G&R is reposting it because there is a much needed conversation to be had about where to draw the line between: 1- fascists and potential comrades who don’t agree enough; 2- Silencing and reflection; and 3- the views of G&R members and the views of the G&R collective.
“Gods and Radicals is a collective, and writers are free to write whatever they wish. We have many diverse opinions […]” (From Dr. Bones)
This diversity in opinion doesn’t mean we are willing to tolerate or to work with everybody. We may have different strategies on how to achieve a political goal, but we have the same goal– one which is inherently anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-transphobic, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist.
The ideological affiliations, theories, strategies or even personalities of our members exist in balance through consensus, not through homogenizing guidelines. Our different tastes and occasional disagreements do not interfere with non-negotiable political principles. These principals are based on disseminating political reflections that aim to combat, not perpetuate, the silencing of marginalized peoples.
“Maybe one day all the old guys will die off and things will change, ‘cuz it’s officially getting scary over here in America.”
—Hank Williams III
From the moment I started writing I decided that, as long as I had a voice, I would say exactly what I wanted to.
I’ve written about magic, which has pissed off secular radicals. I’ve written about Egoism, which pissed off the Leftists. The largest publisher of Egoist material in turn hates my guts because I don’t think Egoists should waste their time hanging out by themselves and, weirdly enough, should be involved with others in the struggle for liberation.
I’ve also written about violence, my most recent piece going into tactical detail about some of the methods the Taliban has used to confront and defeat the United States military. I‘ve made the case that violent, or at least armed upheaval, is the only thing that puts enough fear into the Powers That Be to effectively get them to back down. I’ve advocated forming bases, getting involved with the community, and above all destroying those that would seek to harm us.
Doxxing Nazis, and other fascists, is absolutely one of the methods available to harm those that harm us. I support this tactic not only because I support whatever avenues for self-defense the people can muster, but also from a purely tactical standpoint it works.
Just How Many Tears Are Shed
By Some Little Word of Anger?
Doxxing has been in vogue on the Right for a long time, and nobody was quite as good as 4chan. 4chan, filled with lonely masturbating men calling each other cucks, had nothing but time on its hands.
Well, that and their dicks.
Channers would often spend all day online, and in doing so we’re able to pull of some astounding feats of intelligence gathering.
Consider Shia Lebouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” Campaign, where 4channers wanted to remove a flag at an unknown location:
“…viewers used triangulation techniques based on planes seen in the stream to determine the general area. A local then began honking their horn repeatedly while driving in the area, which were picked up by the webcam’s microphone to further narrow the location. Finally, using star maps, 4chan users were able to identify the exact location of the flag on Google Maps…
On August 13th, 2017, the HeWillNotDivide.us stream was relaunched, featuring the flag placed against a white wall at an unknown location. That day, several threads about the livestream were created on 4chan’s /pol/ board, where many users began speculating that the flag was at the Serpentine Gallery in London, England based on an unverified direct message screenshot with Luke Turner.
That day, YouTuber H Drone uploaded a video titled ‘HWNDU Flag: London,’ chronicling how the flag was purportedly discovered at a different location in England by shining a blue light through a window and tracking reflections based on the movement of the sun throughout the day. The video has since been removed. Meanwhile, an image began circulating claiming that a blue light directed through the window of the house was visible on the wall during the livestream…”
This network is just one among many. One nazi in particular, going by the alias Jack “Pale Horse” Corbin, has been especially prolific in doxxing Anti-Racists and Anti-Fascists.
The leaking of this information is usually twofold in purpose: on one hand the hope is that some lone wolf will attack the person, or at least vandalize their property; to force the person’s political alignment into the public spotlight and, in result, create economic and safety issues for said person.
It’s not enough to be painted as Antifa. Most Far Right doxxers will aid false details, claiming the antifascists abuse children or are addicted to drugs. They may print out posters and put it around the person’s workplace in the hopes they get fired. They may call the police and hope the person gets investigated, or possibly even shot.
I know people, personally, who have had the last two happen. And there are plenty of others who have felt the anxiety and fear of having every digital footprint put out in the hopes it results in violence.
Hey Jake! Reporter who spent all weekend wedged up against anti-fascists who probably didn’t want press there, but were pretty uniformly chill. You know who shoved media indiscriminately? Police. https://t.co/vOIeKR1Yrm
This sums up my entire experience covering the far right. I've had white nationalists put pictures of my home online with murder instructions. Not the same thing as antifascists asking to not have a camera shoved in their face. https://t.co/pUiW43VrEd
For now I’ve been lucky, though that’s not to say folks haven’t tried.
The admin of the meme page Everything Is Pretty Bad has gone as far as to try to come up with a fake name to pressure me into revealing my own. He’s also attempted to hound and blackmail people sharing my articles to give up my personal facebook profile.
Hell they’ve even made attempts to derail any bit of organizing or reporting I got into, simply because they don’t like me, regardless of how it might affect people. Here’s his former co-admin from “Misanthropic Egoism:”
So I want to be clear: I know people who have been doxxed, there have been attempts to doxx me. This is a tactic that has harmed people I know and care for.
And I still think it’s an important tool for us to use.
Your Evil Heart Will Be Your Ruin
“‘I’m unplugged from politics,’ Parrott said. ‘I’m done. I’m out. I don’t want to be in The Washington Post anymore. I don’t care to have this humiliating and terrifying ordeal be more public than it already is. . . . There is no more Trad Worker.”
— Former member of the Traditionalist Worker’s Party
There is absolutely no question that doxxing nazis, racists, and other foul human slime gets results that other organizing simply doesn’t. There is a reason the Klan wears hoods: vile deeds need darkness to be done. To be well-known is to destroy the ability to work in secret.
The Traditionalist Worker’s Party was one such far-right group absolutely devastated by the release of personal information and addresses. Since the first Unite The Right the entire Alt-Right has been hounded wherever they’re faces could be identified, effectively destroying their ability to organize.
“Our enemies have seen the opportunity they needed to crush us without looking like the authoritarian monsters they are to the public at large. Nobody in the public is going to step up to defend ‘KKK, Nazi, white supremacists.’”
The Alt-Right depends on a public face and a private face. When those true feelings were exposed they lost all credibility and quickly found themselves the local pariah. Jack “Pale Horse” Corbin has been identified, down to his physical address. Prominent Neo-Nazis on twitter have dropped out of the movement when they merely been threatened with exposure.
Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin agrees things aren’t looking good. The same asshole who gleefully directed Daily Stormer readers to hang nooses and intimidate a female black student is running scared. He has gone into hiding, and just recently made it clear doxxing by antifascists will “ruin the lives” of anyone treading in the same loathsome, piss-filled ideological pool he himself inhabits:
That’s called results. That’s called victory. A year ago the Charlottesville rally drew hundreds of open neo-nazis, one who felt so emboldened he fucking killed someone. This year it drew twenty. They admit it’s because they don’t feel safe.
They aren’t afraid of being assaulted or thrown in jail. They are afraid of being exposed. By doxxing.
And isn’t that what we want?
Take These Chains From My Heart
Set Me Free
Gods and Radicals is a collective, and writers are free to write whatever they wish. We have many diverse opinions and lord knows I’ve given plenty of headaches to the more…pacifistic of my fellow authors. Some have called for me to be fired. Just recently I had a fellow writer call me on the phone, telling me my most recent piece published there made them so uncomfortable they were worried about me.
So it goes.
Folks have written plenty I don’t agree with on Gods and Radicals. We are far, far from some monolithic force.
So let me be crystal clear: anyone who thinks doxxing isn’t working, who thinks this is a tactic the Left should surrender, is living in some alternate world I don’t understand.
The Far-Right isn’t going to stop doxxing us because we put on the kid gloves. You don’t win battles by backing away when your enemy beings to falter and weaken. The cops don’t care who these people are. They hire them!
“In the 2006 bulletin, the FBI detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police in order to disrupt investigations against fellow members and recruit other supremacists. The bulletin was released during a period of scandal for many law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including a neo-Nazi gang formed by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who harassed black and Latino communities. Similar investigations revealed officers and entire agencies with hate group ties in Illinois, Ohio and Texas.”
So who exactly is going to bring fascists and their ilk to task if the police, and the courts that are ALWAYS friendly to them, refuse to act?
“In a surprise appearance on SNL’s ‘Weekend Update: Summer Edition’ Thursday night, Fey urged Americans not to get into screaming matches with neo-Nazis. Instead, she said, ‘order a cake with the American flag on it … and just eat it.’”
It is often ONLY the tireless work of unnamed antifascists who expose and bring consequences to the monsters among us that brings tangible results.
Remember: the leaked conversations, the interviews, fascists are admitting that doxxing is destroying them. And it isn’t because we’re lying about them. The minute their actual beliefs are exposed, who they really are, the people usually find them repulsive.
Seriously, it’d be one thing if we’re having a conversation about Leftists attacking one another, or even people being misidentified. Fash-jacketing is a real thing, and the mob-mentality so often prevalent in the digital world can ruin people’s lives. We can even talk about the very problematic cheering of tech giants as they remove alt-righters—and then move on to leftist platforms like Telesur. Or how Facebook now requires leftists to register with extremely personal information to run ads in an effort to combat “fake news.”
Hell, I’ll even say we could talk about how some of the working people who voted for Trump are simply ignorant, and need to be reached out to.
But as for the out-and-out people talking about wiping out every face darker than a jar of mayonnaise?
Who gives a fuck?
Andrew Anglin could have his head removed with a chainsaw, moving from his groin towards his neck, finally culminating in total separation…and I wouldn’t care.
David Duke could be attacked by a pack of rabid dogs and spend the next four hours being slowly torn to pieces…and I wouldn’t shed a tear.
Jason Kessler could be on fire and I wouldn’t PISS on him to put him out. My laughter would mix with his shrill cries for water as his once solid frame melted into a pool of charred bone and liquid fat.
I’d sleep like a goddamn baby.
Let them suffer. Let them be afraid. These people want to kill us. If they had the chance, they would. They admit this and harass us at every opportunity with networks far outstripping our own. Why should we feel bad or even consider their feelings? Why is a tactic so clearly effective something we can’t use?
This isn’t some grand web of karma where the most advanced, peaceful people win by default. This is a rough, ruthless planet where baby animals get ripped open everyday, where innocent children get blown up and turned into smoldering goo.
Doxxing stops actual, real world violence before it starts because the enemy is afraid. Keep him afraid and he becomes paralyzed. Unable to act. Isn’t that what we want?
Are we combating fascism or are we in a conversation with it? If you find a moral issue with doxxing I’d love to hear what forms of combat you’d prefer instead.
And if you say voting I swear to god I will take off my pants and shit in your shoes.
Nobody else is going to stop these people. It is up to us. Doxxing works, doxxing will continue to work, and in an open war regarding personal information…we’d only be hurting ourselves by giving up our strongest weapon.
Dr. Bones is a Hoodoo-slingin’ Florida native and Egoist-Communist spitting pure vitriol and sorcerous wisdom at a world gone mad. He lives with his loving wife, a herd of cats, and a house full of spirits.
“To write is to claim the audacity to speak and the courage to yield, to dare for a moment to care for ourselves in speech, in writing, and in solitude.”
From Pat Mosley
First things first, accept that everything you say or don’t say is wrong, too late, not enough, not relevant.
If you’re lucky enough to land an actual writing gig somewhere, disregard all indications of friendships initiated by your editors. Accept that you are filling a role, whether anyone will admit it or not. Your role is to be as trans as possible. And if you’re writing for a site owned by right-wing Christians, accept the impossible challenge that you must be both trans enough to make your owners look liberal, but not so trans as to make anyone uncomfortable by calling out their corporate affiliates.
Inevitably, you’ll fail and get booted. But don’t worry because everyone will be too busy blaming John Halstead to notice. You’ll find other gigs and they’ll publish you as long as it’s clear that you’re a trans writer, never just a writer, never permitted to be neutral in matters of being categorized-other.
You can write about bathroom bills, but not capitalism. Gender, but not climate change. Discrimination, but not civilization. Feelings, but never theory.
You will be an identity from now on, not a human being. You will be the trans writer, not the writer who likes to forage, the writer who likes to weave, or the writer who has suffered from depression for half their life so far and tried to off themselves more recently than anyone is comfortable with.
You will be trans, and trans alone, but never trans enough. In a crushed velvet dress, drawing Inanna down from the heavens while serving vintage witchy woman realness, it will still be a surprise, a gag, not real, not enough. Hunty.
Naked and in bed with your next lover, it’ll all seem like a far-off dream. But you’ll have internalized it—who could love you? Who could touch this body for pleasure? You’ll fight about gender, because of course you will. Of course this world must be material, not ecstatic, labeled, territories and border walls, from Palestine to monogamy, to our thighs touching and my eyes shut tight, trying.
The crackle of your laughter can light up a room, but in the digital world, you’ll be a howl on the wind of Earth’s darkest nights, a shot of pain, an assemblage of social realities, flattened, fixed in place.
Readers will mince your words, pulling apart some string of pronouns and ambiguity to determine which gender when and which gender now. Readers will gauge your truth, scrutinizing a filtered two-dimensional profile picture for their reality of who they know you must actually be. More will be gleaned about your life by your readers than you will ever have the platform to publish or the privilege to even draft.
Constantly outed, no consequence considered. Constantly demanded, no aftermath concerning. Singular. One-dimensional identity. Constantly roped back and down to your trauma, the trauma, of which you are never an adequate martyr.
You aren’t a storyteller. This isn’t the Stone Age. It’s 2018 and you produce content to be consumed, discarded. No one gives a fuck about your life, your interests, your passions, your growth. A few times a year, some well-established Pagan woman somewhere will dare to speak her mind, and then all of the sudden, you’ll matter again. Except you won’t. Your labor will.
The thing about writing is that there is never any way to be right. There is no correct way to write about trans issues. If trans people do it, always-helpful readers will chastise cis people for not stepping up and collecting their people. If cis people dare exit their lanes and write something, readers will complain that trans voices should be amplified! Centered! Yes! Rip us into the spotlight—we have no lives of value to protect, no agency in determining whether something necessitates a response, no worth beyond a good retort we haven’t typed out a thousand times already. This time it will matter, surely. Five more likes and shares and the Goddess will grant us a miracle!
To write about trans issues is to subject yourself to a full-on public examination of your gender, a scrutiny of your public presence, and a tallying of all the ways you are male, you are female, you are mad, angry, fossilized, and archaic. All of this—the scales for determining the value of your voice.
And why? Why is it always our voices? Why is it never allowed to be our bodies? Our minds? Our health? Our lives? Dare we ever get to judge a political theorist on the quality of their theories more than the sensationalism of their trauma?
To write is to trespass a thousand million unspoken, presumed laws we will never know of until it is already too late. To write is to claim the audacity to speak and the courage to yield, to dare for a moment to care for ourselves in speech, in writing, and in solitude. And for these sins, every fiber of our existence will still be determined wrong in some new, pseudo-nuanced way.
We are disposable conveniences to you.
Nearly one hundred thousand people read an article I published a couple years ago. Yet not one person is ever within reach when I plunge into the depths of depression and existential horror. Where are you, dear readers? Who are you to make any demands of me or anyone mantled by any identity?
I know you aren’t my allies. I dare to proclaim you aren’t my community either.
You don’t want resolution, you don’t want healing.
You want blood. You want a fight.
You want rape and slow, brutal, verbal murder. You want the chance to scavenge our still-breathing corpses for every wrong word, wrong deed, and wrong idea. You want to choke out the life of young trans people, filling their heads with fake statistics about their alleged lifespan until they succumb to a suicide you can count with glory in your spectator martyrdom. You want to keep repeating that bullshit no matter how many times it is explained to you that it is wrong. You want to silence whatever anarchic spirit rises contrary to your pleasure, your comfort, your conceptualization of us, the writers, givers, power-shakers, the disabled, the whores, the mad.
You are insatiable.
And in your demand, there is no liberation. There is no break from the trauma in your consumption of us. We will perpetually be rape victims and sex workers, permitted only ever to be destitute survivors or proudly empowered feminists in this trade, never trafficked, never coerced, never self-hating, never grown-up traumatized children working through toxic relationships to sexuality and capitalism. For the duration of a Facebook thread or a five minute speech at your weekend rally, we will be fabulous and stunningly feminine, brave and on brand, centered and amplified, righteous and fuming—or we will be no one remotely of value. Never are we allowed to heal, to not care, to decline, to merge with the Ohr Ein Sof, to love drag culture, to just move on or dare to politic differently.
Your concern for trans people is limited to an abstract rendering of our lives into a consumable text format or sound bit for you to like and share and boldly critique without ever having to consider the author as a human being who breaks, who cries, who has limits, who has boundaries.
You are a hammer. You demand a nail. You demand to crucify.
You don’t want to hear trans voices. You want to hear yourself echoed and applauded in a lifeless metaphor embodied by a trans person you couldn’t give two shits about.
You want to share a witty piece about emotional labor, but you wouldn’t dare interrogate your own unceasing demands for it.
You want to conjure us out like personal Jesus goddesses every time there’s a conflict in the community, as if our whole lives begin with every moment you need us.
You want another battle royale, angry dykes vs. angry trannies, angry feminism, blood and hormones, a performance for your entertainment and never our own resolution. I think it was Utah Phillips who asked Ani Difranco why don’t you write angry feminist songs anymore?
You want to catalogue our identities so you can catalogue our sins.
You want clearly MALE or clearly FEMALE, clearly CIS or clearly TRANS, because you still cannot handle the glorious, radiant biology of intersexuality, the sex of angels, the holy mystery of ambiguity and the tidal movement of life between continental bodies in a shimmering ocean.
God/dess bless you. Bless all your hearts.
I am finished anchoring my politics in the trauma of my identities for the sake of people other than the fiery spirit within my own heart. I am finished being called up like an enslaved Goetic daemon to pen whatever it is the readers demand to dictate this time.
I am not going to identify myself for you anymore.
WO/MAN HAS THE RIGHT TO WRITE WHAT S/HE WILL.
Pat Mosley is a bodyworker and writer based in the Carolina Piedmont. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth’s children in mind. Connect with him at https://www.pat-mosley.com/
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“Cars are bourgeois and trucks are proletarian.” An analysis of the truck-driver’s strike and diesel crisis in Brazil.
From Mirna Wabi-Sabi
You can hear this article read by the author here:
In high school, I failed an economics class. Now, 11 years later, I look back at that situation as symbolic of the capitalist indoctrination in the public school system.
The assignment was to develop a business plan. It was 2007, so most students came up with online businesses that could maximize profits by not having storefront rent draining money.
My idea was a bike sharing system integrated with the metro, where people paid a small fee monthly or yearly for unlimited access. The goal was to make cars obsolete, improve personal health and urban life standards (by minimizing all kinds of pollution, and death).
The class voted against the plan because it would definitely not be profitable. In fact, it might drain money with people breaking or stealing bikes. What I didn’t know at the time was that I wasn’t in an economics class, I was in a Capitalist economics class, because in “America” there was no other type.
Unlike everything else in high school, I actually got invested in this project. Public transport was awesome to me. Taking the bus alone made me feel free, in control, and in harmony with my surroundings. The metro pulsates through the city, and gives life to the urban organism. Adding public bikes to the mix would be next level awesomeness (I even made a cheesy youtube video).
Cars, on the other hand, are the embodiment of capitalism, and its sickening properties. Those that make us forget that we are a part of a community, of nature, and trick us into believing it’s possible (and desirable) to be at the driver’s seat of personal property, crushing everything on the way (the planet and everything on it). Even people’s temperament gets toxic in traffic.
Six years after receiving my memorable failing grade, my mom sent me a picture of herself on a Citi Bike (in New York) with the caption “Look, your idea”. Now these bike stations are in several major cities, I’ve just signed up to the one in the city where I live for 3 dollars a month.
A community owned not-for-profit initiative sounds pretty anti-capitalist, so how come are they all sporting Bank logos?
Because, as activists of React or Die have put it, we’ve become minimally content with symbolic gestures of generosity by Capitalists and the State; pacifying and trapping those with the slightest inclination for dissatisfaction with the system.
“We do not trade our pains as cheap merchandise from the colonial period, we do not bargain for crumbs.” –Winnie Mandela Tribute
There is a difference between smashing a capitalist state, and helping capitalist institutions improve. This here might be a third option. Neither revolution nor reform: revitalization. Or what urbanists call: make-up (in this case for tourists).
If we were to paint these Bank Bikes white (covering the logos) and keep them always unlocked, they would be outlawed and reduced to a teenage vandal art project (Provos).
This week, the streets had the post-apocalyptic vibe you would expect from any tasteful Sci-fi pilot. The grim atmosphere of scarcity, and the controlled anxiety of people becoming aware that things have not yet turned into the Walking Dead- but might next week.
Lines for gas are growing around the few places that still have it, people praying at gas stations, some flights are not taking off, there are almost no fresh vegetables at supermarkets, the few street markets left are 7 times more expensive than usual, the T.V. is fuming with sensational stories about medicine not arriving at hospitals, people who “might” die and right-wing propaganda…
Indignation is widespread. While the left blames Temer’s failure at managing inflation and protecting people from Petrobras’ price fluctuation, the right blames the truck-drivers for not prioritizing the people who need food and medicine over their own “profits”. Of course the truck-drivers that get no wage readjustments based on the outrageous price spike are pissed, and so is anyone else who just wants to drive to work.
A place like Brazil, with such abundance of food and oil resources, not having enough for its own people reveals the catastrophic potential of the global Capitalist system. The middle class can’t imagine going to work by bus or bike, and had to be reminded of how supermarkets are stocked and the true power of workers.
These workers on strike are not representing any political party, no grand scheme coordinated by politicians on election year. This is a fairly mild wake up call, reminding us of how fragile the (in)balance of power is, and how our relationship with foreign markets is not in the best interest of the masses.
“A good pricing policy for fossil fuels should have two focuses.First, encourage biomass fuels and discourage fossil. Second, make a division between individual fuel and cargo fuel and public transportation, discouraging the former.” –Caio Almendra
Unfortunately, individual fuel is still a priority in many people’s minds, and most of the the upper and middle classes have not learned to respect truck-drivers. Things will have to get a lot worse before we wake up to the reality of our daily exploitation and submission to foreign currency.
“Development” is often reduced to road building. The higher the number and quality of roads, the more advanced and modern a place is; meaning, car and cash flows go hand in hand. This is not only an issue of class struggle and Capitalism, it’s about White Supremacy as well. We must not underestimate the affect this aspect of Capitalist development has on Indigenous and Quilombist communities.
Our Western lifestyle and backward politics make their way of life virtually impossible. Roads in particular play a major part in suffocating Indigenous and Quilombist land.
A leading figure of the Quilombo Quingoma told me she hates it when massive groups of motorcycles and random cars drive through their territory, and that paving roads is not good for their horses. Suburban “development” surrounding their land is directly connected to their lack of agency towards the preservation of the forest, and therefore the resources they need for autonomy.
Colonialism (and capitalism) have lead to the Western belief that being of the land is “less developed” than being on the land. The concept of ownership lead us to stop seeing ourselves as a part of our environment, to becoming people on or in property. That’s why the American dream is reduced to owning land of your own, and by doing that earning true freedom (meritocracy).
The tribal concept predates this capitalist concept, and it’s no surprise that after so many years of racism in the field of anthropology, that the term has had the derogatory connotation of underdevelopment.
The “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” shows well the ways in which the tone of anthropological research of tribal behavior is deeply problematic (Eurocentric). The Othering of Navies shows our inability to look at ourselves as ritualistic, and utterly nonsensical in our own behavior.
“While much of the [Nacirema] people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labors and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity.” -Horace Miner
The way we deal with our property is savage. The way we treat each other is horrific. Honestly, we have enough ways to kill, torture and enslave to make anthropophagy look honorable and humane. Still, somehow an incredible amount of people have the audacity to look at Natives as underdeveloped, just because their lives don’t revolve around screens, cars and money the way ours do.
If there is one thing we can do, in this seemingly helpless situation, is to unlearn what has been taught to us about order and progress, and learn what it really means to be a “developing” Nation.
is site editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.
“Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.”
From Judith O’Grady
Initially I was planning to write an essay about the puzzling goodness and badness/ impulse towards Right Action and selfishness/ kindheartedness and meanness that exist in all people. So I was talking it over with my friend, “All people are connected blah blah blah” and he countered that people have various cultures that inform their ethical systems and so different judgements follow in different cultures. “But culture is wholly learned….” I said and then brought that biological truism that we are all descended from Genghis Khan (after all) into the discussion. He declined to be descended from the Pillaging Emperor and so later I looked it up—- of course we’re not ALL descended from him but the Wikipedia designation of some hundreds of wives and further hundreds of children must fall short of his actual begottens by some measure as well. Since we’re all in fact descended from the same Mitochondrial Mother, if not from Genghis, it really makes no never mind.
Leaving that aside for a moment, I do find it strange and puzzling that people are so varyingly kind and mean. Some quite dreadful people will act for the common good with energy and self-sacrifice in some instances and with self-serving brutality in others; even though there are clear and present at-danger innocents in all cases.
I adhere, in a bumbling and non-psychological way, to the teachings of Jung and so can bring his concept of the Self and the Shadow Self into play. Not that the Self is Right Action and the Shadow Self is ‘bad’ by any means——- the Self can be the reasonable fear of personal harm or the worry that one is acting outside accepted practice that pushes one to not commit to the Shadow Self’s bravery. We are inextricably both Selves and the complete person is the integrated Self, not the Shining Knight.
Be that as it may, we must all learn to act as the common descendants of the One Mother and stop the pillaging of the Earth. Because another of my beliefs is that She is just about to declare humankind as a failed evolutionary experiment unable to rise above our greed for luxury and blink us all out. The only way we can stay the execution is to all share exactly as if we are all one people, to all live simpler lives of commonality, to make sure everybody has enough. Or else we will find ourselves all jumbled up in that proverbial hand-basket and bound for ‘hell’ (or in my belief system doomed to never again reincarnate as humans or perhaps at all).
So I reported back to my friend “sbna of humankind are related to Genghis Kahn.”
“Well, good! Because those children of rape would be affected by it, right?”
As is obvious, he’s a fairly black/white thinker no matter how much the shades of grey keep irrefutably intruding. Firstly, I pointed out that some of Genghis’ approved wives (as opposed to the spoils of war) might have been moderately pleased with their position—— history reports him as enjoying and valuing his sons and presumably their mothers. On the Other Hand, the children who were the product of rape are an army in their own right, Genghis aside.
On the Gripping Hand, Jung-On-Toast!! Yes, those children DO change humankind. Another of Jung’s precepts is that of the Collective Unconscious— roughly that we all tap into a deep well of previous-people’s lives that inform our own unconscious. We ‘remember’ backwards to that First Mother and the shadows the fire cast on the cave walls. This is a new and unpleasant idea; that not just half of the Speakers in the Collective Unconscious (the raped women, hand of the Goddess over them) but all of everybody (AND their children) has nightmare rememberings.
Secondarily, there is evidence that hardship, particularly disruptive hardship (being a non-combatant in the path of war, being unhomed and made a refugee, living through a famine, being raped and losing your place in your society by it), leaves an imprint on the mother’s DNA—- the children born in the wake of those disruptions are different than those who are not. Biology supports Jung; the cruelty of man creates larger damage in the world than just the sum of their acts.
So when we look further at what is going on in today’s World Emotional Flux it seems to me that there are not one but two inflammatory decision cruxes going on all at once.
The Great Mother Earth will, if we don’t act fast to clean up our lifestyle as well as start behaving as if we all sink or swim together, flick us away with Her fingernail. There are no more new frontiers of resources and land, there are no more Empire-building plans to gradually educate the others into Proper Whiteness being accepted, there are no more excuses that we were just acting according to our nature and that the blame really lies in the actions of the victims that will be allowed. It’s the End Times for us.
What is true in small is true in large: when I used to be testifying inside the conservative small-town system I would ask the women who had just, at the coffee klatch or the Tupperware party, identified their husband as ‘treating them well’, “When you all go out as a family and have a day of adventure together, who drops into a chair with a sigh of relief when you get home and who goes and starts dinner?” Once you see it you can never again unsee it. Further, if you see the imbalance of one act/attitude/ bigoted belief you may suddenly see it all.
“He works hard…..”
“And you don’t?”
Unpaid work suddenly slides into the other side of the balance and measures itself against wage-earners. Suddenly something besides dollars earned has to be used as balance-weight. Hours worked? Tasks completed? Value of the ‘job’ balanced against the enculturation of the next generation?
But that’s true of the whole system just as it is true of each individual action; once all-women say #metoo,
“Why can’t men just treat us as people, treat us as they treat other men?”
Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.From the troublesome memories of yesterday right back to sexual dimorphism taking away the female proto-human’s right of no, there has never been a good reason for treating one sex or some people as inherently less than the other sex or some other people. Only the ‘better’ group getting away with it is what permits it.
This is a tricky moment ‘cause that man who just has to get over it and give up his privilege and that woman who is finding a shaky solidarity with all woman-kind must ALSO immediately, no time for putting it off, drop everything and get to it, learn sharing and consideration and give up capitalism and resource extortion. We have to successfully work as a team with those exploiters and with those unappealing (for whatever specious reason) others and with those people with unjustifiable beliefs…..
is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).
When we are unified, when we stand together, the vast horde that is The People, there would be no way of stopping us. The state knows this, and thus the only way to stop it is to distract us with infighting, brainwashing, and financial manipulation, to not let it happen in the first place.
From Emma Kathryn
In my last essay, I spoke of recognising the tools that divide us, which you can find here.
Since then, and as is often the case, some of the comments got me thinking about unity and affinity and how these concepts can be applied to the good fight.
Affinity with anything is great. When you find someone or a group of someones with whom you just click, who are like soul brothers and sisters, then that is awesome. It’s natural to stick by, stand with and fight with and for those people.
It is more difficult to stand with others with whom you may not know, or whose suffering and oppression does not affect you, when their rights and lives are under attack.
When another’s suffering doesn’t affect us, when it is seen as a snippet on the evening news, when people are so tired from the hours of graft, when family time is squeezed in between those short few precious hours between getting home, doing chores and bed before the cycle begins again, it is no wonder it is easier to turn over. To watch some mindless reality TV. To enjoy the short-lived thrill of spending money we don’t have on shit we don’t need. To switch off.
Sometimes we feel helpless. What can we do as individuals against the tidal wave of shit that this world faces, nearly all of it man-made?
When I talk about unity, I do so with the meaning that it is standing with others, even when they are not in our family, friendship, or any other group. It’s about standing with strangers when they’re under oppression, even though their oppression has no effect at all upon our lives. It’s about standing up against the corruption of state and of capitalism, even when survival is not a struggle for you.
It’s about not being divided by petty shit.
How many times do we get involved in online debates and arguments that really do not mean anything? What I mean by this is that there are so many of these discussions, where people are listening, not with an ear to really understand the other perspective (which would be a good thing), but instead to come back with a witty or clever sounding comment that refutes what the other has said, and with various links to back it up.
To and fro these discussions go, and people get so hot-headed, because they are sure in their very soul that they are correct, and therefore, the other must be wrong. It’s an argument that goes round and round with nothing ever coming from it only more dislike, sometimes even hatred. Division.
They are pointless because they achieve nothing. Absolutely nothing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all online debates go this way, but many do. And often times, the viewpoints or opinions and beliefs of those arguing aren’t really all that far removed from one another.
What is often lacking is genuine, intelligent discourse. The free and open exchange of ideas and opinions between people and groups can only be a good thing, can only lead to genuine understanding, but what often happens is that people argue over side issues, or try to gloss over them.
An example of this can be seen when I, or others often speak out or write against the capitalist state, or the oppression of Peoples, or the devastation we cause the planet.
Some think, that because I call for an end to unfair systems that crush the many for the benefit of the few, that I must mean that I want to put another system in charge of us. That we must all be equally poor, or that the state becomes a workers state where we are all equally oppressed.
I would no more have those systems than the one we are currently under.
It’s not about handing power over us to one group or another, but seizing it for ourselves. It’s not about voting left or right, here in Britain, Conservatives or Labour. They are both different sides of the same coin. Those politicians are not like us, indeed, I often think what it is that makes someone want power over others. It takes a special kind of arsehole. Most of them have never had real jobs, outside of the bubble of government. They ‘streamline’ the education system, cutting the budgets, but you can guarantee their kids don’t attend the local comprehensive high school. They are forever cutting the NHS, again always spinning the lie they are delivering better value for money, but you can bet they have private healthcare. Their lies and duplicity are evident.
Oh yes, I am sure there are those that enter politics because they want to help others, but those individuals are few and far between. The big guns, the cabinet members. Those who make decisions about how others should live are not like us. They think they are untouchable, that they are above the laws that apply to the rest of us. And yet they abuse their power. In the last few weeks, Parliament has been rocked by sex scandals, stories of sexual abuse and harassment covered up or totally ignored.
No, it’s not about handing power to others who would use it against us, who would abuse it. It’s not about replacing the ones at the bottom now with others. It’s about taking power back for ourselves.
I believe this starts with unity.
When we can stand together, and look out for those who are different, in whatever way, to ourselves, then we can begin to take back power.
If we’re not busy arguing amongst ourselves about which political party has done the most damage, and instead recognise the ploy for what it is, we can focus our attentions on the things that do matter, that do make a difference.
So what system should be in place then?
One where people are put first. One where people can go to work and not have to struggle to live, to survive. One where the laws are for protection of the people, and not for big business and corporations. One where people are put before profit and property. One where people are not discriminated against, where equality means equality for all people. One where nature is given the respect she deserves. That’ll do for starters.
I don’t know how we get there today, but I believe it starts with unity.
When we are unified, when we stand together, the vast horde that is The People, there would be no way of stopping us. The state knows this, and thus the only way to stop it is to distract us with infighting, brainwashing, and financial manipulation, to not let it happen in the first place.
How many of us work full-time hours, or as many as we can get, how many parents both work and still can’t afford to cover the basics of living, too tired to do anything else other than scroll through social media or watch mindless TV once the kids are in bed? How many of us worry about work, how many of us are on zero hours contracts or cannot get enough hours at work because the business wants to cut costs, doesn’t want to pay the extra tax? All of these things are distractions, all keep us separate, and harden us against the suffering of others because it is difficult to see past our own suffering, the unfairness faced by others because we too are treated unfairly.
Unity is the key to any true revolutions, to any meaningful change. Surely it has to be. If we are not unified, then how will change come, if the vast majority are silent. It only takes silence for evil and wrong doing to flourish. How many choose to ignore the abuse of others, even though they find it abhorrent, because it doesn’t affect them. It’s ‘none of their business’.
We must find unity if we are to effect any real change in this world.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!
Ever since Trump was elected, like many progressives, I have been struggling to understand why. In the course of reading around what Trump himself says, and what his supporters say about him, I started to think about him as much as a spiritual phenomenon, as a political one. These two domains are, after all, more or less impossible to distinguish in any absolute sense.
As is often the case when a line of thinking is worthwhile, another author recently published something along the same lines. Reading Patacelsus’s meditation on the egregore of The Trump Corporation has encouraged me to put down my own thoughts on this subject. But rather than apply the theories of chaos magic and witchcraft to Trump’s ascent, below I’ll use another important conceptual tool from the Pagan toolbox – the Jungian archetype. What archetype might Trump be harnessing to cultivate his success? Why is it so influential amongst certain sections of American society? How does this archetype become a trope, to be repeated in creative work? And how can we combat it, politically, creatively and magically?
When we think about hierarchy, our first instinct might perhaps be to reach for classic Pagan archetypes – in Tarot, we find the temporal power of the Emperor, for example, and the spiritual authority of the High Priest. Such images can be compared constructively to the Jungian archetype of The Father – a character that, for Jung, represented our collective experience of authority; an experience that often induces fear. But in the modern world, we experience authority rather differently than we might have done when these archetypes were defined. High priests and emperors lack much of the legal and political authority they once commanded, where they continue to exist at all. And though fathers remain authority figures for many people today, this dynamic is much reduced in its prevalence and power compared to when Jung was writing – it’s much more usual now for men to be caregivers, and friends to their children, or to be unable to act as an authority figure for other reasons. The nature of fatherhood, and parenting itself, has changed, so that the role of it in expressing formal authority (and instilling fear) is much reduced on the collective level.
Therefore, if we wish to identify the social roles that carry formal authority, and invoke fear in us, and therefore play the psychical role of “The Father”, we must look beyond recorded archetypes, and think a little more creatively. When you do this, new archetypical forms begin to emerge. For many contemporary Americans, I suggest, the primary experience of authority today comes not from male parents, but rather in the workplace. Imagine back to your first job: you were eager for pay and the independence that came with it, but you probably didn’t enjoy the job itself. Nonetheless, you may well have been nervous, and worried that you might be fired – conscious of the fact that you were at the mercy of the company. The will of the company would be distilled in a particular person: namely, The Boss.
Naturally, there is a wide degree of diversity amongst individual line managers – some are good with people, kind, reasonable, and even helpful, while others will be irrational, ruthless, and cruel, and everything in between. Though important for the experience of individual employees, these differences are incidental, relative to the structural role any line manager plays in the business. A line manager is invested with authority over the staff who report to them; a hierarchical relationship that does not go away, no matter how good a boss the line manager might be. The employee’s ability to make rent, buy food, pay medical costs, go on holiday, is entirely dependent upon that relationship. The boss’s ability, by contrast, is not dependent on his employee to same degree. As such, that relationship is bound to become invested with emotional energy over time, particularly fear and anxiety; energy that over time crystallises into the Boss as a collective idea – an archetype.
Given the negativity of the emotions involved, the Boss normally manifests as a Worst Case Scenario. An avalanche of stories, films, and op-ed pieces about awful, tyrannical, cruel, incompetent, stupid, mean-spirited, greedy bosses descends from the collective unconscious of America every year; movies like the Horrible Bosses franchise are a case in point. This is perhaps best crystallised by The Lonely Island song Like a Boss, in which the eponymous boss careens from his professional responsibilities through a sequence of events that ranges from the aggressively antisocial to the pathetic, becoming progressively less and less realistic over the course of the song. This mixture of deceit, desperation, and braggadocio is a distinctive feature of many bad boss caricatures, not least David Brent from The Office.
But this negative view of the Boss is matched by a complimentary, positive view of this archetype. I was stuck by the power of this when I read a recent piece by Rick Perlstein regarding an essay written by “Peter” – one of Perlstein’s students – to explain why he had voted for Trump. “Peter” describes his home town in Oklahoma, where the local economy was suffering. “Peter” mentions that Oklahomans felt deeply disenfranchised from local politics, and found it easier to reach an accommodation with their managers, than lobby their representatives for legislative changes. Attempts by the federal government to improve workers’ rights would often result in local employers – such as Walmart – laying off employees or cutting pay, creating greater welfare dependency amongst the general population. He goes on to say,
“The majority of the people in the area do not blame the business or the company for their loss because they realize that businesses are in the business of making money, and that if they had a business of their own, they would do the same things.”
Clearly, here, the inhabitants of “Peter”s hometown sympathise with their Bosses, even when they make choices that negatively effect them. This is because, clearly, they see themselves as potential bosses too.
Much of the power of the Boss in the American imagination arises from the importance of a particular institutional form in American society – bureaucracy. As sociologist Max Weber points out, one of the key features of bureaucracy is a set hierarchy, with clear lines of authority and areas of responsibility. Bureaucracies require bosses. As David Graeber argues, Americans actually rather good at building and running bureaucracies, despite their antipathy towards them. As in France, official processes in Britain are often inefficient, slow, and incompletely realised, and end up being used to reinforce the established class system – with only those who attend certain schools and universities being equipped with the necessary skills to penetrate the byzantine levels of administrative complexity, or even avoid them completely.
American society, by contrast, has been thoroughly integrated into inclusive bureaucratic systems for over a century, making bureaucracy seem to Americans like a truly universal system*; despite the fact that Americans still adhere to a self-image of rugged individualism. Graeber reveals the reason for this apparent contradiction; the majority of American bureaucracies emerged from within the private sector, where they largely aren’t thought of as “bureaucracies” at all.
A corporation is also a bureau; it’s just a bureau devoted to the enrichment of shareholders, rather than the execution of state power. For Tea-Party Republicans, the government department and the private corporation exist as hypostases for the bad and good faces of Janus-faced Officialdom. The junior staff of the state are demotivated, surly, obsessed with paperwork (as well as being black**), while the junior staff of the corporation are efficient, professional, and obsessed with the customer (as well as being white**). Those in charge of state bureaucracies – that is, politicians – are corrupt, smarmy, and mercenary. Those in charge of private bureaucracies are strong, driven, and successful. The bad side of bureaucracy is symbolised by “the Swamp” – a brown-grey turgid morass populated by pond life and predators. The good side of bureaucracy is the Boss.
The fact is that even though archetypes are universal, they take culturally very specific shapes. Tolstoy began Anna Karenina by famously saying that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same could be said of politics. Every country has its own nationalistic obsessions and anxieties; that manifest publicly in quite a specific guises – guises simply wouldn’t fly anywhere else. Every far right leader is necessarily playing to the home crowd; so the fact that someone else’s extremist seems so ridiculous, should never be taken as an indication that your own national discourse would be immune. The fact that there has been an international chorus of disgust at Trump’s election should not make anyone complacent.
Regardless of the particular, local shapes Father-surrogates might take, what unites them is the response these shapes elicit from others: they demand sycophancy, absolute obedience, and unquestioning loyalty. They surround themselves with those who are willing to give these things, and shun or attack those who do not. In short, what the Boss demands from all of us is sucking up.
This, I think, represents a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Trump moment, that is ripe for exploitation by those of us opposed to it. Just as capitalism is bedevilled by internal contradictions, so it is with the far right politics that defends it. For while Trump’s supporters may like to imagine themselves as muscular, pioneering individuals – who do not rely on the State or anyone else for their livelihood – what Trump himself demands of them is nothing short of vassalage. He will make America great again, create jobs, and bring back the 1950s, and in return, his voters will magnify his own greatness. In dramatic contrast to the kaleidoscopic heterogeneity of the anti-globalisation movement or Occupy***, the Trump movement, with their mass-produced baseball caps, mostly white faces, the choreography of their rallies, the vision that many Trump supporters have of America, is remarkably uniformist.
Such uniform public displays, so typical of totalitarian regimes, do not exist to highlight the strength and distinctiveness of individual participants – but to accentuate and reinforce the power and will of the guy in charge. Of course, the way the Boss copes with this is by creating opportunities for his followers to get a taste of his power, in small, confined ways. By restricting the reproductive rights of women, the Boss makes men the boss of women’s bodies. By expanding and militarising the police, the Boss creates opportunities for small-town sheriffs to feel like the boss of blackfolk’s lives. By forbidding transfolk from entering the right bathroom, the Boss allows ciswomen to feel like the boss of their trans sisters. By rolling back the rights of workers, the Boss allows managers to become more like him. The Boss transforms the contagion of schoolyard bullying into tool of government
And yet, American culture demonises sucking up. Having to tug your forelock at someone richer and more powerful than you to get ahead is precisely what the ancestors of most present-day white Americans were striving to escape when they colonised Turtle Island. This experience has left many scars in American national consciousness – in film and on TV, suck ups are, at best, a pathetic comic relief, and at worst the guy who holds the bad guy’s hat, and runs off squealing in fear when the hero wins
Nobody wants to see themselves as that guy; least of all the sort of middle-class, white folk who voted for Trump in their droves. But that is precisely what they have become. Seduced by the facade of egalitarianism and meritocracy that corporate America has spun around itself, they have become everything their ancestors would have despised – the cringing assistant to the local liege-lord; responsible for keeping the rest of the manor in line, and keeping him in power. Their fate is not their own, but tied to his. This will remain the case, until they choose to abandon him.
Now that Trump is in power, he and his cronies in the Republican party are starting to take steps that will hurt many of those who voted for him – from dismantling the Affordable Care Act, to removing important environmental protections. As a result, some Trump voters are starting to regret their choice. Although I have little sympathy for people who fail to apologise for support an overt racist, sexist, and xenophobe; this bitter experience will hopefully make one thing abundantly clear; The Boss is using you. This is the most important lesson for any Trump voter to take away from the connection between Trump and the Boss archetype; a lesson evident in the anxiety of that first day’s employment; a lesson “Peter” and his fellow Oklahomans failed to grasp. To the Boss, you do not exist as a person to him, but as an employee, as labour that he needs. As soon as he no longer needs that service, or you can no longer provide it, he will discard you. And, unfortunately, you’ve done your bit – he’s in office now.
There may still be time to turn from the dark road the Anglophone world is now on. To turn away from bosses and Father-surrogates, to embrace equality and compassion for all. Because nobody should have to live their life sucking up to the Boss.
**There is a clear, racial dimension to this distinction. The State is viewed as both an employer and a patron of people of colour, whereas the private sector is imagined as a white domain.
*** Occupy was so diverse, that mainstream journalists frequently used this as a stick to beat the movement with – presenting it as fundamentally disorganised, with no clear objective, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Jonathan 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.
One of my personal heroes is a bard named Barry Patterson. A blue-eyed Geordie with a magnificent grey beard and a mean turn of phrase, Barry is an animist, a poet, a drummer and a piper, a Green Man in every sense, and he is very wise. He often says to me “Jonathan, you know people always talk about the Mabinogion, the Tales of Ancient Eire, and fairy tales, and call them myths. They are not myths. They are stories. If you read Joseph Campbell, Claude Levi-Strauss, they explain that myths are uniquely powerful, in a way that not all stories are – they define our ideas, our hopes, our choices: and so, they define the way our world works. Does the Mabinogion do that? Does the Tain? No. Our myths are different now. Nationalism, Freedom, Romance, The Market – most of all the Market – these are the myths according to which the modern world is run.”
Barry is, of course, quite right. These things do not have a life apart from those who believe in them – they exist only and because we say they do. They are, to use the parlance of my discipline “social constructs”: to quote Clifford Geertz, they are “webs of significance that [man] himself has spun”. This doesn’t stop them from being immensely powerful or important, of course, but we must remember that their continued existence is not natural, or necessary either.
The first and hardest step, though, is spotting these myths. Their power and pervasiveness is their cover; the fact that we rely on them so completely makes them invisible, as through their supposed obviousness they become the intellectual furniture of the societies in which we live. And the fact that these myths are so hard to spot, makes them very useful for those in power – as the Marxist Antonio Gramsci explained, the rich use their influence to promote their ideas amongst the wider population. The rich create stories to suit only their purposes, before making them into myths shared by everyone. By controlling what is “common sense” in society as a whole, the rich keep society under tight control. It is this process, Gramsci points out, that prevented the otherwise inevitable collapse of capitalist societies, and stalled revolutions throughout the 20th century – the rich ensure the intellectual furniture upon which we all sit blocks all available exits. We see this same process active in society today. When a radical challenge to fossil capitalism is considered – involving rapid cuts in carbon emissions, the redistribution of wealth, a debt jubilee, or any alternative to growth-based economics – the myths forged by the capitalist elite are used by the rest of society to defend the status quo.
One such myth is the Myth of Progress. It states that human history unfolds in something approaching a long, upward curve – with quality of life, technological sophistication, tolerance, and global harmony gradually increasing over time. Superficially, it seems quite convincing – if we compare the clean streets of present-day uptown Amsterdam, to the squalor of the Medieval city, it certainly looks as though progress has been made. Some public intellectuals, such as Steven Pinker, and Niall Ferguson, propound this view with tremendous verve, extolling the virtues of modern Western civilization while neglecting its many failings. Although there are problems all over the planet, they say, these are being dealt with and, if we just stay the course, the system we have now will solve them. Tweaks may be needed, but the fundamentals are settled. We just need to keep calm, and carry on.
This view of the past – known as the Whig Theory of History – is not given any credence by academic historians. Technological, social, moral, and emotional progress is not inevitable, nor is “progress” in each of these areas easy to define. As Ronald Wright persuasively argues, this myth tirelessly simplifies the messy complexity that underpins our present state; the pain and suffering that got us here, and the patchiness of our achievements. Furthermore, implicit in Myth of Progress is a kind of complacency – it is “we” who are the most advanced, out of all humanity – who that “we” is, always depends upon who is doing the talking. This risks inviting in a kind of hubris – it is short step to go from claiming to be the best so far, to claiming to be the best possible. It’s not so very hard to move from a Whiggish confidence in continual, unimpeded progress, to claiming – as political scientist Francis Fukuyama once did – that neoliberal democracy represents the end of history. But despite all the problems with this myth, people still believe it. Indeed, it suits the rich to tell us this – how can we oppose their beneficent rule, if we’ve never had it so good?
Of course, few people today – after the financial crisis, the many catastrophic threats of climate change, the swing towards the populist right – would claim that progress is inevitable, or that Western civilisation is the best of all possible worlds, or that Neoliberalism represents the peak of what we can achieve. The Myth of Progress has been unmasked as mere sophistry. Although this process is frightening and there are very real dangers tied to recent events: what has happened also represents an opportunity to shift the common sense of our society, and look again at the very nuts and bolts of how our world works.
Now, considering this, it seems that the shift in the past 100 years isn’t so positive. We might be growing more, but the food we’re growing is less nourishing, and the way we’re growing it is destroying the planet. If we are to protect our soils, and truly maintain a healthy population of billions of people, the key isn’t producing more food, but better food. And by this standard, global agriculture has actually gone backward since the 1930s.
Now, many of the big reasons why older, healthier varieties – tastier, more nutritious, more resilient to pests – fell out of favour was that they required careful tending, took longer to grow, were tricky to harvest mechanically, or they had a very short self-life. The number of varieties in use has gone down significantly as well. This represents a very significant risk on its own, as it means the gene pool of vital crop species is now becoming dangerously narrow – simply because everyone is using KWS Siskin wheat or Resistafly carrots. The reason why so many regional varieties or landraces have been abandoned and are now endangered is not because of their inherent value; but simply because it is more profitable for industrial producers – and seed suppliers – to limit cultivation to a small number of fast-growing, good-looking varieties; sacrificing taste, nourishment, and genetic diversity in the process.
If we care about the nourishment we get from what we eat, rather than the mere amount of stuff we consume, the current food producing regimen is not feeding the world very well. It creates vast surpluses of a small number of plant varieties that are low in nutrients, dependent on artificial fertilisers and pesticides, deplete soil and ruin agricultural productivity. So much for progress.
If we revived older crop varieties – that grow more slowly, can’t be transported long distances, but are more nutritious, tastier food – and integrated them into a highly localised, high-tech food-production system, with every city carpeted and covered with food forests and gardens, we’d be well on our way. Certain crops would still need to be grown in the countryside, but rather than ship grain from Russia all the way to San Francisco merely because it’s cheaper, we’d keep supply chains short as possible to reduce emissions, and use a varieties of crops best suited to their local climate and the nutritional needs to the local population
Crucially, this would bring people back to the soil. The “Green Revolution” has been so profitable, because it has increased agricultural outputs while reducing the number of people working the land, thus reducing the labour costs for agricultural businesses. Those who once worked the land have been corralled into cities, where they have joined the ranks of the urban poor – in the developed world, these people end up engaged in mindless, bullshit jobs; in the developing world, they slave away in factories, as in China, or struggle to scrape a living until the tension boils over, as it has in Syria. If we turned our cities into places where food was grown, new jobs would be created that produced healthy food and supported local economies, and everyone would feel, and actually be closer to the cycles of life and growth that sustain our lives – rather than believing falsely that vegetables materialise on supermarket shelves. People need to take up the fork and trowel, and return to doing what we’ve done since the Natufians: growing things.
The fact is, in Britain, we’ve been here before. During WWII, the pressure of German raids on Allied merchant shipping meant that food security became a major issue. So the government encouraged people to grow their own food under the “Dig for Victory” campaign. Although this took place under rationing, the direct intervention by the government in managing the diet of its citizens, and encouraging home-grown produce actually improved public health during the period. The problem was that it created an association in the hearts and minds of the British public between self-sufficiency, and all the hardship of war, and the interference of the state. So as soon as the war was over, people abandoned all the good habits they had acquired, and embraced the orgiastic mass-consumption that was imported to the UK by the Ad-men of the 1950s. “Dig for Victory”, as a top-down initiative unmoored from broader political and economic reform was doomed to fail. So to successfully restore our soils, we must also restore society. Nonetheless, the “Dig for Victory” campaign indicates that it is possible to place agriculture at the heart of everyday life, even for urban people, and to put the welfare of people at the heart of agriculture.
The collapse of the Myth of Progress allows us to reconsider many old certainties. For some of us, this collapse happened long before 2016 – we lost our faith in the myths of capital either through education, or through bitter personal experience, or both. But in the wake of Brexit, Trump’s election, and many other crises, it has become necessary to reconsider some of our most accepted views about the world – and look for better ones.
As Pagans, myths and stories are our bread and butter. Many people in the West are crying out for new, better stories to make sense of their lives, and to shed light on how we might move forward, into an uncertain future. In such an environment, our traditions are, therefore, necessarily political. But the stories we cast into society cannot be mere fabrications; the failure of the Myth of Progress should ward us off such abstractions. Our stories must be rooted in the Land itself, in its moods and matter. Tending the soils; making them full of life again; is but one practical step pregnant with narrative potential.
As for how that potential should manifest; I leave that to you.
Jonathan 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.
Reading a book about bureaucracy may not sound like an exciting way to spend a weekend off with my family. And yet, having just started David Graeber’s latest—A Utopia of Rules—when I wasn’t making tea for my elderly grandmother, I curled up in a comfy chair with this little pink book, mocked up to look like one of the forms it excoriates, and excited by each new page. Although many of the ideas Graeber presents here aren’t new, the clarity and force with which they are drawn together and set out is a rare pleasure—a contrast with turgid official paperwork that was almost certainly intentional.
Graeber—a social anthropologist, anarchist, and prominent leftist thinker, based at the London School of Economics (LSE)—develops his argument, in part, by thinking ethnographically with his own personal experiences of officialdom, beginning with a heartbreaking account of his own struggle to deal with his elderly mother’s Medicaid application. In response to this, he introduces the book as a series of short essays on different facets of what he calls “total bureaucratisation”—defined as “the gradual fusion of public and private power into a single entity, rife with rules and regulations whose ultimate purpose is to extract wealth in the form of profits.” Bureaucracy is not a simple matter of red tape created by the state tying up private enterprise, as right-wing pundits would have us believe: Graeber points out that bureaucratic forms have become intrinsic to both private and public spheres.
While the Left has been largely unable to produce a critique of bureaucracy, the Right has such a critique—but efforts to “roll back” the state by the Right have had the opposite effect, producing even more paperwork than ever. This leads Graeber to propose what he calls “the Iron Law of Liberalism”, which states that “any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.”
In stressing the coeval nature of the free market and an expansive state, Graeber directs his analysis away from shallow criticism of big government, towards the common institutional basis of all inequality, found at the heart of neoliberal governance. Given the extent to which the general public in the English-speaking world continue to view the expansive state and the “free” market as antithetical to one another and synonymous with the Left and the Right of politics respectively, this is an important point to make.
With the foundations laid, Graeber’s lucid prose carries the reader briskly through a sequence of stand-alone essays, each of which engages with a particular aspect of total bureaucratisation today. Each of these, Graeber claims, will need to be addressed by any critique of bureaucracy the Left might develop. Dead Zones of the Imagination utilises feminist theory of imaginative labour to develop the argument that bureaucracy—in addition to being stupid—exists to create stupidity. Its impersonal procedures, backed up by threat of violence, ensure that those in positions of authority—especially the police—are able to avoid doing the imaginative labour of empathising with others, while forcing those others to engage in imaginative labour towards the authorities, simply in order to avoid physical harm. Police insist upon being able to “define the situation”—those who contest this, rather than violent criminals, are the ones who are routinely meet with physical violence. This serves to emphasise a very basic point: don’t underestimate the importance of physical violence, even if it takes place behind a veil of paper.
In Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit, Graeber turns his attention to the trajectory of technological development in the modern world. Why is it, he asks, that in the 1950s we were able to explore space, and expected to be surrounded by robotic servants and flying cars by now, but that this awesome potential has not been realised? The answer, he suggests, is that rather than cause social change by itself, the direction of technological innovation is directed by financial interests—so that instead of pursuing automation and space travel that could disrupt existing economic relations on Earth, major funders have prioritised less disruptive research lines, such as information technology. The greatest achievement of the late 20th century—the Internet—is revealed as decidedly chimeric; both a tool for enhanced communication, but also a means of surveillance and manipulation on an industrial scale. The promise of technology has been broken in favour of labour discipline and social control; R&D budgets have been slashed in favour of boosting executive pay and shareholder dividends. Instead of being allowed to pursue their research interests, academics are increasingly forced to spend more and more of their time doing paperwork. Rather than a driver of social change, technology is itself subject to the demands of capital.
The Utopia of Rules, or Why We Really Love Bureaucracy After All concludes the triptych, by exploring the ways in which bureaucracy can, in fact, be deeply enchanting—when it works well—providing human beings with a sense of predictability and certainty that can be deeply seductive. While the second essay uses science fiction to reflect upon the curious falling short of innovation, this essay turns to magic and fantasy fiction in an attempt to understand how the appeal of bureaucratic rationality is generated. Graeber argues that the elaborate angelic hierarchies and formulaic modes of ritual address, developed in the Rennaissance but that now enliven Western Ceremonial Magic, actually reflect a political imaginary—a vision of the chaotic, violent world of the Middle ages reordered according to a spiritualised version of the old, lost, Roman bureaucracy. Nowadays, however, this vision is inverted—fantasy fiction today constructs a pseudo-Medieval world, where bureaucracy is almost entirely absent, where creativity is directly channelled into reality via magic, and where leadership is acquired on the basis of personal virtue and conquest, rather than through impersonal qualification or graduate recruitment. However, while giving us an opportunity to vicariously enjoy a world without bureaucracy, medievalist fantasies – with their perennial sense of threat and danger – nonetheless reinforce our sense that it’s probably preferable to live with the devil we know. Just as the gruesome spectacle of Gladitorial combat both beguiled and repulsed the populace of Rome from the idea of democracy, the blood-soaked cities of Westeros instill in us a fear of a world without bureaucratic order.
Perhaps the most fascinating contestation made by Graeber—albeit, only in passing—is that bureaucratic rationality rests upon a resolutely spiritual set of commitments. The idea that numbers and their rational appraisal can help one to understand and manipulate reality, reaches back to the Pythagoreanism of ancient Greece. They, in turn, directly inspired Plato, the father of Western formalism, and in turn the Medieval angelic hierarchies mentioned above. This commitment to the power of logic and pure numbers conferred upon bureaucracy a utopian air; bureaucrats envision a world of perfect harmony, governed by well-designed, efficient institutions, and develop frameworks that attempt to make that world a reality. The fact that the complexity of the world-as-lived rarely fits these lofty ideals ensures that bureaucracy requires constant enforcement—with the force in question being the threat of violence meted out by private security, the police or the military.
But it is in the Appendix—Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power—that we find some of Graeber’s most timely observations for the present moment. In a playful analysis of the cultural and political significance of superheroes, Graeber points out that—building upon his analysis of medievalist fantasy in the previous chapter—comics teach the same kind of lesson. In pitting basically passive superheroes who seek to preserve the status quo against endlessly creative and scheming villains who wish to unseat it, comics allow the reader to vicariously enjoy the thrill of unfettered creative potential, only to enforce the idea that such potential necessarily leads to violence, and that violence is in turn the only way that it can be controlled.
In the Marvel and DC Universes, the only alternative to bureaucracy is violent creativity of villains—in short, fascism. This, in turn, allows Graeber to highlight a broad distinction between the left and the right: “Ultimately, the division between left-and right-wing sensibilities turns on one’s attitude towards the imagination. For the Left, imagination, creativity, by extension production, the power to bring new things and new social arrangements into being, is always to be celebrated. It is the source of all real value in the world. For the Right, it is dangerous; ultimately, evil. The urge to create is also a destructive urge. This kind of sensibility was rife in the popular Freudianism of the day [1950s]: where the Id was the motor of the psyche, but also amoral; if really unleashed, it would lead to an orgy of destruction. This is also what separates conservatives from fascists. Both agree that the imagination unleashed can only lead to violence and destruction. Conservatives wish to defend us against that possibility. Fascists wish to unleash it anyway. They aspire to be, as Hitler imagined himself, great artists painting with the minds, blood, and sinews of humanity.”
Following from the magistral philosophical treatise Debt: The First 5,000 years (2011), The Utopia of Rules is a more modest project. Graeber does not attempt to propose a leftist critique of total bureaucratisation within its pages, though he argues such a critique is long overdue. Nor does he advance a singular argument—his goal is simply to prompt a conversation. With the rise of the populist right, this conversation is more important than ever. The mainstream Left, Graeber points out, has for too long positioned itself on the side of state control, leaving critiques of bureaucracy to the Right. As the pro-market efforts of neoliberalism have done nothing but concentrate capital in the hands of the rentier classes, the frustration is now boiling over. And yet, in unveiling the mystical roots of stultifying modern paperwork, Graeber reveals a way forward for us—if total bureaucratisation is a spell laid over the world, that spell may be broken. We need not live out the fevered dreams of Renaissance mystics; we can awaken. Nor shall the dark blood and bone portraits of fascists necessarily hold sway over the human imagination, for the Left is just as creative as the right; indeed, unlike them, we can create without fear of creativity. The Right may aspire to break this world, but it is the birthright of the Left to make a better one.
Jonathan 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.
“I have so many places I want to take you,” she said to me, pointing to her gas meter. “But I’ve only got 200km worth of gas left in my tank, and all the gas stations are closed today.”
We were traveling through southern France with an old friend of mine who lives in Perpignan, who once spent a summer living with me in Brooklyn while she interned at a production company in Manhattan. During that summer, I helped to introduce her to the best of what New York had to offer, and ten years later she was returning the favor, driving us around to show us the beauty of the land where she was born and raised.
“As you know, the trains are down,” she continued. “The power plants were also shut down yesterday. I don’t know how long the strikes will continue, but I just hope the gas stations open up soon.”
It wasn’t just her words, but the casual and accepting nature in which she said them, which really drove it home for me how accustomed and accepting the French tend to be towards general strikes, or as the French say, la grève générale. Her words came out in a combination of frustration, amusement, and resignation, and while she spoke I couldn’t help but imagine how the average person in the United States would react if they couldn’t access any gas stations for a day or more.
Over the past four months, France has exploded in a series of strikes and violent protests over the proposed labor reform law, or Loi travail, that President François Hollande‘s Socialist government is trying to pass.
And while the strikes have been covered somewhat by the French media, overall the international coverage of these events–especially in the United States–has been sorely lacking to the point where many are referring to it as a ‘media blackout’. Alternative international media outlets such as teleSUR, Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, and RT have been reporting on the violence, but even those outlets have almost solely focused on the protests themselves, rather than on an accurate understanding of the issues and history behind these strikes.
For the past month, Rhyd Wildermuth and I have traveled throughout both southern and northern France, spending several days at a time in four separate French cities. Throughout our travels, I have been witnessing and educating myself as to both what is occurring in France and why it is occurring. What I have learned and observed about these complex events is as follows:
France is no stranger to general strikes, in stark contrast to the United States which saw its last significant general strike in 1946. And unlike American workers, who often work multiple jobs for long hours for low pay and few protections, French workers enjoy a long list of labor rights:
a 35-hour work week before 25% overtime kicks in,
a mandated 10-hour maximum workday with breaks ever 4.5 hours,
2.5 days of paid leave per month worked (which adds up to five weeks of paid leave per year),
eleven paid public holidays per year,
sixteen weeks of paid maternity leave per child,
strict protections from being fired without just cause,
and generous severance payments if one is laid off due to their job becoming obsolete.
These rights are a direct result of both the historic and current willingness of the French to fight, often violently and in defiance of the law, for protections that they consider to be an integral part of their way of life.
The modern-day workers’ rights moment in France initiated with a series of general strikes in 1936. These involved more than a million workers, and led to an agreement known as the ‘Matignon Agreements’. These agreements guaranteed French workers the legal right to strike, a 40-hour mandated work week before overtime, two weeks’ paid vacation and the right to collectively bargain.
The second round of workers’ rights that the French enjoy today were won in the midst of the May 1968 crisis. Known as the ‘Grenelle agreements’, out of the civil unrest came a 34-hour work week (down from 40), the establishment of trade unions within every industry in France, and protections that prevented workers from being fired without just cause.
Since the ’68 unrest, the workweek had been briefly raised to 39 hours and then dropped again to 35, where it remains today. In 1995, proposed work reforms initiated by newly-elected right wing President Jacques Chirac, which included restricting the right to retire at age 55, were met with general strikes involving more than 6 million strike days (calculated by the number of days that each worker struck).
As a result, the proposed reforms were retracted. In 2006, President Chirac’s government attempted to pass an ’employment contract’ law which would have allowed employers to easily fire workers without reason within the first two years of their employment, but the proposed law was again rescinded in the face of massive protests.
A year later, newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to reduce retirement benefits for public employees engaged in hazardous professions, and was again met with massive protests. And once again, the proposal was rescinded. Since then, France’s code du travail has remained strong and secure until early this year.
The Current Controversy:
The new labor reform law, introduced in February and dubbed the “El Khomri law” after French labor minister Myriam El Khomri, aims to do away with many worker rights including reducing overtime for those who work more than 35 hours a week, reducing pensions, and making it easier for employers to fire workers without just cause. These changes were proposed with the intention of reducing public spending, reducing unemployment, and making France’s labor market more flexible.
The law was met with strong public opposition, starting with the “Nuit debout” movement. Nuit debout, which has been compared to both Occupy and the Indignados movement of Spain, began in March and has quickly spread to over thirty cities in France. Not only is the anger over the law itself, but unlike the attempted reforms of the Chirac and Sarkozy governments, which were right-wing, the fact that the left-wing Socialist party has proposed these reforms is seen as a harsh betrayal.
Paris’ ‘Place de la Republique’ was occupied by thousands of Nuit debout supporters for twelve days straight, and the movement received a high level of public support.
A month later, after facing opposition from several MPs French Prime Minister Manuel Valls decided to push the labor reform law through the lower house of the Parliament without a vote, using a rare provision in the French Constitution to bypass the normal democratic route.
In response, France has exploded in protest, with a coordinated shutdown of public industries that has continued for several months now.
The majority of the strikes in France are being coordinated by the CGT (Confédération générale du travail), which is one of five major trade union confederations in France and arguably the most powerful. The country’s largest trade union confederacy in terms of voting power and the second-largest in terms of membership, the CGT has been integral in securing workers’ rights in France for nearly a century, having brokered both the reforms of ’36 and ’68 and playing a significant role in every general strike since then. The CGT openly supported Hollande during the last election and encouraged members to vote for Hollande, so the feelings of betrayal are particularly strong amongst the CGT membership.
Other trade union confederations involved in and/or supporting the strikes include SUD (Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques), CFTC ( Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens), and FO (Force Ouvrière), while the more moderateCFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail)is mostly in support of the proposed labor reforms.
Over the past few months, these strikes have shut down several major industries throughout France, some for several days at a time. In the time that Rhyd and I have been traveling through France, there have been rolling strikes involving the national railway system (SNCF), the local metro in Paris, several bus systems, air traffic controllers in several cities including Paris and Marseilles, gas stations, and nuclear electric plants.
The largest concentration of strikes had been announced for June 14th, in part with the intention of disrupting the Euro 2016 football tournament that is taking place throughout several cities in France, set to attract upwards of three million tourists.
June 14th was also the date that the upper house of Parliament was set to start deliberations on the proposed reforms.
Among those who announced they will strike were the following industries:
Transport, including buses, taxis, national railways, air traffic controllers, and maritime workers;
Public service workers, including those working in libraries, post offices, sanitation, and non-emergency fire department and healthcare workers;
Private sector workers, including those working in banks, hotels, private transportation, media, fashion, and the mail-order industry;
Educational workers, including those working in preschool through high school.
On the Ground: Arles, May 23-26:
Upon our arrival in Arles, signs of resistance and organizing around the general strikes were immediately evident. Nearly everywhere we looked, posters hung on billboards, street poles, and mail boxes, both expressing anger at the Loi travail as a whole as well as specific calls for demonstrations on set dates. Both gatherings organized by the Nuit debout movement as well as protests organized by smaller, local groups were occurring in Arles on a near-daily basis.
Even more prevalent than the posters were countless stickers, plastered everywhere one could imagine, ranging from those from trade unions to much more explicitly leftist and anarchist propaganda.
Walking around Arles, which is a rather quiet, sleepy, Medieval-era town best known as the later residence of Vincent van Gogh and the subject of many of his later paintings, one could constantly hear both residents and tourists discussing the shutdowns and the protests that were occurring both in Arles and throughout France.
Every word I heard from the locals was in opposition to the Loi travail and in support of the uprisings, with one woman ironically remarking that although she supported the strikes, she hoped the transit issues would be resolved in time for her upcoming month-long vacation.
The buses and trains both went on strike on two consecutive days while we were there, but altogether the effects they had on travel were minor.
Perpignan, May 27- May 30:
Unlike Arles, Perpignan is much more of an urban center, a city of just over 100,000 residents which serves as the capital of the Pyrénées-Orientales region of southern France. Perpignan has a reputation for being a right-wing town with a significant National Front presence, but when we arrived the presence of the CGT and Nuit debout was much more prevalent and obvious than any right-wing elements.
On our second day in Perpignan, I stepped off the bus in the centre-ville and literally walked right into a CGT rally taking place in one of the major town squares. The square was filled with various tents which were distributing industry-specific information about the Loi travail and the various forms of resistance against it. In one corner was a stage with a band playing, catty-corner to the stage was a tent serving beer and sandwiches for only 2€ each, and the atmosphere was unusually light-hearted and festive considering that there were several transit-related strikes taking place that very day.
Further down the main boulevard in Perpignan that same afternoon, several Nuit debout folks were flyering in support of the latest round of strikes while also handing out information about their weekly meetings. A few blocks away, several punk-looking activists were rather covertly using what appeared to be wheat or rice paste to affix Nuit debout posters to any and all available surfaces. Nearly everyone who walked by them voiced their support for their presence on the street and/or the strike in general, with several folks erupting in chants as they walked by.
Toulouse, May 31 – June 2:
While physical organizing and leftist presence was more evident in Perpignan, the expressive side of the recent uprisings was much more evident in Toulouse, which lies approximately two hours northwest of Perpignan and is a major city with a population of over a million residents. Instead of the resistance being dominated by the presence of the CGT and Nuit debout, the resistance in Toulouse was much more a product of the people themselves.
Block after block throughout the city was covered in posters, graffiti, and stickers. One could not look in any direction without coming across an uncountable number of messages, both printed and scrawled by hand, not only protesting the labor reforms but announcing daily meetings as well as the nationwide strikes planned for June 14th.
At the same time, the city was gearing up for its role as one of the hosts of the Euro2016 tournament, which the strikes were set to interrupt, and the tension between police and activists was evident.
Rennes, June 3 – June 13:
Despite the wide variety of people, protest, and propaganda that we had observed and witnessed in the previous three cities, nothing had quite prepared us for Rennes.
Unlike the previous cities we had visited, Rennes is in the north, in the heart of Bretagne, where hostility towards French authority has both simmered and exploded for hundreds of years. Rennes is a distinctly Leftist and anarchist city, with a deeply-rooted Breton independence movement, and many of the residents here are quick to tell outsiders that “Bretagne is not France”.
The Breton language, though endangered, is still spoken in Rennes, and over the past few decades a concerted effort has been made to revive the Breton language, much to the chagrin of the French government. Dual-language schools are common in Rennes, and many of the street signs and informational placards are in both French and Breton.
And those dual-language signs were pretty much the only surfaces in town that were spared, and the messages went far beyond protesting the Loi travail. Nearly every square inch of space was covered in protest signs, anti-police and anti-capitalist stickers and graffiti, posters and flyers and every type of leftist propaganda imaginable. It was obvious that in Rennes, the anger is not just aimed at Loi travail, but at capitalism itself.
There was also an pervasive element in Rennes that we had not seen in force in any of the other cities we had traveled to – the presence of the federal police, or gendarmerie. We had seen a few in Toulouse due to the upcoming Euro2016 games, but the gendarmerie presence in Rennes was much more prevalent, despite the fact that Toulouse is a much larger city in Rennes.
But their presence was not without reason. For in Rennes, nearly every single bank in town has been smashed.
Later on, we learned from our host that violence has been breaking out in the city on a near-daily basis, with leftists and anarchists clashing with police throughout the centre-ville. Protests and demonstrations have been banned on account of the violence, but that does not deter the leftists. They are out daily, in force, facing police violence, withstanding clubs and pepper-spray, and many end up in the emergency room. And yet the next day, they are out again.
In Rennes, the anarchists not only have taken over several public squares, but when the federal police drive them out, they protest such actions with a call for a ‘re-enchantment of place’. Messages of love and inspiration jump out from every wall, every signpost, every street corner, every bathroom door. It quickly becomes obvious to anyone who pays attention that the folks here fight not just out of anger, not just against the Loi travail, but because they truly believe that another world is possible.
And while the gendarmerie may be out in full force, it’s obvious that they do not hold the true power in this city, especially in the hearts and minds of the citizens here, whether leftist or not. Based on the comments, gestures, and facial expressions of the citizens, utter disdain for the presence of the gendarmerie is nearly unanimous, regardless of age or social class. They may be feared by some, but they are not respected by most.
Unable to contain the resistance and violence in Rennes, protests and demonstrations have been banned until further notice, a ban which included the annual Gay Pride festivities on the first weekend in June. But even such a drastic step had next to no effect. Despite the prohibition, folks came out for Gay Pride, and amongst the most visible presences at the festival were the trade union confederations, even the one that is not participating in the general strikes. Hundreds of people, gay and straight alike, attended the festivities despite the ban and without fear or hesitation.
They danced and celebrated in joy and merriment, and the gendarmerie simply stood back and allow it to occur, knowing full well that to try to break it up would only result in violence and further demonstrations. Judging by the expressions on the faces of the gendarmerie, it was obvious that while they had the arms and the weapons, they knew full well who actually held the power.
Grève générale: Rennes, June 14:
Despite the numerous pleas and attempted actions on the part of the French government to avoid a nationwide strike on June 14th, the trade union confederations held their ground and made it clear that they would not back down. And as promised, on the morning of the 14th, as the Senate started to deliberate the provisions of the Loi travail, striking workers held demonstrations throughout every major city in France.
When I woke up the morning of the 14th in Rennes, and the first thing I found in my email box was an email from the US Embassy, advising me to stay away from all protests and demonstrations related to the general strikes. I laughed and headed downtown to the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, which had been renamed the ‘Place du Peuple‘ bu the Nuit debout movement, where the strikers were set to gather at 11am.
When I arrived at the plaza, I saw that police had fenced off the entire exterior of the plaza. I laughed again, knowing from what I witnessed at Gay Pride the week before that such an action would have absolutely no effect.
And the fences sure didn’t stop them; they simply took the streets instead. For over four hours, strikers and their supporters marched throughout the city by the thousands, back and forth, over and over, occasionally stopping for breaks and then starting right up again. For a town with a population of just over 200,000 people, and despite everything I had seen up to that point, the sheer size of the manifestation left me in utter shock.
As I marched and took photos and at times simply stood there staring in amazement, I constantly checked my phone for updates from the rest of the country. And what I was witnessing in Rennes was being echoed all throughout France. Flights were cancelled nationwide as both pilots and air traffic controllers went on strike. Buses and trains throughout the country were stopped in their tracks. In Paris, taxi drivers blocked the streets and the Eiffel Tower was even closed for the day. Violence between police and protesters also erupted in Paris, although in Rennes the police merely stood by and blocked off roads leading to the old city as strikers marched down the main drags.
And as opposed to America, where even temporary blockages of highways often result in anger and threats from commuters, those who were inconvenienced in Rennes that day were overall extremely supportive despite the fact that they were sitting in cars or buses for long periods of time while protestors took to the streets. Commuters on buses waved, folks in cars honked their support, and only a very few expressed any sort of anger or grievance at the strikers. It was widely understood that the temporary inconvenience that commuters were experiencing was an acceptable sacrifice in the name of what the strikers were fighting for.
Work and the Way of Life:
“Now, when we check out, look at the cashier, and tell me what you notice, what’s different,” Rhyd said to me as we shopped for groceries at a Carrefour market in Arles. “When you figure it out, its going to blow your mind.”
It was only my second full day in France, but already I was blown away by the various differences between the French way of life and what I was accustomed to in America. Checking out our groceries, I closely studied the cashier, a young woman with what I perceived as an unusually pleasant demeanor for someone working in a grocery store. And perhaps it was my tendency to concentrate on the small details instead of the obvious, and perhaps it was still being distracted and overwhelmed by the food I was surrounded by, but when we exited the store I still had not caught on to whatever it was that Rhyd was trying to get me to notice.
“I think I missed it,” I said as we walked out. “Unless it was the super-cheap flasks of nice liquor hanging behind the cashier’s head.”
And then as I turned back to glance again, I noticed it at the exact moment that the words came out of his mouth.
“They’re sitting,” he said with a wicked grin on his face. “Retail cashiers in France are all allowed to sit.”
I stared back into the store in shock, overwhelmed with disbelief and anger all the same as I noticed the comfy, padded chair that the woman who checked us out was sitting in. Immediately I thought of the long hours on their feet that Americans in the retail industry are forced to endure, hours that often lead to chronic pain, sciatica, and irreversible foot and ankle damage. And then I thought of my own circumstances, as someone who is unable to work retail jobs due to chronic pain and sciatica, and who lives in poverty partly as a result. I looked back at the cashier, realizing that I could actually work that kind of job in the United States if I was allowed to sit, and immediately felt a rush of anger rise up inside me.
And over the next few weeks, I went into countless grocery stores and other retail outlets, and found the same – nearly everyone I saw behind a cash register was sitting down. Not only are they sitting down, but ringing up your groceries is all they do. They do not even attempt to empty your basket onto the conveyor belt for you. That’s your job. They also do not even attempt to bag your groceries for you. That’s also your job. They sit, they ring up what you buy, and they make at least €9,67 an hour doing it, or around $10.92 in American dollars, in addition to all of the benefits that I elaborated on earlier in this article.
At one point, while checking out at a Carrefour in Rennes, I got into a short conversation with the cashier, who spoke a decent amount of English. When she asked me what I thought of French grocery stores, I mentioned to her that in the United States, all retail cashiers must stand, and she looked at me like I had two heads.
“That’s inhumane,” she said to me in disbelief. “That’s torture.”
“Yes, yes it is,” I replied.
The fact that she referred to the fact that American retail workers must stand as “torture” carried an additionally weighted meaning to me, as I mulled on the starkly different cultural attitudes that the French and Americans hold about work.
One could ponder various arguments as to why these differences are so prominent. For example, the United States, as a nation that was stolen and settled by Pilgrims and other Protestant-derived factions, has embraced the Calvinist ideology around the virtue of work since its earliest days. France, on the other hand, had a long history of intolerance towards and forced expulsions of Calvinist Protestants. And while the Huguenots were eventually granted equal rights as citizens after the French Revolution, France has been much more significantly shaped by culturally Catholic attitudes than Calvinist ideology throughout its history.
These differing histories are reflected in the cultural attitudes that define the two nations. America’s most famous (and most insidious) ideology, known as the ‘American Dream’, not only stresses the importance of work but falsely promises success to anyone who works hard enough. France, on the other hand, is a culture that has always put great value in ‘la belle vie‘, the good life, and has a long history of valuing health and happiness over the supposed merits of working oneself to the bone. French culture emphasizes the need for rest, relaxation and self-care, to the point that running one’s lawn mower on a Sunday is a violation of municipal codes in many cities, as the loud noise is considered to be disruptive to those who wish to rest and take it easy.
But while those points are significant and valid, perhaps an aspect of how such differences are shaped is as simple as the power of words themselves, specifically the power which is held and reflected in the etymological meaning of the word ‘work’ as it is expressed in the French language as opposed to English.
The English word ‘work’ comes from the Old English weorc, meaning ‘something done’, which itself comes from the Germanic word werkan, which derives from the Indo-European root werg, meaning ‘to do’.
In French, however, the word travail derives from the Medieval Latin word trepalium, meaning ‘instrument of torture’, which itself derives from the Old Latin words tres and palus, meaning ‘three stakes’.
Let me repeat that again for effect: the term ‘work’ in French literally means an instrument of torture. And in a civilized society, nobody would dare consider torture to be a virtue.
The cashier at Carrefour was absolutely correct when she characterized standing for hours at a time for no reason as ‘torture’, but its a form of torture that most American workers accept without much thought or question.
One thing that is quite apparent after spending nearly a month in France is that French workers are not nearly as miserable as American workers are, and most don’t seem miserable at all. They do not hate their jobs as Americans do, regardless of profession. The smiles that one sees on their faces are not forced. Their kindness and courtesy is not an act. They are truly happy to help you and to serve you. They do their job with pride and they do their jobs well. Even the employees at McDonalds carry themselves with a level of pride and satisfaction that I have never seen amongst fast-food workers in the United States.
The attitudes of workers in France is a strong testament to the belief that if you treat workers well, if they make enough to not only survive but thrive, and if they are given ample time off and have the opportunity for regular leisure time with friends and family, they are simply better workers. And when the workers are happy, the customers are happy too. Everyone wins.
Closing Observations: La belle lutte
“So we call these things demonstrations, right?…Why are they demonstrations? Well, they used to demonstrate the power that we had to shut down industry. They used to be like, this is a bunch of people on the street. It’s only a demonstration, it’s not the actual thing that we’re gonna do. It’s just the threat. But now, with spectacle becoming center stage, it was the thing. That was it. Get people into the streets. And it made it seem like that’s what you had to do. …All you have to do is get in the streets, and we’ll shame the people in power.” – Boots Riley
The ‘spectacle’ that Riley refers to in the quote originated with the tactics of the New Left in the United States, born out of a fusion between the politics of the Frankfurt School and the various American hippie movements of the ’60s and ’70s. One can fairly argue (and many have) that despite their good intentions, the New Left abandoned and/or destroyed any remaining shred of effective and militant radicalism in the United States, at least in terms of the strategies and actions of college-educated white folks whose ideologies and actions have historically drowned out those of marginalized peoples.
This shift arguably set the stage for the loss of power on the part of the Left and the severe shift to the Right that the American political spectrum has undergone in the last four decades. The idea that citizens can simply shame the people in power is still a dominant ideology in both liberal and radical circles, and despite the complete and utter ineffectiveness of such a strategy, such strategies are still undertaken and lauded as though they actually produce results.
The New Left in Europe, on the other hand, birthed the May ’68 uprisings in France in addition to many other uprisings across Europe and set the tone for the philosophies and tactics that are still being successfully staged here in the present day. The rallying cries of the Situationist Internation set the stage for a movement that nearly toppled the French government, and its reverberations were not only never forgotten, but consistently built upon while never losing their militant edge. The Situationists utilized spectacle as well, but did so in addition, not as a replacement for general strikes and violent confrontations. In short, they never forgot the true intent of the demonstration.
In observing what is present and effective here in France, one also notices what is absent, especially in contrast to how citizens attempt to both institute and fight proposed reforms in the United States. Amidst all the waves of general strikes throughout France, the marches, the protests, the graffiti, the rallies, the acts of property destruction against banks, there are two things that are notable absent: lobbying and petitions. The idea that one can enact change within the system, which is still the dominant strategy of the American ‘left’, is not only all but absent in France but truly laughable as far as the workers and strikers here are concerned.
While Americans sign petitions protesting the Wall Street bailouts, the French simply smash the banks. While Americans bemoan the ever-increasing decimation of unions in their country, the French trade union confederations are arguably the most powerful political force in the country. And while a good percentage of the American public is still convinced that they can vote their way out of the effects of late-stage capitalism, the French know that the only way to enact true change is to take it into their own hands.
For the French, it’s a fight to the end, and a violent fight at that. But their own history clearly demonstrates that only by fighting will they succeed, only by fighting will they retain what they have successful fought for in the past, and those rights are so deeply cherished that they will most likely keep shutting down industry until the government once again cedes to their demands.
Its a fight, but as many are quick to point out here, its ‘the good fight’, that will hopefully result in protecting and retaining a way of life that Americans could only dream of.
An extensive collection of photos from the June 14th strikes can be found here.
Alley Valkyrie is a writer, artist, and spirit-worker living on occupied Chinook territory in a city popularly known as Portland, Oregon. She is one of the co-founders of Gods&Radicals, and has been interacting with a various collection of gods and radicals for over fifteen years. When she’s not fighting Capitalism, Alley works with homeless folks, creates an assortment of art and pottery, and writes for The Wild Hunt.