radicals, outsiders, the shaman archetype

Radicals are caught between a strong connection with all humanity and a frustrating isolation as a fringe minority group.  We want the best for almost everyone, we bring up issues that affect everyone, we speak to a deep longing within all humanity for unimaginable liberation and a joyous global future.  And then our ideas go through long historical periods of being either unpopular or entirely unknown, and are certainly almost never predominant.  Materially we are often in the same position as the rest of the working majority; mentally, we are somewhere else entirely.

So in some ways we are the soldiers and voices of the world-spirit; in some ways we are total outsiders.

The outsider is faced with a number of problems.  One obvious one is alienation.  They possess a difference which no one (or few people) around them can bridge.  They may go about their lives imitating normality, but this is painful; otherwise, they act out their strangeness and possibly suffer social and economic consequences.  This is not a passing threat: the natural social networks which a person often possesses (family, churches, community groups, friends) can very often get them an economic connection at some point – a job, a deal, something they wouldn’t have if they weren’t part of that group.  Straying from the norm can damage these networks or your place in them.  Obviously church may go out the window for any number of reasons, but even family and friend networks can deprioritize you on the list of who they give referrals if you’re a weirdo.

But the outsider has a gift, too.  Their lives are not pure difference.  Oddly enough, they may understand most people better than most people understand themselves.  Their outside perspective can give them an objectivity about society which other people, smack in the middle of it without a second thought, never attain.  To really understand what’s ticking in the minds of the American cultural norm, it may require people who just aren’t part of it.

The shaman or wizard archetype often has the same cycle to it.  They go away from society, they go to some “out there,” maybe the wilderness, maybe up a mountain, maybe they commune with the spirit world, whatever.  Crazy stuff happens that could only happen alone or in that “other” place.  Out there, they have some kind of experience, or they learn something, or they literally find something, some object.  They return ready to make a greater contribution to society, creating a new synthesis between whatever new thing they learned and the old society to which they returned.  They new synthesis is an altered society, whether they just have a better medicine man now or the wanderer returns with some sort of prophetic idea about the way things should run.

In secular terms this reminds me of when radicals, individually or collectively, sometimes retreat into high theory – rather than focusing on active social movements, they do deep reading and research to figure out an overall framework.  It’s necessary for every radical to go through such a phase at least once, and to possibly revisit it, in small bursts balanced with active involvement or in longer spells, depending.

why socialists should care about anarchism

Don’t worry, I have one going in the other direction.

THE ANARCHIST TENSION

I haven’t read the entire thing, and I think forcing myself to do so would be very much against the point contained within.  But I feel like the title alone gets to the point.  There’s something deeply personal about anarchism.  Rather than a structured theory of history like marxism, anarchism has that Fight Club feel to it – anarchism is about feeling the whole rest of the world pushing down on you from the outside, as a hostile force, and returning fire with a fuck you I won’t do whatcha tell mee, pushing back in every direction.  While most of my political theories remain largely marxism-that-is-compatible-with-anarchism, I find this emotional vibe alone to be reason to take up the old label again.  I am an anarchist.  I am against the system because the system is against me.  It’s personal.  I feel it every day – every second.

ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION

Marxists can get so dogmatic, analytic, intellectual, and systemic that it becomes impossible to even have new thoughts.  If perfection breeds conservatism, then marxists need to, once more, pull a Fight Club and disrupt themselves.  A periodic existentialist re-evaluation of your ideas is as necessary for mental hygiene as brushing your teeth.

Marxists are often the grumps who serve the sad-but-necessary role of reminding people that certain forms of struggle are just not yet possible or intelligent.  Insurrection, for example.  So we find other, lower-intensity forms of resistance to engage in.  But by acting as the reality principle of social movements, marxists sometimes miss the fact that conditions have shifted in our favor and that new, more aggressive tactics are now possible.  I don’t necessarily mean riots; maybe now we could start running candidates where it was previously just not worth the resource investment.

Because anarchists are always chomping at the bit to escalate the intensity while marxists are typically reminding people that it’s really not the insurrection yet, anarchists tend to win the day when circumstances have shifted and an escalation in tactics is appropriate.  For example, many socialists initially dismissed Occupy Wall Street as a “voluntaristic” action by a few that was ridiculous because nobody would camp for very long.  They might have been correct about the camping, but before Occupy fizzled out, it pretty much went globally viral, making many city governments feel physically threatened, and resulted in riots in many places.

As another example, while many marxists dismiss civil disobedience as a foolish anarchist fad for people who have no long-term strategy, actually it isn’t always bad.  Yes, it can get in the way of building a broad movement by creating an implied hierarchy of heroes vs. “passive” crowd, but actually sometimes it’s necessary.  When?  I’m not here to give you a schema, just think for yourself and figure out when it’s good for yourself.  But here’s one example: Wisconsin.  Maybe you can think of others.  Maybe you should just think creatively and independently.

For all the Trotskyist prattling about “transitional demands,” actually I think transitional demands are very simple.  They are about expanding the imagination.  Obviously you need to back up the checks that your mouth tries to cash – you need to prove that America is wealthy/productive enough to actually afford things like universal healthcare, abolishing tuition, massive redistribution of wealth, etc.  But no really, let’s dream wildly about the way the world could be, the way our lives could be, and place that directly into our political demands when we protest or demonstrate or talk or whatever.

SELF-GOVERNANCE

There’s a quote by some dude, Bakunin I think, “Freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice…Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”  Don’t hold me to it, I wasn’t there and I don’t blog to make myself do more research.  Point is, he’s right.

                There is a tremendous lack of discussion of direct democracy in the USA’s political culture, even the US Left.  Socialists often make noises about believing in workers’ self-management, but don’t really acknowledge how they’re going to have to do the heavy lifting of popularizing direct democracy before workers’ councils can even be a concept in most people’s minds.  It seems that the groups most willing to discuss direct democracy are anarchists and especially anarcho-syndicalists.

The anarchist principle of self-governance is pretty much the corrective for almost everything that has ever been wrong with bolshevism.  Some nitpickers might say “true bolshevism was always about self-governance” but if I said true Christianity was always about kindness and not child rape, you might see my point about how labels can get abused regardless of good intentions at the beginning.  It becomes difficult to say “Stalinism is not true bolshevism” when so many people describing themselves as bolsheviks have either been Stalinists, Russian ultra-nationalists, or these days, orthodox Trotskyists who are dangerously close to Stalinism anyway.

When you have a nationalized economy without effective democratic control over that economy, it’s not anything deserving of the word “socialism.”  Having formal voting power, having formal workers’ councils while the KGB breathes down your neck threatening to send you to the gulag for saying the wrong thing, doesn’t count.  I really don’t care about the ortho-Trot arguments that nationalization is somehow magically workers’ property, while workers are ground beneath the gears and the apparatchiks enjoy their nice places and cars.  I don’t care about their sophistry, insisting that the theory of state capitalism violates the Gospel of Marx and Trotsky, as if the mission of human self-liberation centers around quoting dead people while ignoring clearly-existing but yet-unnamed structures of economic class and political power.  As Trotsky himself said in Revolution Betrayed,

If a ship is declared collective property, but the passengers continue to be divided into first, second and third class, it is clear that, for the third class passengers, differences in the conditions of life will have infinitely more importance than the juridical change in proprietorship. The first-class passengers, on the other hand, will propound, together with their coffee and cigars, the thought that collective ownership is everything and a comfortable cabin nothing at all.

Yes, I adhere to the left-revisionist deviation that a workers’ state must actually be controlled by workers.

NO REALLY – FUCK AUTHORITY – AND YES THAT MEANS YOU, PARTY HACKS

Everyone knows it, no one wants to admit it – there is something deeply wrong about how contemporary socialist/”Leninist” organizations deal with having paid staff.  Everyone knows it, no one wants to admit it – the way things are done now breed a culture of party hacks.  It is important to be anti-authoritarian within resistance organizations, not just in society broadly, and the organizations which claim to be anti-authoritarian are no exception.

Even if a group is organized to be “democratic,” the conferences where the democratic decision-making is performed are generally dominated hard by the paid staff of the organization.  It’s not just that they control the formal procedures.  It’s also that, after the same paid staff are in office for decades, an informal culture within the organization arises.  That unwritten rule says, “The only statements to take seriously are ones from the leadership; the rest are to be answered either with knee-jerk condemnation or awkward silent non-response.”  If you think this doesn’t apply to you, watch your own thoughts and behavior at your next political meeting (party hacks aren’t the paid staff; they’re the people who never question the paid staff).  I think it is impossible to ever remove these decades-long “cadre” (a word pretty much defined to mean “anyone who has been around a while and agrees with the leadership perspective”).  I think they are so entrenched, so hostile to being removed, because they have worked in a socialist organization for so long that their job history would make it impossible to do anything else.  You may think it’s necessary to build up people who have practice doing something, but I think it’s more important to spread those skills and experience out to have true democracy.  I think given the way the SWP leadership closed up around and defended Marty Smith from charges of sexual assault demonstrates how this decades-long clique becomes just that – a clique, with all the organizational implications that implies.  It begins to act as a faction campaigning within the organization, rather than just a leadership that administrates necessary functions and is free to send mixed signals by being internally divided on various issues.  This dynamic is obviously clear to anyone who has been following the crisis in the British SWP, though oddly enough it applies to some of the very organizations that have been giving encouragement to the SWP dissidents.

This isn’t just about being an anti-authoritarian for the sake of it.  In fact I think it’s necessary to keep an organization alive.  If you’re in an organization and you fall into the passive routine of going through the motions, selling your papers and holding your meetings, without any evaluation of your success, and you just go on doing it for years without any traction, this can literally spell death for an organization.  You need to constantly be applying critical thought and results-evaluation to your own efforts.  You need to completely liberate yourself from dogma or leadership pressure as you do this.  You need to be organic, to have a sense of the spirit of the times, perhaps borrowed from your leadership but also self-created by the process of being on-the-ground, hitting the sidewalk and the coalitions, trying to organize and educate.

Every organization could use a little more anarchy.

Channeling the destructive impulse

Some days, I really just want to watch the world burn.

Irresponsible, you might say.  Given the typical American method of carrying out such an impulse, like the bombing of the Boston Marathon, I’d have to agree that it can be an issue.

We can’t shake the fact though, that sometimes our entire environment feels hostile to us.  It’s the whole world’s fault.  The fact that we have pain or anger does not necessarily help us identify what, precisely, deserves our backlash.  We just feel a heavy pressure coming down on us from the outside, and we want to push back, in every direction.

Given that Marx basically defined being a member of the working class as suffering crushing alienation, I think even “responsible, respectable” radicals (seriously, fuck you) should agree that this isn’t totally off base, and it might explain why a very good book was written linking work under capitalism, Reaganism, and school/workplace shootings.  It’s easy to understand the Christopher Dorner insurrection-of-one, especially when the media glorifies violent, individual solutions in pretty much every action movie and news report.

So how do we take this negative energy and make it work for something good, or at least, something that’s not a felony?  Well, for one thing I don’t think it needs to be converted but only properly aimed.  I think that besides promotion of socialism, there also needs to be a lot of verbal and printed criticism of capitalism, the people who run it, and the people who profit from it.  So some of your venom can be spent mouthing off about them.

It’s true that we need to build institutions, we need to build power, but personally for me I see this as a great outlet for my negative energy.  When I’m putting together a coalition or team that really energizes and empowers the people in it, I’m not just happy I built something.  I feel that this sort of activity, appearing constructive on the surface, is really a knock in the face of the ruling class – especially if it contributes to a really huge protest.

Protest movements are similar in that they are really a collective criticism of the way things are, embodied in person.  They help build our side and subvert the power structure.  When I’m part of a really big protest, something nationally organized with bus contingents, or something going viral everywhere, I feel like I’m tapping into a collective stream of anger running through the entire population.  I’m standing there with my sign for the people who couldn’t show up, so their hate is with me.

When all else fails, riots work.

seeking fulfillment in this fucking nightmare

Simple steps:

  1. Realize the system ruins every facet of everything
  2. Seethe with hatred against capitalism, go nuts organizing against it
  3. Get tired of that and go numb because one person can only change so much
  4. Wander off into “normal life”
  5. Feel lost, directionless, purposeless; wonder where your passion went
  6. Admit that things really are as bad as you first said they were
  7. Recommit yourself out of grim Sisyphean existential determination

We are the broken.  There is no helping us.  No amount of therapy or sex or the simple things can fix things for us.  We know that as residents of a capitalist planet, our human potential is terminally prevented.  We will never be allowed to be all we could.  We don’t only suspect it.  We know it as a fact, unmistakable as death.

Unlike many other people who don’t fully grasp the situation, we are sure of our abhorrent fate.  Others feel the same strain but just occasionally flip out or break down, blaming their pain on surface causes instead of facing the underlying truth that this planet is a prison, their days are passed in slavery, and their entire lives are ruined by the system.

Unlike them, we don’t have the luxury of ignorance, of riding the emotional roller coaster of attention to the little things.  Eight-plus hours of work, commuting, dressing and prepping, whatever sleep we get (we dream about work), bills and shopping, a few hours to relax in the evening (maybe?) – and then CHANGING DIAPERS??   In the land of the free it’s expensive just to live (0:45).  We know that life is never getting better.

“Never?” whines the optimistic socialist.  “What about the revolution?”

Well sure, and how’s that revolution going?  The system, by its repugnance, inevitably provokes resistance, but victory for our side is not inevitable unless organized.  And how is that organizing going?  In my opinion, it could be going a lot better.  We are splintered and wasting huge potential by having no central place to unite.

The revolution is not a guaranteed thing, like heaven for good people or whatever.  What if this is your entire existence?  What if you never get to see the other side of the wall?

Some radicals are into being happy hippies, social-butterfly socialists, impulsive anarchists, whatever.  That’s fine for them I suppose.  Those may even be useful organizing tools.

You think that just because you have faced the darkness that is our world once, and resolved to fight for what is right, that you can go back to your normal life and be a normal person.

Mark my words, when you turn away from the dark side, you lose your fire.  To focus on the good things in life is to become apolitical (yup, that’s politics).  Maybe you think you’ve gotten over whatever anger or depression made you want an insurrection in the first place.

It wasn’t the good times in your life that got you into this.  But I’m not worried.  Maybe politics became harder to focus on with the Recession.  Maybe all of us sometimes feel the strain and retreat into whatever nonsense.

Maybe it’s possible to have both.  Keep some happiness if you can, why not?  But you can’t run forever.  The same things that brought you here once will bring you back again.

Doing Something with Non-Buddhism

“the most reactionary discourse of all: the x-buddhist decision I call the atman-that-is-not-one. We have no self, so we don’t need to do anything in the world”

Speculative Non-Buddhism

As an attempt at “doing something with non-buddhism,” I want to consider an email I received the other day from The Buddhist Peace Fellowship—a post in Turning Wheel Media entitled “Changing Positions: An Exchange on Buddhist Practice and Psychological Decolonization” (links at bottom). Since the Buddhist Peace Fellowship is dedicated to “engaged Buddhism,” and particularly, recently, to a consideration of what is wrong with the system of capitalism (“However we define ‘The System,’ we are it and it is us — there is no separation”), I was momentarily hopeful about this post. Of course, one participant in the exchange is Josh Korda, a publicity hound who spouts popular catch-phrases from discourses he doesn’t understand, and resorts to childish tantrums and name-calling immediately when questioned; but the other participant is Joshua Stephens, an anarchist anti-capitalist who, although he can’t list as many celebrity teachers he’s “studied with” as…

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intro to “The Fourth Way”

So there’s this thing called “The Fourth Way,” it’s a school of thought that sort of combines existentialism and self-psychiatry with the belief that rather than your self just being the sum-of-your-neurons, it is actually an immaterial (or bizarro-material) soul.

I got it from these psychos and it was particularly beaten into my head by this psycho who had previous dealings with the first psychos but decided to simplify things and zone in on what he found to be the essential method of selfhood, which turned out to be Fourth Way.

Basic idea is, most of the time humanity is asleep.  It’s asleep because our natural state of being is not to be one unified consciousness, but a million little splinter wills and compartmentalized thoughts.  To become a real being with real will, personhood, agency etc, you overcome this state of disarray by finding the “I’s” in you that represent your strongest desires and can form a magnetic center for the other chaotic “I’s.”  It resembles the social process of swarm-formation, with the high-consistency people serving as a rallying point/catalyst for the passionate but directionless thousands.

One more facet of my big goofy sin-thesis.

I lifted all these images from this text, simply titled “The Fourth Way” from one of its two primary authors.  My personal favorites:

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millions to their graves as failures

I don’t think I’m a nihilist communist, since I believe that consciousness has a role in revolution, but I really like their preamble, “this is the definition of class hatred.” They really sum up the ponderings I had as a child that drove me toward politics, thanks to an early brush with death:

The structure of the world was built by the dead, they were paid in wages, and when the wages were spent and they were dead in the ground, what they had made continued to exist, these cities, roads and factories are their calcified bones…

They had nothing but their wages to show for what they had done and after their deaths what they did and who they were has been cancelled out…

This is the definition of class hatred. We are no closer now to rest, to freedom, to communism than they were, their sacrifice has bought us nothing, what they did counted for nothing, we have inherited nothing, we work as they worked, we make as they made, we are paid as they were paid. We do not possess either our acts or the world that conditions us, just as they owned nothing of their lives.

The class war begins in the desecration of our ancestors: millions of people going to their graves as failures, forever denied the experience of a full human existence, their being was simply cancelled out…As our parents die, we can say truly that their lives were for nothing, that the black earth that is thrown down onto them blacks out our sky.

you will never be famous

Put that in you pipe and smoke it.

What kind of organization would we need to have non-famous people who are historically significant?  Let’s face it, in historic terms you’re going to be at most one of the several million specks in the crowd that overthrows some regime.  But hey, seriously, if the regime gets overthrown, that’s what counts.

You are going to be one member of that crowd.  How do you become more than that?  Well, the short answer is, being the one member of that crowd who is directly or indirectly responsible for getting 100-200 other specks into that crowd.  If you’re really awesome maybe it won’t be just protesters in an organization, but members of a union.  If you really know your shit eventually maybe you can get up to four digits.  How do you do this?

Probably not by starting a band, writing a book, or blowing up a building.  Yeah those happen and are occasionally successful but as with anything, for every one you see, there’s a lot of frustrated, burnt-out attempts you don’t see.

First you have to settle for being the person who can maybe get ten other people out to a demonstration.  Really you might have to start lower, you might have to start with even getting one other person to talk to you at all.

Then as you have a small working crew together, over the duration of a long-term relationship you teach them bit by bit not just to be another attendees, but to be another recruiter/organizer.  This is the stage where a lot of activists are realistically at — convincing their fellow activists to think bigger and organize.

Then you’re going to have to reach another level, which gets tricky.  Instead of just being an organizer-who-convinces-other-passing-attendees-to-be-organizers, you’re going to have to sort of take it up an exponential level.  You’re going to have to convince the other organizers, not just to be organizers, but how to recruit another layer of people beyond them to be organizers-and-not-just-attendees.  This requires you to be not just an organizer, but an organizer-of-organizers-toward-organizing-more-people-into-organizing.

And then beyond that it’s the same sort of thing but keep adding layers.

This may sound unrealistic or lame until you’ve filled buses full of people and taken them to national demonstrations in New York, Washington D.C., etc.  Then it clicks.

You can’t do much all by yourself.  But you can definitely contribute one more hefty shovelful of dirt for capitalism’s living burial.

They add up.

pro-counterculture, anti-hippie?

I think the title roughly sums up where I stand?

I hope this piece didn’t confuse anyone — I’m not blatantly against alternative lifestyles, I just don’t like it when it’s an expectation in the Left.  Like it’s what you have to be.  I also get sort of grossed out by people who engage in such things as a form of rebellion, but do no actual political organizing or activism of any kind.

Given that this “swarm” model of organization is what I’m after, I think the counterculture is actually vital.  It’s true that most of the time, an individual person just cannot change shit about how the larger system works, so they turn to other things to express their alienation or explore things that don’t fit in with the mainstream.

People need to find themselves, it’s part of becoming the strong type of person who might actually play a role in real resistance, and countercultures can be a great place to work on that. They also just serve as a place to store and breed dissidence/dissidents in downtimes.

Really, given the Gramscian nature of the swarm as a historical bloc, and politicized art as a socially-saturating, seductive beacon, the counterculture is probably the swarmiest thing there is.

Are countercultures always part of the swarm?  Well it depends.  In the 1960s I’d say indisputably yes, it was a major part of the antiwar movement.  In the 1980s and forward, the punk scene has probably politicized more people than anything I can imagine besides “living in a capitalist economy.”

Apparently the German 1910s bohemian counterculture didn’t turn out so great, it sort of became a recruiting bed for the Nazis.  Oops.

So where is the counterculture today?  Complicated.  For one thing the line between it and the mainstream has blurred.  It’s also blended with nerd culture a bit I think, gamers of all kinds.  There are also sub-groups within it, it is not monolithic.  The LGBT scene occupies a mixed position of maybe being a its own sub-scene of the counterculture, maybe being a general trait of it, or maybe being mainstream.  The definition of counterculture pretty much includes “people doing weird stuff.”  Everyone’s got their preferences.  I’m a bit of an odd bird by hating our culture’s normality but also being attracted to very non-hippie themes of force, hatred, discipline and the general dark side drawing me to the same sort of metal that neo-nazis listen to.  So it goes.

If I had to pick one central demographic that was This Generation’s Politicized Counterculture, honestly, it wouldn’t be a style of music or hobby or fashion.  Obviously in the “hipster era” pretty much every pre-existing counterculture still has its following, so you’ve got meditating vegetarians and moshing punks living in the same decade, plus all that indie shit that I don’t even know anything about.  None of them are the center of our disease, all of them are touched by it and contributing to it.

This Generation’s Politicized Counterculture: Internet Kids.