants require human effort to sprout there; in fact, it’s exactly the lack of human intervention which gives them the space to grow. While many environmental movements have seen cities and ‘civilization’ as a thing to be fought, the urban is also a primary site of resistance to Capitalism. Any revolutionary strategy must acknowledge that the poor, the immigrants, and all those seen as enemies of Liberal Democracy have the power to crack, degrade, and finally overthrow the structures which bury them, and this upheaval might not look like what we think it should.
  • NurselogNurse Logs: In the temperate rainforests along the Salish Sea are a phenomenon called Nurse Logs. When a tree falls, many of them hundreds and thousands of years old, it begins to decompose quickly in the relentless rain. Very soon after, mosses, mushrooms, lichens, and other small plants and fungi grow in the rotting wood, followed not long after by the saplings of other trees.  These nurse logs, sometimes hundreds of feet long and many yards in diameter, become the foundation for new life. While much of the infrastructure, the institutions, distribution networks and technologies that we have now were created through Liberal Democracy, some of them can serve as foundations of new ways of being.

In the next essays in this new series, we’ll use these processes from Nature to understand the immediate problems caused by Liberal Democracy’s crisis, and we’ll examine how we might be able to use them to build the sort of world we want to live in. Again, no one strategy will fit, and the worst thing we could possibly do–besides try to save Liberal Democracy–would be to demand one solution to all these symptoms.

It’s time to walk away from Omelas. Staring one last time at the horror upon which our rights, privileges, technologies, wealth, and security is built, it’s time we say ‘enough.’ We may not know what the future will be, or even be certain there’s a better world past the world we know.

But that does not matter. And anyway, humans have walked away from horrible things before, overthrown tyrants, endured famines and plagues and wars, and tried over and over again to create something new.

It’s what we do. If there’s anything truly unique to humans, it’s that we know how to conceive new worlds, to change the conditions of our existence, to dream new ways of being. It’s our magic, our witchcraft.

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

Ursula K. Le Guin


Rhyd Wildermuth

InstagramCapture_37ba565d-4170-4912-a207-ca5e5f5ddbf9Rhyd is the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s usually in a city by the Salish sea in occupied Duwamish territory, but he’s been trekking about Europe for the last two months, with more to go. His most recent book is A Kindness of Ravens, and you can follow his adventures at: PAGANARCH.


A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is Here has a lot more essays, poems, and art like what you see on Gods&Radicals. Order it here.

 

You Can Only Be The Revolution

Jeanne D'Arc, leader of the siege of Orleans.  Her mystical experiences included not only speaking to Saints, but also seeing Fairies (and declining to call them evil spirits).  Wore "mens' clothing, executed for Heresy/Witchcraft; later re-inscribed as a Saint by the Catholic Church.
Jeanne D’Arc, leader of the siege of Orleans. Her mystical experiences included not only speaking to Saints, but also seeing Fairies (and declining to call them evil spirits). She wore “men’s’ clothing, and was executed for Heresy/Witchcraft; later re-inscribed as a Saint by the Catholic Church.

 

Hey!

Thanks for all the many links so far– Gods&Radicals has received mentions in The Wild Hunt, several times on Patheos Pagan, on Pagan Square, and on many individual blogs!  We’re happy to be here, and glad you’re reading!

Coming up this week:

On Monday, we’ve another poem, Innominate, by Alan Evans.

Wednesday, we’ll re-post an article on Gender, Diversity, and the Gods by Rhyd Wildermuth, originally published at The Wild Hunt.

And on Friday, we’ll host an essay by Sean Donahue about the Dead and resistance.

 

Fascinating stuff elsewhere

Wild Hunt columnist Alley Valkyrie wrote an excellent series of contemplations for those of us living on stolen land (i.e., most of us): Thoughts on Settlement and Place

A shout-out to our Canadian comrades and their excellent site, Winding Widdershins

Some states have been passing so-called “Religious Freedom” acts.  They’re not what they seem, and Pagan lawyer John Halstead unravels one of them for us.

The Archbishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church has declared Climate Change Denial immoral” and warned of the heavy burdens the poor will bear because of un-restrained Capitalism.

And there’s a high price to be paid for strawberries in wintertime, at least by the workers who make them possible.

Apparently even Monsanto lobbyists don’t drink their own “Kool-Aid.”

Also, have some French Anti-Capitalist rap!

Glossary: Re-inscription

Literally, to re-write.  Part of the process of appropriation where something outside of a dominant narrative (and sometimes opposed to that narrative) is pulled in and made part of that narrative–basically, written-over.

For example, revolutionary, anti-authoritarian, and anti-capitalist movements in the late 1960’s in America and Europe, which threatened to topple governments and terrified the powerful, have now been re-inscribed as having been about “Peace” and “Free Love” rather than anything potentially revolutionary.

Similarly, the very radical anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist views of Martin Luther King Jr. get downplayed in order to re-inscribe his actions as non-threatening to the current (and still very racist) order.

Re-inscription is vital to Capitalism.  It’s why “buying and selling” has become synonymous with Capitalism, and why it’s so difficult to imagine historical or future relations outside Capitalism.  Capitalism re-writes our experiences of everyday activities so that it seems to have always existed in some form or another, rather than being a specific (and very recent) historical shift.

Quote of the Week

You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed.