When I was younger my radical politics was truly an extension of my hyperactivity. They would cart me to school where I was basically a caged animal for about six hours a day. I didn’t work. They made me sit in my seat quietly and I was always bursting with energy. Any unleashing of this energy was a transgression against the rules of stillness and silence, and thus a rebellion of sorts, if not an effective one.
Those days are so gone.
It’s not so much that I was biologically more energetic when younger. I’m only 25. It’s not age. It’s work, the work and responsibilities that are expected with age. Work beats the shit out of me and robs me of the vitality which used to be the core of my identity. Now I don’t know what I am.
My concern with having to work full time, make money and support myself, as most working adults do, has definitely disrupted the revolutionary monomania which I used to possess. I was like a laser. Somehow, an emotionless resolve remains dominant in what guides my actions. Still, my past state of overflowing with energy could fuel a revolution. I focused on it completely as long as I physically could. I didn’t think about my personal, practical future until it was forced on me because I was too focused on changing the world. I don’t regret my choices — I regret living in this situation.
Now, energy is a scarce thing that I must protect and manage like candle-flames in the rain. I have to go to bed early, not blow time getting thoughtlessly lost in some deviant train of thought. No time to take off work — no traveling to faraway conferences full of other manic agitators.
As the jaws of responsibility close in and my boy-to-man transition finalizes, I feel I’m nowhere near the man I used to be.
Some people say that in slow times, radicals need to find other hobbies. I disagree. In slow times, radicals need to figure out how to turn the slow times fast.
But this doesn’t help with the physical fact that as we grow up, the way we clenched our guts in absolute insistence is no longer sustainable. We don’t have the energy.
If life was truly short, this would be easy. We would fight, go out with a bang, die. But that doesn’t work because we live too long. And a few individuals going Thelma and Louise doesn’t work, either, because you have to work from the perspective of others, millions of others, and they live too long for courage as well.
Time makes cowards and hypocrites of us all. A lot of the old-timers who have stayed radical aren’t much better off, because if they’d been doing things right, our situation would be far different by now.
More than ever we need a kind of socialist organizing which merges with 30-year olds, 40-year olds, and 50-year olds — a kind of activism compatible with people who have kids, who work completely apolitical jobs, people who don’t have time to obsess over pet debates. It must be less demonstrative and confrontational, and more social, less intellectual, more human. It must be a community — but not apolitical — a politicized community. And not a community in the sense of the metal “community” which is mostly a socially disconnected fanbase. A real community does all the things you would think of communities doing — being friends, hanging out, sharing food, finding each other jobs and other stuff, taking care of kids.
This is an approach that actually takes into account the material reality of human beings — their need for companionship, comfort, and occasional good times. Acknowledging this would be the same act of “the fish discovering the ocean” as when I realized that an astute Marxist pays attention to their own material circumstances, too.
It’s tempting to think that the only true emotions are impulses, and that long dispassionate efforts are artificial, forced, and inauthentic. Actually, this is true. The key is to continually rekindle the flame by forgetting for a moment about the staircase, and obsessing all of your energies solely on this step, and fighting like hell for political success right here and right now, making everything out of this moment that can be made.
Perhaps the energetic, animating deathwish of my youth is different from the responsible long haul of real, grown-up revolutionary politics. Or perhaps not. Time to set up Fight Club for $15.