With Apocalyptic Clarity? Some recent reflections…

Lately, and quickly, my personal life has taken away from my political writing.  I have left my full editorial position at the North Star to focus on what I love: writing literature and writing about literature.   I am not going to give you some half-digested bullshit about literary figures being the unacknowledged legislators–words are words, their political power is not just a function of craft, but of the arbitrary whims of historical chance.  In simpler words: its luck.   I am doing it because I have had some things focus my mind, and I no longer have political answers for a movement in the strict sense that the readers at the North Star expect.   That is fine, I will still write articles for them.   Poetry is my first love, and unlike Lenin, I do not think one needs to give art for the social.  Such anti-aesthetic impulses in favor of revolutionary mortification make about as much sense

This is a post about limits and apocalyptic clarity.  I recently listened to a C-Realm podcast on Apocalyptic Clarity with Robert Jensen.  I do not think I share Jensen’s political compass with seems to me to be a strange mix of Christian idealism, radical feminism, and radical liberalism with a strong twist of deep green politics.  Yet I took a lot away from that interview: one is about the need to communicate in different ways and get out of the echo chamber, and two, that sometimes hope is indeed a soul-killer and itself can be a limit to radically altering both yourself and the world.

Nothing new there entirely, but I need to hear it.

Consider yourself warned, abandon all hope ye who enter here.  In this reflection I will veneer willy-nilly between the political, the poetic, and the personal. Some liberal friends tell me they are all the same anyway. I have my doubts, but this essay is not about that.

I have been having a mini-bit of mind focusing that comes with apocalyptic thinking.   My health, upon moving to Mexico and seemingly unrelated to the change, has taken a turn for the worse.   I have had random psoriasis-like skin problems, my joints have been swelling, and my blood sugar has been out of whack.   My health had taken a turn for the better since changing my diet and lifestyle by leaving the US, but in Mexico my body has caught up with me.  While nothing has been formally diagnosed, the symptoms are consistent with certain kinds of auto-immune diseases (one of which, lupus, affects my mother) but could also easily be related to change of diet and stress.  I do not know and will not know for a while.  I do work 45 hours a week or more like most people, and try to keep  up a literary journal and my own writings–poetic, blogs, articles, interviews, etc.

What this had let me to focus on is strangely both gratitude and limits?  What has always struck me as a nearly pathological problem amongst many people who identify as “leftists” is that their radical disquiet with what they see as injustice and systemic exploitation easily degenerates into an nearly cosmic ingratitude easily.  It shows up in the spite that gets aimed internally, and often the smarter people are the ones who do it.   Generally this spite, in my mind, is rooted in a deep-seated awareness that most of what is talked about the left is frankly a form of delusion.  Sometimes it is hopes of a return to the Unionism of either the 1920s (if you are say IWW-inclined) or the 1950-60s (If you are say AFL-CIO, Labour Party) inclined–a hope that is based on taking a norm that existed for almost precisely one generation either directly before or the directly after World War 2. Sometimes it is the hope that some sort of singularity level post-scarcity technology will produce infinite abundance–with frankly is pretty much eschatology.  Even if there is a singularity, the energy limits seem to be ignored.  I could go on…

The two trends I have noticed people jaded and disillusioned from both liberal and Marxian politics in the last few years have tended turns either become just reactionaries, as several former colleagues of mine have done adopting the moniker “Neo-Reactionary” and joining Nick Land in Von Mises-Fuedal-Sith Lord-lala land, or they have become increasingly nihilistic communists, which has led to nearly rapture-like hope that the real material conditions emerge teleologically from the collapse of capitalism.   I, ironically, find the later option to be too hopeful.

This is not to say evil will prevail, but that there is an irrational kernal to all this reason.   The problems of a given society are still addressed in a way that is still fundamentally too limited.  One is often left with the jaded left-communists who speak of future which consist generally of something between Cambodia rural life and primitivism, or of a technologically-advanced society with little distinction between town and country.  I think the former is a way for mass starvation really quickly  and the later is pretty unlikely given all of human living patterns historically.

Still I find both more realistic than the “we will have all the benefits of capitalism” socialized question.   This, in my mind, would lead to more resource extraction than the planet could handle, and thus the relationship to my illness comes it.  There are limits to what you can do, but they are not the limits that you know about.

Which is why increasingly I think the apocalyptic point of view is the correct one only in so much that instead of escapism, which it can easily be, it focuses the mind on real limits.   For example, for all my socialist friends who think the Sawat campaign and getting a few city-council seats and basically ameliorating current problems with things like a 15 dollar minimum wage, whose regulatory effects were be far more corrosive than a minimum income, without realizing that without taking on both corporate power and a bloated military apparatus which siphons almost a 1/3 of federal spending that such measures can not be afforded.  Add to that questionable rates of profits.   City-council seats, even in NYC, would not do much about that.   There are limits to what small scale projects can do to a national or transnational problem.

You are in the middle of what is appearing to be a mass extinction event, global warming is worse than people thought (although admittedly like apocalyptic than Bill Maher and the likes cast it),  the economic efficiency standards had made productivity gains that will reduce the need for high employment rates for anything other than social stability…  the optimism and hope of electing a few socialists to a campaign or the nihilism implied in material conditions bringing about revolution for you are, frankly, deluded.

There are limits. You do not necessarily know what they are, but you do know they are there. Admit it.  Then you can work on things. Limitedly.  I tried to play soccer as a way to get exercise here in Mexico, and I discovered my health limited that.  If I still were trying I would probably have a limp worse than the one I am already walking with, but I did not give up either.   I now walk to the grocery store and set under the lime trees at the park, soon I will be doing a regular walking routine.

That is a lesson for me politically too, and its why I am not trying to tell people how to found a movement. They do not need another movement by itself, they need revelation.

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Posted on November 6, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Your thoughts intersect with my own in some ways. I have been thinking about the Hebrew prophets in particular, and how some, like Jeremiah, were disliked because they were telling people the truth. The prophetic in some ways is what is missing in the present discourse because it always must be missing: it borders on obscenity. When prophets lash invective against a society, it is often not in order to fix problems. It is to say that it is too late to fix the problem, or the problem was there at the beginning, and the crisis is already unfolding, even if only below the surface. All the prophet does is make it manifest (the original meaning of “apocalypse”). For us, this is an obscenity because modernity is anti-tragic in its fundamental sense. We are supposed to be smart enough to fix the problem. No one wants to hear that the whole thing was a bad idea from the outset. That’s why prophets are stoned, sawed in half, or worse, just plain ignored.

    All of this is not to say that I share the visions of Isaiah where swords will be beaten into plowshares, etc. I don’t. I think in reality I am getting the worst of both worlds: the acute apocalyptic sense from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures ending in the cosmic pessimism of modern scientific thinking, where we are only a dot in a vast universe that doesn’t give a fig about us. Oddly enough, my own sense is that this is where ethical action begins, to echo the podcast speaker perhaps. Stuff doesn’t mean anything and you are going to die, and perhaps the whole human race will cease to exist. What are you going to do about it, and what does it mean?

    Quomodo sedet sola civitas…

  2. “he acute apocalyptic sense from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures ending in the cosmic pessimism of modern scientific thinking, where we are only a dot in a vast universe that doesn’t give a fig about us.”

    I have been thinking a lot about that too: if humanism is a byproduct of Abrahamic culture mixing with classical culture, scientific processes an extension and demystification of that, then a kind of cosmic inhumanism is the result.

  3. This limits thing resonates with me. This is why I’m always going on about moderateness/moderation, precautionary principle, conservationism, and a particular kind or aspect of conservative-mindedness (typically unrelated to and oppositional to ideological conservatism).

    The problem I see is that with change such as revolutions (or counter-revolutions) it is always the John Dickinson’s of the world that lose the struggle for control. The radicals and reactionaries either get the upper hand or do enough damage to muck up the works. We humans don’t seem very talented at balance and self-restraint, compromise and cooperation.

  4. I disagree with you on the later if the groups are small, but in large groups, yes.

  5. A luxury one does not have in a overly complex system.

  6. i’m “communistic” in terms of worldview and ethos but i think reformism and revolution are equidistantly impossible so i’m nihilistic in terms of politics. i’m not really interested in “apocalyptic” scenarios either, i think history has showed that most of the time people going on about it aren’t right. i understand the appeal and i am into it in terms of aesthetics but i can’t really bring myself to believe in it. human beings are hella resilent anyway. i’m interested in capitalism and its negation but i don’t really know how that looks like anyway. “neo-reactionary” is such a dumb worldview. we don’t even really know how the past actually looked like, it’s all a bunch of bones and ruins that are interpreted by dudes with phds in some university. chimpanzees wage fuckin warfare, and neanderthals were exterminated in probably the first genocide. men are fucking monsters. remain disturbed and embrace the abyss.

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