Category Archives: Uncategorized
Given that I am no longer taken to accepting religious explanations for anything, I have wondered sometimes why I give priority in my thought to the poor, the uneducated, the outcast, and the downtrodden. After all, if one is going to be a “true materialist”, would it not be better to give precedence to those who are thriving, materially speaking? This would be a good indication why being a materialist isn’t necessarily a good thing. But then you have to realize that you are dealing with a loaded term. To explain this better, perhaps it is better to go with an analogy.
Say you are tricked into going on a blind date. The other person you meet ends up being attractive, charming, a good conversationalist, and so on. However, there are little ticks, little hints in the conversation that lead you into thinking that there is more to this person than the façade is letting on. Perhaps you dig into the person’s history some more, maybe only through just “googling” that person’s name. What if the person ends up being a convicted rapist? What if the person ends up being abusive, a sociopath, or otherwise dysfunctional? What if you drive by that person’s house and you realize that she or he is a hoarder, or is already married, and so on and so forth? In other words, in ordinary life, we are taught not to let façades fool us. Just because a person might put their best foot forward in a controlled situation, this does not entail that this is all that there is to know about that person. Or one could even say that one does not know the truth concerning that person.
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Sometimes the nightly news writes the best poetry. In the following lines, describing the aftermath of an accident that took place on the 24 mile-long bridge that I take to work every day, a heartbreaking scene fit for Homer is described:
Moran, 18, said it was dark by the time she found out Monday that Rodriguez was the person who had driven his truck into Lake Pontchartrain – a story she said she’d heard about earlier in the news.
A friend called and told her. She thought he was making a sick joke.
Moran pointed to the rocks near the foot of the Causeway, saying she spent hours there Monday night, flashlight in hand, yelling “Miguel.”
Perhaps they are not as moving to me as when I first read them, but death has been much on my mind of late. Many people who are closest to me in terms of blood are in their last days, but I will not give details concerning this since I am trying to keep this essay as impersonal as possible. But the scene of someone trying to call out to a loved one, deep in a grave of brackish water, has been etched into my mind due to the nearness of death in my own personal relationships. Read the rest of this entry
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.
At certain points, one will have the misfortune of encountering a book where the author thinks that an important historical subject is merely a backdrop for his own personal problems. Santiago Roncagliolo’s nonfiction work on the Sendero Luminoso insurgency, La cuarta espada: la historia de Abimael Guzman y el Sendero Luminoso is such a volume. While this book is informative on the level of telling the story of the origins of Abimael Guzman (who is more famously known by his nom de guerre, “Presidente Gonzalo”) and his Maoist political party, el Sendero Luminoso or the Shining Path, the complete absence in the text of any theoretical and historical complexity means that the void is often filled with descriptions of how the actions of the Sendero Luminoso made the author “feel” as a petit-bourgeois adolescent and young adult coming of age in Peru. If anything, it is his silences and inadvertent personal slips that tell the real story of the corrupt neoliberal society that allowed the Shining Path to flourish around the highlands of Ayacucho, and ultimately threaten the Peruvian state itself. While I could not of course excuse the Sendero’s actions, and in spite of the author protests against not taking sides at many points in the text, I came away from the book somewhat sympathetic to at least the causes behind the Guzman’s Maoist fundamentalism. Though I admit, it is somewhat akin to sympathy for the devil.
Let’s get the ugly stuff out of the way first. The Sendero Luminoso are some bad, bad people. Its founder and ideological progenitor, Abimael Guzman, a former philosophy professor and lawyer from Arequipa, Peru, has the reputation in that country of Osama Bin Laden in this country, at least in the bourgeois media. All you have to do is look at videos such as the following one documenting his capture twenty years on. No translation is needed, I think:
There is reason to compare Guzman to Bin Laden, Pol Pot, and numerous other sociopaths in history. There is first and foremost the massacres of peasants that he ordered, including the brutal killings of 69 peasants, including women and children, in Lucanamarca in 1983. There are the bombs, the murder of leftist leaders, the alleged collaborations with drug cartels, etc. etc. Many of these crimes have been admitted by Guzman directly, and he has said that they were excesses in a state of war. When considering this subject then, one must always have these things in mind first.
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The blog has always been a sort of home of my reflections and evolution: It started as an education blog, then as a standard skeptical blog, then morphed into a left-wing political blog, and slowly morphed again into a place for cultural reflections on the limits and problems of modernity. The last few months I left this blog in El Mono Liso capable hands, and his reflections on “the left” and limits of our ecological and spiritual realities, have inspired me to return. El Mono Liso comes from a Catholic background, and I from a more Hebriac one: although I have always been as interested in the ideas in religion as the history of Marxian communists, I have never really set out to explore the links and breakages.
Perhaps it comes from reading too much Carl Schmitt, but the lingering cultures of the various religious communicates seem to continue on in our society and this needs to be more fully explored. This blog’s current incarnation with this name began with exploring various self-identified pagans demographics and critiques of modernity, and we will return to those cultural concepts.
Now that I am editing for the North Star, and doing work on “neo-modernist aesthetics” (which despite the key word is an answer to “modernity” more than a development from it) at Former People, which is the literary sister e-journal to this blog, I think my writings here will be more historical, personal, and theoretical than they were in the past.
But this is a theoretical and meditative on this from an essay I posted in the North Star:
A guiding light is not a map or a program or a set of vocabulary words and rubrics to apply to complicated historical movements. Materialism means dealing with what is here, historical means looking with one eye to the past and another to the possibility of a radically different future.
If we are to understand “materially”–to approach this without take any methodological supernaturalism as given– why this religious impulses and ethics still color our lives and manifest in our relationship to “modernity” as whole, we must admit that they do so, and then be sincere with the implication.
To imagine a radically different culture takes dealing with the material of our current cultures as well as the political and economic trends I observe in other venues.
It is good to be back.
I have started a number of posts contrasting my previous traditional understanding of Christianity with my current project of addressing Christian themes from a politically radical perspective. Here I will do the same, but the subject of this essay will be the Fourth Evangelist and supposed Apocalypse author, St. John. Known as “the Divine” or the “Theologian”, it is traditionally thought that the author of the last canonical Gospel and visionary of the end of the world was “closest to the heart of Jesus” and thus the most mystical author of the New Testament, with perhaps St. Paul being a close second. In the ancient church, for example, John’s Gospel was begun at Eastertide since the new catechumens baptized during the Paschal Vigil were deemed sufficiently purified to listen to those most august opening lines of John’s description of the deeds of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word…”
As I have stated previously, these are pretty stories, but it is too bad that they aren’t true. The fact is that John’s “mystical” passages and his visions of cosmic cataclysm had real world foundations that came out of ancient Israel’s struggle against empire and its most contemporary manifestation of the time: Rome. The two books that I will be reviewing briefly in this essay deal with John’s writings employing similar methodologies and they come to proximate conclusions. The first is Wes Howard-Brook’s and Anthony Gwyther’s book, Unveiling Empire: Revelation Then and Now, which is an attempt to approach the last book of the Christian Bible from a contemporary perspective. The second is José Porfirio Miranda’s doctoral thesis on the themes addressed throughout St. John’s Gospel and Epistles: Being and the Messiah: The Message of St. John. While these works discuss the canonical books in different contexts, both try to place the historical figure of John firmly back on earth: clipping the eagle’s wings, so to speak (the eagle being the symbol of the Fourth Evangelist). However, in the process, they place the emphasis of these books back where it should be: on doing justice to one’s neighbor and struggling against a social order that exploits the many for the sake of the few.
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Three Pieces on Africa
You could say that I am an ungrateful person. When life is best to me, I begin to think of all the things that could go wrong. With a young family, a comfortable home, a job that doesn’t require that I shower afterwards and not before (the true great “American” class divide, according to the late Joe Bageant), I am so far a First World success story. I am by no means at the top of the heap, or even prosperous for that matter. But I don’t have to worry about where my kids’ next meal will come from, whether armed men will come in the night to harm my family, or whether someone will steal my things while I sleep. Like most people in the U.S. imperial polity, I have come to value security and convenience above all things. Perhaps that makes me complicit in the crimes of this country or civilization, I don’t know. But at least I will pay lip service to the idea that the life I lead is not the apex of virtue. People in this country tend to mistake prosperity for godliness. I would like to think that I have enough sense to realize that these two terms, “prosperity” and “godliness”, are diametrical opposites.
The question always arises when I contemplate “First World life”: At what price? What is the price of replacing that gadget that broke, the price of cheap produce at the supermarket, the social price of that piece of jewelry a man just bought for his beloved? Suburbia is perfect for covering up the effort that you don’t see go into the construction of a great thieving empire. Our system works because no one is guilty of anything, and everyone looks innocent. I love my kids, I pay my taxes, I make small talk with my neighbor, I mow my lawn, etc. etc. Some say that city is morally superior, but even there you can withdraw into gentrified enclaves, or into the drugs and distractions that make the city “no place to raise a family”. The hologram goes on, after this commercial break.
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Above: An excerpt from Cristóbal de Morales’s Requiem
On Trayvon Martin: There is no way Trayvon Martin was going to get justice under the bourgeois system. That is not simply because of the direct racism of the incident, but of the structural racism of the law itself. Those “creepy-ass crackers” who are cheering Zimmerman’s acquittal do so because they too would like to be able to pursue suspicious (black) kids in their neighborhoods and shoot them if they deem it necessary. Basically, the undercurrent of U.S. discourse nowadays is basically “every man for himself” (gender exclusive language intentional there), so when the hordes start pouring out of their designated sacrifice zones, it’s “lock and load” time. Race is written all over this, really, as it is in Florida’s murder and manslaughter laws. Except if you’re black, because there you are given the benefit of the doubt that you are a criminal up to no good. U.S. drug incarceration statistics don’t lie in that regard.
Some call it a lynching. Perhaps it was, but more important than the historical parallels are the historical discontinuities. Racism in the United States has now morphed from a scary Cyclops of open bigotry to a grotesque Hydra with a dozen heads, and if you strike at one of them, three more grow. In this case, one white man chased down a black kid with some candy, there was grappling, and the black kid ended up dead. And the non-black man walked away. No one knows what really happened; the only other person who does is six feet underground. That is what structural racism is now in the United States: nobody’s fault. There are victims, but no predators. The inner cities are sacrifice zones, but no one nailed them to the cross. Or rather, no one can be blamed for it, everyone has a good excuse. Industrial jobs can be “more efficiently done” elsewhere, so those in the inner cities who expected to take those jobs are just “excess humanity”. We can’t “discriminate” against people on the basis of color, so when we have a “color blind” basis of admission to university, for example, it’s no one’s fault that the universities don’t reflect the color spectrum of the United States. That’s just how things are, and we can do nothing about it. The same is the case for prisons in inverse proportion, etc. etc. There is an old Catholic saying that what the Devil most wants is for people to think he doesn’t exist. The same is the case with racism, I would argue.
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