‘personal’ Category Archives
by aragorn in personal
and not end up living a life of lonliness and desolation
I am a known bridge burner. This means that on several opportunities throughout my life I made choices that meant I lost friends. Not lost friends in that I got to pick them up again later, but lost friends in the sense that people who used to like me and want to be around me no longer wanted to be around me. When I say I have burned bridges I mean I have been entirely responsible for ending friendships that didn’t have to end.
This used to be a point of pride. I took commitments to too many things like a type of oath. A type of modern demonstration of an old value system. An extension of this system was the idea, to put it tritely, that I was willing to draw clear lines: between good and bad behavior, between healthy and not healthy, and between me and others.
Obviously at some point I had developed a reputation. It was and is a deserved reputation. Terms like arrogant and asshole have plagued me for well over 20 years. These terms have made it easy for people to watch the bridges between us burn to cinders. But we’ll get into that in a bit.
The worst of this whole phenomenon has to do with loss and the fact that I am currently experiencing a great loss. One that I cannot share because everyone who I should be able to share it with his on the other side of the bridge. A burned out, irreconcilable, devastating bridge.
I briefly met Sara (nee Mike) Kirsch in the late 80s and became close friends, or at least friends, in the early 90s. I lived with Sarah for several years in the mid-90s. We stayed close or “urban close” for the next few years and more or less lost close contact with each other about 10 years ago. We would still see each other a few times a year but due to a major conflict having nothing to do with he and I haven’t seen each other in five or so years.
Like many other people, my relationship with Sarah was a relationship with hardcore music. Sarah always represented the peak or the greatest intersection between politics and hardcore music. Around Sarah, and to a looser extent the HeartattaCk scene, was the West Coast equivalent of what I imagined was the rich and mature political hardcore music scene of Washington DC.
I traveled for a few weeks along a similar set of cities with John Henry West during their 1993 tour. During that time I fell in love with the conversations, music, and the people of this imaginary place that, as it turned out, I was only a visitor in. Sarah was central to this place. He represented somebody who totally disavowed their bourgeois background and meaningfully demonstrated what living for and in political music could be. Living with him for the two years that I did was an important rite of passage in my own life.
Sarah was also deeply important in terms of how I understood veganism. How it related to straight edge, is related to a political practice, and is an intentional act of eating delicious food. My own transformation away from veganism was largely possible because I no longer had access to interesting, engaged vegans who didn’t repulse me.
An equally important rite of passage for me personally was leaving the 20th Street apartment that I shared with Sarah (and others). I didn’t enjoy the Mission enough to turn down the opportunities that became available to me in the East Bay. More than that though, I was ready to challenge what I was beginning to understand as a form of orthodox thinking by members of the hardcore scene, including Sarah. Although I didn’t understand it that way at the time.
The great success of the political hardcore scene was the linkage of subculture to something bigger/greater. The sense that our potlucks were also an expression of a political practice, that shows weren’t just about music, was a deep challenge for me personally. Seemingly the next level of this challenge was a sort of dropping out from the capitalist system. Of course it wasn’t, albums were still purchased, rent was still paid, shitty jobs were still worked, but the idea that we were part of an underground and that meant being broke, all the time, was pervasive. But this wasn’t as important for me as it was for people who grew up in the suburbs. People like Sarah and the vast majority of the hardcore scene.
I was challenging the idea that the best/only way to fight capitalism was to do it as a destitute victim of capitalism. Obviously this is an overblown statement but the nature of radical politics is that subtle complicated personal issues tend to become bumper stickers by way of communicating them to others. As I was getting skills with the intention to use them also get a paycheck I was bumper stickered, not at first, not brazenly, is a sellout. This shallow understanding of how to live in this world and how to fight against this world confirmed that I had finally, painfully, outgrown the hardcore scene.
I wasn’t able to attend Sarah’s memorial. To do so would’ve hurt one person who really didn’t deserve it and probably would’ve ended badly generally. That bridge is gone. There are still people who don’t realize how much I miss them, how much I miss hardcore praxis, and how this burnt bridge is not about them. They probably expected to see me at the memorial but it was impossible.
I used to burn bridges and was proud for doing so. While it’s too late for my childhood, for a few hundred friends I’ve had over the years, I have more-or-less stopped burning bridges. They almost never represented the clear line, or the transversal of a line, to anyone else other than me. At great personal cost I have finally got it through my thick skull that I don’t have to sacrifice personal relationships every time I want to make a principled stand.
Today my life is filled with people. On a weekly basis I talked to more people than I used to talk to in a month. My life is no longer constrained by job, house, Facebook, or family. I have the kind of relationships I hoped to have when I was young. My friends and collaborators are interested, engaged, and critical, by which I mean lovingly hostile, towards me and my projects. I used to burn bridges because I believed that principled behavior required it. Now I realize that things are not that simple anymore and neither am I.
by admin in personal
You are principled independent, with a dark side
Your responses indicate a desire to escape from your troubles, and a fear that this action will destroy what you’ve already achieved.
These conflicting emotions sometimes cause you to be abnormally irritable and impatient when your needs are not met. Your concentration is also impacted, often leaving you feeling groggy or agitated.
The ensuing anxiety usually leaves you feeling vulnerable. As a result, you become less affectionate with people you care about. You occasionally become caustic and even needlessly cruel.
This stems from your own insecurity and fear of failure. Leveraging your ability to remain strong in the face of adversity — an ability you’ve proved to possess in the past — is the key to your emotional satisfaction.
You have a strong opinion of your own abilities, which is deserved. You are sharp and intellectually discerning when the need arises. In times of great stress, you have the will power to make difficult decisions.
by aragorn in personal
I am a member (in good standing, with a membership card and all) of the longest running (defined by volume of meetings over time) anarchist group in North America. The Berkeley Anarchist Study Group has met every week for at least the past 14 years. I have been involved since the first conference that the group put on 11 years ago. The structure of the group is simple. At 8 pm (on the dot) every Tuesday evening somebody starts the group by clearing the verbal clutter in the room with the simple exclamation “Announcements!” 10-15 minutes of brief announcements and report backs ensue with nods towards activism, consistent local events, and group activities. The next hour and 40 minutes involves every permutation of approaches towards textual (and visual) anarchist material. At 9:50 the discussion turns towards what next weeks reading will be. Recently we have been focusing a bit more on having thematic months of discussion (technology, Camatte, and introductions are all upcoming months) rather than just planning for the next week.
The reason the ASG can happen is because
- We have a free, publicly known, location to meet. We are an active part of the Long Haul community with all that entails.
- We are old(er). As a group our median age probably hovers around 40. This has all kinds of implications including a lack of ego (this author not withstanding), consistency, and responsibility-without-making-it-a-thing.
- We have different skill sets. We have people who are involved in day-to-day anarchist projects, who know languages, who know history or philosophy, and who have experience from which they speak. The regulars are surprisingly not half-assed (even if I disagree with them).
- The Study Group is one of the few places someone can achieve a kind of rigor towards study outside of “their” control.
- Reading requires practice. To be a reader means doing it, if not every day, then so consistently that it requires no internal dialogue.
- Rigor requires patience and an understanding that few things are interesting that just result from linear study. An understanding of the gestation and geology of ideas doesn’t particularly benefit from sitting down in front of the last few decades of Foucaultian research.
- A study group is a wonderful way to share a life with others who are interested in studying similar things as yourself.
- The act of studying isn’t the same act as application of what is studied. It is action but it is the action of studying. This can be confusing.
- Social dynamics apply. As with every other group the success of the study group is the same as the success of your D&D party. You have to have a tank, a paladin, a couple thieves, and a troll to bash every once in a while.
- Lack of preparation haunts every conversation. Usually less than half of the room has given a particular reading a serious read and less than half of that has done any thinking about how to talk and think about a text.
It used to be that the political orientation of the ASG was a central concern. The founder of the ASG is one of the editors of *Anarchy: a Journal of Desire Armed* which obviously informed the politics of the group (he has since left the group). More than politics though, I would say, the original group had an orientation towards readings of history (anarchist history first among them) and the current group has a serious orientation towards philosophy (Continental), that frames the conversation. I imagine this philosophical orientation would be hard to break up.
But perhaps the harder instinct to break up, and one that is frustrating me lately, is a studied lack of interest in conversations around application. This is purposeful and appropriate on so many levels that it is hard to want to shake the foundations of the ASG in particular, so I have a proposal that I’ll get to at the end of this post. But the context is important and the reason the ASG is so fundamentally anti-practical is because of the toxic activist environment here in the Bay Area. Every ASG member (there have been a few exceptions but none of the regulars) has passed through (traditional) activism on their way to the ASG. We are damaged people, damaged by the horrorshow that is the existing order and those who would replace it with an equivalent nightmare.
The reality of realpolitik is one of compromise and manipulation. It would be hard to define it, especially as an anarchist, without using words like negotiation or subterfuge. The study group is repulsed by all of these things. It is pure that way. But the end of this world will involve impurity and the study group is not enough.
Impurity isn’t the same thing as compromise, but the line has to be discussed; among peers, among allies, and even among critiques. More pointedly there is discussion-as-action which is real, has changed my life, and I see many of my friends suffer for not having access to it but there is also something-else-as-action that I still crave. I’ll call it by a different name that will shade it in an older distinction. I have a desperate desire to do more experimentation and lack the type and tenor of mad scientists I would like to do it with. I am going to call this new formation a think tank, where ideas are formalized along with an urgency to reality check those ideas through rigorous intentional implementation and attack.
When I say attack I don’t desire a temper tantrum but galvanization. I want to take things I know, I understand, and find interesting and impregnate them with more capacity. I want a group of people who not only have good ideas and some patience with failure but enough bravery to be scalded by hot things and not run away.
by aragorn in personal
The world responds to action, and not much else
I often have occasion to describe myself as competitive. This isn’t strictly true. I have little to no interest in zero-sum games or in defeating rivals in some arbitrary contest (whether a football game or games like money or market share). What I do mean, and usually this is the point I am trying to make, is that I take a tension seriously and am devoted to it (both the tension and devotion).
I am hesitant to discuss my specific examples but this commitment, to tension, competition, and conflict is not arbitrary, it isn’t relative or post-modern. It makes me a generally not-pleasant person to be around but it makes me awesome. When I turn my attention to a problem or an interest I feel like I am relentless in attacking, building, or nurturing it. I have taken my failures (especially inter-personal) seriously and continue to search for other relentless people to surround myself with. I think you should do the same.
My passion for obscure, unrealistic, theoretical ideas guides me but I want to test these things in the hard, simple crucible of this world. I hate this world but it is known. It is something to resist and fail in contest with. My passions are usually shared by people who live in terror of this crucible. How do we wake up dreamers and make them ______? I don’t think I have a clear answer to this but suspect that everything isn’t enough. I suspect that the failure embedded in my project is that it contemplates waking those who have been put to sleep for powerful reasons. We have not built the capacity to face that power.
by aragorn in personal
I just returned to the Bay after an involuntary period of travel mostly related to a death in the family.
It is strange how I have allowed myself to get wrapped up in family affairs. I never reconciled myself to family or more bluntly I resolved myself to not family and then equivocated. I did this because I got along so fabulously with my mothers sister (not my mother, not my aunt’s family, but my aunt). We laughed together, she respected my path, and she had advice to offer me from a direction I don’t get enough of it (elderly, native, & rural).
Now I have paid the price for this and the price was family. I am not going to be overly dramatic about how the true lesson should be that I fucked up by deviating from my hard, true, line and how I’ll never do it again, but it’s not. The lesson, if there is one, is that bending to the people and circumstances around you without breaking, or becoming something you hate, is a central theme to a radical life. It is the lesson that I am not better because I live a nearly robotic life of ideas, conflicts, & travel but I would be worse if I had to settle into a life of micro compromises and infinite small talk.
Let me start with public matter that I should have attended to earlier. My big projects, the ones I was so cagey about all fall, have been announced. These include…
- The formation of a new publishing project LBC Books
- The announcement of three new books to be published by this new project (with 2 more to be announced, with dates, within the next week or so)
- One of those books is edited by me. It has already been released
Falling under the category of “no good deed goes unpunished” the announcement of the new book was met with scorn and dismissal (although not by anyone who wanted me to know their name). The fascinating part of this, for me, was a new line of attack. Aragorn! is too powerful and should stop doing things. Giving this the full benefit of the doubt (which I don’t) this criticism is long overdue. Anarchists have become lazy. I don’t blame AK Press or Crimethinc for producing all the literature that deserves to be read but the attitude that because nothing we can do is good then we should do nothing at all. Obviously most everything I do…
Quick Sidebar: It is absolutely ridiculous for me to say that “I” do anything at all. I can think of 3-10 people (and one in particular) who I absolutely depend on for every public project I do. I say “I” mostly because I feel like I have prepared myself for the slings and arrows and want to honor my accomplices privacy and different capacities. Not everyone wants to be called out on the Internet, or in stupid email chains, or on forums, etc…
return: Most everything I do is bad. Is corrupted by capitalism, alienation, and editorial control. I’d like to say that the authorial control I try to give people is enough, but of course it isn’t. I wrestle with demons with clear motivation. I believe that an anarchy worth my time is one vibrant, powerful, and bottled with genie(s). I believe this thing is worth making my time worth something so I trudge on.
I am touched by corruption and blow it off because thinking in terms of the sacred and the unholy is exactly the Christian problem that makes life unlivable. I despise Christians and the forces of boring, boring, life. I want to fight them all but my (and our) weapons are dull and rusty. We anarchists have not risen to greatness and have no one to blame but ourselves.
The transformation of the world by the productive forces was bound slowly to realise the material conditions of total emancipation, having first passed through the stage of the bourgeoisie. Today, when automation and cybernetics applied in a human way would permit the construction of the dream of masters and slaves of all time, there only exists a socially shapeless magma which blends in each individual paltry portions of master and slave. Yet it is from this reign of equivalent values that then new masters, the masters without slaves, will emerge.
Personal Stuff: The slurring of my speech seems to be getting a bit worse. As some of you may remember I had a few brain aneurysms a few years ago which have mostly left me none-the-worse-for-wear but does seem to have impacted my speech. It usually only happens when I’m tired, or under-caffeinated, or feeling blah but this past week the issue has noticeably worsened. It seems to be impacted by my choice of words. Certain vowel combinations or word choices and my lazy tongue keels over.
It is easy to get troubled by this. Along with my typing hand this is my main output into the world. Without it I will be misunderstood or perhaps worst, ignored. It is a wonderful irony that just as I am finding a voice, in the publishing sense of the word, I might also be losing it.
by aragorn in personal
I participated in the debate on the side of Political Demands, both as a personal test and so that I have my story straight if the syndicalist round ups ever begin. Once I got into it I realized that the “total negation” side of this informal formal debate had a very difficult task ahead of them (other than being the crowd favorite). Not only is proving a negative quite difficult but the negation argument is, at the end of the day, sophisticated. Subtle is hard to do in debate and even harder with a crowd yelling at you.
You can see the results of my debate below. Please laugh. It is supposed to be funny.
Since the format of this debate is messy and unknown even to the participants I am going to assume the best possibly faith from the organizers of the event and argue for an anarchist strategy for the transformation of the world that includes political demands. My questions for the negators will concern the specifically anarchist nature of their position. I will argue that the anarchist understands the state/capitalist composition of the world and that this understanding entails a conflict with it. This conflict requires political demands.
What is strategy
In its simplest formulation a strategy is the design one uses to achieve a goal. I use the term design because unlike a term like process or methodology a design expresses the artistic elements that are necessary for any good strategy. In the case of anarchism the goal is simple: a world without government or massified exchange relationships also called capitalism.
At the heart of any strategy against such a twin enemy, let us call it the spectacle and the fist, must be two components. These components have to blend in such a way to respond to the sophisticated nature of the spectacle while acknowledging that the fist exists and tends towards a linear response.
Analysis of existing conditions and the history of past struggles is a pre-condition to having a strategy today. Without experience, even other peoples, you don’t have enough information to even guess at how to achieve goals. With experience you can begin to establish small goals and through the experience of achieving them set your next goals higher.
As the anarchist goal is the highest of all, the complete emancipation of all those who live under the yoke of the state, the strategy to achieve it is not intuitive. It will be designed through the process of implementing smaller anarchist goals and growing those goals, and as a result strategies, over time.
What is politics
My sense is that much of this debate will hinge on a series of semantic arguments about what exactly negation, politics, complete, and demands are. These debates are a fantastic use of time for scholars and navel gazers but aren’t relevant if we understand that the very definition of being an anarchist is to be in conflict with the existing order and that this conflict is not theoretical.
It is also not simple. The multiplicities of conflict and the terrains conflict should be waged on cannot be simplified into us vs them, black spy vs white spy, good vs evil. The way that we name this sophisticated problem is politics but that doesn’t mean it is the best word for the problem, like many things in the real, existing world, it just happens to be the best term at this time.
A political analysis is the one we use to examine the behavior of the fist, in the form of police violence against black youth, as a foci of struggle. This doesn’t mean that the fist doesn’t serve the needs of much of the property owning citizenry. It does. Our analysis is that the behavior of the fist doesn’t serve the needs of life itself and that the sentiment of power over life is one that will resonate with the non-property owning population we identify with.
What are demands
The framing of the events debate begs the question of my position that is not accurate. It implies that demands are the temper tantrum wails of a petulant child towards their parent. This is ridiculous.
A demand is a request stated clearly and firmly. It isn’t designed to get concessions from those in power but to state the position of those who oppose the spectacle and the fist in terms that are clear.
All-too-often the desires of radicals as stated on posterboard and bumper stickers sound unrealistic. They are not demands but wishes. I wish BART would dismantle their police force. I wish I had a job. I wish the government was nice. Wishes spoken aloud are what liberals do.
A demand is the conscious expression of something unconscious. We want freedom but what does that really mean? A demand is where the unconscious hits the ground running.
What about nothing?
If there is no conflict there is no distinction between the anarchist position and the solipsist one. A solipsist is absorbed with the personal development, interpersonal relationships, and self actualization. These have all been the hallmark of late-stage capitalism. These have all been the benefits that capitalism, in the form of spectacle, have given those who don’t pay attention, or closer attention than giving to charity, to the brutal regime of resource extraction, surveillance culture, and the domination of lifeforms.
Nothing isn’t nothing at all, but an acceptance of the spectacle, the logic of of living live receding into representation. It is not even the silent protest of the conscientious objector or peace activists holding each others hands. Nothing is, at best, the full knowledge of the social relationships of control and pretending that being controlled is a choice.
The velocity of illusions that is hallmark of this society has now created several generations of media saturated ironic do-nothings. There is no harm in their willful irrelevance but they are not engaged in the anarchist project, even if they agree with it or even see themselves being served by its rewards. The anarchist project is conflict with the existing order. It is the strategy of transforming that conflict into the net that drags the spectacle and the fist under water where they will die. Anything else is an interest in philosophy, history, or humanities and is served best in its place.
by aragorn in personal
Consider this post my farewell to veganism. I am writing it so that there is a single place to put down my ideas about the change and, I hope, the last place I’ll have to talk about this again. At the end of the day my change from being vegan has as much to do with the fact that I think that diets (and many other identities) just aren’t that interesting of a conversation as they seem to be to many people. Not to be entirely dismissive but I don’t really give a fuck what you do with your body. It is yours and is a major joy but it is your joy. The confusion about the difference between what is a personal thing and what is a political thing has long been a feature (not a bug!) of American radical politics. There are some other things to say too but all of that in its moment.
Twenty Years Later
Nine years into the future and we’re still counting the dead and the dying
…I’ve got to wonder what the fuck it’s going to take can it be undone
I was a vegan for a long time. Nearly half my life. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t attracted to the extremism of veganism. I was, especially in 1991 when I started. While I didn’t really know anyone associated with the Hardline scene until a few years later (and then only in passing and when they were on their way out) the idea of drawing clear lines appealed to me then. More or less it still appeals to me but it looks so different now that it isn’t really fair to call it the same thing. I liked the idea of taking the extreme position and abiding by extreme living-values (beyond just talking-values), but at the end of the day content matters.
Animal rights advocates are basically right. The animal farming industry is a horrific murder machine that has turned humans into receptacles of garbage.
The problem is that they are only partially right. It is far more than the animal farming industry that has done this thing to us: animals & humans. I am going to nod my head in the direction of JZ because I don’t think that the real problem here is capitalism. I don’t believe capitalism gives a fuck whether we eat animals (more on that later). This is where I disagree with Murder of Crows and other post-vegan ideologues.
I believe the reason (or rather what includes the reason in such a way that I can accept) that humans have turned all life into a factory is civilization. Here I think of civilization as the ideology of humans that states that it is good & right for us to control the rest of the planet. Mostly we control the earth by putting cities on top of it but for the rest of the land we have created factories that serve cities. Civilization is the process by which we separate the technics (which provide us food, tablet computers, and plastic crap) from the nice cups of coffee next to bike paths. It is the particular way we have chosen to separate life as a statistical, mechanical, and political problem from life as what we do in the world. It is the massification of systems so that seven billion people can roam the land. Civilization is humanism on steroids.
Veganism talks about this problem in the same way that a blind man talks about an elephant
- It is horrible that animals die, even more terrible that the vast majority of animals are raised purely for the dinner table.
- Many more people could be fed if we were more efficient about our land utilization.
- Veganism would save the environment (and much, much more) by decreasing the bad things and increasing the good things…
It has been well over a decade since I moved away from this kind of a vegan-outlook. About as long as it’s been since I’ve really associated with vegans and their potlucks, cute little shops, and adorable outfits. But I continued to have a vegan practice long after my departure from vegan(ism) for the same reason that I do many things, I am very stubborn.
Naming and subjects
Naming a root cause, be it human cruelty or Civilization, does very little to rectify the situation, even if it feels like a radical pursuit. Similarly, subjectivizing the problem perhaps makes you a more interesting person (or, as likely, a very boring one) but it doesn’t externalize a solution. Here is where capitalism comes in. Capitalism loves subjective problems, as it always has a solution to them. Guess what it is?
Veganism was always a partial solution (to the problems of industrial animal production) but in the past 20 years I have seen it become something else entirely. It only even slowed down factory farming if you accept the premises of boycott politics. Even if you accept the most positive premise that Veganism was direct action against a system of domination, it merely demonstrated how meager and small individual acts are. Actions in isolation are always isolated and rarely understood as statement (“Against the death machine”) or implementation (“and we act against your system which we burn to the ground”). This is not a plea for a set of mass actions against the animal industry (which would be a partial target that will crumble with the fall of the petro-economy anyway) but a reason to pause in the story as we understand it now. Moreover even if Veganism was a radical act at some point in the past it is more (and less) than that now. It is also an identity, with all that that implies.
I have a close friend who has been vegan even longer than I was who is also very sick. I just saw a short video of her on her sickbed talking about life in the hospital. Every time she talked about food she also mentioned the food’s veracity vis a vis veganism: “Vegan chicken”, “Vegan Ravioli”, etc. This is boundary checking behavior. It is similar to how bats echo locate the world as they navigate. The world responds with an echo and the bat knows themselves through their flight through space. This form of identity-checking makes sense when you recognize yourself in the echoes. But what happens when you no longer hear a response?
It is self-evident that veganism has become a consumer choice on a field of exotic choices. In many ways it has paved the way to a variety of niche markets that have fueled the growth of companies like Whole Foods, Herbivore, et al. and phenomena like soy & gluten free diets, the predominance of “cruelty free” HABA products, etc. It goes on and on. We have, by making life choices as simple as what we buy, participated in a transformation of capitalism from mass to boutique. From “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” to “An Army of One.” Hurray us!
What is radical about you?
One of the hardest questions a radical1 can ask themselves is what exactly differentiates them from the dominant culture they are differentiating themselves from? Perhaps the larger existential question is why exactly does having radical politics also entail a differentiation at all? But the problem of how we put our ideas into practice is a more serious one than the particular social problem of why we have to be seen doing it.
My political arc isn’t unusual, especially among my age group. I started in punk/hardcore, and gravitated over time towards the political(esque) DIY hardcore scene that talked all the time about the link between politics and practice. In hindsight I realize how preachy, pedantic, and unsophisticated it all was but, to be honest, I was too.
Then, I had to wear my flag all the time. I cared so much about what strangers and future frenemies thought of me that I always played dress up. Today, I don’t care. The fact that it took me so long to grow (the fuck) up is related to the same stubbornness that kept me a vegan for all of those years.
For years I argued for veganism as one of the few ways that a person could put the Beautiful Idea into practice. I was wrong. The Idea is just that. We can do anarchistic things, we can attempt to break the cycles of terror and violence that comprise nearly every aspect of this world, but nothing we do is pure. Every person has to draw their line and the sad part about that is how lonely and isolated that is. I sincerely wish that my process of thinking about veganism, from pre to post, wasn’t alone. But it was.
I do not relate to the idea that the world will be changed by the conscious acts of the oppressed. This is not because I ignore the history of the struggles that have come before, but because the compromised victories of these mass struggles were always immediately superseded by the monsters. Whereas the mass celebrates, the monsters prepare for the next fight. They change the terms of engagement. The only form of mass culture that maintains memory and unity is on the side of the dominating class. More education, purer activities, or better people aren’t going to change the fact that individuals can be (and are) bought off, that the kind of organization that won the 40 hour work week isn’t even going to achieve the (meager, pathetic) goal of full employment ever again.
The individual act of rebellion does not make a radical. Radical was just another rock-and-roll fantasy. Late 20th century counter-cultural (aka boutique) capitalist methods were effective at convincing naïve mid-western children that we could make a difference. We couldn’t. Not in the way we thought. What we are capable of is smaller and more interesting than the lyrics of Soulside or Dead Kennedy. The process of working through the apparatus of illusions has taken me to a place I haven’t heard much about from former peers. I don’t want bumper sticker politics any longer but I also don’t want to be an existential “used to be” either.
Where does that leave us
Perhaps I began this with the idea of presenting a cogent argument about why I am no longer a vegan. But it isn’t an argument at all. Arguing about stupid shit is exactly what I have wasted far too much of the last two decades on. Veganism is at this point the representative characteristic of those stupid fights, of that wasted time.
At the end of the day my actual diet will not change all that much. I live with a vegetarian and am not so starving for a meat diet that I’m going to chase down a different situation. Moreover I don’t want to eat the offal of factory farming.
Leaving veganism behind is more about leaving behind my relationships with the thousand moralists who I have met over the years, obsessing about food-as-product, basing my self-understanding on an identity that is synthetic, shallow, and unsustainable. In many ways my criticism of veganism is similar to the reasons why I rarely socialize with anarchists. I want to build something social but I don’t want to rely on tradition, identity, or laziness to do it.
Farewell veganism. You helped me be aware of how I inhabited the world and how the world inhabited me. You are still a big part of the life of some few people who I am fond of . You probably kept me honest in a way that I needed in my twenties and kept me sincere in my thirties. I will always remember the potlucks, the restaurants, and the health of certain vegans as being directly inspiring to me. I don’t blame you for my weight, unhealthiness, or bad teeth. I don’t blame you for my stubbornness either, but my future goals just don’t include you and it took a lot of thinking to give myself the space to walk away. I am not an ex-vegan or a post-vegan. I am a fellow traveler who goes a different direction with no acrimony or regret.
1 I’ve always hated the term radical but almost every other general term to describe a position-that-stands-against-the-existing-order-but-isn’t-as-specific-as-my-particularly-nihilistic-anarchist-position is even worse.
by aragorn in personal
I want to wrap up my out loud thinking about my time in Europe (I’ve been back for three weeks but it doesn’t feel like it since I am now traveling so much) with some conclusions but first some thoughts about other problems that feel specifically American but perhaps are more general.
US radicals are right to criticize ourselves for American exceptionalism. The idea that the US is at the center of the world has, sadly, been how all of here in this forsaken place have been raised. Our Civil War was a fight over big principles. So too was our entry into WWII. The Cold War was noble, just as our struggle against (whom again?) racism which we won with civil rights legislation. It is useless to argue against these facts with most people in this country. We honestly believe it, on the right and on the left.
This is why most anarchists wish a pox on both of their houses and why we have such a hard time finding ourselves out of the mess of liberalism, false oppositions, and the belief that somehow we are truly and goodly on the side of… right. We are not, of course. Not just because no such thing exists but because this belief is so shallow, so deeply uninformed, that it exposes itself all the time for being a matter of faith not of reasoned thought1. But we are from this primordial ooze and it is in us, like it or not.
Americans are opinionated. They have strong opinions about politicians, Muslims, the flag, recycling, soy, parking, taxes, etc, etc. The radio waves are filled with people who have a lot of true emotion wrapped up in every detail of mundanity. If there is any possible way to turn an issue into a simple one, stripped of context and complexity, Americans will do it and fight any comer.
Sadly this particular American trait still appears in those residents of this country who are the enemies of the country itself. American anarchists are filled with stupid fucking opinions2 and that world wants to hear them. This is particularly true if they never plan on doing anything real (material, outside of their heads) with them.
Perhaps this is related to the strangeness around American wealth. Most everyone I met in Europe was quite open and honest about how much money they had, made, and came from. In the US this is almost never the case. Experientially anarchist milieus always riff poverty with the primary difference being (in my experience) that Americans are broke but have enough money to eat out at restaurants whereas Europeans only eat street food (like €2 souvlaki) if they eat out at all. But the silence around money & origins is one of the creepiest things I run into time and time again with people around this place.
I don’t think this is entirely because all of my comrades are secret princes and princesses waiting for their trusts to vest before they return to their castles in the sky. I think that the flip side to wealth isn’t just poverty but shame. We fear association with our associations.
But everything is not bad in this home of mine. This land of fear, hate, wealth, and moralism. The reason that I am glad I left here for three months was because I could see from a distance, for the first time, that there are things that I love about the people I know and places I am from. Our eclectic vitality isn’t sharp but hacks through most things just the same, only requiring several swings. I am not more hopeful about the future but I have a lot more ideas about how I want to practice anarchy with my mongrel pack. Now to find them.
1 Not that I am a particular fan of reason but I do react to the religious devotion to God, whether it is called J-dog or Amerika, with something… cold and calculating. But I already covered this.
2 Opinions in this context means not facts, not defensible positions, but habitual simplistic perspectives that actually interfere in critical thought.
by aragorn in personal
I’m thinking a lot about what we (in the US) get absolutely wrong in (anti)politics as I am traveling in Europe. My last piece was about sociability and the structural difficulties in working with other people in the US context of no commons, people passing through, and the near requirement to full time work for survival (in much of the country). This time I am going to talk about consciousness and the suffocation of radicals by moralism usually learned from the protestant upbringings of most of the US but also from the newer religions of secularism and counter-cultural politics. Consider this a draft of some ideas that I will try to expand on later.
More importantly it is a self-criticism and a break from my own past & choices. You can laugh as long as you are not sanctimonious about it. I still believe in drawing lines.
I spent a lot of time digging into the cultural implications of the religions of Europe. My review is cursory and based on the limitations of my contacts in Euro-radicalism but I feel confident on the level of observing some differences that are worth sharing without pressing too hard on any conclusions. For starters, most of the people I have met haven’t really even thought about the issue. Perhaps this is true in the US also but my experience growing up in the northern Bible Belt instilled a certain necessity of understanding the impact of religion on cultural & social life. I’ll be specific and talk about a couple generalizations from around the country.
The major protestant religions in the US are Calvinism, baptist, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. There are a scattering of Anglicans (although I’ve never met one), Amish, congregational, etc but these are the major ones. My specific history is with Calvinists (meaning I grew up around them but I’ve never even been to one of their services) and here is a nutshell on what differentiates them from other Christians.
- all people are depraved and incapable of following God on their own. They require guidance.
- predestination aka God already knows who is going to heaven
I’m sure they believed other things but these two things alone is enough to realize what a cold and formidable religion this is. As a result they created cold and formidable things in my town that largely dominated the psychic landscape. The children who broke with their religion (and eventually returned) tended to classic (aka boring) breaks; inebriated, sex starved monsters. Passionate moments to reflect on during later lives of monotony and cold, as shame is a warm emotion.
Baptists are creatures of a different suit entirely. Where the Calvinists are tight and disciplined in their impoverishment the baptists are fairly wild in theirs. Much of what we understand to be characteristics of the American personality are, in fact, Baptist traditions. Specifically the four freedoms (which most Baptists accept) which basically boil down to the idea that your soul and salvation are a reflection of your individual relationship with the savior (and your interpretation of the holy of holiest scriptures). Baptists don’t need anyone but their bible and Jesus which is about as American of a doctrine as I can imagine.
The orthodox & Catholics
These two religions vary wildly from the protestants. So much so that it is hard to believe they all are into the same zombie myth at all.
The Catholics are the original recuperators, taking whatever cultural artifact they encountered and rebranding it. The result is a conservatism that would be seemingly inherent in a 2000 year old institution. In Spain and France the role of the Church seems be entirely defending the cultural, social, and political gains it has achieved over that time. There is no real sense of a missionary zeal in these countries, only old buildings and a certain sense that the world is passing it by, but it doesn’t matter because it is the world-in-itself.
The orthodox are fascinating to someone who hasn’t been around their particular brand of archaic outfits and long beards. As exotic to someone from the US as the Muslims these people are the original Christians (the split was at the council of Nice and the composition of which texts were to be in the holy book we’ve been plagued with every since). A cultural artifacts that are notable with the Orthodox is the priest vow of poverty. This is also true with the Catholics but their thousands of years of hypocrisy make them a little harder to take seriously. With the (Greek at least) Orthodox this isn’t exactly the case and more importantly continues to be a social/cultural imperative. Greek society does not link wealth with holiness in the way that several Protestant sects do and the difference is real. Yes, it makes anarchists seem less crazy, but it also places the small business owner at the center of the Greek imagination.
Another example of this is to examine the prevalence of security cameras in each country. Greece has a very low number of security cameras with a generalized social repulsion to the idea that public space, and individual people in that space, should be recorded. This is somewhat related to a discussion of their tradition between the relationship between Idols and icons but as was described to me the Greek “face” (the actual human face of a Greek person) has a value that cannot be recorded. I can’t make this shit up.
Contrast this to Northern Europe, especially the UK where you cannot travel without being imaged by CCTV 300 times a day which likely correlates to the weakly ideological nature of the Anglicans requiring a process to verify trust. But also to the Calvinist Dutch who actually pedagogically believe that privacy is irrelevant because judgement is only possible from God who can see everything anyway).
Obviously I’m not painting enough of a picture here but the premise I’m working on is that both the Catholic & Orthodox are much older, sedate religions (even if they ostensibly worship the same bearded guy) than the Protestant one’s I know in the States. The impact resonates in the cultures themselves.
The even newer religions
I don’t believe that there will be a holy war led by these old religions. Not in my lifetime and probably never again. I would not say the same about some of the Protestants but I think it is quite likely that they will continue with their mainstreaming strategy (public participation in political and cultural crafting of the US) along with nurturing their lunatic fringe. I also will not say the same about other identity-religions.
Before I begin I’ll caveat. I believe I will make a stronger criticism of identity-politics another time. At this point I am scrabbling about myself, figuring out a way to distance myself from my own sense of false unity and self-betrayal that has surrounded my own participation the lie that we understand as identity. And the confusion we (in the US) have suffered from the secular mantra of the “personal is political” never realizing we were actually just repeating the gospel of Luke in different words (cite 1 and 2).
The formation of synthetic identity will be the new terrain for holy wars in this century. It may not be the vegans vs the paleolithic diet, instead it may be the equally fabricated Wahabi or Westboro Baptist Church that sets it off. What is important to argue is that the ideology of nation-as-identity is fading fast. I am not American and nearly no one on the globe is fighting for the glory of their own Nation-State (with a very few exceptions of course). But I have been, on the other hand, a handful of other labels that I was willing fight for yet didn’t have any tie to bind me but my own belief in them.
This auto-generation masks an existential point. We crave people. I craved some sense of place (meaning people) since there was no real place for me in the place I came from. In our search for place we attach ourselves to identity as a way to find a common vocabulary, a way to find people, and mission accomplished, we usually find them. It takes nearly a decade (measuring for instance the average lifespan of a punk, anarchist, or vegan) for most of us to realize that the unity that we have in these synthetic identities isn’t real connection, place, or enough to fill the loss. Especially since these new programs don’t have the infrastructure to fake real they have yet formed significant militias, creches, or old age homes.
A new moral framework with the added benefit of the illusion of Real Human Life ™. It also is a fair restatement of many substantial critiques of “the subcultural” which is why I want to be clear that what I’m saying is not a dismissal of people who participate in (sub, anti, or counter)-culture. I get it and I’m not trying to distance myself from the need that contra-culture represents. Instead I am saying that I realize now that this need isn’t possible to fill, not with one synthetic identity or another, not with religion, not with family.
This means that while I still have some connection with my contra-cultural past it is entirely on the level of liking the same music, sharing a preference for good food, and liking the same books. I am no longer set of terms but something else… perhaps just another person whose frustration with the language and so many of the people I have met along the way has just grown stale.
How I would rather put it is that the new post-secular religions haven’t improved on the source material in a significant way and draw far more from it than they would like to believe. Veganism isn’t going to change the world, end animal suffering, or much of anything at all except fill a different set of people’s pockets. DIY hasn’t made people particularly engaged with their own life, hasn’t slowed down the flow of products from China, and done much of anything except fill a different set of people’s pockets. Anarchist hasn’t created much anarchy.
So here we are, left in the rubble of Christianity. Anarchists have, by and large, avoided religion as a topic for criticism for the past 50 years out of some misguided tolerance but this has been a mistake. Religion, in the form of morality and Christianity, absolutely frames us. Our counter-cultures, our radical politics, our missionary zeal and our acts of contrition are all fruits of a poisoned tree. In the past I have called this tree European thought, but that is perhaps too abstract to be helpful. Perhaps this rant against religion and the way that it permeated everything that we believe is a little bit more grounded, but probably not.